Sechs Geistliche Lieder für gemischten Chor a cappella*

Ed. C. G. Richter. Bärenreiter.


The Sechs Geistliche Lieder of 1881 are the peak of Wolf's unaccompanied choral writing, and also a vital stage un his ascent to the summits of song­writing. But he never saw them published or heard them sung. Sadly, he just missed the first performance of no. 5, Ergebung, which took place at his funeral. It is all about the final summons of sinners to repentance; so he might have thought its selection in rather poor taste in the circumstances.

     The conductor on that occasion, Eugen Thomas, later edited the lieder – excessively but explicitly, so that is possible to infer the composer’s notes from the editor’s. The present text avowedly relies on just such a deduction. It differs significantly from the Gesamtausgabe trailer published by Doblinger in 1972 (under the distinguished editorship of Dr Hans Jancik) which seems to derive fro an earlier text. The Thomas version may well be based on Wolf’s final revision, c1894. At least its climaxes are more chromatic (Resignation) and more concise (Ergebung), which suggests second thoughts on both scores.

      Dr Richter’s judgment is expressed in sentences which do not always appear to run concurrently. His preface for example submits that “the end of Ergebung has been extended by eight bars, apparently [Wolf’s] original intention”. But a footnote which seems to relate to these same eight bars reads “These measures were added by Wolf in a later version than the original”. Clearly those views can’t both be right; and they may well both be wrong. It seems unlikely to me that anyone who had just written 28 bars saying “Thy will be done” would later add a further eight bars saying the same thing again, twice. But a composer who had written 36 bars on that theme might later feel able to dispense with the last eight as supererogatory. This would seem the more likely explanation for textual discrepancy of this kind in the work of any right-thinking artist, let alone a free-thinking one like Wolf.

      For there can be little doubt that despite appearances these lieder are really secular in intent. Eichendorff’s texts are Wolf pretexts for some of his most intensely personal addresses, namely those he paid to Vally Franck. The music is devoted rather than devout. So the new translation provided here, with its distinctive “for heav’n I pine” aroma, misses the essence. Presumably this new singing version is the ground on which copyright is claimed on behalf of Joseph Boonin Inc. of New Jersey. But personally I wouldn’t have thought that such verses needed protection from the public; rather the contrary, if anything.

      There are other disputable points and passages. Thus the tenor part at “Ach Herr auch mir” in Letzte Bitte should surely be solo. However, such matters are admittedly difficult to determine on the available evidence; and the present publication has one very vital practical advantage over all others. For my money, a piano reduction is the kind of bargain that wins hands down. It might even help at least towards an occasional performance, and possibly even a recording, of these neglected works.


The Musical Times, Aug., 1974 (p. 669) © the estate of eric sams