Right, let's get our bearings. The composer is a German conservative who
was born in Venice and who died there but who spent most of his life in Germany.
The music is tuneful and romantic with elements of Beethoven, Brahms, Dvorak
and Rossini. You could loosely group him with Reger, Pfitzner, Marx, Korngold
Wolf-Ferrari had German and Italian parents. The Italian element shows in
various of the works, especially the symphony and the last movement of the
violin concerto. If he is known at all by the general music lover it is for
an orchestral bob-bon from his opera The Jewels of the Madonna. He
made his reputation both in Germany and beyond from 1900 to 1914 with a
succession of operas. The Great War stopped or re-set many clocks. For
Wolf-Ferrari, as for the British composer Joseph Holbrooke (another
fashion-devastated romantic), the 1920s saw a decline he was never able to
see reversed. Under a composer's compulsion he continued to write, secured
his premières, but his music was not striking roots into the day-to-day
repertoire. The artistic preferences of NSDAP Germany of the 1930s and 1940s,
together with his impeccable Axis blood-line, might have spelt renewed attention.
For whatever reason, this never happened. Instead, although the three 1940s
works here were premièred in Germany, these were largely isolated
events. The composer continued an impoverished existence surviving the war
by only three years.
The Violin Concerto was written for the Wisconsin-born American violinist
Guila Bustaḅ "con ammirazione". The excellent notes by Herbert
Rosendorfer suggest that the composer was in love with Bustaḅ but
details seem sketchy.
The first movement opens in hushed magic with the violin quietly intoning
a Hungarian-inflected tune over whisper-rustling strings. The second movement
has (Richard) Straussian moments. The final Beethovenian movement is the
longest of the four at 13 minutes. This is a most attractive, fresh and rounded
work. Ulf Hoelscher is excellent, his playing full of fantasy, brilliance
A performance tape by Bustaḅ of the concerto survives from a radio
broadcast by the Munich PO conducted by Rudolf Kempe.
The Serenade for strings is an early work dating from his student years.
Apparently influenced by Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, I more often thought
of Dvorak's and Tchaikovsky's Serenades for Strings. In any event,
it is charming, lively and fresh - well worth hearing and performing.
The Cello Concerto is an earnest, lyrically flowing, work in the grand 19th
century manner, rather like the contemporary Pfitzner concerto. The tunes
are clear and whistleable. The music seems to flow effortlessly so no doubt
it was hard to write. The themes have a Bach-like grandeur. There are touches
of Brahms, Bruckner and even Beethoven but none of the Hungarian or Italian
element to be found in some of his other works. The odd shape of the work,
with a 13 minute first movement followed by two 4-5 minute movements, does
not, in fact, cause any problems. The playing of Gustav Rivinius is sonorous,
unapologetic, convinced and convincing.
Sinfonia Brevis is not particularly short at 35 minutes: four movements
alternately 11 mins and 6 mins. The first movement is Beethovenian. The second
movement, Capriccio, is a serenade-like stroll. A real sense of theatre
is apparent in the closing measures of the movement. The following adagio
is confident with a Bachian stamp. This is the sort of big-band Bach
we might have got even as late as the 1950s from Beecham and Goossens without
the Philadelphian glitz of Stokowski. The music also has a Mozartian demeanour.
The last movement allegro is definitely Beethovenian but this is not Beethoven
of the beetling brow but serenade-like with more in common with the first
two symphonies. Rossini and the tarantella put in an appearance towards the
end. Ultimately this has the look and feel of a divertimento, suite or serenade
rather than a barn-storming symphony. There is no "sturm und drang" .Regard
the symphony as a blood-brother of the very early Serenade for strings or
the contemporary Schoeck Suite for Strings (also on CPO
Some may, perhaps, feel like condemning Wolf-Ferrari for writing such
conservative music despite the Nazi regime and a world seething with death
and horror. It however seems clear from the notes that Wolf-Ferrari wrote
music under a composer's self-compulsion to create. His style was a natural
part of his make-up. Nothing is fabricated or artificial. Here is a genuine
romantic who would have written this music whatever was happening around
him whether the tragedy of his own neglect or the wider tragedy of a world
These two discs may well have become lost in the torrent of new releases.
