Thursday, October 15, 2020

Schubert's Erlkönig, Animated


Somehow Schubert–without my seeking–always finds me in the autumn. This year I came upon an animation of what is probably the composer's most popular lieder, Erlkönig, famous for its supernatural subject and text by Goethe, its frenetic galloping figure on the keyboard (too fast for Schubert himself to play it), and its distinguishing of four distinct characters for the vocal soloist. 

I had the pleasure ten years ago–alright, I keep my stubs so it was 13 years ago, on January 21st to be specific–to hear the great pianist Kirill Gerstein perform the piece at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and it was nothing short of a thrill. The great baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who retired in the early 1990s, gave surely the most vivid performance of the vocal part, and those who think pop culture is swallowing civilization should rejoice that his famous rendition has millions of views on YouTube.

It's a bravura piece, and frankly, pretty scary on its own. One can imagine an audience that has not been desensitized by decades of intense visual stimulation being easily arrested by the urgency and drama of this music.

That said, I found this animation, with its puppeteered, cutout-silhouette style, added to the piece an otherworldly dimension. It sounds trivial, even ridiculous, but seeing through parts of the characters seems to disembody them to another plane. We watch as if visited when the Elf King turns to us to lure us with his tender promises

Anyway, Schubert found me again. Listen, enjoy, and maybe it will give you goosebumps, as it did me.

And don't forget to check out the Oxford Lieder Festival, going on now.

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