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Nächtliche Wanderung (1878)

This song was recorded live at the Oxford Lieder Festival as part of Hugo Wolf: The Complete Songs on Stone Records.
Click here to listen to this song with Benjamin Hulet and Sholto Kynoch, or click here to buy the CD from Stone Records.

Nächtliche Wanderung

Die Nacht ist finster, schwül und bang,
Der Wind im Walde tost;
Ich wandre fort die Nacht entlang
Und finde keinen Trost.
Und mir zur Seite, engelmild
Und, ach! so schmerzlich traut,
Zieht mein Geleite hin, das Bild
Von meiner toten Braut.
Ihr bleiches Antlitz bittet mich,
Was mich ihr süsser Mund
So zärtlich bat und feierlich
In ihrer Sterbestund’:
„Bezwinge fromm die Todeslust,
Die dir im Auge starrt,
Wenn man mich bald von deiner Brust
Fortreisset und verscharrt!“
Da unten braust der wilde Bach,
Führt reichen, frischen Tod,
Die Wogen rufen laut mir nach:
„Komm, komm und trinke Tod!“
Das klingt so lieblich wie Musik,
Wird wo ein Paar getraut:
Doch zieht vom Sprunge mich zurück
Das Wort der toten Braut.
Stets finstrer wird der Wolkendrang,
Der Sturm im Walde brüllt,
Und ferne hebt sich Donnerklang,
Der immer stärker schwillt.
O, schlängle dich, du Wetterstrahl,
Herab, ein Faden mir,
Der aus dem Labyrinth der Qual
Hinaus mich führt zu ihr!

A walk at night

The night is dark, sultry and uneasy,
The wind rages in the forest;
I keep walking into the night
And can find no solace.
And at my side, like a gentle angel,
And ah! so painfully close,
The image of my dead bride
Accompanies me.
Her pale face begs me
What her sweet mouth
So tenderly and solemnly
Begged as she lay dying:
“Overcome this wish for death,
In your glassy eyes,
When I am soon torn from your arms
And buried in a grave!”
Down there the wild stream roars,
Bringing an ample fresh death,
The waves are calling loud to me:
“Come, come, and savour death!”
That sounds as lovely as music
Played on a wedding day:
But I am prevented from leaping in
By the words of my dead bride.
Darker and darker the clouds pile up,
The storm rages in the wood,
And a clap of thunder far away
Grows louder and louder.
Uncoil for me, O teeming rain,
A rope down here to earth,
That from this labyrinth of pain
I might be drawn up to her!
Translation © Richard Stokes, author of The Book of Lieder (Faber, 2005)

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Hugo Filipp Jakob Wolf was born on 13 March 1860, the fourth of six surviving children, in Windischgraz, Styria, then part of the Austrian Empire. He was taught the piano and violin by his father at an early age and continued to study piano at the local primary school. His secondary education was unsuccessful, leaving his school in Graz after one term and then the Benedictine abbey school in St Paul after two years for failing Latin. When, in 1875, his lack of interest in all subjects other than music led to him leaving his next school in Marburg after another two years, it was decided that he should live with his aunt in Vienna and study at the conservatoire.

In Vienna he attended the opera with his new circle of friends, which included the young Gustav Mahler, and became a devotee of Wagner. However, after only two years he was unfairly dismissed from the conservatoire for a breach of discipline, after a fellow student sent the director a threatening letter, signing it Hugo Wolf.

He continued to compose and returned to Vienna in 1877 to earn a living as a music teacher, but he did not have the necessary temperament for this vocation and would, throughout his life, rely on the generosity of friends and patrons to support him. The composer Goldschmidt took him under his wing and introduced him to influential acquaintances, as well as lending him books, music and money. It was, however, under Goldschmidt’s guidance that he paid a visit to a brothel in 1878, resulting in him contracting syphilis, which later led to his insanity and early death. This sexual initiation coincided with his first major burst of songwriting.

His mood swings and sporadic creativity were now quite pronounced, and he stayed with friends who could offer him the tranquillity and independence he needed to work. In 1881, Goldschmidt found him a post as second conductor in Salzburg, where his musical talents were greatly appreciated, but his violent quarrelling with the director led to his return to Vienna early the following year. For a while his mood brightened, but by 1883, the year of Wagner’s death, he had stopped writing music.

At this point, his future seemed uncertain. His work had been declined by publishers Schott and Breitkopf, he had writer’s block, and he quarrelled with friends. He had been teaching Melanie Köchert since 1881, and with the influence of her husband he was appointed music critic of the Sunday journal Wiener Salonblatt, for which he spent three years writing pro- Wagnerian, anti-Brahmsian pieces. Although this was useful, it did get in the way of his composition, and attempts to have his own works played were thwarted by musicians who had fallen foul of his sharp criticism.

He began to write music again in 1886, finally confident in his talents. In May 1887, his father died, and although Wolf wrote little for the rest of the year, a publisher did produce two volumes of his songs, one dedicated to his mother, the other to the memory of his father.

Again taking refuge with friends, Wolf now began a sudden, spontaneous burst of songwriting, emerging from years as a music critic and coinciding with the start of his love affair with Melanie Köchert. By March, after 43 Mörike settings, he took a break with friends and then began another spate of songwriting in September resulting in thirteen Eichendorff and more Mörike songs. He returned to Vienna and in February 1889 had finished all but one of the 51 songs of his Goethe songbook. After another summer break, he returned to writing and April 1890 saw him complete his 44 Spanish songs. By June 1890, this creative period of two and a half years had produced a total of 174 songs.

Wolf’s fame had now spread beyond Austria, with articles being written in German publications. His exhaustion and bouts of depression and insomnia meant that he wrote very little for most of 1891, but at the end of December wrote another 15 Italian songs. For the next three years, he barely wrote a note.

In April 1895, spurred on by Humperdinck’s operatic success of Hänsel und Gretel, he again began composing from dawn till dusk. By early July the piano score of his four-act opera Der Corregidor was complete, with the orchestration taking the rest of the year. It was turned down by Vienna, Berlin and Prague but finally staged in Mannheim to great success. He completed his Italian songbook with 24 songs written in the period from 25 March to 30 April 1896.

In March 1897, he wrote his last songs: settings of German translations of Michelangelo sonnets. He was, by now, clearly a sick man, but nevertheless in September he embarked on a new opera, feverishly completing sixty pages in three weeks. It was at this point that he succumbed to madness, claiming to have been appointed the director of the Vienna Opera. Under restraint, he was taken to an asylum, and although he returned home to Vienna briefly in 1898, he was returned to an institution later that year after trying to drown himself. His devoted Melanie visited him regularly until his death on 22 February 1903. He is buried in the Vienna Central Cemetery beside Schubert and Beethoven.

© 2011, Mark Stone

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Nikolaus Lenau was the nom de plume of Nikolaus Franz Niembsch Edler von Strehlenau, a German-language Austrian poet.

He was born at Schadat, now Lenauheim, Romania, then in Hungary. His father, a Habsburg government official, died in 1807 in Budapest, leaving his children in the care of their mother, who remarried in 1811. In 1819 Nikolaus went to the University of Vienna; he subsequently studied Hungarian law at Pozsony (Bratislava) and then spent the next four years qualifying himself in medicine. Unable to settle down to any profession, he began writing verse. The disposition to sentimental melancholy inherited from his mother, stimulated by disappointments in love and by the prevailing fashion of the romantic school of poetry, descended into gloom after his mother's death in 1829.

Soon afterwards, however, a legacy from his grandmother enabled him to devote himself wholly to poetry. His first published poems appeared in 1827, in Johann Gabriel Seidl's Aurora. In 1831 he moved to Stuttgart, where he published a volume of Gedichte (1832) dedicated to the Swabian poet, Gustav Schwab. He also made the acquaintance of Ludwig Uhland, Justinus Kerner, Karl Mayer and others. His restless spirit longed for change, and he determined to seek peace and freedom in America.

Taken from Wikipedia. To view the full article, please click here.

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