Rock Around the Croc: Franz Schubert

It’s Sunday, so that means it’s time for some musical education and screaming death metal. Let’s get started!

Today’s composer is Franz Schubert (1797-1828), a man who had thirty-one years of life to write music, so he decided to write over six hundred pieces of secular vocal work, plus seven complete symphonies, sacred music, operas, and a huge number of compositions for piano and chamber music. By contrast, you’ve achieved nothing and history will not remember you at all. Sorry to have to point that out to you.

Here’s the Piano Quintet in A Major (the Trout Quintet).

When you see something described as a piano quintet, it’s fun to picture a stage with five pianos on it and an absolute cacophony assaulting the ears of a stodgy old audience, but let me clear that. When you think of chamber music, the standard is the string quartet: two violins, a viola and a cello. If a composer wants to alter that formula, the title will reflect the change but with that baseline assumption. So a piano quintet means two violins, a viola, a cello, and a piano, five pieces, hence “quintet.” Although in this case, Schubert dropped the second violin and added a double bass.

The Trout quintet was composed in 1819, but was not published until 1929, a year after Schubert’s death. The nickname comes from the fact that the fourth movement (starting at 24:29 in the above video) is a theme and variations form, borrowing the theme from a Lied (the German word for “song,” pronounced “leed”) called “The Trout.” Let’s a take a listen to that Lied and have Professor Moriarty explain the background:

What is it about making the villain sophisticated that also makes him so much more sinister? It’s the contrast, I think. Incidentally, contrast is what makes the best music the best.

Let’s talk more about Lieder. In modern German usage, it means any song, but in modern English, in which it is sometimes translated as “art song,” it refers to the German tradition of setting poetry to polyphonic music. Schubert’s most famous Lied is probably Erlkonig (Elf King), which in this performance is set to some very interesting animation:

Schubert wrote this piece in about three hours, at the age of 18. It is based on a poem of Goethe of the same name. According to Wikipedia, the poem has been set to music by about one hundred composers, but Schubert’s is by far the most famous. He published it as his Opus 1 and it immediately propelled him to fame in his native Vienna. The singer takes on four personas during the performance: narrator, father, son and Elf King. Each of these voices has its own musical identity, with the son singing only in the highest register, the father in the lowest, etc. The Elf King himself sings in an oily, seductive, major key voice until the end, when his evil nature is revealed and he shifts into a minor key. Even the horse gets a voice, of sorts, as its thundering hooves gallop throughout the piano accompaniment. Here’s the text:

Who rides, so late, through night and wind?
It is a father with his child.
He has the boy well in his arm
He holds him safely, he keeps him warm.

“My son, why do you hide your face in fear?”
“Father, do you not see the Erlking?
The Erlking with crown and tail?”
“My son, it is a streak of fog.”

“You dear child, come, go with me!
Very lovely games I’ll play with you;
Some colorful flowers are on the beach,
My mother has some golden robes.”

“My father, my father, and do you not hear
What Erlking quietly promises me?”
“Be calm, stay calm, my child;
The wind is rustling through dry leaves.”

“Do you, fine boy, want to go with me?
My daughters shall wait on you finely;
My daughters lead the nightly dance,
And rock and dance and sing you to sleep,
They rock and dance and sing you to sleep.”

“My father, my father, and don’t you see there
Erlking’s daughters in the gloomy place?”
“My son, my son, I see it clearly:
There shimmer the old willows so grey.”

“I love you, your beautiful form excites me;
And if you’re not willing, then I will use force.”
“My father, my father, he’s touching me now!
Erlking has done me harm!”

It horrifies the father, he swiftly rides on,
He holds the groaning child in his arms,
Reaches the farm with great difficulty;
In his arms, the child was dead.

That is absolutely brilliant music that thoroughly captures the musical demands of the Romantic era, with its search for new musical forms. The whole piece clocks in at under 4:30. It dwells heavily on the danger and mystery of wild nature. It explores the emotional extremes that so captivated Romantic-era composers.

