The master class and the lecture will no doubt be interesting; Katz is a marvelous teacher, and Urban's writings on Wolf are fascinating. The Sunday afternoon concert, featuring siblings Deanna and Gary Relyea and Gary's wife, Anna, singing some of Wolf's greatest individual songs, will no doubt be wonderful. But the centerpiece of the festival promises to be the performance of Wolf's Italienisches Liederbuch (Italian Songbook) on Saturday night. Featuring two young singers Jesse Blumberg, baritone, and Deborah Selig, soprano, with Martin Katz at the piano the performance itself may or may not be the highlight of the festival; the Relyeas are, after all, seasoned professionals with strong and supple voices. But the Italienisches Liederbuch is undoubtedly Wolf's supreme achievement as a composer.
Written in three bursts of inspiration in the autumn of 1890, the winter of 1891, and the early spring of 1896, the forty-six songs of the Italienisches Liederbuch are settings of Italian folk poetry from the sixteenth century and earlier, in German translations. Most of the songs are two pages long and take less than two minutes to perform. There are serious songs and silly songs, passionate songs and sarcastic songs, rapturous songs of love and bitter songs of heartbreak. Each song is complete in itself, and each is completely different from the others. Each one is an ideal fusion of words and music, and taken together, they form a compellingly intimate portrait of life in all its beauty and endless variety.
[Originally published in October, 2003.]