Based on sketches by Ludwig van Beethoven WoO 131
Reconstruction by Cees Nieuwenhuizen opus 52
Beethoven set many texts of Goethe to music during his life. In 1792, when he was 22 years old, Beethoven wrote a song based on a poem by Goethe, Erlkönig. It remained unfinished, probably because the composer (22 years old) had to write dances for orchestra that were performed in the Hofburg Redoutensaal in Vienna. In 1822, Beethoven and his brother had plans to issue his early, unpublished works. In these years he edited and completed a number of early sketches. Was it because he died in March 1827 that he would never finish Erlkönig? We will never know. The song remained a sketch.
Many songs by Beethoven are composed in a form that we also find in Erlkönig. For example, the song Adelaïde opus 46 is very similar in its form to Erlkönig. It is very likely that Beethoven would have written Erlkönig in the same way as his other songs.
Beethoven interrupts both text and melody frequently. In total we have just enough material to get a reasonable overall picture of the composition. We know that the piece would have begun with a great introduction that would also be used at the end of the song. In some places we had to fill in the missing Goethe text and the vocal melody, firstly to create a complete song and secondly to use the full text. In other places we had to fill in the missing piano parts. The entire piano part of the ending is written by the composer.