Listening Guide: You Heard It Here First!

Erlkönig (Erlking) – David Matthew Brown (b. 1989)
text by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Most famously set to music by Franz Schubert, Erlkönig is a terrifying tale of a boy, haunted by the demon Erlking (Elf King), imperceptible to the boy’s father, with whom he furiously rides on horseback. Set in 5/8, this version mimics the hoof beats of the horse in the deep bass of the piano left hand part, as the tale unfolds above. Listen for:

•Kaitlyn’s representation of four different characters: the narrator, boy, father, and Erlking

•Dramatic changes in musical affect as different characters speak: Boy/Terror – Father/Confidence – Erlking/Seduction

•The point when the Erlking gives up on the facade as the music sinks into darkness

•The boy’s final lines, as he has been “taken” by the Erlking

•A violin cadenza, representing the father’s realization of his son’s predicament

•Blurred lines between the Narrator and the Erlking at the end: “war tot” (“was dead”) is sung joyously

ENGLISH TRANSLATION from German

Narrator: Who rides so late through night and wind?
It is a father with his child;
He holds the boy securely in his arm,
He grasps him safely, he keeps him warm.
Father: “My son, why do you hide your face in fear?”
Son: “Do you not see the Erlking, Father?
The Erlking with crown and tail?”
Father: “My son, it is a wisp of fog.”
Erlking: “You lovely child, come, go with me!
What wonderful games I’ll play with you,
Many colorful flowers are on the beach,
My mother has many golden garments.”
Son: “My father, my father, do you not hear,
What Erlking has softly promised to me?”
Father: “Be calm, stay calm, my child;
The wind is only rustling through dry leaves.”
Erlking: “Fine boy, will you go with me?
My beautiful daughters shall wait upon you;
My daughters lead the nightly dance,
And will rock and dance and sing you to sleep.”
Son: “My father, my father, do you not see,
The Erlking’s daughters there in that gloomy place?”
Father: My son, my son, I see it clearly: it is only the shining of the old gray willow.”
Erlking: I love you, your beautiful form charms me;
And since you are not willing, I will use force.”
Son: My father, my father,
Now he grasps me!
Erlking has hurt me!
Narrator: The father shudders; he rides swiftly,
He has the moaning child in his arms,
He reaches the courtyard with toil and in distress;
In his arms, the child was dead.

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Sechs Gesänge (Six Songs), Op. 154 Louis Spohr (1784-1859)
text by anonymous sources and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I: Abend-Feier (Evening Rest)

The peaceful character of this song evokes imagery of nature, ‘praising God’ for the earth. Listen for:

•The gentle, mid-range texture created between the voice and piano

•Violin ‘bird call’ figures using harmonics (high-pitched, pure, resonant effects)

•Syncopated, high violin interjections at the mention of the philomel (“Horch den lieder philomele…”), an instrument similar to the violin with a crystal-like tone

ENGLISH TRANSLATION from German

Quietly I creep at night through the bower of jasmine,
When green leaves dart through the balmy, refreshing breezes.
When the moon, silvery and bright, is reflected there in the flood–
A lapping, rippling wave–all of creation rests.
Hear the song of Philomel,
Oh, how nice it is to me here,
How my entire soul is full of high devotion!
And my gaze wanders upward to the starry heavens,
I must praise my Creator–
How vast and beautiful is God’s world!

II: Jagdlied (Hunting Song)

In a lilting, dancelike (or drunken…) 9/8 time, this hunting song is simple fun. Listen for:

•Rapidly changing tone and volume, representing contrast between the chase itself, and the more subdued, introspective glory thereof

•The opening violin motive (in harmony with itself) that returns many times – and will return again in the final movement

ENGLISH TRANSLATION from German

Do you see there, the sparkle in rosy splendor?
The dawn shines so mildly;
On brothers! Awaken!
Diana laughs, full of vitality, in the grove and fields.
No longer pursuing the sleepy peace,
The hunt offers a wonderful time,
We rush through the shady woods to the barking of lively dogs.
It tastes nice in the greenery near cheerful rest,
Much better than home is the retreat,
The shady oak is our palace, and cheerfulness reigns over our great feast.
To us is given a spring of refreshing drink,
It calls for the resounding horn,
We wind courageously around the busy slope through brambles, vines, and thorns.
Displayed there are the boar and the deer with antlers,
Which, listening to the trickling spring,
Crashes, hitting the killing lead,
And there, the animal remained on the spot.
We are offered many joys by the magnificent hunt,
It makes so spry, so lively;
The evening is jolly and the work is done,
So happily we return home.

