Scherzo and Finale for large orchestra*
Ed. H. Jancik; Musikwissenschaftlicher Verlag
Two pages of editorial foreword (fluently but too freely translated) skilfully unravel the tangle of Wolf's early symphonic attempts. These are the only completed movements, and the finale is complete only as a piano work. Its scoring, abandoned by Wolf some four-fifths of the way through, was deftly finished by Helmuth Schultz for the first edition of these works, for the same publishers in 1940. That text, as we are very fairly informed, is faithfully followed here. “Faithfully reproduced” might have been fairer still. So striking a resemblance can only be called the very image; so exact a likeness will make many Wolfians cry “Snap!”. We are also given the magisterial Schultz Revisionsbericht in ten highly detailed pages (German only), including interesting transcriptions of other symphonic sketches from 1877-8. These include the theme, prima facie in C major, and dated 14 January 1878, that Frank Walker confidently allocated to the projected overture The Corsair. We are told that if we disregard the late date, and interpret the music as being in G minor, it could be construed as belonging to the G minor symphony. Why anyone should wish to do any such thing, except to break step with Walker, is not explained; but he was surely on the right road, and the conjecture appears misdirected. On a firmer footing is Dr Jancik's suggestion that the F minor symphony, which now exists only as a mention in a family letter, contributed some of its thematic material to the tone poem Penthesilea in the same key, begun in 1883. That rarely-heard masterpiece of dramatic expressiveness is interestingly anticipated in these two early movements, which are worth an occasional performance and a speculative recording. They well represent the hybrid, a cross between the symphonic poem of Liszt and the poetic symphony of Schumann, that the young Wolf strove so hard to cultivate from what he called the arid soil of absolute music. All those early strains proved infertile; but that work prepared the ground for the 1888 flowering of song, and thus deserves the attention of all Wolfians.
The Musical Times, Aug. 1980 (p. 508) © the estate of eric sams, 1980