Results 1 to 11 of 11

Thread: My Erlkonig Analysis Paper, for Music Theory

  1. #1
    Senior Member clavichorder's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    WA, U.S.
    Posts
    5,068
    Post Thanks / Like
    Blog Entries
    3

    Default My Erlkonig Analysis Paper, for Music Theory

    This is a paper that I wrote on Schubert's Erlkonig, looking at how the music portrays the text and making some possibly slightly funky, but hopefully interesting inferences. This is actually a slightly unpolished version, since I lost the one I ultimately made minor edits to and turned in. I will attempt update this post when I get the paper back. Enjoy!

    Franz Schubert-Erlkonig
    *
    *********** Schubert’s Erlkonig was his first published opus, and has proven to be considered among the finest songs in the classical repertoire.* The text that the music is set to, was written by that famous German literary figure, Goethe.* It is a rather dark poem, especially taking into account that it was conceived as a fragment of a larger work in a literary genre with comical and satirical connotations.* Schubert capitalizes on the dark nature of the text, interpreting it with a subtlety that doesn’t fail to impute a sort of fatalistic and matter of fact notion regarding the tragic event that ultimately takes place.
    There are in total, four points of view present in the poem.* The narrator, whose description of the scene rounds off the beginning and end of the story: the father who responds to the complaints and anxieties of his son, both verbally expressed and implicit;* and the son, who is reacting in fear and distress to the impositions of that mysterious fourth character, the elf king.* It is the vocalist’s duty in their performance, to interpret and convey those perspectives in the manner they feel appropriate.* A framework, or wheelbarrow if you will, elegantly provides leverage for the vocalist in ferrying the burden of interpretation, though extra care must be taken to grease the axels of the vehicle, which as I am sure you are dying to know, is likened to the piano in this crude metaphor.* Indeed, the piano part functions tremendously well in contributing to the sum of the piece, though from a pianist’s point of view, it is very inelegant and un-pianistic.
    It is the piano at its least charitable to the fingers and wrists, that sets the stage for Schubert’s musical setting of Goethe’s poem, with fast triplet octaves on the G minor tonic, played in the right hand, and a simple, triplet ascending, quarter note descending, theme. Both of these piano themes, or features, will persist throughout much of the piece, undergoing transformations that suitably contribute to its tone painting. Referring to the text, it becomes obvious what these two coinciding features are intended to portray; working together at the brisk tempo marking of Schnell, they indicate without emulating(frankly, a true galloping rhythm might detract from other aspects of the song) the motion of the horse carrying the father and son, as well as the windy night. On top of all this, with G minor as the overarching tonic of the piece, Schubert has arguably made the most conventionally dramatic choice; something his Sturm und Drang predecessors would have approved of. The same piece in G major or even E minor would likely be incongruous with the aforementioned dark mood of the poem and its resolutely grim conclusion.
    Prior to the entrance of the singer as narrator, the second ascending and descending theme in the left hand, repeats itself once and then adds chordal texture to the rapid right hand, in what is basically a decorated IV, V, I progression. While that time around, it comes back to the tonic and resumes on its course, this piece has a tendency to indulge in rhythmic motifs similar to the one used there, to mark the end of a section and a new entrance.
    The narrator does indeed enter after a similar quick progression along with the ascending line leading the way, this time into the dominant, for it has not truly modulated from G minor yet. In alternating between the dominant on the more static segment of the phrase and the tonic on the moving part of it, you truly appreciate the question of the narrator, “who rides so late?” And indeed, who would ride so late through night and wind with this disturbing lingering on the dominant? The high D sung on Wind, affirms that this is the right question to ask. With the answer to the question we undertake the process of modulating to B flat major, the relative major to G minor. What initially sounds a comforting answer, ‘It is the father with his child,’ fails to satisfy and continues to disturb, with the mere musical hint presented by that ascending run, descending arpeggio theme. The G flat at its summit, decorating the peak with a lovely minor second, contributes briefly an augmented fifth to the root B flat chord that is firing on the ostinato theme. With that, we are properly prepared for the information the narrator is able to convey about who is riding. The father has the boy well in his arm, but the musical context is that of diminished chords on the stressed part of the phrase and thus, the relative major is not such a cheerful place. When we learn that he is holding him safely, and keeping him warm, we modulate back to G minor.
    With the scene properly set, and our attention brought to father and son, the son being shielded from the elements, we enter into the dialogue between the two hoping to learn more of the causes for the circumstance. (The causes are never overtly explained, but are implied beyond doubt by the ending.) We are quickly prepared with a few bars of the same piano writing as in the beginning, and then intelligence proceeds to be shown rather than told. The father asks why his son is hiding his face in fear. By the time the final word of the phrase is sung, there is a cadence in C minor preparing for the entrance of the boy. The boy’s first line, asking whether his father can see the elf king, alternates between C minor and a diminished chord, indicating the outright distress and fear of his situation. A comparison could possibly be made between this line and the earlier line by the narrator, where there was a similar pattern of alternating between an ordinary triadic chord and a diminished chord. In this case, the triad is minor, but the triad was major before, indicating more mystery and less overt unpleasantness. In both cases, anxiety is characterized in the music by these alternating chords.
