(b Hainrode, nr Sondershausen, 12 Sept 1761; d Wernigerode, 23 Jan 1814). German writer on music and composer. He received his first music instruction from his father, an organist and schoolmaster, and when the family moved to Nordhausen (c1767) he continued his training with the organist C.G. Schröter. While studying theology in Göttingen and Halle in the 1780s he also continued his musical studies, and on accepting a position as Kapellmeister to Count Ludwig von Stollberg he devoted all his time to music although he was a candidate for pastorship. In 1801 he became Kapellmeister in Wernigerode, where he was also organist at the Pfarrkirche and a school music teacher.
The many editions and reprints of Wolf’s music dictionary and pedagogical works for singers and keyboard players show both his concern for improving them and their usefulness. Gerber said: ‘He took great trouble to be of use to beginners in that he prepared easily understood excerpts from numerous larger works’, while his Kurzer aber deutlicher Unterricht was described by a reviewer for Cramer’s Magazin der Musik as an inexpensive and welcome manual for keyboard teachers lacking theory skills. He also published several collections of lieder and keyboard pieces and edited a choral anthology, Trauermotetten und Arien (Halle, 1788).
Vocal: Lieder mit Melodien (Nordhausen, 1781); Lieder mit Melodien aus Millers Leiden und Freuden (Halle, 1786); Lieder mit Melodien für Kinder (Leipzig, 1795); several songs in contemporary anthologies
Kbd: 2 sonatas (Halle, 1787); 2 sonatas, 4 hands (Leipzig, 1794–6); Kurze und leichte Orgelstücke, i (Halle, 1800)
Collections: Vermischte Clavier- und Singstücke verschiedener Art (Halle, 1788)
Kurzer aber deutlicher Unterricht im Klavierspielen (Göttingen, 1783, enlarged 3/1789 [incl. ii, Grundregeln des Generalbasses]; 5/1807)
Unterricht in der Singekunst (Halle, 1784, 2/1789, lost; rev. as Gründliche Sing-Schule oder Unterricht in der musikalisch-richtigen und zierlichen Singekunst, 1800)
C.F.Cramer, ed.: Magazin der Musik (Hamburg, 1783–6/R), i, 1308–9
M.Friedlaender: Das deutsche Lied im 18. Jahrhundert (Stuttgart and Berlin, 1902/R)
Wolf, Hugo (Filipp Jakob)
(b Windischgraz, Styria [now Slovenjgradec, Slovenia], 13 March 1860; d Vienna, 22 Feb 1903). Austrian composer. He intensified the expressive vocabulary of the lied by means of extended tonality and post-Wagnerian declamation while retaining the defining elements of the song tradition he had inherited from Schubert and Schumann. Profoundly responsive to poetry, he incorporated detailed readings of his chosen poems in the compositional decisions he made about every aspect of song: harmonic nuances, tonal form, melodic design, vocal declamation, pianistic texture, the relationship of voice to piano, etc. Seeking an art ‘written with blood’, he went below the surface of poetry – even where his musical purposes were inevitably distinct from the poet's – in order to recreate it in music of remarkable intensity, written, as he once proclaimed, for epicures, not amateurs.
1. Formative years (1860–83).
2. Years of uncertainty (1883–7).
3. Mastery and fame (1888–97).
4. Breakdown and terminal illness (1897–1903).
5. Early songs.
6. Instrumental music and the ‘Christnacht’ cantata.
7. Mature songs.
8. Stage music.
9. Critical writings.
ERIC SAMS/SUSAN YOUENS (1–4), SUSAN YOUENS (5–9)
