Please wait...

Hyperion Records

CDH55389 - Wolf: Lieder nach Heine und Lenau
Watching the Geese by Paul Wilhelm Keller-Reutlingen (1854-1920)
Sotheby’s Picture Library
(Originally issued on CDA67343)
Recording details: February 2002
Tonstudio Teije van Geest, Sandhausen, Germany
Produced by Teije van Geest
Engineered by Teije van Geest
Release date: July 2012
Total duration: 67 minutes 10 seconds

'A fascinating recital' (Gramophone)

'It would be hard to imagine these virtually unknown songs better performed than here' (The Daily Telegraph)

'A very attractive programme … superbly controlled singing that goes right to the heart of Wolf's spontaneous response to the poetry' (International Record Review)

'[Genz] has a chocolate-honey sound, an ability to colour his voice with every shade of emotion, and a thrilling dramatic presence' (Classic FM Magazine)

'In sum, another top-of-the-line issue—confirming yet again that Hyperion has consistently the best production values in the business—and, for Wolf's admirers, another indispensable album' (Fanfare, USA)

'The programme is sung throughout with easeful tonal beauty; and Roger Vignoles is at his glorious best as he reveals the wonders of Wolf’s writing for the piano' (Musical Opinion)

'Stefan Genz aborde ces œuvres avec le timbre franc et agréable qu’on lui connaît' (Répertoire, France)

Lieder nach Heine und Lenau
Heinrich Heine
Nikolaus Lenau

After their Gramophone Award-winning debut recital of songs by Beethoven, and a double album of Hugo Wolf’s ‘Mörike Lieder’ (with Joan Rodgers), Stephan Genz and Roger Vignoles return to Wolf for the much less well-known early songs to texts by Heinrich Heine and Nikolaus Lenau. It is likely that these little-known songs were recorded here for the first time.

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Hugo Wolf was extremely fortunate in his friends. Always short of funds, for most of his life the diminutive, hypersensitive young provincial was supported, directly or indirectly, by a close-knit circle of wealthy Viennese. Between them they provided lodgings, money, piano pupils, and numerous entrées into the musical life of the capital, and eventually they formed the core membership of the Hugo Wolf Verein. Most influential among them was the young Adalbert von Goldschmidt, the son of a wealthy financier, and already the composer of a successful oratorio, The Seven Deadly Sins. Wolf was seventeen when they met, Goldschmidt twenty-nine. Charming, pleasure-loving and unfailingly generous—when off to the races he would always ‘put something on’ for Wolf, slipping him his ‘winnings’ on his return—Goldschmidt ensured Wolf a permanent welcome at the family home on the Opernring. There were two other families living at the same address, the Langs and the Gabillons (Ludwig Gabillon was a distinguished actor). They too befriended the young Hugo, pressing into service at one time or another most of the younger members of the family as pupils for their impecunious friend, who repaid their generosity with what must have been considerable, if unpredictable, charm.

It was here, in the spring of 1878, that Wolf fell in love for the first time. Vally (Valentine) Franck, raven-haired, strikingly beautiful, was the niece of Anton Lang and his French wife, and the intimate friend of Ludwig Gabillon’s daughter Helene. Vally and Helene founded a society called ‘the Eulonia’, reading poetry, singing and generally amusing themselves under the sign of the Owl. Among their regular guests were Felix Mottl (later to become a distinguished Wagner conductor and already an initiate into the Wagner circle) and Wolf himself, who it is said usually sat silent throughout. Rather like Arabella in Strauss’s opera, Vally was used to having young men fall hopelessly in love with her, and made no secret of the flightiness of her own heart. Surprisingly, she conceived a warm affection for the little ‘Ulf’ (he was four years younger than she was) and in spite of the difference in their temperaments the relationship lasted for three years.

Ten years later, in the first flush of excitement at the Mörike songs flowing from his pen, Wolf would look back on 1878 as an intensely creative period: ‘In those days I composed every day one good song and sometimes two.’ If nearly half the songs were settings of Heinrich Heine, it was a natural choice for a composer still modelling his work on that of Schumann (although already under the spell of Wagner, Wolf had yet to absorb his influence into his song-writing style). Even more so for a young man of eighteen needing to express the tumultuous impact of his own feelings. (These were clearly very strong: when Vally finally ended the relationship, Wolf was so devastated that even several months later he fled from a chance meeting with her, rather than risk the re-opening of old wounds.)

By all accounts, Schumann, Heine and Wolf’s own music, all were called upon to vent Wolf’s youthful frustration. According to Helene Gabillon, when things got too bad with Vally he would sing Schumann’s Ein Jüngling liebt ein Mädchen ‘with peculiar intensity and bitterness’, hammering on the piano and croaking with his hoarse voice. And when he sang his own Aus meinen grossen Schmerzen, Helene wrote:

I knew whom his ‘grossen Schmerzen’ concerned, and the expression of his passion and of his deeply wounded feelings, that reflected itself in his features and quivered in his toneless, veiled voice, had something about it so affecting that the impression has remained unforgotten.

