Two Sacred Songs from the Spanish Songbook (instrumentation by Stravinsky)*

Wolf/Stravinsky: Herr, was trägt der Boden hier; Wunden trägst du, mein Geliebter; Boosey & Hawkes

    Each song is an imagined duologue between soul and Saviour, in which the unprepared discords of love and pain are gently resolved. Wolf was a rationalist. But a full tithe of his song-writing was due to Christian inspiration. Among his own orchestral arrangements, that ratio soars-to one in three, in fact-and they all sound like music raised to a higher power. Thence we can infer how the composer himself would have converted these songs antiphonally, for woodwind and strings, no doubt with overtones of Tristan und Isolde (since the verse is about wounds and flowers, love and death). In the opening strains of distress he would have laid out his percussive clash chords for the whole wind band, carefully doubling and adding to help the score along (as in Der Feuerreiter). Similarly the tone of the answering voice would be prolonged in full string chords (as in In der Frühe). Indeed, new voices might well have been heard (as in Gesang Weylas).

    Wolf's orchestration aimed at the transference of his thought; but even his devotees sometimes feel he has the wrong medium. His own piano style is already a distillation of the Wagner orchestra; dilute it, and the essence can be lost or tasteless. But the latter-day master has power to raise or restore the original spirit, and even add a dash of bitters for good measure. Anyone might have guessed woodwind for the opening statement; but my guess is that it takes a Stravinsky to think of three A clarinets and two horns-not only fewer instruments than one would have expected from Wolf, but fewer notes than he actually wrote. Similarly the marked dynamics are reduced (not just to protect the voice from the clangour of three clarinets, but also in the prelude) while the expected string band becomes a quintet of soloists. Thus the full score is the reduction-literally. Wolf involves, Stravinsky extricates; one renders, the other clarifies. In the second song the antiphony is blurred to show how, in a mystery, the two feelings mix and mingle, honey and gall together. So the scoring is sensitively modified. Clarinets and horns accompany both voices; the main focus of contrast shifts from timbre to texture. In this musical exegesis we hear the saved soul mortified, the tormented Saviour beatified. Again, the text reads beautifully in these modern versions, which might be called justification by works-though some Wolfians may think them works of supererogation.

The Musical Times, Jan. 1970 (p. 78) © the estate of eric sams