Tuesday, 26 October 2010
Hinterm Berg. brennt es in der Mühle
Hugo Wolf's Der Feuerreiter to a poem by Eduard Mörike. The poet glimpses a red cap, then suddenly there's alarm, everyone's running to the mill. It's burning. Before fire engines, insurance and water mains, this meant disaster for the whole village. Then comes the mysterious Feuerreiter, his horse galloping (hear it in the piano), and jumps into the flames. Later when the mill is smouldering rubble, a miller finds a skeleton and a red cap...... Who is the Feuerreiter? Is he demon or Valkyrie ? Note the bit about a holy cross and the devil. And the fact that the poet's seen that red cap before. This is Mörike's mysterious world, where nature spirits defy laws of reason. Note how Wolf separates the turbulence from the eerie punchline with a short silence. Then the music rises slowly upwards, like smoke rising from the embers. Husch! da fällt's in Asche ab. The ending floats. No conclusion, suggests the piano, no easy explanation. Perhaps it will happen again.
Below is the orchestral transcription that Wolf made. It's not a particularly good recording (track down the Swiss recording with a Stuttgart choir) but you can hear what ambitions Wolf had and what he might have achieved had illness not intervened. The "Wagner of the Lied" he was called by Amanda Glauert in her Hugo Wolf and the Wagnerian Inheritance. Get this book, essential reading.