Hugo Wolf

Last updated
Photograph of Hugo Wolf Hugo Wolf.jpg
Photograph of Hugo Wolf
Star on Musik Meile Vienna Musik Meile Wien, Hugo Wolf (27).jpg
Star on Musik Meile Vienna

Hugo Philipp Jacob Wolf (13 March 1860 – 22 February 1903) [1] was an Austrian composer of Slovene origin, particularly noted for his art songs, or Lieder. He brought to this form a concentrated expressive intensity which was unique in late Romantic music, somewhat related to that of the Second Viennese School in concision but diverging greatly in technique.

Contents

Though he had several bursts of extraordinary productivity, particularly in 1888 and 1889, depression frequently interrupted his creative periods, and his last composition was written in 1898, before he suffered a mental collapse caused by syphilis.

Early life (1860–1887)

Hugo Wolf was born in Windischgrätz in the Duchy of Styria (now Slovenj Gradec, Slovenia), then a part of the Austrian Empire. From his maternal side, he was related to Herbert von Karajan. [2] [3] He spent most of his life in Vienna, becoming a representative of "New German" trend in Lieder, a trend which followed from the expressive, chromatic and dramatic musical innovations of Richard Wagner.

A child prodigy, Wolf was taught piano and violin by his father beginning at the age of four, and once in primary school studied piano and music theory with Sebastian Weixler. Subjects other than music failed to hold his interest; he was dismissed from the first secondary school he attended as being "wholly inadequate," left another over his difficulties in the compulsory Latin studies, and after a falling-out with a professor who commented on his "damned music," quit the last. From there, he went to the Vienna Conservatory much to the disappointment of his father, who had hoped his son would not try to make his living from music. Once again, however, he was dismissed for "breach of discipline," although the oft-rebellious Wolf would claim he quit in frustration over the school's conservatism.

After eight months with his family, he returned to Vienna to teach music. Though his fiery temperament was not ideally suited to teaching, Wolf's musical gifts, as well as his personal charm, earned him attention and patronage. Support of benefactors allowed him to make a living as a composer, and a daughter of one of his greatest benefactors inspired him to write to Vally ("Valentine") Franck, his first love, with whom he was involved for three years. During their relationship, hints of his mature style would become evident in his Lieder. Wolf was prone to depression and wide mood swings, which would affect him all through his life. When Franck left him just before his 21st birthday, he was despondent. He returned home, although his family relationships were also strained; his father was still convinced his son was a ne'er-do-well. His brief and undistinguished tenure as second Kapellmeister at Salzburg only reinforced this opinion: Wolf had neither the temperament, the conducting technique nor the affinity for the decidedly non-Wagnerian repertoire to be successful, and within a year had again returned to Vienna to teach in much the same circumstances as before.

Hugo Wolf (1885) Postcard-1910 Hugo Wolf.jpg
Hugo Wolf (1885)

Wagner's death in February 1883 was another deeply moving event in the life of the young composer. The song "Zur Ruh, zur Ruh" was composed shortly afterward and is considered to be the best of his early works; it is speculated that it was intended as an elegy for Wagner. Wolf often despaired of his own future in the ensuing years, in a world from which his idol had departed, leaving tremendous footsteps to follow and no guidance on how to do so. This left him often extremely temperamental, alienating friends and patrons, although his charm helped him retain them more than his actions merited. His songs had meanwhile caught the attention of Franz Liszt, whom he respected greatly, and who like Wolf's previous mentors advised him to pursue larger forms; advice he this time followed with the symphonic tone poem Penthesilea. His activities as a critic began to pick up. He was merciless in his criticism of the inferior works he saw taking over the musical atmosphere of the time; [4] those of Anton Rubinstein he considered particularly odious. But he was as fervent in his support of Liszt, Schubert and Chopin, whose genius he recognized. Known as "Wild Wolf" for the intensity and expressive strength of his convictions, his vitriol made him some enemies. He composed little during this time, and what he did write he couldn't get performed; the Rosé Quartet (led by Vienna Philharmonic concertmaster Arnold Rosé) would not even look at his D minor Quartet after it was picked apart in a column, and the premiere of Penthesilea was met by the Vienna Philharmonic, when they tried it out under their celebrated conservative conductor Hans Richter, with nothing but derision for 'the man who had dared to criticize "Meister Brahms,'" as Richter himself caustically put it.

