Hugo Wolf (1860-1903) was the Austrian composer of the late Romantic era who is primarily remembered for his art songs. He had a troubled life, and composed in periods of white-hot intensity during which he would work on a single song for 2 or 3 days continuously with no sleep until it was perfect.

These days-long stretches occurred mostly in the years 1888 and 1889, when he was in his late twenties. During his brief life, his creativity was frequently interrupted by prolonged bouts of depression. He wrote his last song in 1898, before suffering a mental collapse. He gradually lost his mind to insanity, dying in 1903 at the age of 43.

He was a fervid follower of Richard Wagner in his style of composition, which put him at enmity with the followers of Brahms—Wagner and Brahms being the two musical “camps” that young composers, and refined society as a whole, fell in with. Wolf’s music was mercilessly vilified in the musical press by the Brahms crowd, and equally cheered by the Wagnerians. Wolf’s music was all about color and passion—there could never be enough for him.

Wolf would write seven groupings of songs: Liederstrauss, Mörike-Lieder, Eichendorff-Lieder, Goethe-Lieder, Dem Vaterland, Spanisches Liederbuch, Italienisches Liederbuch, and Michelangelo Lieder.

“Verborgenheit” is from the second set, the Morike-Lieder, a collection of 53 songs that became Wolf’s acceptance as a major composer for voice. Eduard Mörike was the author of poetic idylls and delightful fairytales, a “bucolic, charmingly inadequate and ineffectual country clergyman and a nature poet par excellence with an engaging sense of humor” (per a Hyperion description). His poems inspired Wolf to write some of his most popular, enduring, and endearing songs, among which is “Verborgenheit. All 53 of these songs were written in the year 1888, an astonishingly productive year.

For Wolf lovers, “Verborgenheit” is at or near the top of a long list of loved songs. Here is the text in English:

Let, O world, O let me be!
Do not tempt with gifts of love,
Let this heart keep to itself
Its rapture, its pain!

I do not know why I grieve,
It is unknown sorrow;
Always through a veil of tears
I see the sun’s beloved light.
Often, I am lost in thought,
And bright joy flashes
Through the oppressive gloom,
Bringing rapture to my breast.

Let, O world, O let me be!
Do not tempt with gifts of love,
Let this heart keep to itself
Its rapture, its pain!


About the performers:

Barbara Bonney (b. 1956) is an American operatic lyric soprano. She has also been an active solo recitalist. One of the most interesting things about Bonney is that she grew up playing cello, on which she was quite accomplished. She only switched over to voice when she was in her early twenties, studying at the University of Salzburg.

Geoffrey Parsons (1929-1995) was an Australian pianist who primarily accompanied singers. After the death of the great Gerald Moore, he was generally considered to be the world’s finest and most sensitive accompanist.

Pictures: Wolf, Morike, Bonney, Parsons.

Friends, this will be my last post for a while. Happy listening.