As novel as the idea might seem, this is not the first time that Goethe’s poem has been given a non-vocal setting. So far as I know that distinction belongs to Alexis Hollaender, who sometime during the first decade of the twentieth century fashioned a short work for left hand alone that also adheres to the text. It was Hollaender’s piece that started me thinking about using the poem for an étude, but the seed may have been planted many years earlier. While still at school I came across a quotation of Johann Friedrichin Donald Jay Grout’s A History of Western Music; I remember then being struck by how different an approach Reichardt had adopted from the Schubert we are all familiar with. (Other settings from the same period include those by , and , all available on .)
The performer is of course expected to know Goethe’s poem; familiarity with it is absolutely essential to a successful performance, especially in order to give a different tone to all the characters in the story. I have attempted to paint a picture in sound of the poem’s many facets. For example, at the end of the child’s second Erlking hallucination, he can be felt trying to say ‘Mein Vater, mein Vater’ before he fully wakes up and actually says it, and this is reflected in the different dynamics given to each hand.
from notes by Marc-André Hamelin © 2010