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  • Thomas Jenkins

October 30 - in all its thunderous glory

The Halloween project is finally done, and will be posted at midnight EDT on the 31st of October. I can now finally reveal that it is a full orchestra arrangement of the legendary "Erlkonig" by Franz Schubert. The piece is adapted from a 1782 poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, which tells the story of a father and son riding home in the dark of night. As they ride through the forest, a malevolent spirit called the Erlkonig (lit. German for Elf King) seeks to take the child's life. In 1812, Schubert wrote the music for a solo male vocalist and piano accompaniment, but the story and intelligence of the work begs for a grander scale. While equally legendary classical composers Franz Liszt and Hector Berlioz have adapted the work for orchestra, their chosen ensembles are rather puny by today's standards, so I've added a Hollywood-style grandeur to it while also maintaining every single note and melodic lines in the original. I'm not saying I'm better than these composers, but when your orchestra has no low brass, I take insult :)

This 2022 arrangement is for a significantly larger orchestra. Full woodwinds (including bass clarinet, an extra flute part, and piccolo), full brass (including trombones, bass trombones and tubas), extended percussion (including bass drum, chimes and cymbals), and a full choir which coos and chants as necessary. There are no synthetics at all, to keep the work more grounded in the old fashioned nature of the full orchestra. Something all of these composers did right, though, is the distinction between each character. In the original, characters are distinguished by range of the voice. When the father or narrator sings, it’s in a lower register as to represent maturity. The son is in the higher range to represent innocence, and the Elf King is in the middle range. Following this trend, each character is assigned an instrument in the orchestra. The narrator is represented by french horns, the father by stately bassoons, and the son by panicked trumpets. The Elf King, on the other hand, is represented by a solo oboe, which represents the alluring and faux-caring nature of the character.

The strings represent the galloping of the horse, laying down a constant pattern of ferocious triplets that don't let up at all throughout the entire work, save for two places: when the Elf King calls out to the son a second time, and when the horse literally stops moving at the end of the work. The piece ranges in scope from oboe and strings only to the entire ensemble clanging and thundering away as the terror of the situation increases. All of the text in the original is in German, and the literal translation feels clumsy and stilted, so I used Edgar Alfred Bowring's English translation, albiet with a few removals of words like "doth" and "thou."

This has been the most entertaining thing I've done with non-original music in a very long time, and while it took a while to put together, I'm very happy with the results. A lot of times, people put things like "if (fill in the blank dead artist) were alive today, he/she'd be proud of what I've done." I'm not going to pretend Schubert would be anything other than dissapointed and annoyed, so I'll just tell you to enjoy the music.

Happy Halloween...


Here's a link to a recording of the piece in its original version and key, performed by tenor Daniel Norman and pianist Sholto Kynoch, boasting a fantastic animation to boot: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JS91p-vmSf0

Here's a link to the sheet music I used as reference (with different lyric translation):

https://s9.imslp.org/files/imglnks/usimg/e/e0/IMSLP116761-WIMA.33e9-erlkonig.pdf

And a link to a wonderful but music-theory filled analysis of the piece that does a far better job than I ever could:

http://jameslieder.weebly.com/der-erlkoumlnig--analysis.html




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