He abandoned his activities as a critic in 1887 and began composing once more; perhaps not unexpectedly, the first songs he wrote after his compositional hiatus (to poems by Goethe, Joseph von Eichendorff and Joseph Viktor von Scheffel) emphasized themes of strength and resolution under adversity. Shortly thereafter, he completed the terse, witty one-movement Italian Serenade for string quartet which is regarded as one of the finest examples of his mature instrumental compositional style. Only a week later his father died, leaving him devastated, and he did not compose for the remainder of the year.

Maturity (1888–1896)

1888 and 1889 proved to be amazingly productive years for Wolf, and a turning point in his career. After the publication of a dozen of his songs late the preceding year, Wolf once again desired to return to composing, and travelled to the vacation home of the Werners—family friends whom Wolf had known since childhood—in Perchtoldsdorf (a short train ride from Vienna), to escape and compose in solitude. Here he composed the Mörike-Lieder at a frenzied pace. A short break, and a change of house, this time to the vacation home of more longtime friends, the Ecksteins, and the Eichendorff-Lieder followed, then the 51 Goethe-Lieder, spilling into 1889. After a summer holiday, the Spanisches Liederbuch was begun in October 1889; [5] though Spanish-flavoured compositions were in fashion in the day, Wolf sought out poems that had been neglected by other composers.

Wolf himself saw the merit of these compositions immediately, raving to friends that they were the best things he had yet composed (it was with the aid and urging of several of the more influential of them that the works were initially published). It was now that the world outside Vienna would recognize Wolf as well. Tenor Ferdinand Jäger, whom Wolf had heard in Parsifal during his brief summer break from composing, was present at one of the first concerts of the Mörike works and quickly became a champion of his music, performing a recital of only Wolf and Beethoven in December 1888. His works were praised in reviews, including one in the Münchener Allgemeine Zeitung , a widely read German newspaper. (The recognition was not always positive; Brahms's adherents, still smarting from Wolf's merciless reviews, returned the favor—when they would have anything to do with him at all. Brahms's biographer Max Kalbeck ridiculed Wolf for his immature writing and odd tonalities; another composer refused to share a program with him, while Amalie Materna, a Wagnerian singer, had to cancel her Wolf recital when allegedly faced with the threat of being on the critics' blacklist if she went on.)

Only a few more settings, completing the first half of the Italienisches Liederbuch , were composed in 1891 before Wolf's mental and physical health once again took a downturn at the end of the year; exhaustion from his prolific past few years combined with the effects of syphilis and his depressive temperament caused him to stop composing for the next several years. Continuing concerts of his works in Austria and Germany spread his growing fame; even Brahms and the critics who had previously reviled Wolf gave favorable reviews. However, Wolf was consumed with depression, which stopped him from writing—which only left him more depressed. He completed orchestrations of previous works, but new compositions were not forthcoming, and certainly not the opera which he was now fixated on composing, still convinced that success in the larger forms was the mark of compositional greatness.

Wolf had scornfully rejected the libretto to Der Corregidor when it was first presented to him in 1890, but his determination to compose an opera blinded him to its faults upon second glance. Based on The Three-Cornered Hat , by Pedro Antonio de Alarcón, the darkly humorous story about an adulterous love triangle is one that Wolf could identify with: he had been in love with Melanie Köchert, married to his friend Heinrich Köchert, for several years. (It is speculated that their romance began in earnest in 1884, when Wolf accompanied the Köcherts on holiday; though Heinrich discovered the affair in 1893 he remained Wolf's patron and Melanie's husband.) The opera was completed in nine months and was initially met with success, but Wolf's musical setting could not compensate for the weakness of the text, and it was doomed to failure; it has not yet been successfully revived.

