chapter  6
34 Pages

Hugo Wolf: Subjectivity in the Fin-de-Siècle Lied

WithLawrence Kramer

Hugo Wolf occupies an anomalous position in the canon of “classical” music. He is the only standard composer whose reputation rests entirely on his songs, and he enjoys enough critical esteem to suggest that he parallels Chopin as a genre specialist. Unlike Chopin, however, Wolf is not a popular composer; his songs are more often praised than sung. Concomitantly, although his reputation is high, he has attracted only a modicum of critical attention. And although his music is expressively and sometimes structurally elusive, reflecting his notorious penchant for setting complex texts, Wolf’s small cadre of critics has until recently found only one story to tell about him. This is what might be called the Wolf legend: the tale of the moody, sensitive, but aesthetically disciplined artist who submerged himself in first-rate literary texts, understood them preternaturally well, and “expressed” them to perfection by repeating their sound and meaning in the form of music.1