The summit of Ernst’s art is probably found in his compositions for unaccompanied violin. His bravura treatment of Schubert’s famous Goethe song Erlkönig
—a work that Berlioz had orchestrated and Liszt transcribed as a piano solo—is a case in point. Ernst goes much further than either Berlioz or Liszt in his feat of transformation. Published in 1854, his Grand Caprice pour violon seul sur ‘Le Roi des Aulnes’ de F. Schubert
, Op 26, is a concise drama in itself. The piece gives the impression of a manic, feverish moto perpetuo as Schubert’s melody becomes the basis for a torrential display of rapid repeated-note playing. The toccata-like stream of triplets, expressive no doubt of the wuthering storm through which the father rides with his child, never ceases. Violin technique seems to be pushed to the limits of the possible in order to convey the dark, sinister atmosphere of Goethe’s disturbing poem, and at the same time the music crackles with nervous energy in a deeply disturbing way: never more so than when we hear the Erl-King speak in wheezily seductive harmonics, the triplets momentarily transformed into the dance-rhythm of his spectral daughters. Like Paganini or Berlioz, Ernst was nothing if not an out-and-out Romantic, an impression if anything reinforced by the brutally matter-of-fact ending.
from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2008