A renewal of creative activity resulted in Wolf's completion of the Italienisches Liederbuch with two dozen songs written in March and April 1896, the composition of three Michelangelo Lieder in March, 1897 (a group of six had been projected) and preliminary work during that year on an opera, Manuel Venegas. [6]

Final years (1897–1903)

Wolf's last concert appearance, which included his early champion Jäger, was in February 1897. Shortly thereafter Wolf slipped into syphilitic insanity, with only occasional spells of wellbeing. He left sixty pages of an unfinished opera, Manuel Venegas, in 1897, in a desperate attempt to finish before he lost his mind completely; after mid-1899 he could make no music at all and once even tried to drown himself, after which he was placed in a Vienna asylum at his own insistence. Melanie visited him faithfully during his decline until his death on 22 February 1903, but her unfaithfulness to her husband tortured her and she killed herself in 1906.

Wolf is buried in the Zentralfriedhof (Central Cemetery) in Vienna, along with many other notable composers.

Music

Wolf's greatest musical influence was Richard Wagner, who, in an encounter after Wolf first came to the Vienna Conservatory, encouraged the young composer to persist in composing and to attempt larger-scale works, cementing Wolf's desire to emulate his musical idol. His antipathy to Johannes Brahms was fueled equally by his devotion to Wagner's musical radicalism and his loathing of Brahms' musical "conservatism".

He is best known by his lieder, his temperament and inclination leading him to more intimate, subjective and terse musical utterances. Although he initially believed that mastering the larger forms was the hallmark of a great composer (a belief his early mentors reinforced), the smaller scale of the art song proved to provide an ideal creative outlet for his musical expression and came to be regarded as the genre best suited to his peculiar genius. Wolf's lieder are noted for compressing expansive musical ideas and depth of feeling, fed by his skill at finding the just right musical setting for the poetry that inspired him. Though Wolf himself was obsessed with the idea that to compose only short forms was to be second-rate, his organization of lyrics of particular poets (Goethe; Mörike; Eichendorff; Heyse & Geibel in the Spanish and Italian Songbooks) into semicyclical anthologies, finding connections between texts not explicitly intended by the poets he set and his conceptions of individual songs as dramatic works in miniature, mark him as a talented dramatist despite having written only one not particularly successful opera, Der Corregidor.

Early in his career Wolf modelled his lieder after those of Franz Schubert and Robert Schumann, particularly in the period around his relationship with Vally Franck; in fact, they were good enough imitations to pass off as the real thing, which he once attempted, though his cover was blown too soon. It is speculated that his choice of lieder texts in the earlier years, largely dealing with sin and anguish, were partly influenced by his contraction of syphilis. His love for Vally, not fully requited, inspired highly chromatic and philosophical lieder that could be regarded as successors to Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder cycle. Others were as distant from those in mood as possible; lighthearted and humorous. The rarely heard symphonic poem Penthesilea is tempestuous and highly colored as well. Although Wolf admired Liszt, who had encouraged him to complete the work, he felt Liszt's own music too dry and academic and strove for color and passion.

1888 marked a turning point in his style as well as his career, with the Mörike, Eichendorff and Goethe sets drawing him away from Schubert's simpler, more diatonic lyricism and into "Wölferl's own howl". Mörike in particular drew out and complemented Wolf's musical gifts, the variety of subjects suiting Wolf's tailoring of music to text, his dark sense of humor matching Wolf's own, his insight and imagery demanding a wider variety of compositional techniques and command of text painting to portray. In his later works he relied less on the text to give him his musical framework and more on his pure musical ideas themselves; the later Spanish and Italian songs reflect this move toward "absolute music".

Wolf wrote hundreds of lieder, three operas, incidental music, choral music, as well as some rarely heard orchestral, chamber and piano music. His most famous instrumental piece is the Italian Serenade (1887), originally for string quartet and later transcribed for orchestra, which marked the beginning of his mature style.

