This piece does well by exceeding my experiential standard for text painting and emoting in any accompanied vocal work. Each time I listen to this piece, regardless of how I may feel about it, it never ceases to reveal layer upon layer of subtle text painting, play with harmonic color, and the simple ability to tell a story with more than simply the words in the song. The conclusion of this piece marks the death of the child whose life was so bravely fought for by his father. Schubert does an remarkable job telling the story through music and evoking the emotions that one is meant to feel through the use of harmonics, rhythms, and dynamics.
One important harmonic aspect of the conclusion to Erlkonig is the use of the Neapolitan 6th in m.143. The chord is not used in a traditional context and almost comes as a surprise not only to a learned ear, but to one of a layman as well. The Neapolitan 6th is preceded by a iv chord which gives the listener a sort of expectancy as the minor iv chord is abruptly interrupted by the Neapolitan 6th, which seems to take on a foreshadowing role. The Neapolitan 6 falls on the text "Erreicht den" which signifies the arrival of the boy's father to the courtyard which leads to the eventual death of his child in his arms. The Neapolitan chord almost calls the listener to stop and pay attention, to remind one of the importance of this moment, almost like a musical double-take, reminding us that this is the climax of the entire story, whether the child is kept safe. The Neapolitan chord, while not seeming to foreshadow a particular outcome, instead gives the listener a plethora of options. The continued pulsing rhythm of the bass may direct the listener to a tragic outcome, while the very change in harmonies brought about by the Neapolitan may also lead the listener to expect a change in the overarching theme of foreboding and fear. Other elements, such as the sf dynamic marking create a feeling of abruptness and contribute to the musical emphasis given to the chord and the subsequent importance in the development of the pieces finale.
The galloping of the horse signified by the repeating bass line also comes to an end a few measures later as we assume the father dismounts, and the recitative confirms in dramatic fashion that the small boy is dead. The vocal line that climaxes at the end of the piece is accentuated by the simultaneous climax and intensifying of the horses galloping in the bass as the father is on a last mad rush for his son. It also accentuates the rhythmic emphases and its absences in the recitative is breathtakingly beautiful.
137 i ii42
138 i iii