Listening to Beethoven #97 – Erlkönig

Goethe in c1775

Erlkönig for voice and piano (1794-6, Beethoven aged 25)

Dedication not known
Text Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Duration 3’30”


Background and Critical Reception

Those readers who know the songs of Schubert will recognise Erlkönig as one of the composer’s most popular songs, a tumultuous setting of Goethe’s heroic poem. Yet here is a response from Beethoven some twenty years earlier, a fragment completed for publication by Reinhold Becker.

The Unheard Beethoven site helpfully goes into detail on Becker’s amendments and extensions to Beethoven’s work, adding a downloadable score and audio. It also presents the original, unmodified sketch, as written by Beethoven and transcribed by Gustav Nottebohm.


Beethoven’s setting is a pretty dramatic one, a turbulent piano introduction then shadowing the baritone’s bold melody. The key is D minor, which until now we have not heard Beethoven use. It is the ideal vehicle to convey the tragic-heroic text, and the composer keeps a keen air of occasion running throughout. The end is hollow on the part of the singer, who signs off with a whisper.

Recording used and Spotify link

Paul Armin Edelmann (baritone), Bernadette Bartos (piano) (Naxos)

You can compare notes with the Schubert setting below:

You can chart the Arcana Beethoven playlist as it grows, with one recommended version of each piece we listen to. Catch up here!

Also written in 1796 Haydn Saper vorrei se m’ami Hob.XXVa:2

Next up Piano Sonata no.20 in G major Op.49/2

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