Hyperion Records

Étude No 8 in B flat minor 'Erlkönig, after Goethe'
composer
2007; published by C. F. Peters Corp., New York

Recordings
'Hamelin: Études' (CDA67789)
Hamelin: Études
Details

Étude No 8 in B flat minor 'Erlkönig, after Goethe'
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It should be said straight away that Erlkönig, Étude No 8, has nothing to do musically with the Schubert song of the same name. However, they do have a common source, one of the most masterful poems in the entire German literature. My piece is basically a faithful setting of this poem, adhering to it as closely as any vocal setting, the only difference being that I repeated the first four lines for musical reasons.

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 Friedrich Reichardt’s vocal setting in 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 Loewe, Spohr and Zelter, all available on Schubert's Friends and Contemporaries.)

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

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