1. Formative years (1860–83).
Wolf was born in the small town of Windischgraz, then part of the Austrian Empire but incorporated into Yugoslavia after World War I. The town was an outpost of Germanic culture within a Slovene region; Wolf's mother Katharina (1824–1903) was of Slovene yeoman stock (her paternal grandfather's name was Orehovnik, which he changed to its German equivalent Nussbaumer, while her maternal grandfather's name was Stank or Stanko) with, according to family tradition, a smattering of Italian ancestry as well. She was a shrewd, practical and energetic woman, four years older than her husband Philipp Wolf (1828–87), whom she married in 1852. Of German origin, he had inherited a leather manufacturing business in Windischgraz established by his grandfather Maximilian. A thwarted artist, he was self-taught on the piano, violin, flute, harp and guitar; both his musical gifts and moody temperament were passed to his fourth child Hugo (of eight children, two died in infancy). Hugo was given piano and violin lessons by his father at the age of four or five, while at primary school from 1865 to 1869 he was taught the piano and music theory by Sebastian Weixler, who played the viola in the Wolf family orchestra (Philipp first violin, Hugo second, brother Max cello, and a horn-playing uncle) and composed dances dedicated to the children, including the Hugerl Polka.
Despite a fire which devastated the family financially for many years thereafter, Philipp sought to provide his three sons with the educational opportunities his parents could not afford to give him. In November 1868 Wolf saw his first opera at the Stadttheater in Klagenfurt (Donizetti's Belisario) and was so moved by the experience that afterwards he could play long passages of the work from memory. In September 1870 he went to the regional secondary school in Graz, where he was remembered for his Slovene drawl, but left after a single term (homesickness was probably one reason) with the official classification ‘wholly inadequate’. In September 1871 he began two years as a boarder at the Benedictine abbey of St Paul in Lavanttal in Carinthia, 30 kilometres from his home, where he played the organ for weekday student masses, performed in a piano trio and immersed himself in potpourris arranged for the piano of operas by Bellini, Rossini, Donizetti and Gounod. Compulsory Latin proved a major stumbling-block, the result of his impatience with subjects other than music, and in the autumn of 1873 he was transferred to the secondary school at Marburg (now Maribor). Here he came to know the works of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and others, including Haydn symphonies in piano duet arrangements (his rapturous praise of Beethoven led to brawls with other students who mocked him for his passionate devotion to music), but again left after only two years, the crisis which precipitated his departure impelled by his inflammatory reaction to a professor's comment about his ‘damned music’. Hugo's failures in subjects other than music were perhaps intended to blackmail his father into sending him to the Vienna Conservatory, since his music-loving father nevertheless considered music an avocation, not the means to make a living. To placate his father and demonstrate his intention to devote his life to music, Hugo dedicated his Piano Sonata op.1, begun in April 1875, and his Piano Variations op.2 to Philipp. An aunt, Katharina Vinzenzberg, offered to take Hugo into her Vienna home so that he could study at the conservatory and Philipp finally agreed. In September 1875 Hugo began his musical studies in Vienna.
At the conservatory Wolf studied the piano with Wilhelm Schenner and harmony and composition with Robert Fuchs. Matters went well at first: he was sufficiently advanced to begin with the second-year students, and Fuchs took an interest in him and his compositions. In a revealing anecdote, we are told that the young Wolf used to sit at the Vinzenzbergs' piano for hours at a time, improvising chord progressions and exulting when he discovered a novel resolution; there are passages in his early songs which sound like transcriptions of those parlour experiments in harmony. He also made friends at the conservatory, including the young Gustav Mahler, and composed an unfinished ‘violin concerto’ (in piano score), piano sonatas, songs and choruses. He became a devoted opera-goer who recorded his impressions of Fidelio, Der Freischütz, Don Giovanni (for example, he was annoyed when a singer improvised too many non-Mozartian ornaments), Robert le diable, Les Huguenots and others, although his deepest devotion went to Wagner, who visited Vienna in November 1875 for performances of Tannhäuser and Lohengrin. Wolf attended both and declared himself a dedicated Wagnerian – a term then synonymous with avant-garde turmoil and guaranteed to alarm his parents. After several days of hanging about the Imperial Hotel in the hope of an interview, Wolf spoke to Wagner in December and showed the older composer his piano works modelled on Mozart. Wagner was indulgent and affable, if unwilling to spend any time examining the compositions in detail, and counselled patience and practice. When he was next in Vienna, he told Wolf, he would look forward to being shown larger-scale works.