It is always dangerous to draw too obvious a parallel between a composer’s personal life and his creations. But Wolf was known to suffer violent swings of emotion, and it is perhaps characteristic therefore that later in the year we find him writing two sharply contrasted songs on successive days. The tumultuous Mit schwarzen Segeln (6 October) is full of angry leaps, comparing her faithless heart to the wind that wracks his storm-tossed ship. But next day (7 October) the misty diminished sevenths of Spätherbstnebel (surely modelled on the piano part of Schubert’s Die Stadt) are like the calm after a storm, and eventually resolve into a climax of unmistakeable devotion on ‘Vielgeliebte schöne Frau’.

Wolf had first set Heine’s poetry in December 1876, when he was a student at the Vienna Conservatoire (he only lasted one year). He chose three poems from Heine’s Buch der Lieder, completing all three in five days. Two of the songs, Du bist wie eine Blume and Wenn ich in deine Augen seh’, are obviously in imitation of Schumann, even down to the enharmonic colouring of ‘Doch wenn du sprichst’ in the latter song. But in Mädchen mit dem roten Mündchen, there is more than a hint of the skill, as well as the originality, of the genius to come. With its scurrying piano part, it perfectly matches Heine’s repeated diminutives in a mood of happy infatuation that one also encounters in Mozart’s An Chloe.

By the summer of 1878, although the influence of Schumann was still strong, it was much more integrated. So much so that of the eight Heine songs he composed in May and June, Wolf collected seven into a Schumannesque little cycle titled Liederstrauss. The parallels with Dichterliebe are obvious, although now Wolf takes care to avoid any texts already set by Schumann. (Ich stand in dunkeln Träumen had of course been set by Schubert as Ihr Bild, and Mein Liebchen, wir sassen beisammen would be set by Brahms seven years later as Meerfahrt.)

Sie haben heut’ Abend Gesellschaft is that staple Heine situation, the rejected lover denied access to the revels at which his beloved is making merry. With echoes also of Schumann’s Andersen song Der Spielmann, the lover’s disgust is apparent in the distorted rhythms of the accompanying Ländler, which whips itself into a bacchic frenzy at the end. The most imaginative part of Ich stand in dunkeln Träumen is the piano prelude: dreamily it weaves a handful of chromatic fragments until the singer enters, when they coalesce into the main melody of the song. In Das ist ein Brausen und Heulen, Wolf takes the words literally: the piano itself roars and howls in a tremolando of alternating hands, a device (borrowed from Schumann) that Wolf would later put to good effect in songs like the Mörike Begegnung. Aus meinen grossen Schmerzen, too, is a perfect piano miniature, with tiny wings fluttering throughout the pairs of right-hand semiquavers. In the voice part there is a nice twist in the sharpened note on ‘Lieder’ at the end of the second line, and a Heine-esque resignation in the final cadence ‘Was sie im Herzen schauten’. Mir träumte von einem Königskind is an exercise in a sublimated folksong style (the 6/8 metre fitting the ballad mode perfectly), while Mein Liebchen, wir sassen beisammen again puts the imagery into the piano part, with its rocking bass and rippling right-hand demisemiquavers. The last song in this little cycle is an early example of one of Wolf’s favourite genres, the military miniature. With its bright little bugle calls adding spice to the veiled sarcasm of Heine’s text, Es blasen die blauen Husaren looks forward to songs like Sie blasen zum Abmarsch (Spanisches Liederbuch) and Ihr jungen Leute (Italienisches Liederbuch).

Wolf originally planned Wo ich bin, mich rings umdunkelt as number five in the sequence. It is easy to imagine why he omitted it, as its melodramatic gestures never quite gel into a coherent whole. For the real thing, one must turn to one of the four songs from Heine’s Neue Gedichte that Wolf composed four months later in October 1878. Mit schwarzen Segeln, already mentioned above, has a unified sweep that is all the more powerful for its brevity. Two days before, Wolf had returned to the ballad mode with Es war ein alter König, chiefly remarkable for the extended piano interludes and final playout, which like many of Schumann’s say as much as the poem itself. Of the other two songs composed that autumn, Spätherbstnebel is perhaps the least typical of Heine songs in general, because of its length and its strongly visual and atmospheric imagery, both of which connect it more to Lenau songs like Herbst and Herbstentschluss. But the fourth, Ernst ist der Frühling, is a poem about spring, albeit one with a remarkable mood of self-imposed melancholy, which Wolf fashions into music of great beauty and restrained eloquence. It is one of the most lovely to sing of these early songs, and in a time signature (6/4) that he would often employ in his maturity when evoking similar sentiments.

Wolf returned to Heine only twice more (apart from a much later postscript in January 1888, just before the great Mörike inspiration) before abandoning his poetry for good; but he gave him a fine send-off. Wie des Mondes Abbild zittert (February 1880) is a rapt, silvery nocturne with a more than possibly personal message for Wolf in the image of the moon (Vally) moving serenely through the heavens while her reflection (Hugo) trembles in the waves of the sea. Then in November he composed Sterne mit den gold’nen Füsschen, a song in which the Wolfian thumbprint is unmistakable, its repeated right-hand demisemiquavers clearly anticipating later examples such as Mausfallensprüchlein and, most strikingly, O wär’ dein Haus from the Italian Songbook. It is also worth noting that in both these songs, for the first time Wolf writes for the piano almost entirely in the treble clef, a device that became one of his most characteristic trademarks from the Mörike songs onwards. His ‘postscript’ Heine song, Wo wird einst des Wandermüden, has the simple valedictory quality of Schumann’s Zum Schluss from his Myrthen cycle.

