The Music Criticism of Hugo Wolf

By Henry Pleasants; Hugo Wolf | Go to book overview

42. Cascading Coloratura

March 1, 1885

Frau L'Allemand was the Rosina. At first we thought this must be a doll. Beginning in the middle register, her voice sounded like that of a squeaking child. But very soon there was an unexpected turn of events in the singer's favor. As soon as Frau L'Allemand headed for the higher regions of the vocal range, the voice gained in intensity, incisiveness and even in euphony. She is a virtuosa in coloratura. Unfortunately, she is only too well aware of her virtuosity, never passing up an opportunity to put her trickery on display for better or worse. Every rest, every fermata, is used to interpolate cadenzas, trills, roulades, etc. It's coloratura wherever you look, wherever you listen, wherever you reach.

A persistent downpour in the mountains is horrible, frightening, destructive. In people it excites ennui, impatience and melancholia. One becomes a misanthrope, a pessimist, a cannibal. One begins to pay more heed to the devil than becomes a gentleman, for one curses in every possible key -- the key of F is most appropriate. One offers vernacular curses and scholarly curses, drawing upon quotation or upon one's own invention, in pithy aphorisms or in broad metaphors and similes. A master of many languages enjoys, moreover, the advantage of being able to translate the same curse into Italian, Spanish, French, Turkish and Dutch (although the Dutch, thanks to their notorious stolidity, may not be on an especially good footing with diabolic grammar), and may thus relieve his spleen six times over. Or one may, under such circumstances, driven by desperate boredom, busy oneself with poetizing and composition or, indeed, with both at the same time.

But great, significant, monumental as Herr Richard Kralik may stand in his own estimation, I fear, yes, I fear that his poetic fantasy has been under water for too long, that the soporific effect of an inexhaustible downpour is so faithfully relfected in his "Verselein" that his prospects of rivaling Hafis, Pindar and Walter von der Vogelweide, or even to surpass them, will have to turn into water. While a substantial rainfall can be fruitful after a long drought, with too much of the fluid element the opposite is to be feared. Now I gladly concede that Herr Kralik's so-called poetic vein suffers severely from drought and aridity, a perfectly natural phenomenon with which we have no quarrel. The more painfully, then, must every sensitive person be affected -- and it is they to whom the Büchlein der Unwesenheit1 is directed -- when so

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