Hugo Wolf Song Recital | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Hugo Wolf Song Recital



In 1903 Austrian composer Hugo Wolf died in an asylum at the age of 42, a victim of depression and venereal disease. Despite his early death, Wolf left a rich legacy of over 200 songs, now regarded as a pinnacle of the lied, a genre that fuses music and poetry into dense, nuanced art song. Wolf was a thorough romantic, subject to mood swings and creative bursts, his sense of estrangement fueled partly by his expulsion from the Vienna Conservatory. Dejection and tempered optimism alternate throughout his early songs, reflecting both a young man's lack of prospects and his first romantic entanglements. By his late 20s, Wolf had mastered the form, first setting texts of the poet Mörike to song, then moving on to Eichendorff and Goethe. His rhythmic and harmonic touches expanded the expressive range of the piano beyond that of his worthy predecessors in the genre, Schubert and Schumann--in Wolf's compositions, the pianist was no longer an accompanist but the singer's partner in a miniature drama. Wolf aspired to be the next Wagner, whom he had championed while working as a critic for a Vienna newspaper; when his own attempts at opera failed, he poured his dramatic instincts into his lieder. Another of Wolf's innovations was the songbook, a group of compositions intricately intertwined through motif and structure that created a compressed world of extreme, varied moods. In 1890 Wolf wrote the first volume of his Italian Songbook, 22 songs inspired by his love for Italy and permeated with both piety and erotic longing. After a five-year hiatus from composing, he completed the 24 songs of the second volume, which is denser musically and darker emotionally. To mark the Wolf centennial, Daniel Barenboim, a pianist well versed in Austro-Germanic romanticism, joins forces with the great German bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff and the German soprano Angela Denoke for this recital of the Italian Songbook. Quasthoff has a mellow, brawny voice that's marvelously expressive, and Denoke is a top-notch singer who can also act; their styles should be well attuned to the nuances of Wolf's lieder. Sunday, October 13, 3 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114.

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