Before moving on to more Schubert, I want to interrupt real quick with a song by Sarah Brightman called “Figlio Perduto,” based on the same poem, and set to the tune of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, second movement. It is a British singer, singing in Italian, to a tune by a German composer, a text made famous by an Austrian. Quite the mashup. I really dig the layered vocals that build up the intensity:

Probably my favorite Schubert piece (although it is a very, very close call) is his Serenade, arranged here for strings:

Making new arrangements of old material is definitely a theme for this week, so let’s take a listen to Franz Liszt’s version on solo piano:

Back when The Simpsons was still funny, they did a gag where Homer went to the school to hear the orchestra playing – something he did not want to do – and when he saw on the program that they were performing Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony (No. 8), he was excited because that meant it be over quickly. Much later, he’s slumped over and wondering how much longer the guy wanted it to be. Anyway, here’s the symphony, and thanks to the miracle of the internet and the fact that none of you have kids playing in Budapest Festival Orchestra, you don’t have to listen to any of it if you don’t want. What I find most striking is just how dark and ominous the opening theme is, contrasted with a really bright sounding second theme.

Given how incredibly prolific Schubert’s musical output was, I’ve only just scratched the surface here. Fortunately for me having to write this post, but unfortunately for the world of music as a whole, he died in 1828, when he was killed by terminators who were sent back in time to stop him from writing so much music that there wouldn’t be anything left for anyone else to write, ever [citation needed]. Let me finish up this discussion that although it is hilarious to make fun of how German sounds …

… the reality is that it can sound extraordinarily beautiful, as demonstrated in the Ave Maria:

Moving on to some more modern stuff, here’s a Leid called International Friendship Song, as performed by the Warner Brothers:

And a propos of nothing at all, here’s English alternative band EMF performing their biggest hit, Unbelievable. The video is one of the most 1990s things ever created. Bonus points to anyone who can figure out why I picked this song for today (I’ll be pretty surprised if anyone can get it without googling):

That’s it for this week. Thanks for joining me on this musical journey, or in the alternative for skipping straight to the comments to keep everyone entertained. I hope you have an amazing week and remember to hug someone you love.

74 Comments

  1. Yesterday after writing this post, I sat down to see how much of my library book I could read in an attempt to finish it this weekend. I made a lot of progress, but it’s not a super gripping read so I had to pause occasionally and do something else, like check in here or listen to something on YouTube or whatever. One of the YouTube recommendations was a Family Guy clip where the family is sitting around listening to Sentimental Lady by Bob Welch. Something about that song has a very nostalgic kind of feeling, although there’s nothing in my memory specifically linked to it. But that got my mind in a nostalgia kind of set, and I found I couldn’t focus on reading very much anymore, and instead I went looking for other songs that had that same kind of feeling.

    That journey reminded me of something I hadn’t thought about in a while. When I was a very young kid, probably before I was ten years old, I have this extremely fragmented memory of working on a puzzle and there was some music on in the background. Over the years I would sometimes remember that puzzle, and pieces of the song would come back to me, but not enough to identify the song, or even some lyrics I could use to figure out what the song was. That went on for decades.

    I was in my later thirties, on a road trip with my family through California, and we stopped in some random pizza place for dinner. While we ate a song came on the radio, and it was the song! The song from the puzzle! And I heard enough of the lyrics to look it up finally! The song was Don’t Answer Me, by Alan Parsons Project. It’s hard to describe the feeling of finally knowing the answer to that mystery.

  2. Wakey wakey.

    Loved the chevelle from last night. I’m a huge fan. Waiting for them to go on a proper tour – clubs.

  3. I don’t think he likes it.

  4. We are working on menu options. You can’t really hear it on the video, but he asked me what soups we have.

  5. He probably is asking for some ranch dressing.

  6. Tastes like skink!

  7. MAGA King > Elf King

  8. Even the horse gets a voice, of sorts

    Mare’s Musings

  9. Finding forgotten songs is a lot easier in the internet era than back in the day when you had to pay attention to the DJ at the breaks to hear the play list.

    Even now I’ll listen to a playlist on youtube and recognize a song I’ve heard many times, read the title and have an Aha! moment

  10. I was reading a description of a still life painting and saw the word chiaroscuro which I’ve seen many times but never actually taken the time to learn about.

    https://www.thesprucecrafts.com/what-is-chiaroscuro-4801651

    Pretty basic concept with a fancy name. I should have taken an art class in college and I would know shit like that

  11. chiaroscuro killed it

  12. Being raised in a household that spoke a lot of Italian simplified art history class in that regard.

    https://dossier.substack.com/p/where-is-the-56-billion-to-ukraine?s=r

  13. Non contact ACL blowout, interesting stuff

  14. ^^IMGUR video with sound^^^

  15. Mornin’

  16. That video wasn’t as bad as I was anticipating

  17. This place has ruined you then

    Andy, how goes things?

