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Hugo Wolf: Peregrina songs

These two poems belong to a cycle of five by Eduard Mörike. Wolf’s Peregrina songs represent a rarity in his output, a diptych of sorts—neither piece entire of itself, but together forming a musical world that illuminates the explicit narratives within, and the implied narratives between two poems.

The Peregrina cycle appears in Mörike’s 1832 novel, Maler Nolten, but the poems that comprise it were written earlier. It has been suggested that by including these deeply personal texts in his novel, Mörike was attempting a fictionalization of the tortured eroticism they contain. Indeed the poems are concerned with a deeply personal experience—his intense love affair, and subsequent rejection of the (by all accounts) captivatingly beautiful, maddeningly enigmatic Maria Meyer.

For Wolf’s part, he was not privy to the particular circumstances surrounding Mörike’s composition of these texts (he learned of the Meyer episode later). But his reading of these two poems in music is uncanny. I love how these songs work musically and structurally: the tension between G-natural, native to the E-flat major of Peregrina I, and G-flat, a chromatic pitch—a tension which Wolf works into the leitmotif with which the first song ends, and the second begins. At the start of Peregrina II, little seems changed, until just before the vocal entrance, we’re surprised with a cadence in G-flat major! The brief leitmotif (introduced in the final vocal phrase of Peregrina I: “der Tod im Kelch der Sünden”) has, in Peregrina II become a kind of obsessive thought, haunting the song.

I’m haunted by these songs, in the best way. Addicted to the layers of experience they contain, and the meanings they suggest. 

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