Oct 25, 2019 in Analysis
Comparative Listening

The paper consists of two parts. Each part compares a set of music pieces. The first part parallels Franz Schubert’s song “Erlkoenig” with Black Sabbath’s song “Black Sabbath.” The second part parallels the music pieces “Reverie” by Claude Debussy with “Reverie” by Billy Joel. The aim of the paper is to figure out similarities and differences between the songs and music pieces, according to their styles, use of texts, emotional influence and form; and to describe the impressions and analyze observations.

Comparative Listening of “Erlkoenig” by Franz Schubert’s and “Black Sabbath” by Black Sabbath

“Erlkoenig” and “Black Sabbath” have both similarities and differences in text and music. To begin with, the history of these songs is different. The “Erlkoenig” is the Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s poem, which refers to the Enlightenment period of art, but is fulfilled with Goethe’s mysticism. The poem was inspired by the folk Danish legend, often used in romantic ballads by the poets of 19th century Romantic Movement. Franz Schubert, as a representative of the early Romantic Era in music, composed the music for the Goethe’s poem. Thus, according to the above, the song refers to the early Romantic style, takes its origin from the old mystical legend about the King of Elves and has different authors of lyrics and music, as well as it can have different performers. 

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To compare the origin of the song “Erlkoenig” to the history of the “Black Sabbath”, it becomes obvious, that “Black Sabbath” comes from the old legend and is full of mysticism too. A book of dark magic of the 17th century inspired Ozzy Obsourne to write this song. The song gave birth to such genres in music, as heavy metal, doom metal (or doom rock) and gothic rock. The authors and performers of the song are only the band “Black Sabbath”.

Despite the similar origin and atmosphere of the songs, the style extremely differs. The “Erlkoenig” is a romantic ballad, which uses different modulations that occur with the characters. The music and the lyrics all sound as a hallucination and the steep triplets disappear, when the son dies. The song by Schubert is a classical piece performing in a romantic manner, so it demands specific professionalism of a piano player and vocal performers to demonstrate the characters, so the use of voice is more complex in the Schubert’s work, while the “Black Sabbath” is a song of metal style. It demands a specific non-academic manner of voice performing and provides the use of outer noises and electro-guitars. Both songs succeed in creating an urgent atmosphere; the first one – by the romantic style with different rhythms, frequent modulations and gradations, while the another – by the metal style with its distortions, ominous voice performance and heavy beats. 

To continue with the music of both songs, one may notice, that both of them make an impression of anxiety and mystery. Franz Schubert set the Goethe’s poem on the solo voice and piano. His song consists of four parts referring to four characters of the poem. These are son, father, the King of Elves and the narrator. Each character demands his own vocal representation, for instance the narrator is performed in the minor mode, the father – in minor and major modes, the son – in minor modes, but with the higher range. The King of Elves demonstrates mainly major modes, but demands changes of rhythmicity and modulations to interact with the characters. In addition, the rapid triplets, performed in an urgent and dark manner simulate a galloping horse throughout the song and leave no space for relaxation or rest even while the piece slows down, because the listener predicts, that it would go quicker at once. This prediction strongly represents the way person discovers his own deep unconscious fears to transform them into the image, as the son does with the King of Elves.

Meanwhile, the “Black Sabbath” is the song with the similar triplets, setting listeners to feel anxious and frustrating. The low triplets, as well as in the “Erlkoenig”, simulate the worrying atmosphere; the recording of the storm noise and chime-bells combined with the ominous manner of Ozzy’s vocal performing support this anxiety. The difference is also notable in use of instruments – Black Sabbath use recordings of outside noises, distortion guitar basses and heavy beats, which determine the metal style of music. The music provides only two characters, as well as the text does, - Satan comes melodically in the quick coda, while the character of the narrator appears in the beginning with the slow and suppressing chords.

Speaking about the motifs of lyrics, both represent the above-mentioned fears. Like Erlking, like Satan are both archetypes of the unconscious human’s fear of something unknown and unexperienced, which lays deep inside of the soul. This may be the dark side of the human’s thoughts and desires. The difference is that in the first case, the son feels protection of his father during his morbid mares. He cannot resist his fear as well as he cannot resist his fever and dies by the end of the poem. At the times of Goethe, one of the biggest fears was disease, from which one may not recover. The fear of death transformed into the fear of a fairy character in a sick childish mind. The culmination comes, when the son does not just watch or hear the Erlking, but when he feels his touch: “My father, my father, he's touching me now! The Elfking has done me harm!". The “Erlkoenig” is definitely more poetic, because it has a developed system of characters and different literature tropes.