  18. Fun Fact: Alan Parsons was the sound engineer on Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” album.

    The EMF song samples some Andrew “Dice” Clay verbal expressions. Aside from his regular stand up comedy routines he also composed German operas.

  19. “Aside from his regular stand up comedy routines he also composed German operas.”

    Close, but you’re way off.

  20. Dang. Ummm, “EMF” stands for Erlking Musical Fantasy!

  21. Ah, I looked it up. I now have The Knowledge.

  22. I’d have believed Italian Limericks.

  23. Actual gifycat video with sound of Mitchell’s music history contribution:

    https://is.gd/jU33m3

  24. I hope you have an amazing week and remember to hug someone you love.

    https://is.gd/yTIikY

  25. * Actual gifycat video with sound of Mitchell’s music history contribution*

    I contributed!! *\o/*

  26. New favorite reaction gif:

    https://is.gd/1wnfZr

  27. Lizard count +3.75

    Big boy skink is missing his tail.

    Somewhere there is a baby bird remembering the weirdest worm ever.

  28. Oso, we are not getting any younger and with the devaluation of our money and who knows what will happen with transportation, go on your trip. Go to Kauai, more bang for your buck (Shut your whore mouths).

    I’m not one to encourage people to be irresponsible but go on your trip now while your health is good and you can really enjoy it. Plus you lost weight and deserve to show it off.

  29. Comment by Pupster on May 15, 2022 1:59 pm
    New favorite reaction gif:

    https://is.gd/1wnfZr

    ——-

    Stealing it.

  30. Wait, the only place I would use it is here.

    Nevermind.

  31. Pups how was the party? Sangria?

  32. For Oso only:

    My brother just texted last week and said I have some fun news.

    I thought maybe he bought new skis or a mountain bike or had a fun trip planned.

    He said they are building a 3 bedroom, 3.5 bath house (with a separate space for a workout studio) at Wailea (on Maui). It’s on the blue golf course up the hill just a bit and across from the Wailea shopping center.

    I’m still reeling. It’s life goals for me. And the happy hours are going to be amazing.

  33. Party was fun, people went out of their way to compliment the Sangria I made which was nice. I didn’t like it being a sweet white wine person but other folks said it was really good. Also, it turns out I have a natural ability at this party game, who-woulda-believed-it.

    https://www.redneckhorseshoes.com/shop

  34. Heh, well done, Pups, on the sangria and the beer toss.

  35. Mare, that is awesome. Great news. Sobek, I’m always surprised when I recognize some of the music you post. Sunday golf is the best.

  36. You’re an EMF fan?

  37. I am today years old when I learned that the little green (and sometimes brown) lizards around here are called “anoles”.

  38. Pups, that looks pretty fun and slightly less noisy to the neighbors at 3 am than horseshoes.

    Is the bucket a regular bucket, or slanted on the bottom?

  39. Bonus points for the Animaniacs song and the Alan Parsons Project song.

    “Don’t Answer Me” takes me back to senior year in high school. I was on the scholars bowl team. There was a junior who thought he should have my spot on the team and spent the better part of the year dissing me. I was actually younger than him, which I think was his main gripe. The coach basically said put up or shut up, and he never beat me or Julia in the practice sessions, so he remained backup team member. We went all the way to the state tournament in Myrtle Beach and made it through the semi-finals on the first day. That evening, the team and the coach sat on the beach and listened to the radio (a boombox straight out of “Say Anything”) and the waves. It was too cold to swim. “Break My Stride” played, then “Don’t Answer Me”, and I sang along to both. All of a sudden, this turkey put a move on me, and I pushed him away, didn’t say anything, just a look like, “are you out of your fucking mind?” He retreated back to the boys’ hotel room.

    The next day, we won the state tournament, and I scored my share of points. The one I remember most was a bonus question, 50 points each for the Tudor monarchs of England, and I named all five.

    Then I found $20 and a Funk & Wagnall’s encyclopedia set.

  40. That’s a great glory days memory, Roamy. Very cool.

  41. It’s slanted on the bottom, we put the bags from the cornhole bag-toss game in the bottom of the buckets for stability.

  42. Roamy unintentionally (I think) reminded me I’m a dolt.

  43. I love this song:

  44. Got a hail storm going on here right now. Hope that puts an end to July in May.

  45. So, #1 son was checking cattle and ran into a guy at the water tank.

    Guy (mid 30’s w/ a pony tail): Sorry for trespassing on your property, but I’m a USFS firefighter and was out jogging and got lost.

    #1 son: Seriously?

    Guy: Yeah, I got off the trail and got turned around. How do I get back to the USFS headquarters?

    #1 son: WTF??

    (Our pasture borders the USFS headquarters, it’s fairly flat and open. A five year old kid wouldn’t get lost.)

    #1 son: See the paved state highway over there about 300 yards?

    Guy: No……

    #1 son: There are big yellow signs on it. Look, there goes a truck.

    Guy: Ok, how do I get there? Is there a road? I don’t like jogging off trail….

    #1 son: It’s ok, just head that way, you can make it.

    I have no idea if the guy made it back, the headquarters was at most a half mile away. If he had climbed up a hill about 30 feet, he could have seen the USFS headquarters. No more sense than a baby duck, and he’s a wild land firefighter.

  46. Typical government employee, Pepe.

  47. “Glory Days” was another song from around that time. A little later, maybe. I remember my landlady in 1985 complaining about all the drinking in the song.

    Mare, the only thing it’s good for these days is crossword puzzles. But it was fun at the time. We had a well-balanced team. Rob did sports, and I was his backup on math and science. Julia did geography and I was her backup on literature. Trey did art and music. I did history and current events, like the president of France at the time was Mitterrand. Final round was against a school from Charleston, and I knew their lead guy from Governor’s School the previous summer. He was the George Brett of their team, everyone else was along for the ride.

  48. Scanning electron microscope showing how a record works:

  49. Somehow I got picked or volunteered to do a college bowl competition when I was a senior. I only have a vague memory of it because it was so random and a one off. Pretty sure it was at Framingham State and we had no prep for it. We won a couple of rounds and went home after losing. I can’t even recall who my teammates were for the event. No one hit on me which was probably a good thing if I can’t remember my teammates.

  50. Electron microscope guy’s got a bum sputter coater

  51. More Schubert:

  52. Jimbro, that’s awesome

  53. Very cool video, Jimbro!

  54. Whoa, Jimbro, Tesla was correct.

  55. Mare, we pulled the trigger on another Kauai vacation. We leave tomorrow for Tulsa and the PGA Championship. Byron Nelson was pretty awesome today. Only able to binge one episode of Lincoln Lawyer because of golf and Penguin hockey.

  56. Sobek, I just recognized some of the music. Not nerdy enough to claim fandom.

  57. Hopefully you enjoyed it, too.

  58. Is the preference cascade finally coming to WAPO?

  59. Bezos is trying to avoid a guillotine, methinks.

  60. Always do enjoy the music posts. You and Geoff are IB OG. We’re the paste eating window licker splitters.

  61. Flight to Bozeman is $ Lodging in Bozeman $$$$. Kauai is $ in comparison.

  62. Don’t trust Bozites with your bags.

  63. I finished my book! Hooray!

  64. Oh, before I log off for the day, the EMF connection was because that song was from an album entitled “Schubert Dip,” so named because one of the song writers said whenever he got stuck for which chord progression to use, he would steal an idea from Schubert.

  65. Daisy earnestly recited prayers.

  66. So everyone is at H3?

  67. I’m up. We had a run-away dog this morning. Was probably chasing a deer or something. When she realized no one ran away with her, she came back.

    She’s like that.

  68. Good morning, you lovely bunch of coconuts!

  69. A guy was on our street Saturday, driving slowly with his passenger door open, chasing his dog. The dog was running with bounding joy from yard to yard. Obviously no healthy fear of the road. We were out front doing yard work as this all developed. It ran into my next door neighbor’s backyard and so I ran into mine to intercept. He came to me twice, let me pet him, warily, skittering sideways at the last second with a big game smile on his face. Some kind of tall handsome mutt. He had very short sleek hair and no collar on so I could only grasp him about the head and neck briefly before he smoked me and ran to the front yard and then several more yards away.

    The owner was in the road, calling. Occasionally running into yards. Whole neighborhood is in their front yards now, helping by shouting coordinates.

    Happy mutt ran a few yards down, then back to our yard, and finally curiously entered the open door of our porch. Scott swiftly closed the porch door, grabbed a hooked freight strap from his van, make-shift loop for a leash, howdoyado, here’s your dog back.

    The guy thanked us and said he’d bring our strap “right back.” Hasn’t yet.

  70. MMM 495


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