This encounter was of immense importance to Wolf, always a passionate hero-worshipper and famished for encouragement (although he records in February 1876 that he saw Wagner in a dream and that Wagner ‘wouldn't hear’ of looking at his compositions – Wolf had noticed and evidently resented the paucity of attention paid to his scores). He duly attempted larger compositions, in particular a setting for accompanied male-voice chorus of a poem by Nikolaus Lenau, Die Stimme des Kindes. The flaws in his part-writing were pointed out to him by Hans Richter, then principal of the Vienna Hofoper, whom the teenage composer had also buttonholed and importuned for opera tickets, compositional advice and access to Wagner. Technical shortcomings are also evident in further choruses written in 1876, although the setting of Goethe's Mailied, also for male-voice chorus, foreshadows future mastery in certain harmonic details and in its rhythmic verve. Also from this period date various orchestral essays (including an arrangement of Beethoven's Sonata op.27 no.2, with new counterpoints added, and a symphony in B), the beginnings of a string quintet, and a Rondo capriccioso for piano, later turned into a symphonic finale. It is noteworthy that Wolf, although he scrawled exclamations of ‘Rubbish!’, ‘Bad!’ and ‘Worse’ on these early manuscripts, preserved them for posterity, which can trace the signs of increasing stylistic independence amidst the echoes of Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, Weber and others. But Wolf was soon once again in conflict with authority, his dismissal from the conservatory a near-farcical conflation of adolescent rebellion and the need to find ‘Wölferl's own howl’ without pedagogical constraints. Although he later explained that he resigned in protest against the school's conservatism, he was also officially dismissed for ‘breach of discipline’, the brouhaha further aggravated by a fellow student who sent the director Josef Hellmesberger a death-threat signed ‘Hugo Wolf’. In March 1877 the disgraced Hugo was on a train back to Styria and home.
Wolf remained with his family for almost eight months, working on a symphony (he subsequently lost the score in a Graz railway station when he was on his way back to Vienna), a Humoreske for piano and lied settings of Lenau, Matthisson, Körner and anonymous poems; he would later judge one of those songs, Morgentau, worthy of publication. Unable to decide what to do with his errant son, Philipp finally allowed him to return to Vienna in November to earn his own living as a music teacher. Never a patient creature, Hugo was no teacher by temperament, but his talent and charm secured him the patronage of generous households, such as those of the great actor Ludwig Gabillon and Freud's early collaborator Josef Breuer. Maintaining the talented musician's income was more important in these sympathetic families than the musical progress of their sons and daughters, whose lack of talent impelled fits of exasperation from the impatient Wolf; that the children were often fond of their elfin music master – Wolf's full height was 154 cm – is notable. (One of Breuer's daughters, whom Wolf taught, was probably the source of a fascinating dream about Wolf, whom she saw wearing Hans Richter's countenance and raging away at the top of a tower. The dream was relayed to Freud and included in The Interpretation of Dreams.) It was upon his return to Vienna that Wolf began what would become a habit of changing his lodgings frequently in search of greater quiet, cheaper rent, or both.
Wolf had earlier befriended other cultured and wealthy patrons, including the minor composer Adalbert von Goldschmidt, whose oratorio Die sieben Todsünden enjoyed a certain currency for a time, the critics Gustav Schönaich (a Falstaffian eccentric) and Hans Paumgartner, the sculptor Viktor Tilgner and the conductor Felix Mottl. They lent Wolf books, scores and money, and took him to concerts and operas, giving their provincial friend a gloss of much-needed culture as well as contacts with other musicians. But their friendship was ultimately fatal. According to Alma Mahler it was the rich dilettante Goldschmidt who took Wolf to a brothel (sexual initiation by a prostitute was a long-established custom in Vienna), probably in 1878, where the young man most likely contracted the syphilis that would lead to his insanity in 1897 and his death in 1903. It was around that time, so the Gabillon and Breuer families later recalled, that he began to avoid their company and dinner tables, refusing to use their silverware or travel in the same railway carriage. His offended friends at first ascribed his behaviour to boorishness, but Dr Breuer eventually came to believe that Wolf was concerned about the possibility of infecting others and was acting on the best medical advice available at the time. Sadly and ironically, Wolf first fell in love early that year with the society beauty Vally Franck (the artist Hans Makart once expressed a wish to paint her portrait), a relative of the Lang family, who were among his most generous benefactors. Despite their differences of temperament and upbringing, despite frequent separation and eventual parting, the affair was a vital impulse for Wolf's life during its three-year duration.
