The Songs of Hugo Wolf

The Songs of Hugo Wolf

The Songs of Hugo Wolf

The Songs of Hugo Wolf


This book discusses all the 242 songs written for voice and piano published in the composer's lifetime, i.e. the contents of the invaluable Peters Edition in twenty-one octavo volumes.

In writing about each song I have tried to translate the German words, to comment on the music in general terms, and to add notes on points of detail. A word or two of explanation may be needed on each of these aims.

Some of the German texts are great poetry, some have no particular merit; some are long, others only a few lines. In some, individual words or phrases are important; in others, only the general mood matters. Accordingly the method of treatment varies. Sometimes it is a literal translation, sometimes a summary, sometimes a paraphrase; sometimes a mixture of all or some of these things. But the aim is always the same -- to render in English prose the essence of the words as they appear in Wolf's music.

In the commentaries I try to describe each song, and, so far as possible in so brief a compass, to show the interconnexion between the music and the poem. Inevitably, in so doing, I have also become involved in some attempt at evaluating the intentions and achievements of the songs. To describe music in words is already a difficult task, and the procedure adopted may well also involve a lack of proportion. For instance, there is little to say about some of the finest songs except that they are admirable, while others, less fine, may contain many points that can more helpfully be dealt with by verbal comment. In the last resort these commentaries are simply personal impressions of the songs, evaluated from their effect on one listener who has known them all, and loved most of them, for a long time.

The notes are mainly intended to illuminate various aspects of Wolf's 'musical language' (to use his own phrase). This topic sometimes raises technical points, and here textual references are included.

In the main, then, what follows is a series of separate discussions of particular songs. But one cannot altogether avoid generalization. So the opening chapter attempts a general account of Wolf's song-writing.

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