Art Song: Schubert’s Erlkonig

I’ve been writing lyrics that have been closer to poetry than what is usual for a 3 minute pop song.

I had been wondering about the sequence of writing lyrics first or music first. Many times if I write them independent of each other, I will fit the lyrics to the music and that always means chopping what was a poem into smaller phrases so they fit.

I accidentally stumbled on a book called Art Song by Carrol Kimble and I now have a reference. I then stumbled on Shubert’s music set to Goethe’s poem about a father who is transporting his son by horse and where the child is delusional and thinks an elf king is following him and sucking the life out of him. The boy is dead by the time they reach the farm house. I feel that the child had delusions due to a dangerously high fever.

Now that is totally German – a la Grimm and others. Back then, the child mortality rate was high, and since most people were farmers, they had big families. I have done genealogy going back to 1500 on both sides of the family so I know this was the case in my own family.

I have to say I can really see where I get my “gothic” tendencies from, since my father was from Stuttgart. However, it’s tempered by my mother’s British side, so in my mind, gothic stories become a lot more like Monty Python’s Holy Grail. But I digress.

Now, the Art Song is a form that I love and is kind of like a mini opera, and I really like it. It feels like the forerunner to the 3 minute pop song, but is far more musical and far more literate.

Some of my favorite lyrics are from R.E.M and 10,000 Maniacs, but better yet, The Decemberists. In fact, now I totally see where Colin Melloy got his ideas from – especially his magnum opus “The Hazards of Love”. I like “The Crane Wife” more, but I very much appreciate the attempt. My favorite Decemberists album is “The King is Dead” followed by their first three albums, but I digress.

Prog rock and the rock opera tries to be the modern pop version of Art Song, but I think it doesn’t do the art form very well. When you listen to just piano and a singer do an art song, it’s quite the amazing experience. It’s just long enough to tell an interesting story without the long drawn out miasme that is opera.

I’ve never liked opera much, although I respect it – but this Art Song genre is my idea of the best of what opera could be. Maybe it’s “opera for the short attention span commoners?”. If so, I’m in.

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