53. Hugo Wolf [365 Composers for 2013]


22nd February – Hugo Wolf


Wolf (13th March 1860 – 22nd February 1903) is our composer for 22nd February, to mark the day of his death.
Nationality: Austrian
Lifespan: 42 years
Genre: Romantic
Education: Vienna Conservatory, briefly
Fame Ranking: 4

Hugo Wolf was a rebellious man with a complicated personality. He was headstrong and unwilling to be taught, and suffered from bouts of depression during which he composed little. As a child he was thrown out of several schools for lack of diligence, and was even expelled from the Vienna Conservatoire for being ill-disciplined. He took up teaching music, but his dark personality was not particularly suited to it.

Wolf also worked as a music critic, expounding his blunt views on newly published/performed music in Europe. He was scathing of any music he did not care for, and Johannes Brahms was one composer who was the receiving end of his sharp tongue. Wolf derided many of Brahms’ compositions as boring, describing the older man’s music as “crab-like”, for example.

Like Brahms, Wolf was fond of writing Lieder (typical German art songs). Wolf wrote hundreds of them, and they proved to be the best vehicle for him to express himself musically. Wolf abandoned the usual “strophic” song-form (i.e. verse plus chorus), instead preferring to let the narrative of a song dictate its own musical path. He was heavily influenced by Richard Wagner, and was devastated when he died, feeling that his mentor and guide was lost.

Wolf’s private life was as chequered as his career. He spent many years in love with his best friend’s wife, Melanie, with whom he had a long-standing affair. He contracted syphilis while a young man, and the disease took hold of him severely in later life, rendering him insane to the point of suicide. Melanie killed herself not long after he died, aged just 42.

Here is are two Lieder by Wolf entitled “Der Sanger” (The Singer) and “Der Rattenfanger” (The Pied Piper):




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