Wolf was famous for his use of tonality to reinforce meaning. Concentrating on two tonal areas to musically depict ambiguity and conflict in the text became a hallmark of his style, resolving only when appropriate to the meaning of the song. His chosen texts were often full of anguish and inability to find resolution, and thus so too was the tonality wandering, unable to return to the home key. Use of deceptive cadences, chromaticism, dissonance, and chromatic mediants obscure the harmonic destination for as long as the psychological tension is sustained. His formal structure as well reflected the texts being set, and he wrote almost none of the straightforward strophic songs favoured by his contemporaries, instead building the form around the nature of the work.

Notable works

Opera

Lieder

Instrumental

Recording projects

Individual songs have been included in the recorded repertoire of many singers. Significant early Wolf recording artists included Elisabeth Schumann, Heinrich Rehkemper, Heinrich Schlusnus, Josef von Manowarda, Lotte Lehmann, Karl Erb and others. [7] Early post-War collections were recorded by Suzanne Danco, Anton Dermota and Gérard Souzay (all before 1953), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (1954), Hans Hotter (1954), Erna Berger (1956), Heinrich Rehfuss (1955) and Elisabeth Schumann (1958), and important individual songs by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, and Elisabeth Höngen. [8] Gerald Moore was a distinguished accompanist in Wolf song recordings. Fischer-Dieskau recorded a large collection of Mörike songs with Moore in March 1959. [9] Some major projects have attempted more comprehensive coverage.

Hugo Wolf Society edition

In September 1931 the Hugo Wolf Society was formed under the aegis of English His Master's Voice records supervised by Walter Legge [10] for the recording of a substantial proportion of the song repertoire. These were to be issued to subscribers in limited editions. [11] The artists participating were restricted to those under contract to this company. Each volume consisted of six HMV red-label discs (unobtainable separately) and retailed new at $15.00 Am. The Wolf Society recordings were re-released in 1981. [12]

Artists included Alexander Kipnis (III, IV, V); Herbert Janssen (II, V, VI); Gerhard Hüsch (II, III, IV, V); John McCormack (accompanied by Edwin Schneider) (II); Alexandre Trianti (II, III); Ria Ginster (IV, V); Friedrich Schorr (II); Elisabeth Rethberg (IV, V); Tiana Lemnitz (VI); Helge Roswaenge (VI); Marta Fuchs (VI) and Karl Erb (VI). [14] Each volume was accompanied by a booklet containing a short essay by Ernest Newman (I: Words and Music in Hugo Wolf, II: Wolf's Goethe Songs, III: A Note of Wolf as Craftsman, IV: The Italienisches Liederbuch) together with German texts, English translations (by Winifred Radford) and notes on each song (by Newman). [11]

DGG Hugo Wolf Lieder Edition

A Hugo Wolf Lieder Edition was recorded by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Daniel Barenboim during the 1970s for DGG, each volume containing three records. Volume I (1974): Mörike Lieder (Paris Grand Prix du Disque). Volume II (1976): Lieder on poems by Goethe, Heine and Lenau. Volume III (1977): Lieder on poems by Eichendorff, Michelangelo, Robert Reinick, Shakespeare, Byron, Hoffmann von Fallersleben, Joseph Viktor von Scheffel, etc. The accompanying volumes include essays by Hans Jancik, texts of the poems, and translations by Lionel Salter (English) and Jacques Fournier and others (French). [15]

Oxford Lieder Festival edition

The first project to record every song by Wolf was commenced in 2010, the 150th anniversary of the composer's birth, by Stone Records and the Oxford Lieder Festival. This series of live recordings, featuring a wide variety of singers and Oxford Lieder Festival's artistic director Sholto Kynoch at the piano, is expected to run to 11 or 12 discs: to date, 9 discs have been issued.

Austrian Radio Anniversary edition

In 2010 Austrian Radio and the Departure Centre for Creative Design in Vienna marked Hugo Wolf’s anniversary with a recital series in which 188 of the songs were performed against visuals created by leading designers. The series was intended to bring Lieder to a new audience and was held at the initiative of baritone Wolfgang Holzmair, who was joined by a team of Austrian singers and pianists. The concerts were released on DVDs the following year, and in 2012 Bridge Records released the Spanish and Italian songbooks on CDs.