    After the boy expresses the cause of his fear using this particularly dreary territory in C minor, the music starts to modulate on further description of the Elf king. The father’s response, an unconvincing reassurance, does little to delay the arrival the unmitigated B flat major, where the elf king is observed addressing the boy. The descending staccato arpeggio on B flat after the father is finished, adds a fanciful touch that is important in conveying the boy’s obstinance in the truth of his perceptions of the elf king, and the sort of hallucinatory nature of the Elf king himself and the dreamy world that he inhabits.
    While the elf king is speaking, the rapid ostinato in the right hand piano part is broken by a rest on the down beat of each group, and the pianist perhaps enjoying the fact that the work is divided between their hands, with the left hand keeping time on the down beat. Harmonically speaking, this section is fairly simple, with only the second line ending in E flat, and the bulk of the music dancing in B flat at the elf king’s attempt to entice.
    Following the elf king’s very succinct cadence in B flat, we are wrenched back into G minor with the resumption of the ostinato, simulating the boy’s attention reverting back to this world and his father, and perhaps recoiling from the elf king. There is minor second dissonance when the boy says ‘father’, between the E flat in the vocal line and the repeating D octaves in the piano, contributing in the showing of the intensity of the boy’s distress and how desperately he is seeking safety from his father. The music is essentially alternating between diminished chords, and the first inversion of the dominant. There is some relation to when the boy was previously speaking in C minor, in that the down beat of each measure has an octave C in the left hand of the piano, but we are in altogether more unstable territory at this point. When the boy asks if his father hears what the elf king promises him, the music is in the process of modulating, and the instability of it perhaps indicates how difficult it is for the father to hear, and yet when it has properly modulated to B minor for the father’s entrance, the father valiantly undertakes the task of reassurance and denial, and manages by way of E minor to find G major. In the hard earned major tonality, the son is told whimsically that “through scrawny leaves, the wind is sighing.”
    But the father’s uncertainty in his tonality throughout the piece is not helping the outlook feel truly optimistic for the boy. And how easy it is for that false comfort to devolve back into the realm of the Elf king, now in the raised pitch of C major, and with the most pianistic writing yet seen in the piece, and an intensified exuberance and harder salesmanship from the elf king. There is a bouncing bass line at one point during the Elf king’s speech that could be said to indicate impatience and insistence.
    When the boy enters, he is more terrified yet, and the implied tonic would be A minor, but as the boy tells of the daughters, it ends in A major, almost signifying a sort of terrified curiosity on the boy’s part. Stumbling into the father’s entrance, he is thrown for a loop in C sharp, betraying something beyond anxiety, with a sort of fear for his son’s life, which he attempts to settle in the unconvincing key of D minor.
    And now the beginning piano part is repeated in this new key. A new stage of peril has been effectively established and the elf king is perhaps gathering his resolution. His inevitability is made more emphatic with a sudden, neapolitan based modulation or tonicization from D minor to E flat. The alternation between E flat and its diminished seventh relative, adds a layer of passion to that line of the Elf king that strikes our modern ears as especially creepy. The word Gewalt, roughly translating as force, is spoken by the Elf king in his final cadence; his only significant minor key moment.
    The son wails in distress to his father, in a similar manner to before but with an increased dynamic. When he declares the elf king has done him harm, we are back into G minor in full force. At this point, the piano ostinato is taken on by both hands, preceding the narrator’s conclusion. The father is said to be horrified and holding the moaning child in his arms. As the father is making his way to the farm, the pulse of the piano retards to a stop, while the harmonies are doing another similar neapolitan tonicization, but in A flat. The grim conclusion aforementioned, is the death of the son. It is signified by the resolution of the neapolitan, and war todt, the final bit of narrative, hanging on the dominant, while the piano conclusively cadences in G minor.
    It is a tragic story evinced so well in Schubert’s musical setting. There are clues from the beginning that it is not to have a happy ending, and really, in the context of G minor, were the boy to survive, a picardy third G major ending or even a G major key area, could easily become musically cliche(though for purely speculative purposes, an ending on the dominant might be appropriate were we dealing with such a text). However, it would appear that the story is dealing with a very sick child out in unfavorable weather. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, mortality amongst children was extremely high. The notorious elf king could be thought a personification of death, and not necessarily by way of any mythological thinking, for one can easily imagine a child’s mind envisioning something of the sort under such circumstances. This is perhaps entirely a stretch, but it is my view that those final chords being played by the piano have a fatalistic ring to them in this context. More simply they are “the end,” but you can almost hear the cynical english phrase, ‘that’s life.” The father will have a heavy burden to bear, but will most certainly go on with his life.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Albert7's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2014
    Location
    Salted Lakers City, UT
    Posts
    7,908
    Post Thanks / Like
    Blog Entries
    43

    Default

    For reference, if peeps haven't heard the song yet this is a fine example of it:


  3. Likes clavichorder liked this post
  4. #3
    Senior Member Piwikiwi's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2011
    Posts
    927
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Do you want people to critique it or is it just for people to read? I have noticed a few things that slightly annoyed me but I like that you are writing this.

