Wolf, Hugo (with Work-List)

3. MASTERY AND FAME (1888-97). Wolf instinctively sought solitude. His friends the Werners offered him ale use of their summer holiday home in Perchtoldsdorf, near Vienna. He took with him the poems of his favour­ite Mörike, whose lyrics had no doubt been germinating in his musical mind for many years. Now came a sudden spontaneous flowering of song music that in its profusion and variety matched the Schubert of 1814-15 and the Schumann of 1840-41. The biographical paral­lels with the latter are especially clear. Wolf too had just emerged from some years of activity as a critic and was celebrating a long-lasting love affair (by 1888 Wolf and Melanie Köchert were lovers, though they could meet only with difficulty and by stealth). Wolf too found himself moving in the song medium with a new and surprising assurance (with characteristic irony he com­pared the process to the final undoing of a frequently and frustratingly fumbled button). Finally, he too was disconcerted by the violence of his musical creativity, though overjoyed by its profusion. On 22 February for example he wrote to Edmund Lang, 'I have just put a new song on to paper [Der Knabe und das Immlein]. A sone for the gods, let me tell you! ... My cheeks are glowing with excitement like molten iron; and this state of inspiration is more a delicious torment to me than an unalloyed pleasure'. But that was only a beginning. Far finer songs grew and proliferated, at the rate of two or even three a day. Again to Edmund Lang, on the same day, 'Hardly was my letter despatched than I took up my M5rike and wrote another song [Jägerlied]. PS ... I have succeeded in a third song, and how! [Ein Stündlein wohl vor Tag]. This is an eventful day'.

   A month later he was still composing at the same pitch and writing in the same strain. To Joseph Strasser, March 23: 'I'm working at 1000 horsepower from early morning until late at night, without respite. What I am now putting on to paper, dear friend, is also being written for posterity. They are masterpieces.... When I tell you that [despite several unavoidable visits to Vienna] I have, since 22 February, written 25 songs, each better than the last, about which connoisseurs agree that there has been nothing like them since Schubert, Schumann, etc, you'll readily gather what kind of songs they are'. Earlier Wolf had written modestly to Edmund Lang, 'I wonder what the future may hold in store for me? This question torments me, perturbs and preoccupies me waking or sleeping. Am I called? or perhaps even chosen?'. By March he knew. By mid-May (after 43 songs) he needed rest. He took a holiday with the Strassers; he visited Bayreuth. In September the spate of song resumed. This time Wolf sought sanctuary with the Eckstein family at Unterach, where he wrote (again perhaps using some earlier ideas) 13 Eichendorff settings. Then Mörike settings resumed with another nine in the first fortnight of October, in­cluding some with a deep spiritual content (Wolf had again been much moved by Parsifal). Then came a return to Vienna, and an outburst even more sustained than ever. By 13 February 1889 Wolf had finished the 51 songs of the Goethe songbook, except for one incomplete sketch (Die Spröde) which dissatisfied him and was later recomposed.

   Again the connoisseurs could recognize masterpieces, this time directly challenging comparison with the Goethe settings of Schubert and Schumann. The word soon spread from old friends to new converts. It was only on 2 March 1888 that any Wolf song had been  publicly performed (by Rosa Papier, Hans Paumgartner's wife). By 23 March Wolf was playing and singing his latest Mörike settings to the Wagner-Verein.

   Among its more influential members Joseph Schalk and Ferdinand Lowe, both professors at the conservatory, were powerfully impressed. So was the tenor Ferdinand Jäger (who had sung Parsifal at Bayreuth) when, on 8 November, he heard three of the Mörike songs from a soprano of the Vienna Opera accompanied by Schalk. Jager was soon to Wolf as Vogl was to Schubert, a lifelong devotee and partner. Their Wolf concert on 15 December was the composer's first public appearance as an accompanist. This and subsequent recitals were received with acclaim.

