Manuel Venegas (opera fragment)*
Ed. Leopold Spitzer (Kritische Gesamtausgabe). Musikwissenschaftlicher Verlag
The tragically truncated torso broke off when Wolf broke down. Wolfians (but only they, I think) will find it an appetising morsel. They had better snap it up, however unpalatable the price, because the old Peters edition is now sadly unobtainable. In some respect this had more meat in it than the present offering. Thus at bar 23-4 of the opening Spring Chorus, at the words “Fern aus dem Tal, wo die Nachtigall ruft”, it printed two dozen assorted nightingale notes, presumably heard in the woodwind, which have now blown away altogether in this new piano score. So has the complete libretto, dutifully supplied by Peters. This omission is avowed and defended, on the grounds that this text does not tally with what Wolf had before him. But its author, Moritz Hörnes, explicitly claimed that it did exactly that, in all essentials. These two statement arguably need further reconciliation.
The new edition offers a four-page foreword, not always adequately translated; a four-page critical report, not translated at all; and an eight-page supplement with some further crumbs that fell from the master’s table. The foreword praises the beauty and expressiveness of the music but laments Wolf’s inability to understand either the construction or the irony of the Alarcon short story, El niño de la bola, from which the libretto is drawn. Personally I find such pontification rather puzzling; for how can a false impression yield a true expression? Further; if Wolf’s critical faculties were impaired, then that was surely because of his brain syphilis, which can hardly have enhanced his creative powers. Some of the motifs of Manuel Venegas are indeed memorable and compelling in themselves; but too many of these 600 bars seem to be composed of jaded reminiscence, arid repetition and ominous mannerism.
Of course the Gesamtausgabe, and the Wolfian’s shelf, must find room for this sad swansong. This new edition is recommendable on three positive grounds: the factual content of the foreword, which is especially informative about the three-cornered relationship of author, librettist and composer; the critical report, with its full and detailed account of manuscript sources, and the expected but ever-welcome clarity and handsomeness of text and format.
The Musical Times, Jul. 1976 (p. 581) © the estate of eric sams, 1976