Hugo Wolf: A Guide to Research by David Ossenkop*
Garland (New York, 1988)
This is the latest of the Garland Composer Resource Manuals, which are designed to offer selective annotated bibliographies and work-lists together with basic biographical data; and guides to library holdings and relevant organisations. This example is surely far more exhaustive than selective. Every scrap (often literally) of relevant material is duly documented. However, the comparative coverage of this catalogue raisonné is not always reasonable, as when a 16-page monograph on one single song is awarded a descriptive commentary of 23 lines - only two fewer than the 500-page English edition of Frank Walker's masterpiece, which is justly acclaimed as “one of the finest biographies of any composer”. It is surprising, too, that so thorough and dedicated a researcher as David Ossenkop should be content to leave a dozen items unexamined, including PhD theses just as accessible and enlightening as Willy Salomon's (Frankfurt, 1925), of which we learn that “those who take the trouble to secure a copy will certainly be rewarded”. Conversely, why include Freud's record of a woman patient who dreamed of Wolf, perhaps merely for Freudian reasons? Some of the notes are otiose; of course Gerald Moore's 'excellent comments ... are expressed in Moore's inimitable manner'. One lame canard in particular should be finally shot down. There is no proof that Mahler deliberately reneged on a promise to stage Der Corregidor; nor in any event can he rationally be inculpated as the causative agent of Wolf's 1897 attack of insanity, which Dr Ossenkop himself regularly treats as brain syphilis. There is no real reason to believe that Mahler was any kind of twister, let alone a spirochaete.
There are a few lacunae; thus the British Library deserves a mention, e.g. for its Rosa Mayreder correspondence. There are one or two minor slips and misprints. But when all the cavils and caveats are collected, they are still massively outweighed by the prodigious industry and application displayed in this comprehensive compilation, which is the first of its kind.
Of especial interest to Wolf scholars and students are the notes on the present whereabouts of the Wamlek collection, and the final chapter on desirable areas of further research, such as a complete edition of the letters and the preparation of a documentary biography, on Deutsch lines. I agree; it is time for Wolf to stand in the world's esteem as he now lies in Vienna, namely alongside Schubert.
The Musical Times, July 1988 (p. 348-349) © the estate of eric sams