Hugo Wolf (1860-1903) Austrian composer, is ranked with Franz Schubert as a writer of songs. He had an unhappy life – was dismissed unfairly from the Vienna Conservatory, suffered from a chronic illness and, as a music critic, was a passionate supporter of Richard Wagner in a Vienna besotted with Brahms, so found it almost impossible to gain commissions.
In his late twenties he turned to the romantic poets for inspiration and in the next four years he churned out over 200 songs, finally winning critical acclaim. His hectic life, performing as well as composing, and his ill-health led to a mental breakdown, and his last years were spent between frenetic activity and deep depression. He was first admitted to an asylum in 1897 and died there 6 years later.
He wrote choral music, an opera, incidental music and some chamber, orchestral and piano pieces, but only one non-vocal work still regularly performed is the “Italian Serenade” for string quartet, written in 1892 during one of his happier phases. His numerous songs (243 published), many of which are settings of Goethe (51), Mörike (53), Eichendorf (20), and other another 90 in his Italian and Spanish “songbooks”, range from the humorous, erotic, or religious, to studies of nature, ballads, and narrative. In them he managed to express the depth and range of the human condition normally seen only in operas and other large scale works.