28 Facts About Hugo Wolf


Hugo Philipp Jacob Wolf was an Austrian composer of Slovene origin, particularly noted for his art songs, or Lieder.

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Hugo Wolf brought to this form a concentrated expressive intensity which was unique in late Romantic music, somewhat related to that of the Second Viennese School in concision but diverging greatly in technique.

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Hugo Wolf was born in Windischgratz in the Duchy of Styria, then a part of the Austrian Empire.

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Hugo Wolf spent most of his life in Vienna, becoming a representative of a "New German" trend in Lieder, a trend which followed from the expressive, chromatic and dramatic musical innovations of Richard Wagner.

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Child prodigy, Wolf was taught piano and violin by his father beginning at the age of four, and once in primary school studied piano and music theory with Sebastian Weixler.

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Hugo Wolf was prone to depression and wide mood swings, which would affect him all through his life.

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Hugo Wolf returned home, although his family relationships were strained; his father was still convinced his son was a ne'er-do-well.

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Hugo Wolf often despaired of his own future in the ensuing years, in a world from which his idol had departed, leaving tremendous footsteps to follow and no guidance on how to do so.

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Hugo Wolf's songs had meanwhile caught the attention of Franz Liszt, whom he respected greatly, and who like Wolf's previous mentors advised him to pursue larger forms; advice he this time followed with the symphonic tone poem Penthesilea.

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Hugo Wolf was merciless in his criticism of the inferior works he saw taking over the musical atmosphere of the time; those of Anton Rubinstein he considered particularly odious.

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Hugo Wolf abandoned his activities as a critic in 1887 and began composing once more; perhaps not unexpectedly, the first songs he wrote after his compositional hiatus emphasized themes of strength and resolution under adversity.

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Hugo Wolf himself saw the merit of these compositions immediately, raving to friends that they were the best things he had yet composed.

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Tenor Ferdinand Jager, whom Hugo Wolf had heard in Parsifal during his brief summer break from composing, was present at one of the first concerts of the Morike works and quickly became a champion of his music, performing a recital of only Hugo Wolf and Beethoven in December 1888.

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Hugo Wolf's works were praised in reviews, including one in the Munchener Allgemeine Zeitung, a widely read German newspaper.

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However, Hugo Wolf was consumed with depression, which stopped him from writing—which only left him more depressed.

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Hugo Wolf completed orchestrations of previous works, but new compositions were not forthcoming, and certainly not the opera which he was now fixated on composing, still convinced that success in the larger forms was the mark of compositional greatness.

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Hugo Wolf had scornfully rejected the libretto to Der Corregidor when it was first presented to him in 1890, but his determination to compose an opera blinded him to its faults upon second glance.

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Shortly thereafter Hugo Wolf slipped into syphilitic insanity, with only occasional spells of wellbeing.

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Hugo Wolf left sixty pages of an unfinished opera, Manuel Venegas, in 1897, in a desperate attempt to finish before he lost his mind completely; after mid-1899 he could make no music at all and once even tried to drown himself, after which he was placed in a Vienna asylum at his own insistence.

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Hugo Wolf is buried in the Zentralfriedhof in Vienna, along with many other notable composers.

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Hugo Wolf is best known by his lieder, his temperament and inclination leading him to more intimate, subjective and terse musical utterances.

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Hugo Wolf's lieder are noted for compressing expansive musical ideas and depth of feeling, fed by his skill at finding the just right musical setting for the poetry that inspired him.

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Early in his career Hugo Wolf modelled his lieder after those of Franz Schubert and Robert Schumann, particularly in the period around his relationship with Vally Franck; in fact, they were good enough imitations to pass off as the real thing, which he once attempted, though his cover was blown too soon.

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Hugo Wolf wrote hundreds of lieder, three operas, incidental music, choral music, as well as some rarely heard orchestral, chamber and piano music.

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Hugo Wolf was famous for his use of tonality to reinforce meaning.

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Hugo Wolf's chosen texts were often full of anguish and inability to find resolution, and thus so too was the tonality wandering, unable to return to the home key.

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Significant early Hugo Wolf recording artists included Elisabeth Schumann, Heinrich Rehkemper, Heinrich Schlusnus, Josef von Manowarda, Lotte Lehmann, Karl Erb and others.

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In September 1931 the Hugo Wolf Society was formed under the aegis of English His Master's Voice records supervised by Walter Legge for the recording of a substantial proportion of the song repertoire.

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