Thoughts on life after the PhD
A little trip down Music Memory lane…
Growing up in Austin in the 1980s, I participated, with tons of other children, in the Music Memory program. In a typical year we’d be introduced to a dozen or so pieces of classical music–opera, symphonies, chamber music pieces–and then at the end of the year there’d be a test to see how many of them we could recognize. More than thirty years later I can still recognize pieces like Pavane for a Dead Princess, Carnival of the Animals, and La Donna E Mobile because of that program.
Recently, though, I happened to remember one selection that suddenly struck me as borderline insane: Franz Schubert’s arrangement of Erlkönig (The Erlking).
The Erlking is a very short poem about a father riding a horse through the woods with his child. Said child repeatedly tells his father that he is being accosted by the Erlking (Elf King / Alder King), and the father repeatedly tells him that he’s imagining it. Eventually they arrive at their destination and the father realizes his child is dead in his arms.
We were nine.
As if it wasn’t enough to spend an entire hour having nine-year-olds listen to a song in which a) a parent doesn’t believe his child when the child says he’s being murdered and b) the child ultimately dies for no reason, I remember that our teacher drew us a picture just to make sure we understood what was going on. The picture looked something like this.
Sudden death is cute, kids!
As an adult I’m not sure if this is horrifying or awesome. Maybe a little bit of both. I’m sure my poor teachers, underpaid and overworked at the best of times, got sick of always having to teach us bright and happy stories with clear morals. I suppose they had the right to fuck with us a little every now and then.
And apparently they’re not done, because that little reverie led me to this goddamn YouTube video performance of Erlkönig, which seriously scared the bejeezus out of me as a forty-year-old. You have been warned.
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