Probably one of the more frightening (and creepy) songs in the Lieder repertoire is Schubert’s Der Erlkönig, D328 (1815). Translated as “The Erlking”, “King of the Alders” or Elf-king, this poem by Goethe tells the story of a boy riding home on horseback in his father’s arms. The boy becomes frightened when he is courted by the Elf-King, a powerful and creepy supernatural being. The boy’s father, however, cannot see or hear the creature and tells the boy that his imagination is playing tricks on him. The boy grows increasingly terrified by what he hears from the Erl-King, but his father tells him that the things he thinks he sees and hears are only the sights and sounds of nature on a dark and stormy night. When the Erl-King eventually seizes the boy, the father spurs on his horse, but when he arrives home his son is dead.

Setting the text by Goethe to music was not easy for Schubert: he wrote three other versions before resting on this final setting.

Der Erlkönig  features a fiendishly difficult piano part, not necessarily in terms of technicality, but in the swift, repetitive chords of the right hand that must be sustained over several minutes. And the vocal part isn’t let off lightly either – with four different characters to portray and a wide range, this song is not for the faint-hearted.

The poem has inspired many animations, works of art, and music. Here is a video made for an MA Thesis:

Here is a sand animation inspired by the band “The Hope Lies Within”

And Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau accompanied by Gerald Moore, with Schubert’s original manuscript, held at The Saxon State and University Library Dresden


Creative New Zealand | Toi Aotearoa