  5. Likes hpowders, samurai, clavichorder liked this post
  6. #4
    Senior Member clavichorder's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    WA, U.S.
    Posts
    5,068
    Post Thanks / Like
    Blog Entries
    3

    Default

    I would welcome a critique.

  7. #5
    Senior Member Piwikiwi's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2011
    Posts
    927
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by clavichorder View Post
    I would welcome a critique.
    The following applies mostly to the beginning because it improves a lot in the middle and end of the article.
    I personally feel that this article would be better if you would use a more basic vocabulary and less compound sentences. The subject itself is quite complicated and technical and I think that it is slightly distracting in this case. Your goal here is to inform your audience about the piece and not to write beautiful prose.

  8. Likes clavichorder liked this post
  9. #6
    Senior Member Albert7's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2014
    Location
    Salted Lakers City, UT
    Posts
    7,908
    Post Thanks / Like
    Blog Entries
    43

    Default

    Did you ever hear back yet from the teacher about this?
    "if a horse could sing in a monotone, the horse would sound like Carly Simon, only a horse wouldn't rhyme 'yacht', 'apricot', and 'gavotte'. Is that some kind of joke?"
    --Robert Christgau
    "there's a fine line between having an open mind and having your whole brain fall out"
    --Anonymous

    アルバート セブン

  10. Likes clavichorder liked this post
  11. #7
    Senior Member clavichorder's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    WA, U.S.
    Posts
    5,068
    Post Thanks / Like
    Blog Entries
    3

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by albertfallickwang View Post
    Did you ever hear back yet from the teacher about this?
    I finally heard back two days ago. Because I was a few days late, I had 10 points deducted, meaning that my original grade was 95 out of 100. He said that I had a lively writing style and that it was fun to read, but that I needed to fixate less on key centers and in some cases, provide more specific musical explanations rather than just depending on a shift in tonic to explain something. And also that unnecessary comments sometimes detracted from the substance of the paper, of which it perhaps needed a little more, with unnecessary things.

    Its a learning process.

  12. #8
    Senior Member Albert7's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2014
    Location
    Salted Lakers City, UT
    Posts
    7,908
    Post Thanks / Like
    Blog Entries
    43

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by clavichorder View Post
    I finally heard back two days ago. Because I was a few days late, I had 10 points deducted, meaning that my original grade was 95 out of 100. He said that I had a lively writing style and that it was fun to read, but that I needed to fixate less on key centers and in some cases, provide more specific musical explanations rather than just depending on a shift in tonic to explain something. And also that unnecessary comments sometimes detracted from the substance of the paper, of which it perhaps needed a little more, with unnecessary things.

    Its a learning process.
    Sorry about the late paper but great job man! I really enjoyed this and please do share more papers in the future.
    "if a horse could sing in a monotone, the horse would sound like Carly Simon, only a horse wouldn't rhyme 'yacht', 'apricot', and 'gavotte'. Is that some kind of joke?"
    --Robert Christgau
    "there's a fine line between having an open mind and having your whole brain fall out"
    --Anonymous

    アルバート セブン

  13. #9
    Senior Member OboeKnight's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Location
    United States of America
    Posts
    445
    Post Thanks / Like
    Blog Entries
    1

    Default

    Nice paper! I actually had to write an analysis on this last semester. It was really fun to write...the piece really gets the imagination going.

  14. Likes clavichorder liked this post
  15. #10
    Senior Member Albert7's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2014
    Location
    Salted Lakers City, UT
    Posts
    7,908
    Post Thanks / Like
    Blog Entries
    43

    Default

    clavi, whenever you get your next paper ready, I and others here will be glad to look over it before you turn it in of course .
    "if a horse could sing in a monotone, the horse would sound like Carly Simon, only a horse wouldn't rhyme 'yacht', 'apricot', and 'gavotte'. Is that some kind of joke?"
    --Robert Christgau
    "there's a fine line between having an open mind and having your whole brain fall out"
    --Anonymous

    アルバート セブン

  16. #11
    Senior Member Headphone Hermit's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2014
    Location
    Lancashire, UK
    Posts
    2,315
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    I notice that you said it would have received a mark of 95% - well done

    Would you mind saying at what level of study this is?
    "Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils." Berlioz, 1856

Similar Threads

  1. I'm Back / Early Music Paper Topic?
    By Turangalîla in forum Classical Music Discussion
    Replies: 14
    Last Post: Oct-31-2014, 18:26
  2. Replies: 6
    Last Post: Apr-30-2011, 10:35
  3. Music Analysis
    By BuddhaBandit in forum Classical Music Discussion
    Replies: 9
    Last Post: Jun-21-2010, 23:01
  4. Theory & analysis?
    By Dim7 in forum Site Feedback & Technical Support
    Replies: 6
    Last Post: Jul-13-2009, 06:47
  5. Theory and analysis corner
    By danae in forum Classical Music Discussion
    Replies: 13
    Last Post: Jul-11-2009, 02:05

Tags for this Thread

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •