Sunday, December 28, 2014

Loewe - Sir Olaf Opus 2, No. 2

The Erlking (Erlkönig in German)  is a Scandinavian folktale that was introduced to Germany in the 18th century and is most closely associated with the poem written by Johann Goethe in 1782 and set to music by Franz Schubert.  Goethe's Erlking poem was inspired by a translation by Johann Herder of a much older poem originally published in 1739 in Denmark. Scholars reckon that the original Danish poem dates from sometime in the Middle ages, which in turn may have been passed down from old Breton legends.

Johann Herder
The poem that Herder translated didn't deal with the Erlking directly, but with the Erlking's daughter. The Danish poem was known as Oluf han rider, (Olaf he rides).  The ballad tells of Sir Olaf riding through the woods to his wedding. On the way he meets a group of elves dancing in the forest and the Erlking's daughter repeatedly asks him to dance with her. Olaf refuses repeatedly her offers of gold until the Erlking's daughter becomes angry and strikes him a painful blow. Sir Olaf makes it back to his home and mother. The next morning Olaf is found by his bride dead under his red cloak.

Carl Loewe set the poem in 1821 and it was published in 1824 in his opus 2 set of songs. Loewe was a well regarded baritone singer as well as a composer and conductor. He wrote in many different genres but was most well known for over 400 songs.  The beginning of the 21st century has seen an increased interest in Loewe and his songs, especially in Germany.

Sir Olaf rides late and far to
summon his wedding guests.
Elves are dancing on a green bank,
and the Erlking's daughter offers him her hand.
"Welcome, Sir Olaf, come dance with me
and I will give you golden spurs."

"I cannot dance, I do not wish to dance - for tomorrow is my wedding-day."
"Come closer, Sir Olaf, come dance with me,
and I will give you a shirt of silk, a shirt of silk so white and fine -
my mother bleached it with moonbeams!"
"I may not dance, I do not wish to dance -
for tomorrow is my wedding-day."

"Come closer, Sir Olaf, come dance with me
and I will give you a heap of gold."
"A heap of gold I would gladly take,
but I cannot and should not dance with you."
"If you will not dance with me, Sir Olaf,
then plague and sickness will follow you!"

She dealt him a blow to the heart,
and all his life he had never felt such pain.
Then she heaved him up upon his horse:
"Ride home to your worthy lady then!"
And when he came to the door to his house,
his mother, trembling, stood before him.

"Tell me, my son, and tell me true,
Why are you so pale and sick?"
"And should I not be pale and sick?
I was in the Erlking's realm."
"Tell me, my son, so dear, What should I tell your bride?"
"Tell her that I rode to the wood,
To test my horse and hound."

At early morning when day had hardly dawned,
his bride arrived with the wedding crowd. They poured mead and wine:
"Where is Sir Olaf, my bridegroom?"
"Sir Olaf rode to the wood,
To test his horse and hound."
The bride lifted up the cloth scarlet red,
Under it lay Sir Olaf: he was dead.

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