Hugo Wolf

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Hugo Wolf (13 March 1860 – 22 February 1903) was an Austrian composer of Slovene origin, particularly noted for his art songs, or lieder. He 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 utterly unrelated in technique.

Though he had several bursts of extraordinary productivity, particularly in 1888 and 1889, depression frequently interrupted his creative periods, and his last composition was written in 1898, before he died of syphilis.


Early life (1860–1887)

Hugo Wolf was born in Windischgrätz (now Slovenj Gradec, Slovenia), then a part of the Austrian Empire. He spent most of his life in Vienna, becoming a representative of "New German" trend in lieder, a trend which followed from the expressive, chromatic, and dramatic musical innovations of Richard Wagner.

A 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. However, subjects other than music failed to hold his interest; he was dismissed from the first secondary school he attended as being "wholly inadequate", left another over his difficulties in the compulsory Latin studies, and after a falling-out with a professor who commented on his "damned music", quit the last. From there, he went to the Vienna Conservatory to the disappointment of his father, who had hoped Wolf would not try to make his living from music; again, however, he was dismissed for "breach of discipline", though the often-rebellious Wolf would claim he quit in frustration over the school's conservatism.

After eight months with his family, he returned to Vienna to teach music. Though his fiery temperament was not ideally suited to teaching, Wolf's musical gifts—as well as his personal charm—earned him attention and patronage. This support of his benefactors allowed him to make a living as a composer, and a daughter of one of his greatest benefactors inspired him to write: Vally ("Valentine") Franck was Wolf's first love, with whom he was involved for three years. During their relationship, hints of his mature style would become evident in his Lieder. Wolf was prone to depression and wide mood swings, which would affect him all through his life. When Franck left him just before his 21st birthday, he was despondent; he returned home, though his family relationships were also strained; his father remained convinced that Wolf was a ne'er-do-well. His brief and undistinguished tenure as second Kapellmeister at Salzburg only reinforced this opinion—Wolf had neither the temperament, the conducting technique, nor the affinity for the decidedly non-Wagnerian repertoire to be successful, and within a year had again returned to Vienna to teach in much the same circumstances as before.

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