From his maternal side, he was related to Herbert von Karajan. A child prodigy , Wolf was taught piano and violin by his father beginning at the age of four, and once in primary school studied piano and music theory with Sebastian Weixler. Subjects other than music failed to hold his interest; he was dismissed from the first secondary school he attended as being "wholly inadequate," left another over his difficulties in the compulsory Latin studies, and after a falling-out with a professor who commented on his "damned music," quit the last. From there, he went to the Vienna Conservatory much to the disappointment of his father, who had hoped his son would not try to make his living from music. After eight months with his family, he returned to Vienna to teach music. Support of benefactors allowed him to make a living as a composer, and a daughter of one of his greatest benefactors inspired him to write to Vally "Valentine" Franck, his first love, with whom he was involved for three years.
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The entire set was composed in Perchtoldsdorf and published in Mainz in The Spanisches Liederbuch is drawn from a collection of Spanish poems of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, translated into German by Emanuel Geibel and Paul Heyse. The collection contains ten religious and 34 secular songs. Wolf had reached a level of compositional maturity that enabled him to work from the underlying ideas in the poems instead of responding to details in them.
Thus, we find a greater use of recurrent rhythmic motives and accompaniment figures than in earlier works, and a more vivid use of harmony to convey the overall sense of a poem. Of the 13 "geistliche," or religious, poems translated by Geibel and Heyse , Wolf chose ten and placed them first in his Spanisches Liederbuch. Wolf opens the Spanisches Liederbuch with the oldest poem of the collection, "Nun bin ich dein," by Ruiz.
The rest of the Spanisches Liederbuch consists of "weltliche" worldly, or secular songs, most of which have an erotic theme. The poem tells of a woman and her lover, who sleeps in the shade cast by her hair. The woman laments that her efforts at brushing her hair are in vain, for it always becomes disheveled. She wonders if she should wake her lover, but decides not to. She hesitates, then answers, "Ach nein! A woman beckons her suitor to her balcony only to reject him with a wave of her finger.
The vocal line rises in intensity until the woman says, "No," where the dynamic immediately drops to pianissimo and the harmony moves to the dominant.
Spanisches Liederbuch, nach Heyse und Geibel, for voice & piano
Spanisches Liederbuch (Wolf, Hugo)