If so this is a great pity. Neither is recent. Both were recorded in 1994
and released in 1996. They have not received much critical attention.
It is fifty years since Wolf-Ferrari's death. This conservative and joyful
music deserves more playing time. If you want only one of the two discs opt
for the violin concerto. Both are enthusiastically recommended.
The following is a newsgroup exchange which may be of interest in reading
Rob Barnett wrote:
Having recently reviewed the CPO recording of the Wolf-Ferrari violin concerto
I am curious about this Wisconsin-born violinist. The W-F violin concerto
was written for her and dedicated to her con ammirazione. It was premiered
by her in war-time Germany (1944?).
How on earth did Bustaḅ get to do this? This was a première
by a US citizen (?) with an Italian name in Nazi Germany. It seems incredible.
The concerto BTW is very attractive and fresh in its ideas though the essential
language is Brahmsian. Can anyone shed light on Bustaḅ, her other
recordings, her biography and her relationship with Wolf-Ferrari. There is
an off-air tape of Bustaḅ playing the W-F with the Munich PO and
Kempe. This dates (I believe) from early 1970s. W-F died in 1948.
Guila Bustaḅ (with accent grave on the final
o, suggesting a pronunciation [g(h)ila Bustaḅ]) (so given in the
1948 Gramophone Shop Encyclopedia of Recorded Music) remains a mysterious
figure in the history of musical performance in the 20th century. I don't
have the New Grove to consult, but I can report that neither Baker's 8th
Edition nor (incredibly!) MGG (Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart) has
an entry for her. She did make a handful of 78s, mostly in Germany, where
her base of operations appears to have been, even before WWII. Among these
is a recording of the Sibelius Violin Concerto (C-LWX 372/5), with Fritz
Zaun conducting the Berlin Staatskapelle. Since in the 78rpm era all recordings
of this work were up against the stunning Heifetz/Beecham recording, there
were understandably few reviews, and I was unable to turn up any, even in
the books by David Hall. There is also a live performance of Max Bruch's
Violin con. #1 in G-min. with Bustaḅ and the Royal Concertgebouw
Orch., cond. Willem Mengelberg (rec. 27 Oct. 1940) in Music & Arts CD-780
(four CDs, a set of live concert recordings by Mengelberg and his
Does anyone know how W-F was viewed in Nazi Germany. The notes imply that
he was not encouraged or very much supported.
The book, Die Musik und Musikpolitik im faschistischen
Deutschland, ed. H-W Heister and H-G Klein (Fischer Taschenbuch 6902),
1984, reports, p.149, that W-F's opera Der Campiello, which received
100 performances during the Third Reich, was one of the successes of that
era. Joseph Wulf's Musik im Dritten Reich (rororo 818-819-820), 1966,
includes, pp.51-52, some correspondence (all in the most bristling bureaucratic
Reichsbeamtendeutsch) with a certain Dr. Achim Gercke, whose title
was "Der Sachverständige für Rasseforschung beim Reichsministerium
des Innern" ["the authority (literally: the one who understands the matter)
on racial research in the Imperial Interior Ministry"], this concerning W-F's
racial heritage. Dr. Gercke replies that, as far as the accessible documents
indicate (NB, there was a specific request, for reasons not given, not to
extend the research onto Italian soil), W-F's ancestors were "arisch und
frei von jüdischem und farbigem Bluteinschlag" ["aryan and free of Jewish
and colored strain"]. (FWIW: The same pages in the Wulf contain reports on
the ancestry of Alban Berg, and the report correctly states that Berg was
Hope this helps... --E.A.C.