Notes

  1. Keller, James M. (2014). Chamber Music: A Listener's Guide. Oxford University Press. p. 489. ISBN   978-0-19-020639-0 . Retrieved 3 February 2020.
  2. "Herbert Von Karajan-Karajan Family". Karajan Family. Retrieved 14 March 2012.
  3. Branka Lapajne (4 April 2008). "The Shared Slovenian Ancestors of Herbert von Karajan and Hugo Wolf" . Retrieved 5 May 2008.
  4. Andreas Dorschel, 'Arbeit am Kanon. Zu Hugo Wolfs Musikkritiken', in Musicologica Austriaca XXVI (2007), pp. 43-52.
  5. Spanisches-Liederbuch at the Encyclopædia Britannica
  6. Erik Sams, The Songs of Hugo Wolf, Oxford University Press, 1961.
  7. R.D. Darrell, The Gramophone Shop Encyclopedia of Recorded Music (Gramophone Shop, Inc., New York 1936).
  8. A Complete List of HMV, Columbia, Parlophone and MGM Long Playing Records Issued up to and including June 1955 (EMI, London 1955); The Art of Record Buying 1960 (EMG, London 1960).
  9. (HMV ALP 1618-1619).
  10. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, On and Off the Record (Faber and Faber 1982), p. 215.
  11. 1 2 Hugo Wolf Society Publications (HMV, Hayes 1931-1936).
  12. E. Schwarzkopf, On and Off the Record, p. 215.
  13. It became rare because HMV claimed that to reissue it would betray the original terms of the limited edition. This was deplored, on behalf of the singer, by Desmond Shawe-Taylor ('Elena Gerhardt and the Gramophone', in E. Gerhardt, Recital (London, Methuen 1953), 168) and by Gerald Moore (Am I Too Loud? (Harmondsworth 1966), 93).
  14. See E. Sackville-West and D. Shawe-Taylor, The Record Year 2 (Collins, London 1953), 683-693. Also a listing in the His Master's Voice Recorded Music Catalogue (Hayes, Middlesex: 1943-44), p. 290.
  15. Hugo Wolf Lieder Publications (Deutsche Grammophon, 1974-1977).

Related Research Articles

Robert Schumann German composer

Robert Schumann was a German composer, pianist, and influential music critic. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest composers of the Romantic era. Schumann left the study of law, intending to pursue a career as a virtuoso pianist. His teacher, Friedrich Wieck, a German pianist, had assured him that he could become the finest pianist in Europe, but a hand injury ended this dream. Schumann then focused his musical energies on composing.

Paul Heyse German writer

Paul Johann Ludwig von Heyse was a distinguished German writer and translator. A member of two important literary societies, the Tunnel über der Spree in Berlin and Die Krokodile in Munich, he wrote novels, poetry, 177 short stories, and about sixty dramas. The sum of Heyse's many and varied productions made him a dominant figure among German men of letters. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1910 "as a tribute to the consummate artistry, permeated with idealism, which he has demonstrated during his long productive career as a lyric poet, dramatist, novelist and writer of world-renowned short stories." Wirsen, one of the Nobel judges, said that "Germany has not had a greater literary genius since Goethe." Heyse is the fifth oldest laureate in literature, after Sully Prudhomme, Theodor Mommsen, Alice Munro and Jaroslav Seifert.

Eduard Mörike 19th-century German poet

Eduard Friedrich Mörike was a German Lutheran pastor who was also a Romantic poet and writer of novellas and novels. Many of his poems were set to music and became established folk songs, while others were used by composers Hugo Wolf and Ignaz Lachner in their symphonic works.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau German lyric baritone and conductor

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was a German lyric baritone and conductor of classical music, one of the most famous Lieder performers of the post-war period, best known as a singer of Franz Schubert's Lieder, particularly "Winterreise" of which his recordings with accompanist Gerald Moore and Jörg Demus are still critically acclaimed half a century after their release.