   In May 1889 Wolf returned to Perchtoldsdorf with his mind still ringing with plaudits. The prospect of public success again focussed his attention on large-scale forms, both operatic and orchestral. (Two settings from A Midsummer Night's Dream date from this month as well as two orchestrations of songs from the Mörike volume, which had meanwhile been published.) After summer holiday visits to Bayreuth and to his mother in Windischgraz, Wolf returned to Perchtoldsdorf at the end of October 1889 and instantly began work on his Spanish songbook. Thoughts of opera often suggested Spain or Italy to his mind (from this summer also dates the draft of a few dreamy bars of string quartet music intended as a slow movement for the Italienische Serenade). This impulse, together with his established penchant for characterization and description, his strong sense of national feeling and local colour, and a mood of mysticism perhaps induced or fostered by the Bayreuth visits, led to a choice of translations from the Spanish by Heyse and Geibel (a source earlier used by both Schumann and Brahms). By April 1890 the 44 Spanish songs (including translations from Camoens, Cervantes, Lope de Vega and others, as well as anonymous lyrics) were completed. Meanwhile the thrust towards stage music continued: a sketched theme of December 1889 is headed 'Introduction to Hamlet'. Two more Reinick settings (one with orchestra on a patriotic theme) and six Keller songs in June 1890 (again including characterization and mysticism) bring to an end this great creative period, in which 174 songs, including many acknowledged masterpieces, had been composed within two and a half years.

   Meanwhile the reverberations of Wolf's fame were spreading outside Austria. The first critical article was by Heinrich Rauchberg, an early friend; his 'Neue Lieder und Gesange' (about the Mörike and Eichendorff songbooks) appeared in the November—December issue of the Osterreichisch-ungarische Revue. Far more influential, however, was Joseph Schalk'sNeue Lieder, neues Leben' in the Münchener allgemeine Zeitung for 22 January 1890. This gave rise to widespread interest and correspondence. Wolf heard from the Tubingen music director Emil Kauffmann (whose father had been a friend of Mörike's) and the Mannheim judge Oskar Grohe. Both became close friends. Gustave Schur of the Wagner-Verein was able to negotiate with the well-established firm of Schott in Mainz to supplement or replace the small Viennese publishers Wetzler (already on the point of bankruptcy) and Lacom.

   Within Austria Jäger had given another very success­ful Wolf recital to the Graz Wagner-Verein on 12 April. It was heard by Heinrich Potpeschnigg, a dentist and amateur pianist, who soon became a close friend and helper. In Vienna Wolf's name was steadily gaining ground, but also meeting some resistance. Richard Heuberger recalled a talk with Brahms and Richter in November 1890, about 'the Wagnerians and in par­ticular Hugo Wolf, whom they now praised as a great songwriter, the inventor of the "symphonic song", whereas Schubert, Schumann and Brahms are said to have written songs as if with guitar accompaniment'. The partisan note is clear; and there was some resent­ment even within the Wagner societies. But the general reaction was favourable; and this wave of recognition carried Wolf to a further crest of enthusiasm for opera. In 1890, with his mind very much on Spanish themes, he had been offered a libretto on Alarcon's El sombrero de tres picos, by the feminist and journalist Rosa Mayreder. This was rejected, together with other sug­gestions such as The Tempest and the story of Pocahontas (proposal and counter-proposal between Wolf and the poet Detlev von Liliencron, whose atten­tion had been drawn to Wolf by Joseph Schalk, and who composed a verse-eulogy of the songs). Among other topics mooted, the life of Buddha and the Golden Ass of Apuleius might be said to typify Wolf's contrasting spiritual and secular aspects. But when he received a commission from the Burgtheater to compose incidental music for a production of Ibsen's The Feast at Solhaug, Wolf's zest sharply diminished. He found the assigned task irksome and uncongenial; he was dilatory and unin­spired; he scored for too large an orchestra; and his procrastination delayed the opening night until 21 November 1891, when the reception was lukewarm. His recalcitrance was enhanced by some fresh song inspira­tion from Heyse's polished translations of anonymous Italian poems in a courtly style and tradition dating from the 16th century or earlier (hardly folk poems, as is sometimes claimed). Seven such settings were com­pleted in October and November 1890 despite the distraction of another visit to Germany to complete the negotiations with Schott. On his itinerary Wolf met the conductor Hermann Levi and the singer Eugen Gura in Munich and called on his new friends Kauffmann and Grohe.

   But now bodily and mental exhaustion supervened, with some ominous signs. Apart from the Ibsen com­mission and the orchestration of a Mörike song Wolf was barren for most of 1891. The tedium of inactivity was alleviated by a further visit to Germany to hearChristnacht under Weingartner at Mannheim. There he met Humperdinck, who as Schott's reader had recom­mended Wolf's songs; but they did not take up the option on Christnacht, in which Wolf could recognize defective scoring. A depressive phase ensued. He suf­fered from insomnia and malaise; he despaired of writ­ing another note. But at the end of December he com­posed (or perhaps completed) another 15 Italian songs, again full of masterly invention. Then darkness fell again, more impenetrable than ever. The long fallow period was again put to good use in tours and concerts in Germany.

