Schubert: Der Erlkönig (The Elfking): Transcribed for Cello

Here is the sheet music for one of Schubert’s most famous and dramatic songs: Der Erlkönig (The Elfking) in a transcription for cello.

Composed by Schubert when he was only 18 years old, the transcription from voice to cello is perhaps not very appropriate, but does at least allow us to try and play this wonderful, highly-charged, tragic music, on our instrument. In this song, there are four characters who sing: the father, the child, the erlking (death) and the narrator/commentator. Each character has their own register and characteristics. We have used the cello’s enormous “vocal range” to amplify these differences in register between the characters, notably by placing the child’s interventions in the higher octave each time. This means that we will need to do some leaping up and down the fingerboard between characters. Our “Easier Version” however keeps to the same vocal register as Scubert’s original, thus avoiding the higher fingerboard regions.

It is very difficult to decide on bowings and fingerings for the Edited Versions. We might be tempted to be sensitive: playing legato, using long slurs and staying on the D-string. But this may be inappropriate because the piano really does make a lot of noise with its hammering unceasing ostinato triplet rhythms (which represent the frantic, panicked horseback ride with the dying child). For this reason, many bowings and fingerings are left unspecified. Because we are not singers, we could, if we wish, take some liberties with minor details of the melodic rhythm (see Transcribing Vocal Music for Cello). Firstly, because we don’t need to enunciate any syllables (words) we can choose to play rhythms that feel more “natural”. This will of course annoy anybody who knows the lyrics well. Secondly, because we don’t need to breathe, we can connect the phrases more, eliminating or shortening some of the rests. Some of these changes have been incorporated into the Performance Editions.

  1. Edited Performance Version
  2.   Clean Performance Version
  3.     Easier Version
  4.   Literal Transcription

Here is a play-along audio accompaniment: