Hugo Wolf

Hugo Wolf (1860-1903)

Nationality: Austrian | Slovenian
Born: March 13, 1860, Windischgraz, Styria Died: February 22, 1903, Vienna (age 42)

Italian Serenade for String Quartet in G major, WW XV / 3

(for 2 violins, viola and cello)
Molto vivo
Duration: 7 minutes (approximately)
Composed: 1887 (age 26-27)
6 recordings, 6 videos
Guarneri Quartet
Copenhagen Classic
Unknown ensemble
Signum Quartet
Feguš Quartet
Doric String Quartet
From Kai Christiansen

Hugo Wolf (1860-1903)

Italian Serenade in G major (for string quartet), 1887

Hugo WolfHugo Wolf was an elusive figure remembered primarily for his masterful lieder, his trenchant criticism of Brahms and his eventual decay into dissolution and madness. He was a fierce disciple of Wagner and the "new" German school and can be regarded as a late Viennese Romantic before the turning of the tide with Schoenberg after Wolf's death. Leaving only a few works for small ensemble, his lone and rarely performed string quartet in D minor is the closest thing we have to Wagnerian or even Mahlerian chamber music. Wolf also penned a two single movement works for string quartet, a substantial Intermezzo and his one "outlier", the celebrated Italian Serenade. Completed in 1886, the Italian Serenade occupied Wolf for some time with the word "Italian" added to the simple title Serenade only in later revisions. Nonetheless, the predominantly buoyant music, tuneful, colorful and rhythmically animated, seems to naturally support free associations with things Italian if not in some way enhanced by association with Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony and Tchaikovsky's Souvenir de Florence written only a few years after Wolf's musical postcard. A lithely ornamented melody warbles to the evocation of strumming guitars with a strong penchant for dance if not even a suggestion of operatic comedy.

The word serenade historically implies music of honor, tribute or amorous entreaty, music that is calm, "light" and suitable for relaxed social evenings. Music that entertains and possibly dazzles with delight. Wolf's bright serenade largely conforms to this character. But there is more than just this in the music. The rhythmic and occasionally contrapuntal writing is skillful and meticulous with a rich variety of textures weaving throughout. The music develops into a sharply articulated adventure with a bit more intrigue one might expect of a little "night music." Wolf's late Viennese Romantic sensibilities emerge in the middle as the texture dramatically falls apart into dissonant recitative, a kind of expressionistic call and response accompanied by disorienting swirls, mocking echoes, parody and a brief touch of the macabre. But it seems entirely consonant with an Italian evening, particularly the wild intrigue of a psychedelic Venetian carnival. And just like a group of masked figures that approach, pass and disappear into the night, the intrigue evaporates and the music resumes its giddy serenade.

© Kai Christiansen Used by permission. All rights reserved.

From Edition Silvertrust

Hugo Wolf “This appealing work belonging to the most enthralling works that we have in the whole of the field of the serenade will soon be a repertoire piece. This one movement work is of such an enchanting tonal charm, of such a captivating, highly original color that it will certainly inspire the greatest enthusiasm when it is performed.”

—Composer and critic Max Reger, upon hearing Hugo Wolf’s Italian Serenade.

Hugo Wolf (1860-1903) was born in what was then the Austrian town of Windischgraz. He showed an early predilection for music and studied both piano and violin as a boy. He attended the Vienna Conservatory but was expelled. He then continued to study composition on his own, which was of seminal importance to his development as an experimental composer, especially in his instrumental works. Temperamentally unable to hold a steady position, Wolf worked for most of the rest of his life as a critic and music teacher in Vienna. As a composer, Wolf made his name as a composer of songs (lieder) and is generally regarded as the greatest master, after Schubert, of this art form.

Wolf was under the spell of Wagner and became a representative of the so-called New German School which adhered to the use of the chromaticism and other innovations that were to be found in Wagner's music. He became a fierce opponent of Brahms and the old guard.

The Serenade, composed in 1887, clearly conjures up a Mediterranean atmosphere. It is a free form rondo with a main theme which in some ways resembles Tchaikovsky's Capriccio Italian, although it is unlikely that Wolf would ever have heard that piece. Although Wolf intended the movement as the first of three or four, he was never able to realize this goal, despite several attempts and the Serenade has remained in one movement, usually played as an encore or where a shorter work is required.

© Edition Silvertrust. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Related Composers

1800 1900 WWI WWII Franz Schubert (1797-1828) Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) Robert Schumann (1810-1856) Franz Liszt (1811-1886) Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) Robert Fuchs (1847-1927) Hugo Wolf (1860-1903) Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951)
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