III: Töne (Music)

What seems a simple love song at first turns sorrowful as the sentiment is revealed to be unrequited. This represents a general shift in character to darker themes to come in the following movements. Listen for:

•”The faint plea of the strings,” characterized by hopeful, virtuosic violin figures, often eliding directly into the vocal melody

•Textures representing ‘breezes’ and a ‘stream’

•A mournful coda in minor key, starkly contrasting the rest of the song

ENGLISH TRANSLATION from German

I have not the words to say to you,
What glows for you in the deepest part of my heart,
I cannot find the words to lament,
The aching of my chest from this longing.
Hear the faint plea of the strings,
Hear the sound of its powerful timbre,
Love whispers as the breezes blow,
Roaring like a stream in wild urgency.
They are lost on you, these spirits’ waves,
And you do not listen to my messenger,
Let them fade away and die away,
How my heart in silence wistfully breaks.

IV: Erlkönig (Erlking)

Another setting of Goethe’s poem, Spohr’s Erlking is the original version for voice, violin, and piano. Notably more conservative than the David Brown version (more than 150 years later!) and less furious than Schubert’s, Spohr’s relies more on subtle differences in orchestration to portray fear, confidence, and enticement. Listen for:

•Kaitlyn’s continued representation of the different characters

•The violin’s enticing, schmaltzy lines whenever the Erlking speaks – and the moment he grows impatient

•At the end, the fate of the boy as represented by a surprising, diminished chord in the violin part

ENGLISH TRANSLATION from German

Narrator: Who rides so late through night and wind?
It is a father with his child;
He holds the boy securely in his arm,
He grasps him safely, he keeps him warm.
Father: “My son, why do you hide your face in fear?”
Son: “Do you not see the Erlking, Father?
The Erlking with crown and tail?”
Father: “My son, it is a wisp of fog.”
Erlking: “You lovely child, come, go with me!
What wonderful games I’ll play with you,
Many colorful flowers are on the beach,
My mother has many golden garments.”
Son: “My father, my father, do you not hear,
What Erlking has softly promised to me?”
Father: “Be calm, stay calm, my child;
The wind is only rustling through dry leaves.”
Erlking: “Fine boy, will you go with me?
My beautiful daughters shall wait upon you;
My daughters lead the nightly dance,
And will rock and dance and sing you to sleep.”
Son: “My father, my father, do you not see,
The Erlking’s daughters there in that gloomy place?”
Father: My son, my son, I see it clearly: it is only the shining of the old gray willow.”
Erlking: I love you, your beautiful form charms me;
And since you are not willing, I will use force.”
Son: My father, my father,
Now he grasps me!
Erlking has hurt me!
Narrator: The father shudders; he rides swiftly,
He has the moaning child in his arms,
He reaches the courtyard with toil and in distress;
In his arms, the child was dead.

V: Der Spielmann und seine Geige (The Minstrel and His Fiddle)

Practically the answer to movement three (Töne), and the climax of the Six Songs, this penultimate movement elaborates on the ferocious, ‘eternal grief’ of unrequited love. Saved by music – his violin – the speaker returns the character to joy. Listen for:

•Virtuosic, relentless, passionate violin passagework

•Rapidly changing characters, perhaps representing the speaker’s madness

•A sudden return to peace as the movement comes to a close

ENGLISH TRANSLATION from German

Before God’s eye, at sunset,
She gave a ring and an oath to me;
The ring broke, the loyalty is dead,
Only a longing remained.
A beau, dapper and slight, was lured
By a sweet, glittery tune;
She followed, her smiles were all I could handle
My breaking heart became her reward.
Through black clouds the sun flashed!
Joy stands in union with sorrow;
My grief lives eternally, never sinking his throne upon my pale mouth.
My fate, the violin, waved my magic staff against the demonic host,
Raging, insane, dark snake-hair—my suffering was grave!
But quietly, Aeolian harps sooth my heart;
The sound of your soul, rich in balm, stills my deep pain.

VI: Abendstille (Evening Stillness)

Following in the character of peace in nature from the first song, the Six Songs conclude with stunning, uncomplicated serenity. Listen for:

•Strophic form: the music is played three times, each with new text

•A very slow version of the Hunting Song violin figure, responding to the voice

ENGLISH TRANSLATION from German

The day has been laid to rest, the skies slumber all together;
Seldom does a leaf move in the forest, and seldom a stalk in the meadow.
A mild, warm summer breeze pulls the moonshine through the room,
And over my soul as well, spreading peace in its downward wake.
Oh calm, serene, mild night, when the world lies in deep slumber,
When only the peace-angel watches, and bliss lightens all souls.