It was at this time of sexual initiation and first love that Wolf turned to the composition of more songs, including an unfinished setting of Chamisso's Was soll ich sagen?, and settings of Rückert, Hebbel, Julius Sturm, Lenau, Hoffmann von Fallersleben and Goethe's Faust. The pointed delicacy of Die Spinnerin (Rückert) and Das Vöglein (Hebbel) anticipates a distinctive strain of Wolf's mature songwriting art, and the songs were later published in the Sechs Lieder für eine Frauenstimme of 1888, his first publication. One also finds, inevitably, Schubert's lieder as an occasional model for the young Wolf; the cries ‘Frau Amme, Frau Amme, das Kind ist erwacht!’ in the Hebbel song Das Kind am Brunnen rise a semitone higher on each invocation, after the manner of the child's cries ‘Mein Vater, mein Vater!’ in Schubert's Erlkönig. But in the wake of his dismissal from the conservatory, Wolf was teaching himself how to compose lieder largely by imitating the songs of Schumann, his self-tutelage evident in the three Heine songs of 1876 and the nine Heine settings (one of them unfinished) of 1878. One can trace Wolf's apprenticeship from slavish echoes of Schumann songs – the earlier composer is an unbanished ghost behind every note of Wolf's Du bist wie eine Blume – to uncannily exact assimilation and, finally, mastery and a compositional voice of his own. He later said that in 1878 he had written ‘at least one good song every day’, an exaggeration (unless he atypically destroyed many of them), but there was undeniably a lyrical outpouring that year. A new and agonized note is sounded in the Faust song Gretchen vor dem Andachtsbild der Mater Dolorosa, begun on 22 August, and the first movement of the D minor String Quartet, with its prefix ‘Entbehren sollst du, sollst entbehren’ (You must renounce, must renounce), spoken by Faust when he affixes his pact with the Devil and relinquishes human love. That the experience of syphilitic infection influenced the choice of these texts of sin, sexual anguish and renunciation seems a likely possibility, if not accessible to definitive proof.
Early in 1879 Wolf had a momentous interview with Brahms. Before this encounter, Wolf's passion for Wagner (he was immersed in Götterdämmerung at this time) had not prevented him from having considerable respect for Brahms, whose chamber music and Magelone songs he admired. Brahms gave him essentially the same advice Wagner had given him, namely to continue learning more about music, especially counterpoint; the older composer recommended the pedantic Gustav Nottebohm as an instructor, but Wolf would not have been able either to afford his fees or to tolerate his rigidity. Brahms's bluntness and Wolf's fiery, sensitive nature were ill-matched, and Wolf's indignation at the supposed slight he had received swelled into immediate and enduring ‘anti-Brahmimentum’ (his own term). As in Shaw's London, the younger, radical set tended to brand Brahms as a reactionary and hail Wagner as progressive, and Wolf belonged to just such a group of fanatical Wagnerites who copied their master to the point of aping his vegetarianism. (For Wolf, to whom sausage was ambrosia, this was a considerable sacrifice and lasted only about 18 months in 1881–2.) In addition to the anger and disappointment over his reception by Brahms, Wolf was at times short of money and in disputes with his ever-gloomy father, but his new life in Vienna was not entirely grim. He was particularly close to Mahler at this time, and in April 1879 he first met the Lang family, including Melanie Köchert (née Lang), who five years later became his mistress and lifelong protector. Her sister Henriette and brother Edmund also became close friends. But Wolf was still in love with Vally Franck (he more in love than she, a fact she recognized with a sense of pain), although they were separated for most of 1879 by her absence on holiday. Wolf's letters to her and the songs he composed and dedicated to her, including the Lenau settings Herbstentschluss, Traurige Wege and Der schwere Abend, are darkly passionate outpourings of Wagner-tinged late Romanticism – offspring of the Wesendonck Lieder.
