Hugo Wolf

Prometheus ("Bedecke deinen Himmel, Zeus"), song for voice & piano (Goethe Lieder)

    Description by Adrian Corleonis

    An aspect of Wolf's art often noted is his comprehensive knowledge of the poets whose lyrics he set, his realization of the poems' merest suggestions, and his overall fidelity to the poets' intentions. His Goethe lieder, for instance, open with 10 songs from Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre that not only bring characters and scenes from the novel to vivid life, but enter so far into Goethe's imagination that the Harper and Mignon acquire an intimate, uncanny psychological presence in which aching lyricism and harmonic subtlety are wedded to mimetic creation beside whose revelatory strokes Goethe's fulsome characterizations seem sketchy. But Wolf could depart from his poets' conceptions in surprising ways. While the use of Goethe's original version of Ganymed -- the same set by Schubert -- rather than its revision may or may not have been intentional, Wolf's forced interpretation of Prometheus as a scene of Wagnerian amplitude and grandeur was willful. Written in 1774, Goethe's first version of Prometheus was conceived as a dramatic monologue -- though whether or not for a never-written play on Prometheus scholars disagree -- depicting the titan freed from his torture of enchainment to a rock, where myth and the ancient tragedians say that his liver was daily devoured by vultures in punishment for giving fire to man. Instead, Goethe suggests Prometheus' workshop as the venue -- "Here I sit, forming men In my image, A race to resemble me..." -- where the snarling trills of Wolf's setting place him defiantly in the path of Zeus' lightning strikes. To what extent Prometheus' scorn -- "I know of nothing more wretched Under the sun than you gods!" -- was autobiographical is problematic, though Goethe feared it would be so interpreted, holding the poem back, revising it slightly, and growing alarmed when his publisher Jacobi issued it, albeit anonymously, without his permission in 1785. Thus, Wolf's setting recalls Blake's assertion in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell that Milton "was a true Poet and of the Devil's party without knowing it." In a larger sense, however, Wolf was faithful to Goethe, for Prometheus' defiance is one current of a polarity whose other is represented by the total and mutedly erotic surrender of Ganymed, also written in 1774, exquisitely set by Wolf and placed beside Prometheus near the end of the Goethe lieder. Composed at Döbling on January 2, 1889, Prometheus' accompaniment struts orchestral ambitions that Wolf fulfilled over March and April 1890, though the overloaded scoring calls for a vocalist of heroic endowment.

    Appears On

    Year Title / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    2014
    Harmonia Mundi
    HMG 501837
    2014
    Signum Classics
    SIGCD 369
    2010
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4778707
    2010
    Deutsche Grammophon
    477 870-7
    2010
    EMI Classics
    2009
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099926490
    2008
    Deutsche Grammophon
    447515
    2006
    Deutsche Grammophon / Universal Distribution
    002894775219
    2006
    Harmonia Mundi
    901837
    2005
    Orfeo D'Or
    339050
    2004
    EMI Classics
    562188
    2001
    Preiser Records
    89538
    2000
    Testament
    1197
    2000
    Orfeo
    543001
    1998
    Preiser Records
    89127
    1998
    EMI Music Distribution
    566640-2
    EMI Music Distribution
    66642
    Documents
    223089303