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Se Romeo t’uccise un figlio” (If Romeo killed your son) from I Capuleti e i Montecchi – Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835), arr. David Matthew Brown
text by Felice Romani

This epic aria is perfectly demonstrative of the bel canto operatic style. Equal parts lyrical and over-the-top dramatic, the work is arranged to exaggerate these attributes. Typically featuring the voice, the arrangement scraps the original orchestral parts, replacing them with Paganini-like “improvisations,” rendering the aria a glitzy showpiece for the quartet as a whole. Listen for:

•The deceptively gentle opening, gradually becoming more involved

•Frequent left-hand pizzicato (plucking with the same hand that stops the strings) in the violin part

•”Soloists” taking turns, particularly when the March tempo begins

•The piano, which does not always play the typical foundational role, sometimes instead flourishing in the highest register

•The passage in which the flute plays both melody and accompaniment beside the voice by punctuating melodic notes – amidst fast passagework – an octave higher

•Improvised melismas in the vocal line, often when all other movement has come to a halt

•Ever-increasing intensity and textural density as the piece comes to an exciting conclusion

ENGLISH TRANSLATION from Italian

“If Romeo killed your son, he gave him death in battle:
You must blame fate; and he [Romeo] cried, wept even.
Ah! If it please you, another son he found in my Lord.

The terrible avenging sword, Romeo is preparing to brandish,
what deadly thunderbolt, one thousand deaths will bring.
But to the angry sky you’ll be accused for spilling so much blood in vain;
and on you falls the blood that will cost your homeland.”

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Opposite Day – David Matthew Brown (b. 1989)
text, respectively, by Emily Dickinson, Robert Burns, an anonymous source, and the US Constitutional Committee of Style and Arrangement

I: I Felt a Funeral in my Brain

Brazenly opposing the text from the outset, Dickinson’s poem of agony and despair is bastardized by simple joyousness and frivolity. Listen for:

•Shameless representations of laughter (ie. high registral piano, violin trills, and onomatopoeic laughter in the vocal part)

•”Anti-Text Painting”: When the word is “down,” the music goes up; “beating” is represented by music box sounds, and “silence” is… definitively not silent

•The use of the violin as an accompaniment instrument

TEXT

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading – treading – till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through

And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum
Kept beating – beating – till I thought
My mind was going numb

And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space – began to toll,

As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race,
Wrecked, solitary, here

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing – then

II: A Red, Red Rose

As sweet and romantic as the Dickinson poem is dark, Burns’ text is expressed through mechanical-sounding, unemotional, and sometimes atonal rigidity. Imagine a robot trying (and FAILING) to express love. Listen for:

•A rigid vocal line, designed to obstruct expressiveness

•”Sweetly played in tune,” which ends in an especially dissonant chord

•Repetitive statements of Dies Irae, the most popular medieval doomsday chant

TEXT

O my Luve is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve is like the melody
That’s sweetly played in tune.

So fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
I will love thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only luve!
And fare thee weel awhile!
And I will come again, my luve,
Though it were ten thousand mile.

III: Eeny, meeny, miny, moe

This dopey children’s rhyme – the inspiration behind Opposite Day – is performed with severity and needless drama. Listen for:

•Relationships between the opening violin line and both the main vocal theme and “Catch a tiger…” violin part

•Depth and gravity provided by the piano tremolo on low B-flats

•Sweeping piano figures and melismatic vocal/violin lines, behaving as though the “Catch a tiger…” text is something profound

•Recitativo on “My mother…” for added drama

TEXT

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe,
Catch a tiger by the toe.
If he hollers, let him go,
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.

My mother says to pick the very best one,
and that is Y-O-U!

IV: The Preamble to the US Constitution

Perhaps all of this irreverence could be remedied with a little patriotism. Listen for:

•Again, frequent use of the violin as accompaniment – even omitting the piano for an extended section

•A quote from the beginning of Gustav Mahler’s 1st symphony (played in piano chords), and a chord progression inspired by Anton Bruckner’s 4th – referencing two red-blooded American composers

•Our National Anthem. Definitely.

TEXT

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

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Violons dans le soir (Violins in the Night) – Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)
text by Madame la Comtesse de Noailles

This strange composition is based on words, stranger yet! What deceptively begins as peacefulness shortly turns to turbulence as the musical ferocity parallels that of the text. The “violins in the night” are clearly an allegory for something; perhaps they represent temptation and human nature? Decide for yourself as Saint-Saëns’ famously idiomatic violin writing assaults this otherwise peaceful art song. Listen for:

•The gentle, lilting, and distinctly French-sounding piano introduction – like falling water droplets

•The subtle entrance of the violin, seamlessly integrated into the existing texture

•A gradual shift in character as the violin part begins to stand out more and more

•Acute text setting: Peaceful words are set to serene music, and intense text is always accompanied by persistent, bravado violin playing

•The violin cadenza near the end of the piece, seemingly without context

•The final, chromatic descent between the voice and violin in unison

ENGLISH TRANSLATION from French

“When night has come,
All is calm at last in the heat of nature,
Here is born beneath the tree and divine sky
The most vibrant torture.