Wolf's patterns of cyclic mood swings and sporadic creativity were already clearly delineated, and the depression of 1879 was followed by happier times in 1880. The Eichendorff songs Erwartung and Die Nacht (26 January and 3 February) were included in the first edition of the Eichendorff Lieder but withdrawn as not representative of his best work when the chance arose for a new edition. He composed the slow movement of his quartet – this is among the best works of his youth – under the influence of the Lohengrin Prelude and the late Beethoven quartets, especially the ‘Heiliger Dankgesang’ of op.132, while on an idyllic summer holiday at Mayerling (in 1889 the site of the Austrian Crown Prince Rudolf's suicide) with the family of an architect named Viktor Preyss, who took Wolf in as a member of the household and treated him with great understanding and kindness. There Wolf's mature songwriting style continued its slow burgeoning, nurtured by studies and transcriptions of Wagner (from Die Meistersinger and Die Walküre). Among the summer visitors to the Preyss family were their relatives the Werners, whose then seven-year-old son Heinrich was devoted to Wolf and later served his cause nobly as editor, critic and biographer. Contributing to Wolf's happiness that summer were visits from Vally and rambles in the beautiful countryside; Wolf liked to compose in the open air, as we know from inscriptions that tell of composition on park benches in the Prater and other plein air sites, and his love of nature is an element in many of his most beautiful songs.
Wolf returned from blissful holiday to troubles in Vienna. Devoted to both parents, Wolf had nonetheless to endure his pessimistic father's reproaches and his bitterness about his children's futures (Wolf's brother Gilbert was a source of even greater anxiety for their father). Vally Franck, who had returned to her native France, wrote to him shortly before his 21st birthday to break off their often interrupted affair for good, and Wolf was heartbroken. Some of his suffering is almost surely reflected in his six remarkable choruses on poems by Eichendorff, the Sechs geistliche Lieder composed in April 1881. The spiritual sufferings of the poetic persona, ‘wounded unto death’, became the surrogates for the composer's desolation, the result of Eros rather than religion; 22 years later, the beautiful Ergebung from this choral cycle was sung in Vienna's Votivkirche as part of Wolf's funeral service. In the wake of Vally's letter, the unhappy Wolf returned to provincial Windischgraz, where he quarrelled with his elder brother and composed only the Eichendorff song Da fahr ich still im Wagen for a projected cycle entitled In der Fremde. The faithful Goldschmidt had arranged in November 1881 for Wolf to become second Kapellmeister for Karl Muck in Salzburg, where he was principally responsible for rehearsing the soloists and chorus in Strauss, Lortzing and Millöcker operettas. Music of this sort was not to the Wagnerite Wolf's taste at all, and he had neither the baton technique nor the patience to make orchestral and choral musicians happy under his direction. After unknown imbroglios, he left Salzburg in high dudgeon and, unable to find another post as a Kapellmeister, returned to Vienna in early 1882 to resume his former tenuous existence as a music teacher and accompanist. Philipp, angered by yet another failure, wrote that he was ‘more out of tune than our piano’ and bitterly compared himself to Sisyphus, condemned for all eternity to push the same boulder uphill, only to see it roll back down again. Father and son were estranged for a brief time, but then reconciled.
We know little about Wolf's activities in 1882. It is probable that he was conscripted into the Austrian army early in the year, but he was not retained long, whether because of friends' influence, his smallness of stature or a temperament unfit for military life (one can hardly imagine anyone less suited for soldiering). In his Daten aus meinem Leben, Wolf curiously indicates this as a year of ‘hideous moral hangover’, whatever that may mean. Another summer holiday with the Preyss and Werner families in Mayerling saw him contemplating an opera on the subject of Heine's Princess Ilse from the Harzreise, although the plans came to nought. He did, however, compose his second song on a text by Eduard Mörike and his first comic masterpiece: Mausfallen-Sprüchlein, published in the Sechs Lieder für eine Frauenstimme of 1888. In August he travelled to Bayreuth for the Parsifal festival, where he stared at the windows of Wahnfried in the hope of seeing Wagner, to no avail, and was predictably overwhelmed by the two performances he heard. After Bayreuth he was once again at a compositional standstill until December 1882 or early 1883, when he began composing songs on texts by Robert Reinick, including the lovely paired lullabies Wiegenlied im Sommer and Wiegenlied im Winter.