In the other case, Satan comes to the narrator as a pure fear with no reasoning of disease or fever. This fear is mainly connected to the inner dark thoughts: “Big black shape with eyes of fire, telling people their desire.” The Black Sabbath sing about the human’s fears of themselves and their own sins. The image of the object of this fear is a typical person, reflecting the whole humanity. The song represents mainly the motif of fear without a plot, which is different to the Schubert’s song, where there is a strict plot.

Thus, the text of each song harmonically complies with the music, but if there were no lyrics, the melody of each piece would tell the listener the same story of feeling and changing moods, where the evil takes its advantage in the end of the song, but not forever. It comes out of the steep endings of each song. Nevertheless, both songs perform their beauty. The beauty of the Schubert’s piece is in its complexity, academicism and logical structure; and the beauty of Black Sabbath’s song comes from its freshness and experimentation.

Comparative Listening of “Reverie” by Claude Debussy and “Reverie” by Billy Joel

Speaking about Reverie, one should note, that this is a well-known French resort, famous for its significant views and mild Mediterranean climate. This resort was a place of rest among different artists, especially in the end of the 19th century. There are many paintings, literature and music pieces, devoted to Reverie. In addition, Reverie was the favorite art object for Impressionists, such as Renoir and Cezanne. 

Both “Reveries” by Claude Debussy and by Billy Joel have the same title, depict the same place and demonstrate the same moods. Both compositions are classical solo piano opuses referring to the piano sonata forms, so their style and techniques are similar. It is a wide spread situation, when different artists of different epochs apply to the same object. Very often, this object has an equal impression on these artists, however, the manner of depicting is differently represented through the prism of their perception and as a result, one may enjoy different music pieces, noticing some hints and allusions in their form, which essentially connect these pieces with the help of one motif.

Claude Debussy composed Impressionist music. He was the one to create a new concept of tonality in the discourse of the European music. He frequently used parallel chords, as the “Reverie” shows, but there are bitonal chords throughout the opus. In addition, there are many modulations without the bridges. The most outstanding feature of the “Reverie” is the glittering passages throughout the opus. The piece lasts for 4:30 minutes and it is integral from the beginning to the end, rarely changing its rhythmicity. The composition is calm and mild, as the Mediterranean climate is. The ending of the piece slows down and ends logically. All this makes an impression of the mild wind, quiet sunset and calm sea. The main thing is that there is only Impression after listening to the composition, which confidently influences the mood of the listener by its synthesis of monophonic melodic tonality with the harmonies.

The album Fantasies & Delusions was the first classical album of Billy Joel, where Richard Joo performed his original compositions. Billy Joel’s “Reverie” is a longer piece. It lasts for 9:32 minutes and has another composition, representing parts with different rhythmicity and blistering passages, tearing the composition into controversial moods. This tearing melody dates back to the history of the Reverie resort, as well as the history of the whole Europe. 

Speaking about the emotional response of a listener, the Billy Joel’s piece is more epic, some modulations lack bridges, as it was in Debussy’s opus, but this represents the changing history and time, but not only impression. Joel’s music includes more ratio than emotio, to compare it to Debussy. One may notice the allusions to the ever-changing concept of art from Impressionism to Constructivism and Structuralism; another may discover some echoes of the World Wars that affected Reverie, and other disasters it had lived out. That is why there is a successive change of forte and piano throughout the piece, which was absent in Debussy’s one.

The surprising fact, the listener may bring out after listening to both pieces is that the moments of Billy Joel’s composition, where the melody calms down is very similar to the whole Claude Debussy’s “Reverie.” This may mean that the impression Reverie makes is extremely strong and provokes same feelings and thoughts among the musicians in different periods. This impression is relaxation and being far from the routine and common earthly concerns.

To conclude, the Black Sabbath and Franc Schubert represented different styles and epochs, as well as Debussy and Billy Joel, but they applied to the similar motifs, which made their art connected and trans-allusive. The “Erlking” represented the fear and disease, had a complex image system, which reflected on the music, while “Black Sabbath” introduced the motif of pure archetypical fear. Both used similar techniques to demonstrate anxiety and alarm. 

Claude Debussy’s “Reverie” demonstrates mainly impression, is a kind of mild moody music, while Billy Joel’s “Reverie” sound deeper, and has a plot, but both of them used similar methods for making mood.


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