On the silver gravel, in the calm woods,
The violins become enthused:
These are the bursts of cries, of sobs, of kisses
Without constraint and without pause.

It seems that the bow rears and twists itself
On the glistening strings,
As these are the calls of pleasure and of death
And of mercy.

And the burning bow wraps itself in languor
Moans, suffers, caresses,
A voluptuous dagger that penetrates the heart
Of an exhausted intoxication!

Bows, be cursed for your burning chords,
For your explosive soul,
Red chains who, in the shadows, tear from our corpses
Scraps of living flesh…”

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Siete Canciones populares Españolas (Seven Popular Spanish Songs) – Manuel de Falla (1876-1946), arr. David Matthew Brown
text by anonymous sources

I: El paño moruno (The Moorish Cloth)

The opening song, based on yet another antiquated poem regarding the loss of virginity, demonstrates deliberate and stately syncopation amidst ornaments and harmonic colors particularly representative of Falla’s style.  Listen for:

•Changes in meter (or the implication thereof)

•Sustained violin figures to emphasize dissonant harmony

•Frequent but casual stylistic ornamentation

ENGLISH TRANSLATION from Spanish

On the fine cloth in the shop,
a stain has fallen;
For a lesser price it sells,
because it has lost its value.
¡Ay!

II: Seguidilla murciana (Dance)

Furiously fast, this song is a whirlwind of fast-paced ‘speaking,’ paired with virtuoso violin figures over a wild, triplet piano ostinato. Listen for:

•The ways in which the violin part mimics – and often aligns with vocal figures

•Vocal declamation similar to patter song (think Gilbert & Sullivan)

ENGLISH TRANSLATION from Spanish

Anyone who has a roof of glass,
should not throw stones to their neighbor’s roof.
Let us be mule drivers,
it could be on the road that we will meet!
For your great inconstancy I compare you
to a coin that runs from hand to hand;
that finally blurs, and believing it false,
no one takes it!

III: Asturiana (Asturias)

A dark but hauntingly beautiful text setting, Asturiana depicts sadness. Listen for:

•Piano texture like rain

•Dissonance at high registral points

•The use of the violin mute, and octave doubling above the voice

ENGLISH TRANSLATION from Spanish

To see if it would console me,
I stand next to a green pine,
to see if it would console me.
To see me cry, it cried.
And the pine which was green,
to see me cry, it cried!

IV: Jota (Dance)

In stark contrast to the previous movement, herein is expressed love’s joy – and even humor. Listen for:

•The violin’s alignment with the piano and voice, respectively and alternating

•Contrast between song and dance

•Rapid tempo and texture changes

ENGLISH TRANSLATION from Spanish

They say that we do not love each other
because they do not see us talking;
To your heart and to mine, they only may ask.
Now I say goodbye to you,
to your house and your window
and even though your mother doesn’t want me to
goodbye, sweetheart, until tomorrow.

V: Nana (Lullaby)

This second hauntingly beautiful melody is an Andalusian lullaby. Listen for:

•Steady rocking in the piano

•A simple but ornamented vocal line

•Minimalist violin texture, enhanced by the use of the mute, and natural harmonics

ENGLISH TRANSLATION from Spanish

Sleep, child, sleep,
sleep, my soul,
sleep, little star of the morning.
Lullay, lullaby,
lullay, lullaby,
sleep, little star of the morning.

VI: Canción (Song)

Although seemingly joyous at first, the lighthearted Canción reveals its melodramatic nature halfway through. Listen for:

•Violin left hand pizzicato and harmonics

•A tight canon of melodic statements between all three parts

•The melody in the second half remaining the same (as its previous statement) in spite of a stark change in harmony

ENGLISH TRANSLATION from Spanish

Because your eyes are traitors,
I am going to bury them;
You do not know what it costs,
“from air” to look at them, little girl.
“Mother, to the shore, Mother.”
They say that they do not love me,
[but] you have loved me…
Go away, I have won “in the air”
For [love] has been lost.
“Mother, to the shore, Mother.”

VII: Polo (Andalusian Melody)

This passionate declaration of lost love and betrayal is perfect conclusion to our upcoming album. Listen for:

•A highly melismatic, quasi-improvisatory character in the voice and violin parts

•Furious, dissonant instrumental ‘jabs’ and ostinati

ENGLISH TRANSLATION from Spanish

Alas!
I keep a…“Alas!”
I keep a…“Alas!”
I keep a sorrow in my breast
I keep a sorrow in my breast
Alas! That to none I will tell!
Wretched love, wretched love!
“Alas!” And he who made me to understand!