Zelter began this song in 1797, a few months after Schubert was born; he completed it in 1808 and it was not printed until Max Friedländer prepared the first of his two Gedichte von Goethe in Kompositionen
volumes (1896 and 1916) for the Goethe Gesellschaft. Unusually for settings of this text the song is in the major key which does not limit the composer’s ability to communicate a sense of menace. The fleet pianistic interjection following ‘es ist ein Nebelstreif’ (and later ‘säuselt der Wind’) admirably depicts both vanishing mist and the whistling of the wind—it serves a similar purpose to the semiquaver triplets in the introduction to Irrlicht
. The insidious voice of the Erl King climbs gradually up the stave for seven bars before dropping a fifth for the final few words. In the strophe of the spirit’s final appearance the accompaniment thickens and the boy’s cries become increasingly desperate. A disturbing and dramatic immediacy is given to ‘Leids getan’ as Zelter prolongs the cadence which resolves in an adagio morendo. It is as if the boy is giving up the ghost as he sings this phrase, an emphasis that is not to be heard in other settings.
comparative Schubert listening:
Erlkönig D328. October (?) 1815
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2006