WOLF, E.W.: 4 Symphonies (Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra/ Nicolas Pasquet) (Naxos: 8.557132)
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Ernst Wilhelm Wolf (1735-1792)
Ernst Wilhelm Wolf spent thirty years as CourtKapellmeister in the German artistic centre of Weimarin Thuringia. Until today his importance has seemed tolie in his r??le of Court Kapellmeister rather than in hiscreative work. With his compositions for piano andSingspiel his orchestral works have had little mention, afact that it is hoped to remedy with the presentrecording.
Ernst Wilhelm Wolf was baptized on 25th February1735 at Grossen Behringen near Gotha and had earlyexperience as a keyboard-player. His brother ErnstFriedrich, city organist at Kahla on the Saale, influencedand taught his younger brother. Wolf took his firstindependent step at school in Eisenach, where hequickly rose to the position of choir prefect. At this timewe know that he was already active as a composer, withseveral arias and motets. Yet it was his period at schoolin Gotha that proved musically formative for him. Herehe heard the very competent ducal musicalestablishment in concerts and here he heard Carl PhlippEmanuel Bach play the organ in 1752. The young ErnstWilhelm was also busy with the arias of Johann AdolfHasse, then in the service of the Dresden Court Kapelle.
There were also the compositions of the PrussianKapellmeisters Carl Heinrih Graun and Carl PhilippEmanuel Bach, which were to have a lasting influenceon Wolf's whole work. There were also thecompositions of the Prussian Kapellmeisters CarlHeinrich Graun and Carl Phlipp Emanuel Bach, whichwere to have a lasting influence on Wolf's work. Theseleft a particular mark on Wolf's church music (Graun)and his keyboard music (Bach), while the decisiveinfluence for his symphonies came later in Weimar.
Student life then took Wolf to the ThuringianUniversity of Jena, in which he was more involved withmusic than with his studies. As director of the universityCollegium Musicum he found his first enduring place inThuringian music history.
How exactly he came to the nearby city of Weimaris not known. Wolf himself left only a somewhatincredible anecdote of a Herr von Ponikau, who tookhim there in the course of a journey. Yet, however ithappened, Weimar was, for the rest of his life, thecentre of his musical activities.
It was in 1761 that Wolf came to Weimar, thenruled by the young Duchess Anna Amalia. It was herendeavour to make her country residence a centre forliterature and the arts. Wolf's first duties were as akeyboard teacher. He was initially the teacher of the twosons of Anna Amalia, who before long established arelationship with him that continued for many years.
After his arrival in Weimar, Wolf was soon serving asconductor at the regular concerts every Saturday at theSchloss Belvedere near Weimar. When the WeimarCourt Organist Vogler died, two years after Wolf'sarrival in Weimar, Anna Amalia appointed himVogler's successor in 1763. After his marriage in 1770to the singer Karoline Benda, daughter of the famousFranz Benda, Kapellmeister to King Friedrich II, hebecame not only a member of the most importantmusical family of the time but on 31st July 1772 he wasalso appointed Weimar Court Kapellmeister.
Ernst Wihelm Wolf's Weimar career and hisappointment as Court Kapellmeister, a position he helduntil his death, went along with the musical and culturaldevelopment of the Weimar court. He found, when hewas first appointed, a pitiful court musicalestablishment, and demanded, responding to thegrowing enthusiasm of the Weimar public for opera andSingspiel, a properly constituted court musicalestablishment competent to accompany theseperformances. This enthusiasm for the theatre involvedtoo the existence of troupes or companies of actors, whospent some time, often as long as a year, at a court andthere demanded the necessary changes.
In the mid-1770s amateur theatre first formed thecentre of court interest. In 1775 Duchess Anna Amaliahanded over the regency to her son, so as to devoteherself, among other things, to the famous Round Table.
Preference was given to smaller musical ensembles andthere was no need for a larger Court Kapelle. JohannWolfgang Goethe also came to Weimar in 1775 andgave the small Grand Duchy the literary brilliance of acultural capital that it still enjoys. He was an importantparticipant in the Round Table and made no secret ofthe fact that he could not put up with the CourtKapellmeister Wolf and wanted musical collaborationwith another composer.
In the 1780s the Bellomosche Troupe came toWeimar and there was a loud call for a proper courtKapelle to be able to play the stage repertoire. For Wolfthis brought a final period of creativity (he also wrote alarge number of Singspiel) before he withdrew moreand more into private life.
After a stroke Wolf became frailer. Towards theend of 1792 he became seriously ill and was buried inWeimar on 1st December 1792.
That Wolf was one of the more interestingobservers of the contemporary musical scene iswitnessed by his Kleine Musikalische Reise (LittleMusical Journey) that took him less to the great capitalsof the time in Europe than to the smaller courts. Here herecounted the daily musical life of circles of Germantownspeople and nobility, committing this, with hiscomprehensive works on musical theory, to paper forhis contemporaries and for posterity.Constanze DahletWolf's Symphonies
In his time as Court Kapellmeister at Weimar, from1772 to 1791, Wolf composed about 35 symphonies ofwhich at least 26 survive. These were probably mostlywritten for the Weimar court and were played there inconcerts and in entr'actes at theatrical performances.
The association with the theatre is also to be noted inthat some of these works, among them the presentSymphony in C major, served as Singspiel overtures aswell as independent symphonies. The copies still inexistence today of Wolf symphonies, other than those atWeimar, indicate that they were widely heard, forexample the frequent performances between 1781 and1790 at the Leipzig Gewandhaus, still one of the mostimportant establishments in contemporary musical lifein Germany. What contemporaries of Wolf particularlyvalued in these symphonies is shown in a short passagefrom the article Ueber die Mode in Musik (On Fashionsin Music) that appeared in June 1793 in the WeimarJournal des Luxus und der Moden: 'His instrumentalpieces ... can, in their effect and proper understandingof wind instruments, serve as an example very worthy ofimitation'.
Examples of this great importance of windinstruments can also be found in the symphoniesrecorded here. In the Symphony in E flat major thechamber-music-like entry of the wind in the secondsubject of the exposition at first recalls the symphoniesof the late Mannheim school and of Johann ChristianBach. In the last movement there are unusual virtuosopassages for the flute and for the bassoon, at the timegenerally used only to play the bass line. His treatmentof the specific tone colours of individual instruments isshown further in the varying instrumentation of theslow movement, and not only, as was general practice,through a reduction in the forces employed, but oftenthrough a change of instruments (for example flutesinstead of oboes in the Symphony in F major) or anexpansion of the instrumentation, as in the Symphony inC major.
In the complete symphonic work of Wolf there is,in spite of the relatively short time-span of just twentyyears, a development that shows important parallelswith the development of the form of the 'symphony'.
This can be seen in the present symphonies, amongothers, in the varied patterns of sonata-form in theprincipal movement. There is in the undated Symphonyin D major, classified as an early work, a clear thematicduality; the five-bar central section has, however, only a