Goethe-Lieder mit Orchesterbegleitung*
Ed. Hans Jancik (Gesamtausgabe, vol. viii/1).
It used to be thought that Wolf wrote songs because he could do nothing better, and scored them when he had nothing better to do. Some of his orchestration does indeed date from otherwise barren years, and it was surely aimed above all at fame and reward. It missed both marks by a mile, and this music tells us why. In Der Rattenfänger, Kennst du das Land and Prometheus the audience is dazzled by fireworks, dizzied with crags and chasms and stunned with thunderbolts, while the actual language, the life of the lied, is all too often literally lost; all heath and storm and no Lear. Yet the Shakespearean power is palpably present, still waiting to be realized and released in performance, and at least once audibly attained, in the Schorr Prometheus. The technical problems may begin with the instrumentation itself. Despite all the added counterpoints, Wolf seems not really to have rethought his material in orchestral terms but just translated the piano part bar by bar. Thus the fourth viola crotchet in Harfenspieler I retains a needless accidental, while the second violins are asked to play keyboard music in Anakreons Grab, bars 8-9 (incidentally, should not these be marked divisi?). But it is good to have these eight masterpieces readily available in their more elaborate and less familiar guise, as a continuing challenge to performers (and perhaps arrangers). This edition is as exemplary in its presentation and scholarship as we have come to expect from the Gesamtausabe.
The Musical Times, Aug. 1984 (p. 448) © the estate of eric sams