Wolf never heard both parts of his Italienisches Liederbuch together, although a letter of October to Dr Strecker in Mainz shows that a complete performance of the work — at a time when only twenty songs existed — was planned. This has been encouraged by the publication of a Wolf handbook by Edition Peters in which various running orders are suggested, and by the late Erik Werba who also concocted and published a number of different sequences, some of which have been recorded.
The enjoyable thing about this is that the work can seem subtly different each time, but there are also a number of dangers.
Greater stylistic differences and much more time separate these two books than separate the two books of Winterreise. The second Italian set has a different mood and certainly a different style of piano accompaniment. As the work is usually given with an interval, it seems only wise to allow those twenty minutes to stand for the five-year gap between the two groups of songs. This seemed a good idea at the time, but I am now convinced that the composer knew exactly what he was doing when he made his own order for publication.
For each of the two books Wolf chooses a wonderful motto song, and for each of them a high-spirited virtuoso finish. Throughout there are subtle juxtapositions of key, metre and tempo to provide contrast and relief, except where the composer wishes to suggest a link when certain songs seem to glide into each other. It was the late Walter Legge who impressed on me during long sessions with my young colleagues in as well as with Schwarzkopf in that of all composers Hugo Wolf was master, if not of his own sad destiny, then of his songs. His relationships with publishers were fraught with difficulty precisely because he was so punctilious about the exact pagination of his music.
If he had a recital programme printed he supervised each detail of it, including the flowers which embellished the foot of each page. His relationship with singers whom he regarded as mostly stupid was always tense because he demanded absolute fidelity to his intentions. He was unquestionably a tyrant in matters musical and Legge continued this tradition with great relish, arriving at my door to coach the young team with a cigar in one hand and a metronome in the other, both instruments of torture in their various ways.
I am extremely grateful to him now, however, because he showed us that, in terms of his own music, Wolf knew best. This is the way the composer carefully planned to present his work to posterity.
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