In contrast to the brevity and conciseness of Heine, Nikolaus Lenau’s more expansive—if more self-indulgent—verses gave Wolf the opportunity to spread his musical wings over a broader canvas. They also contributed to his emotional development, from the naive pastorale of Abendbilder (1877) to the frankly personal utterance of Frage nicht, a song whose outspoken emotion may well have caused Vally Franck to step back in alarm, as Wolf’s biographer Frank Walker remarks.

Abendbilder is a distinct curiosity, in which Wolf strings together three separate odes of Lenau as a continuous narrative, evoking the atmosphere of a Classical landscape. If it has a precedent, it is in some of the longer and more episodic songs of Schubert, or in the more illustrative sections of Haydn’s Creation and The Seasons. For Wolf, the music may seem unexpectedly ingenuous, but this is in keeping with the pietistic mood of the text. Simple in harmony, with most of the interest centred on the piano part, it conjures up in turn a dramatic moonrise, a sequence of rather comically chromatic sheepbells, the eventual setting of the sun, and—particularly charmingly—the peaceful grazing of cattle (at ‘Schon verstummt die Matte’). All of this is clearly orchestral in inspiration: there is even a suggestion of Wagnerian high strings à la Lohengrin just before the herdsman’s prayer brings the somewhat rambling structure to a satisfying close by reprising the music of the opening section.

Abendbilder was composed during the two months before Wolf’s seventeenth birthday in March 1877. During the next two months he tackled An ***, an outspoken and pain-filled love poem. Here we find Wolf experimenting with a more direct emotional utterance. Both the pianistic gestures and the vocal lines suggest less a German Lied than a Tchaikovsky romance. Traurige Wege and Nächtliche Wanderung from the following winter are both heavy, not to say melodramatic in mood. The first portrays a pair of unconsolable lovers unable to find comfort in their surroundings—even in a churchyard, with its sleeping graves (evoked by Wolf with a nice touch of hymn-tune solemnity). The second describes a night walk through the forests in a thunderstorm, the singer obsessed by suicidal thoughts from which he is only restrained by the imagined voice of his dead bride. Wolf presents this as high melodrama, all ominous tremolandi and deep timpani strokes in the piano part, and a broken, spasmodic vocal line that rises to a final self-immolatory high G. The result is ultimately rather preposterous (it is certainly not one of Lenau’s greatest poems), but also rather wonderful, especially in the delirious harmonic colouring of ‘Das klingt so lieblich wie Musik’, and the glorious melodic line of the extended postlude. If An *** recalls Tchaikovsky, Nächtliche Wanderung makes one think of Wolf’s French contemporary (and fellow Wagnerite), Henri Duparc.

The last three Lenau songs were composed in July 1879, when Wolf had returned temporarily to his native Silesia, and they represent a definite advance in maturity of expression. The first, Herbstentschluss, is yet another wandering song, but this time the piano part is tempered by its Schubertian texture of tremolando semiquavers, and the musical momentum more surely sustained. Frage nicht has already been mentioned, and its connection to Wolf’s relationship with Vally Franck. Certainly in its piano introduction, by turns passionate and hesitant, Wolf seems to be at pains to emphasize the personal nature of the song, while the vocal line itself speaks of a maturer—if possibly feigned—detachment. Herbst, composed three days later, is probably the best of the set. Not only is its play of tonalities (F sharp minor, D major, F sharp major) perfect for the poem’s rapt autumnal mood, it also sees Wolf inflecting the voice line with a new pliability against the piano’s pulse. Both these songs provide early examples of one of Wolf’s mature trademarks, his use of extended syncopations (as here on ‘Den Wald durchbraust’, ‘Den Lenz’ and ‘Verträumt’’ or in Frage nicht on ‘Wie tief es dein’) to emphasize important words.

That none of these songs was ever published in Wolf’s lifetime is not surprising. That he did hope for publication is clear from the projected Liederstrauss. There also exists in his handwriting a note from 1880, outlining a two-volume collection of eight Lieder und Gesänge von N. Lenau und J. Eichendorff dedicated to ‘Fräulein V … F …’. But by the time he made it into print (thanks once again to the generosity of his friends) it was with the magnificent Mörike-Lieder. In comparison to such masterpieces, the Lenau songs would by then have appeared to him impossibly jejune, the Heine songs far too indebted to Schumann. Yet, juvenilia or not, all these songs repay a hearing. Many of them under any other composer’s name would, one suspects, have been more highly regarded, while in Liederstrauss at least, Wolf left behind a more than useful concert work with which to vary the otherwise well-worn paths trodden by all too many Lieder recitals.

Roger Vignoles © 2002

   English   Français   Deutsch