Gedichte von J. W. v. Goethe : Work information

Hugo (Filipp Jakob) Wolf ( Music, Images,)
Performed by
Maciej Pikulski (Piano), José van Dam (Baritone)

This work

Work name
Gedichte von J. W. v. Goethe
Work number
1887-01-01 02:00:00

This recording

Forlane CI
Ivan Pastor
Jean Marc Laisne
Recording date
1994-01-01 00:00:00

Track listing

  • Harfenspeiler I 4:20 min
  • Harfenspieler II 3:18 min
  • Harfenspieler III 3:14 min


1888 was a remarkably productive year for Wolf. In October, having already largely completed song-cycles set to words by Moricke and Eichendorff, he turned to his biggest challenge yet, a setting of Goethe's poetry. Demanding a period of creativity even more intense than the two previous cycles, the 50 Goethe settings were written in a burst between 27 October and 12 Feburary 1889, with a. 51st joining the set on 21 October 1889. Wolf later made orchestral arrangements of several of the songs between 1890 and 1893.

Combining the lyricism of Schubert with the dramatic declamation of WagnerWolf's settings are justly lauded for their moments of profundity. Within the overall set there are mini-cycles, including the ten Wilhelm Meister songs at the beginning, and 15 at the end from West-ostlicher Divan.

Among the songs particularly admired are the expressive Grenzen der Menschheit and the quasi-orchestral accompaniments of the Mignon song (No. 9) Kennst du das Land? Also particularly attractive are the opening Harfenspieler songs, previously famously set by Schubert.

The Composers

Hugo (Filipp Jakob) Wolf

Wolf studied piano and violin with his father, a keen amateur. He left his home town of Windisch-Graz to attend school at Graz, leaving after a term to enrol in the seminary at the Carinthian Benedictine monastery of St Paul. He continued his education in Marburg in 1873 and began studying at the Vienna Conservatoire in 1875. Wagner received him during his visit to the city and gave him some words of encouragement, which meant a great deal to the young Wolf; considerably more, indeed, than his tutors at the Conservatoire, who expelled him for impertinence. Returning home in 1877 he quickly bored, and went back to Vienna where he taught privately. There he began writing lieder, setting Goethe, Heine, Lenau and others, and it was in this area that he was to achieve the greatest success.

An 1881 appointment in Salzburg as a chorus master did not end happily, and in 1883 he began as music critic of the Wiener Salonblatt. From this position he was able to espouse his progressive views, vilifying rival critic Hanslick and Brahms, who had not been kind about his compositions. He had great difficulties in obtaining performances of his works; when Richter finally agreed to put on his tone poem Penthesilea, Wolf was greatly displeased with the standard of orchestral playing. In 1887 he resigned as a music critic, writing songs which he believed to be the equal of those of Schubert and Schumann. Many now believe him to be justified in this belief. In 1889 his Morickelieder were published, and subsequent years brought further publication. His Spanisches Liederbuch (1890) and Italianisches Liederbuch (1896) are particularly noteworthy.

Wolf ventured into opera with Der Corregidor (1896), revising the orchestration following its first run. Mahler, who was set to conduct a revival of the work, was less than complimentary, and this tipped Wolf into a nervous breakdown. This is especially tragic since celebrations of Wolf’s work had been organised in Berlin and Vienna, and these did much to raise his standing. Wolf’s breakdown manifested itself with fabricated declarations to his friends that he was to take Mahler’s place as conductor of the Vienna Opera. He was committed to an asylum, but showing an improvement was discharged the following year. However a relapse and attempted suicide led to his reincarceration and an irreversable deterioration in his mental state. He died while in care at the age of 42.