Hugo Wolf: Im Frühling
“Ich denke diess, und denke dass, ich sehne mich, als weiss nicht recht nach was: halb ist es Lust, halb ist es Klage”
“I think about this and that, I feel a longing, but don’t know exactly what for: half is joy, half is pain.”
Hugo Wolf (1860-1903) is one of those composers that song people consider their little secret. Because his best-known works are his Lieder (of which he wrote hundreds), he’s ours. He is a singer’s composer. Wolf, like his hero Wagner, places a premium on drama and the complete enmeshing of music and text – his songs are miniature three-minute operas, and a distinct pleasure to perform and study.
Wolf’s feverish completion of the 53 Möricke Lieder in 1888 effectively showcased his particular talents as a composer. Eduard Möricke’s (1804-1875) highly Romantic poetry, populated with vividly-drawn characerters – elves, witches, virgins, foresaken chambermaids, the hunter, the horseman, and the wind itself, gave Wolf the delicious chance to create pitch-perfect text settings with his signature harmonically adventurous late-romantic style.
One of my favorites is the slowly swung “Im Frühling,” a piece full of the slow and ecstatic longing of springtime.
We are lying on a hillside in springtime. Wolf dreamily can’t settle on a key in Möricke’s quietly desirous meditation on the uncertain longings of spring, and the voice and piano slither around like the disconnected thoughts of the narrator. In long-spun sinuous melody lines, we stand with our hearts open wie die Sonnenblümen, like sunflowers, hear the buzz of the bee in our ears, and wonder when our longing will be stilled, when we will be with our one and only love. Massive and Romantic sighed are sighed.
Even though it’s been a little chilly this season, it’s still May – the month when the magical and heady feeling of the first warm rays of the spring sun dispells memories of frigid winter (many a Midwestern and East Coast springtime familiarized this), the feeling like anything and everything is possible. Flowers bursting forth, after having forgotten what a bloom looks like. The burning sting of allergic eyes and feverish longings that are re-awakened in the springtime heart.
It JUST so happens that Wolf’s “Im Frühling” is the first song that my fiancé, pianist Richard Valitutto, and I ever worked on and performed together when we met at SongFest in 2013. It just so happened to provide the opportunity to connect through this very sensual song about unrealized longing during the very first wisps of our relationship, and I believe it was my suggestion 🙂 Richard will make an arrangement for string quartet, and it will be played during the prelude music at our wedding this fall.
Tomorrow: freshly baked bread, a 16-pound rock, and a turning point