Hugo Wolf, classical music composer

Hugo Wolf image

Hugo Wolf

Biography

Today known primarily for his lieder, Hugo Wolf was born on March 13, 1860. He was considered a child prodigy, and he was completely and utterly fascinated with music. He learned violin and piano from his father at the age of four. However, once he entered primary school, subjects other than music were of no interest to him and he was twice expelled from two different schools for this reason. He left a third school after a falling-out with a professor. Following this last incident, he left to study at the Vienna Conservatory. Yet, his time there was no less difficult. A whole-hearted admirer and fervent follower of the ideals of Richard Wagner, Wolf was not suited for the conservative disciplines of the Conservatory, and was later dismissed.

Following a brief stint at home, Wolf returned to Vienna again. Though he possessed a fiery temper, his music nevertheless attracted attention and, more importantly, patronage. He set out writing lieder and his earliest essays in the genre follow the models of Franz Schubert and Robert Schumann. Despite his affinity for the form, he was driven to be successful in the larger orchestral and operatic forms, believing them to be the key to true compositional greatness. This drive was encouraged by Wagner and, later on, by Franz Liszt as well.

After Wagner's death in February 1883, Wolf was devastated and began to question his own future in a world without his fearless idol. He continued to compose after this with notable examples being "Zur Ruh, zur Ruh," one of the best of his early works and thought to be an elegy for Wager, and the symphonic poem Penthesilea, written with the encouragement of Liszt. However, he also devoted more of his attention to critical writing, fighting vehemently what he thought to be a wave of mediocrity overtaking the musical world. Upholding the geniuses of Schubert, Chopin and Liszt, he earned the nickname "Wild Wolf" for his fiery critiques. His work as a critic ultimately won him several enemies, particularly when he attacked Brahms on his own turf, which caused considerable backlash when he tried to get his works performed in Vienna.

In 1887, Wolf abandoned his activities as a critic and returned full-time to composing. He composed the Italian Serenade, originally for string quartet but later scored for orchestra, and is considered one of his best works. Yet, his renewed creative activities were cut short by the death of his father, causing another period of severe depression for Wolf.  Nevertheless, the following two years of 1888-89 mark the beginning of his mature style and an extremely productive period. The results were the Mörike-Lieder, the Eichendorff-Lieder and finally the Goethe-Lieder. Wolf recognized the strength of his efforts and began actively promoting them to his friends. With these songs, Wolf's reputation spread beyond Vienna and he gained the support of singers who had performed in Wagner's operas.

This burst of creative output, however, was short-lived. In 1891, exhaustion coupled with syphilis and depression caused Wolf to once again stop composing. Nevertheless, he continued to give concerts and his fame spread, even drawing positive comments, mixed with constructive criticism, from Brahms himself. He took up composing again in a few years determined to cement his greatness in opera with Der Corregidor. However, his determination blinded him to the weakness of the libretto he had chosen. It was initially successful but ultimately faded from the concert stage and has yet to be revived.

Wolf made his last public appearance at a concert in 1897. Soon afterwards, he slipped into syphilitic insanity. During brief periods of well-being, he tried to compose, leaving sixty pages of an unfinished opera. However, by 1899 he was no longer able to write and even tried to drown himself. At his own request, he was admitted to an insane asylum in Vienna. He died on February 22, 1903.


Composer Title Date Action
Hugo Wolf Italian Serenade in G Major 11/21/2009 Play Add to playlist
Hugo Wolf Und willst du deinen Liebsten sterben sehen, from the Italienisches Liederbuch 10/24/2011 Play Add to playlist
Hugo Wolf Dass doch gemalt all deine Reize wären, from the Italienisches Liederbuch 10/24/2011 Play Add to playlist
Hugo Wolf Benedeit, die sel’ge Mutter, from the Italienisches Liederbuch 10/24/2011 Play Add to playlist
Hugo Wolf Geselle, woll’n wir uns in Kutten hüllen, from the Italienisches Liederbuch 10/24/2011 Play Add to playlist
Hugo Wolf Ihr seid die Allerschönste, from the Italienisches Liederbuch 10/23/2011 Play Add to playlist
Hugo Wolf Ein Ständchen Euch zu bringen kam ich her, from the Italienisches Liederbuch 10/24/2011 Play Add to playlist
Hugo Wolf Elfenlied, from Gedichte von Eduard Morike 04/10/2012 Play Add to playlist
Hugo Wolf Sterb ich, so hüllt in Blumen meine Glieder, from the Italienisches Liederbuch 10/24/2011 Play Add to playlist
Hugo Wolf Alles endet, was entstehet, from Drei Gedichte von Michelangelo 11/07/2011 Play Add to playlist
Hugo Wolf Fühlt meine Seele, from Drei Gedichte von Michelangelo 11/07/2011 Play Add to playlist
Hugo Wolf Lebe wohl 09/26/2011 Play Add to playlist
Hugo Wolf Wohl denk ich oft, from Drei Gedichte von Michelangelo 11/07/2011 Play Add to playlist
Hugo Wolf Als ich auf dem Euphrat schiffte 09/26/2011 Play Add to playlist
Hugo Wolf Das verlassene Mägdlein 09/26/2011 Play Add to playlist
Hugo Wolf Die Spröde 06/25/2014 Play Add to playlist
Hugo Wolf Neue Liebe 09/26/2011 Play Add to playlist
Hugo Wolf Die Bekehrte 06/25/2014 Play Add to playlist
Hugo Wolf Die Zigeunerin 09/26/2011 Play Add to playlist
Hugo Wolf Frühling übers Jahr 06/25/2014 Play Add to playlist
Hugo Wolf Ich hab' in Penna einen Liebsten 09/26/2011 Play Add to playlist
Hugo Wolf Das Köhlerweib ist trunken 09/26/2011 Play Add to playlist