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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA67311/2
Recording details: October 2000
Clara-Wieck-Auditorium, Heidelberg-Sandhausen, Germany
Produced by Teije van Geest
Engineered by Teije van Geest
Release date: October 2001
Total duration: 146 minutes 4 seconds

'A major achievement on the part of its three artists … this becomes a straightforward top recommendation' (Gramophone)

'Abiding satisfaction in hearing the Mörike Liederbuch at one spellbinding session … a cornerstone for any Wolf collection. And pure radiant joy heaped high on silver platters' (Fanfare, USA)

Gedichte von Eduard Mörike
26 November 1888
author of text

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
For any lover of Hugo Wolf the Mörike Lieder must have a special value. Apart from being the first of the great songbooks on which his reputation so firmly rests, they are the songs in which he discovered his true voice, and in which he developed and refined the techniques that would mark him out as a highly original master of the Lied. Yet the inspiration for these songs was slow in coming. In May 1887, stricken with grief at the death of his father, Wolf had withdrawn to the village of Perchtoldsdorf, now a suburb of Vienna. For over eight months he did not write a single note; but in the meantime he began to immerse himself in the verses of Eduard Mörike, a poet he had so far only set to music in a pair of songs. Significantly, one of these, the exquisite Mausfallensprüchlein, is perhaps alone among Wolf’s early songs in anticipating the achievements of the mature composer. Finally, on 16 February 1888, he returned to Mörike with another of his humorous character-pieces, Der Tambour. It was a relatively modest beginning, but six days later he completed three more songs—Der Knabe und das Immlein, Ein Stündlein wohl vor Tag and Jägerlied—and knew that the dam had finally broken.

That day he wrote ecstatically to his friend Edmund Lang: ‘My cheeks glow with excitement like molten iron, and this state of happiness is more like a rapturous torture than unadulterated happiness’. For once the clichéd expression ‘white heat of inspiration’ is totally accurate, for the songs now poured from his pen at an astonishing rate. No fewer than twenty-five were composed in the month between 22 February and 23 March, and all fifty-three were completed by 26 November. With delight and characteristically ironic hyperbole, he would announce the arrival of each day’s masterpiece to his friends, only to take it back the following day. So on 20 March he wrote to Lang: ‘Today, immediately after my arrival, I composed my masterpiece. Erstes Liebeslied eines Mädchens is by far the best thing I have done. In comparison to this, all the earlier songs are child’s play.’ Yet the very next day we find him writing: ‘I take back my claim that Erstes Liebeslied eines Mädchens is my finest song, for what I wrote this morning, Fussreise, is a million times better’. Of the whole collection, only one song took more than a day to compose—Auf einer Wanderung, which he began on 11 March and finished on 15 March. In between, however, he had produced another eight songs: the two just mentioned plus Verborgenheit, Gebet, Selbstgeständnis, Rat einer Alten, Begegnung and Lied eines Verliebten. Considering the speed with which the Mörike songs were written, their confidence and lucidity is breathtaking. It is impossible to play or sing them without sharing in the composer’s enthusiasm, or remembering his words: ‘My cheeks glow with excitement like molten iron’. These are songs that glow on the page.

Wolf was of course in no doubt of what he owed to Mörike, to whose portrait he gave pride of place as the frontispiece of the first edition. He insisted that his songs should be given the title Gedichte von Eduard Mörike, and to turn the pages of this collection is to enter Mörike’s world, but transmuted so magically into music that both text and music seem to be infused with the same light. As the great Wolf scholar Eric Sams put it, ‘Wolf often sounds as if Mörike had been reborn as a musician’. Images of light and colour abound; there are constant references to musical sounds, to harps and bells (Auf einer Wanderung, In der Frühe), often of gold or silver (the word ‘gold’ is a favourite of Mörike’s). Many of the poems take place at special times of day or night, either in the early morning (Das verlassene Mägdlein, Begegnung)—Wolf is particularly good at evoking the cold light of dawn—at sunset (Auf einer Wanderung) or at midnight (Um Mitternacht, Die Geister am Mummelsee). Then there is a whole gallery of quasi-folkloric portraits: lovelorn youths and maidens, gardeners and princesses, hunters, elves and spirits, all appealing to Wolf’s sense of humour and characterisation. Last but not least, there are the poems of a more personal, introspective nature, whether spiritual (Neue Liebe, Wo find ich Trost) or erotic (Peregrina I and II, Lebe wohl), whose often tortured broodings find an echo in Wolf’s own psyche and in his description of their effect on him—‘rapturous torment’.

The significance of Wolf’s new-found musical language rests above all on two key developments. The first is his ability to inflect the vocal line with an unprecedented freedom, giving great naturalness to the vocal delivery. Implicit in this is the other essential development, which gives the piano part far greater independence, and a crucial responsibility not only for the musical structure, but for much of its melodic content. In this Wolf was much influenced by Wagner whose famous ‘symphonic web’ stands in much the same relationship to his vocal lines. Not surprisingly, the pianist in these songs is often required to conjure up a formidable array of orchestral sounds, from the brooding double basses that open the very first song Der Genesene an die Hoffnung to the cataclysmic tutti of Der Feuerreiter. The sensuous appeal of Mörike’s verse, and its often mythic imagery, awakened the Wagnerian in Wolf, inspiring him to add to the established Lieder-vocabulary of Schubert and Schumann his own stratum of cross-references, whether to Parsifal, Meistersinger, Rhinegold or Götterdämmerung.

Two other features of this musical language are worth mentioning. One is Wolf’s ability to develop an entire song, especially the accompaniment, from one musical motif. This can be anything from the tiniest of cells to a longer phrase, but the effect is invariably to give unity and coherence to an apparently free-flowing train of thought. The other is his harmonic colouring. For a late-Romantic composer, Wolf in the Mörike songs is often remarkably diatonic, finding an extraordinary number of ways to deploy simple triadic progressions, as in the bell sounds already mentioned, the harp-like arpeggios of An eine Äolsharfe or the prayerful harmonies of Gebet and An die Geliebte. When appropriate he can resort to Wagnerian chromaticism with the best, but it is more often the sheer beauty of simple chords juxtaposed in novel ways that continues to ring in the ear long after a song has ended.

Wolf is often accused of being too intellectual for comfort, and there is no doubt that his song-writing is based on a formidable grasp of technique and a penetrating response to poetry. Nevertheless, there is a beauty of sound to almost every page of the Mörike Lieder, and in songs like Fussreise, Gebet, Das verlassene Mägdlein, Schlafendes Jesuskind, Auf ein altes Bild, not to mention Im Frühling and An eine Äolsharfe, he achieves an ineffable simplicity to set beside the greatest songs of Schubert.

This recording follows Wolf’s published order.

from notes by Roger Vignoles © 1996

Other albums featuring this work
'Wolf: Goethe & Mörike Songs' (CDA66590)
Wolf: Goethe & Mörike Songs
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'Wolf: Songs' (CDA66788)
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'My Garden' (CDA66937)
My Garden
'The Ballad Singer' (CDA67830)
The Ballad Singer
'Women's lives and loves' (CDA67563)
Women's lives and loves
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