Personalities | Hugo Wolf | Late Romantic | Classical
(Hoo’-go Vulf) 1860–1903
A fervent Wagnerian, Wolf worked in Vienna as a music critic. As a composer he was master of the miniature: his songs are mini-dramas which encapsulate Wagnerian expression within a lyrical, intimate form, the subtle vocal melodies matched by an equally important, symphonic piano part. The first collections, settings of poems by Mörike (1889) and Goethe (1890), display an almost erotic chromatic idiom, contrasting with the more lucid lyricism and irony of the Spanish (1891) and Italian Songbooks (1892, 1896), based on translations by Paul Heyse of sacred and folk poetry; a more intimate passion colours the later, austere Michelangelo Sonnets (1897). His immensely wide expressive range reflects his nervous intensity. This may be related to the syphilis that led him to insanity: Wolf spent his final years in a mental asylum. Apart from a striking String Quartet (1878–84, his first work) and a few symphonic poems, his larger works, such as the failed comic opera Der Corregidor (‘The Magistrate’, 1896), were less successful than his masterly Lieder.
Italian Songbook, Irmgard Seefried, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Erik Werba (Orfeo)
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