Hugo Wolf (1860 - 1903) Pathography

By Breitenfeld, Tomislav; Thaller, Vlatko et al. | Alcoholism, July 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

Hugo Wolf (1860 - 1903) Pathography


Breitenfeld, Tomislav, Thaller, Vlatko, Jagetic, Nada, Bergovec, Marko, et al., Alcoholism


Summary - Hugo Wolf, same as his friend and contemporary Mahler, born on the same year, is bounded by his origin to Slave and neighboured to Austro-Hungarian monarchy countries. Wolf is born 1860 in Slovenjgradec in mixed nationalities family, and was very intelligent and musically talented child. For his inadaptability and peculiarity it wasn't easy for him to acclimatize to the bleak and very restrictive boarding-school's and college's programs. He composed mostly songs, often in vivacious periods, between the longer depressive periods. Primary syphilitic affection he experienced in his twenties during his unsettled personal life. Since 1896, he had hallucinations (mostly hearing), and aparanoid syndrome with other signs of psychosis and neurological disturbances (convulsive states, neurological assault, Argyll-Robertson's ri-gid and irregular pupil). Many times he was hospitalized in psychiatric institutions in Wien and its surroundings, under a great care of his associates and medical staff. He died in total psychophysical infirmity in psychiatric hospital on 22nd February 1903 under the diagnoses: "Syphilis", "Paralysis progressive" (General paresis). By that time, that illness was very common; one third of patients in psychiatric hospitals died with that diagnosis. Music in general lost very talented composer, who stopped his creative work before his 40th year, too early.

Key word: Hugo Wolf; Syphilis; General paresis; Disease

Wolf was born on the 13th of March, 1860, in Slovenjgradec, in the family of leather manufacturer, Fillip Wolf. His father originated from Sent-Juraj of Celje (surname Volk?) - where the Ipavci, the well known family who did composition as good as medicine, lived. His mother was from the Slovenian-german family (Orehovnik and Stank from Mojstrane and Naborjeta).1,2

Since the childhood, Wolf showed a high interest for the music, and joined a family orchestra early. After the primary school, he continued schooling in Graz, but had to leave it because of the bad results in languages. His father placed him in the Benedict convent of St. Paul, in the valley Lavantal, 20 kilometres north from Slovenjgradec. Class master wrote in the Documents: "Wolf is very keen on music, and very loyal to his parents". The difficulties in school followed him here as well, and father sent him to his uncle Liebezeit. It didn't last too long - once again, he left school. One could imagine that he knew only music. However, he was very intelligent and the reason for his problems was his temperament and his will to do only music. So it was on the Vienna's Conservatory too, which he entered when 15 years old. His colleague was Gustav Mahler. Mahler was a brilliant student, and Wolf didn't have any other choice but to leave the school and to study on his own. He was very close to Mahler, as they were both very talented. There were times when they lived together in a rented flat. Vienna was the place where he met Brahms and Wagner, whom he appreciated and admired.3,4

Wolf had depended on his father subventions until the 1887, when his father died. His father left him a sense for music, and his mother temperament. He was unadjustable, hard, quite cold in manner and changed his mood often. Sometimes it was conditioned from the outside (success or failure), but there is a possibility that his cyclotimia was the consequence of the acquired syphilis (cyclotimia is the period when the sadness and joyfulness follow each other). He had some bursts of creativity (1888-1890), he edited 200 solo-compositions and in 1895, around "Corregidor"). In addition, it is possible that the period of creativity was the result of brain activity after the syphilis had affected it, and the long period of silence was the part of so called "secondary syphilis" manifestation.5

After "Corregidor" he turned inside himself, and timidly avoided all the contacts with people. That period followed the time when he didn't like to appear on the stage or to meet people, if the people weren't his fans. …

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