   The first Wolf recital in Berlin on 3 March 1892, with the local tenor Grahl (replacing the indisposed Jäger) and the mezzo-soprano Friedrike Mayer, was enthusias­tically received, though it was not a financial success. Wolf made many new friends including his patron Baron Lipperheide, the chorus master Siegfried Ochs, the critic Richard Sternfeld (who wrote his laudatory article Tin neuer Liedesfraling' on 12 March), the opera singer Emilie Herzog-Welti (who gave a success­ful Wolf recital on 12 April) and the librettist Richard Genee. As a suitable opera text for Wolf he recom­mended Alarcon's El niño de la bola, translated into German as Manuel Venegas. This project preoccupied Wolf to the last.

   On his return from Berlin Wolf again fell victim to the feverish throat inflammation (no doubt a symptom of secondary syphilis) to which he had been prone since 1891. He was cared for, as so often, by the Köcherts. Perhaps it was the presence of Melanie, his shy and reticent mistress (who was never seen among the social circle of Wolf's musical friends), that prompted him to orchestrate his great song on the theme of covert and illicit love, Geh, Geliebter, geh jetzt, from the Spanish songbook. He scored the Italienische Serenade for small orchestra, with some slight but perplexing thematic changes; he sporadically sketched or planned some additional movements. Otherwise he was barren and listless. In the three years 1892 to 1894 he wrote not a single note of viable original music. As before, he sought distraction in continued travel and concert tours. Thus in January 1894 he attended a very successful performance of his Shakespeare Elfenlied and the choral version of his Mörike song Der Feuerreiter under the direction of Siegfried Ochs in Berlin. On the same programme was the Te Deum of Bruckner, also present in person; he and Wolf were on affable terms. In Mannheim Wolf met another disciple and benefactor, the barrister and amateur tenor Hugo Faisst of Stuttgart. In Darmstadt he became infatuated with the soprano Frieda Zerny of the Mainz opera, and formed wild plans of emigrating with her to the USA. This brief liaison somehow became known to Melanie KOchert, to her distress and Wolf's embarrassment. He renewed his allegiance to her; and the summer months of 1894 were spent first at her country home in Traunkirchen, and later with the Lipperheides near Brixlegg in the Tyrol.

   With the success of Humperdinck's Hänsel und Gretel in December Wolf's opera fever reached a new crisis. The Alarcon story of the three-cornered hat began to dominate his mind. He rejected a version pre­pared by Franz Schaumann, chairman of the Wagner­-Verein and enthused instead over the previously de­spised libretto of Rosa Mayreder, entitled Der Corregidor. Its merits are disputable; but this text in­dubitably now began to fertilize Wolf's long-dormant creative genius. As before, there was a period of winter gestation followed by springtime labour. Early in April 1895 Wolf again sought solitude in Perchtoldsdorf. There the Mörike drama was re-enacted: he began to compose daily from dawn to dusk. In May he left for the more comfortable Lipperheide château in Brixlegg. By 9 July the whole four-act opera was complete in piano score; the orchestration occupied the rest of the year. The opera was offered, unsuccessfully, to Vienna, Berlin and Prague and was eventually accepted (with some help from Grohe) for performance at Mannheim. The re­hearsals were prolonged and tense because of inaccuracies in the copied parts and fluctuations in Wolf's own mental state; he continued to be plagued by insomnia. The first performance (7 June 1896) under Hugo Röhr was a great success, with curtain calls for the composer, but the enthusiasm abated in later performances, with the gradual departure of Wolf's friends and admirers; the opera has still not reached the general repertory or the wider public.

   Meanwhile Wolf in a further access of creative fer­vour returned to Perchtoldsdorf and composed (or com­pleted) the final section of the Italian songbook, with 24 songs in the five weeks between 25 March and 30 April. He then returned to Vienna to occupy – for the first time in his life – his own home. Ever since his arrival there he had been living either in penury or else as a guest. The Köcherts had always been generous; the Lipperheides and Grohe had provided a stipend; now Faisst and other friends found and furnished a flat in the Schwindgasse. There, for most of 1896 and the beginning of 1897, he revised (with the devoted help of Potpeschnigg) the score and parts of Der Corregidor, influenced inter alia by Johann Fuchs, Kapellmeister of the Vienna Opera, ho advised that revisions (notably a cut in the last act) were mandatory. In autumn 1896 he wrote two settings of Byron and one of Reinick.