Elly Ameling singer

Elisabeth Sara “Elly” Ameling is a Dutch soprano, now retired, who was particularly known internationally for lieder recitals and for singing works by Johann Sebastian Bach. Performing with notable pianists and ensembles around the globe, she was awarded honours and recording prizes.

Jan (Janice) DeGaetani was an American mezzo-soprano known for her performances of contemporary classical vocal compositions.

Elfenlied is the conventional title of a 1780 poem by Goethe, and of a later poem by Eduard Mörike.

Wilhelm Killmayer was a German composer of classical music, a conductor and an academic teacher of composition at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater München from 1973 to 1992. He composed symphonies and song cycles on poems by Friedrich Hölderlin, Joseph von Eichendorff, Georg Trakl and Peter Härtling, among others.

Bo Skovhus Danish opera singer

Bo Skovhus is a Danish opera singer (baritone).

"Prometheus" is an intensely dramatic art song composed by Franz Schubert in October 1819 to a poem of the same name by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

<i>A Wolf in Sheeps Clothing</i> (Josephine Foster album) 2006 studio album by Josephine Foster

A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing is an album by Josephine Foster, released in 2005. The album is irregular in that it is written in a German form known as "Lieder", or art songs. Foster utilizes the compositions of Johannes Brahms and Franz Schubert, icons of the Romantic Era, while her lyrics are based upon the texts of writers like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe or Eduard Mörike.

Wolfgang Holzmair is an Austrian baritone.

Italienisches Liederbuch is a collection of translations of anonymous Italian poems and folk songs into German by Paul Heyse (1830–1914). It was first published in 1860.

Spanisches Liederbuch is a collection of translations of Spanish poems and folk songs into German by Emanuel Geibel (1815–84) and Paul Heyse (1830–1914). It was first published in 1852.

Felix Wolfes was an American educator, conductor and composer.

Sholto Kynoch is an English pianist.

Spanisches Liederbuch is a collection of 44 Lieder by Hugo Wolf (1860–1903). They were composed between October 1889 and April 1890, and published in 1891. The words are translations into German by Emanuel Geibel (1815–84) and Paul Heyse (1830–1914) of Spanish and Portuguese poems and folk songs, published in a collection of 1852 also called Spanisches Liederbuch.

Italienisches Liederbuch is a collection of 46 Lieder by Hugo Wolf (1860–1903). The first 22 songs were composed between September 1890 and December 1891, and published in 1892. The other 24 songs were composed between March and August 1896, and published the same year. The time lag between the two volumes was caused by Wolf's long-proposed opera, Der Corregidor (1895), which might have been inspired by his personal love triangle with his friend’s wife Melanie Köchert. The 46 lyrics of the songs were taken from an anthology of Italian poems by Paul Heyse (1830–1914), translated into German and published with the title of Italienisches Liederbuch in 1860. Despite Heyse’s diverse poetic selections, Wolf preferred the rispetto, a short Italian verse usually consisting of eight lines of ten or eleven syllables each, as a result of which the songs are short.

<i>Die Tageszeiten</i> choral composition written for male voice choir and orchestra by Richard Strauss

Die Tageszeiten is a choral composition written for male voice choir and orchestra by Richard Strauss (1864–1949), TrV 256, Op. 76. It consists of four movements: "The Morning", "Afternoon Peace", "The Evening" and "The Night". The lyrics are based on four poems of the same names by Joseph Eichendorff (1788–1857) from his collection Wanderlieder. The work was premiered on 21 July 1928 with the Wiener Schubertbund and the Vienna Philharmonic as part of the Schubert centenary.

Wilhelm Killmayer, a German composer, wrote several song cycles, which form a substantial part of his compositions. The earliest cycle dates from 1953, the last was completed in 2008. He set poems by German romantic writers such as Friedrich Hölderlin and Joseph von Eichendorff, but was also inspired by French, Greek and Spanish poems, and by texts from the 20th-century poets Georg Trakl and Peter Härtling. He used mostly piano to accompany a singer, but also added percussion or other instruments, and scored some cycles in a version for voice and orchestra. His Hölderlin-Lieder, setting poems from the author's late period, were performed at major festivals and recorded.

References