The Music Criticism of Hugo Wolf

The Music Criticism of Hugo Wolf

The Music Criticism of Hugo Wolf

The Music Criticism of Hugo Wolf

Excerpt

Hugo Wolf's place in musical history is securely established alongside Schubert, Schumann. Brahms and Richard Strauss among the great composers in a genre familiarly known as the German Lied. Not many. even among those associated professionally with music — unless they have read the Wolf biographies by Ernest Newman ( 1907) and or Frank Walker ( 1951) — are aware that he was also, briefly, a regularly employed music critic. Fewer still have read more than the odd excerpt or two of anything he wrote, even in his native Austria or in other German-speaking areas.

Ernest Newman, the English critic and biographer of Wagner as well as of Wolf, once wrote of Eduard Hanslick, the Viennese critic pilloried as the nit- picking, pedantic scrivener, Sixtus Beckmesser in Die Meistersinger, that he was remembered only for one or two mistakes he made about Wagner by thousands of people who have not the slightest idea how much good sense he talked about music. It is much the same with Wolf, who did his utmost to propagate the image of Hanslick as the reactionary pedant. Wolf is remembered as a critic, insofar as he is remembered at all, for one or two foolish things he said about Hanslick's friend. Johannes Brahms, notably his assertion, in a review of a performance of Liszt's Tasso, that more intelligence and sensibility were expressed in a single cymbal crash in a work of Liszt than in all of Brahms's three symphonies (the fourth was yet to come), not excluding his serenades.

My purpose in undertaking, thirty years ago, to translate a selection of Hanslick's enormous critical production extending from 1846 to the end of the century, and far from complete in the twelve volumes of his collected works was twofold: to make it possible for Hanslick to be judged by English-speaking readers on the basis of a reasonably broad cross-section of his work and, at the same time, to give the same readers the benefit of insights into the character and temper of musical life in Vienna and elsewhere as recorded on the spot and at the same time by a critic who was at once well- informed, perceptive, articulate and courageously engaged. My purpose in translating Hugo Wolf has been the same, although in Wolf's case there has been the added incentive of insights gained into the character, the intellectual disposition and performance, and the psychical motivation of a great composer.

The two undertakings are, indeed, complementary, for Hanslick and Wolf stood on opposite sides of the fence. Neither can be fully or even sympathetically understood without reference to the writings, attitudes, enthusiasms. aversions, convictions and allegiances of the other. It would be going too far . . .

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