Christian Wolff

Biography

Born: March 8, 1934; Nice, France  
Alongside John Cage, Morton Feldman, and Earle Brown, composer Christian Wolff emerged in the 1950s on the New York experimental music scene and became a prominent champion of the aesthetics of musical indeterminism. His works, which became increasingly explicit in their political content as his career progressed, stress choice, artistic cooperation and interdependence, and an accommodating attitude toward the potential relationships between Read more music, sound, and silence.

Wolff was born in Nice, France, but moved to the United States during his childhood. He took a rather indirect route to composition, studying classics and comparative literature at Harvard University, where he also taught, before taking positions in both music and literature at Mills College and later Dartmouth. Though active as a pianist and electric guitarist throughout his career, he was largely self-taught as a composer, and from the beginning his works relied more on careful aesthetic design than compositional "craft" in the traditional sense. This is not to say, however, that his compositions lack depth or complexity; indeed, they point up some of the most crucial philosophical issues of his time, and do so in a way that engages and invites close listening and careful consideration.

Although his works of the 1950s already conveyed a decidedly "democratic" subtext, with their reliance on freedom and reaction ("parliamentary participation"), they did so through traditional notation and sometimes invoked, however obscurely, traditional forms. The flexibility of their realizations owed to Cage's influence, while their sparse surfaces recalled Webern, and in some cases resonated with La Monte Young's early works. Wolff's compositions from the late 1950s and 1960s placed increased effort on real-time cooperation between performers, who worked somewhat freely, within certain set parameters (set durations with unspecified pitches, for example), but were required to alter their performative decisions consequent to each other's actions.

Wolff explicitly drew analogies between his compositional methods and political views, and during the 1970s even set texts related to his democratic socialist positions. This effort coincided with similar artistic endeavors espoused by Cornelius Cardew and Frederic Rzewski, both of whom Wolff interacted with during this period. Later works turned inwards to more specifically musical topics, perhaps due in part to Wolff's somewhat self-effacing assessment of the composer's role. As he observed in a 1991 interview: "Most political music, paradoxically enough, is for the converted; it's an instrument of cohesion for a group that already knows what it wants...." Read less
Trumpet & Percussion - Cage, Wolff, Walter / Friedrich, Schulkowsky
Release Date: 01/01/2006   Label: Capriccio Records  
Catalog: 67178   Number of Discs: 1
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Browse 1-25 of 29 Available Recordings
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  • 1.
    Eos / Cudd
    Label: Innova   Catalog: 967 Release Date: 03/24/2017   Number of Discs: 3
    Composer:  Cort Lippe,  Brian Ferneyhough,  Christian Wolff,  Per Bloland  ... 
    Performer:  Patti Cudd
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  • 2.
    Grand Tour / Tilbury, Krauze
    Label: Dux Records   Catalog: 1288 Release Date: 08/12/2016   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Cornelius Cardew,  Terry Riley,  Tomasz Sikorski,  Christian Wolff  ... 
    Performer:  John Tilbury,  Zygmunt Krauze,  Hubert Zemler,  Szabolcs Esztényi
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  • 3.
    Christian Wolff: Incidental Music and Keyboard Miscellany
    Label: Mode   Catalog: 286 Release Date: 12/04/2015   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Christian Wolff
    Performer:  Christian Wolff
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  • 4.
    Der Herr ist Konig: Baroque Bass Cantatas
    Label: Cpo   Catalog: 777646 Release Date: 10/09/2015   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Georg Philipp Telemann,  Johann T. Roemhildt,  Christian Wolff,  Liebhold
    Performer:  Shalev Ad-El,  Klaus Mertens
    Conductor:  Shalev Ad-El
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Accademia Daniel
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  • 5.
    Isn't This a Time? American Music for Clarinet
    Label: Metier   Catalog: 28553 Release Date: 09/11/2015   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  William O. Smith,  Eric Mandat,  John Cage,  Merle Travis  ... 
    Performer:  Ian Mitchell,  Trinity Laban Clarinet Class of 2013
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  • 6.
    American Masterpieces for Solo Percussion Vol. 2
    Label: Albany Records   Catalog: 1578 Release Date: 07/10/2015  
    Composer:  Charles Wuorinen,  Morton Feldman,  Ralph Shapey,  Christian Wolff
    Performer:  Thomas Kolor
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  • 7.
    The New York School: Feldman, Cage, Wolff, Brown
    Label: Md&g (Dabringhaus & Grimm)   Catalog: 6131865 Release Date: 12/02/2014   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Morton Feldman,  Christian Wolff,  Earle Brown,  John Cage
    Performer:  Ralf Mielke,  Steffen Schleiermacher
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Avantgarde
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  • 8.
    Christian Wolff: Pianist - Pieces / Philp Thomas
    Label: Sub Rosa   Catalog: 389 Release Date: 07/22/2014   Number of Discs: 3
    Composer:  Christian Wolff
    Performer:  Philip Thomas
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  • 9.
    Artefacts: Piano Music From The 50th
    Label: Md&g (Dabringhaus & Grimm)   Catalog: 6131821 Release Date: 12/03/2013   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Christian Wolff,  Luigi Dallapiccola,  Chou Wen-Chung,  Bernd Alois Zimmermann  ... 
    Performer:  Steffen Schleiermacher
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  • 10.
    Panorama Of American Piano Music / Yvar Mikhashoff
    Label: Mode   Catalog: 262 Release Date: 12/03/2013   Number of Discs: 4
    Composer:  Leo Ornstein,  Charles Tomlinson Griffes,  Percy Aldridge Grainger,  Aaron Copland  ... 
    Performer:  Yvar Mikhashoff
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  • 11.
    The Art Of David Tudor [7-CD Set]
    Label: New World Records   Catalog: 80737-2 Release Date: 05/14/2013   Number of Discs: 7
    Composer:  David Tudor,  John Cage,  Christian Wolff
    Performer:  David Tudor,  John Cage
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  • 12.
    Christian Wolff: 8 Duos / Schulkowsky, Kashkashian, Rzewski
    Label: New World Records   Catalog: 80734 Release Date: 03/12/2013   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Christian Wolff
    Performer:  Frederic Rzewski,  Robyn Schulkowsky,  Reinhold Friedrich,  Joey Baron  ... 
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  • 13.
    Darmstadt Aural Documents Box 2 - John Cage: Communication
    Label: Neos   Catalog: 11213 Release Date: 10/30/2012   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  John Cage,  Christian Wolff,  Bo Nilsson
    Performer:  John Cage,  David Tudor
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  • 14.
    Wolff: For Piano 1; For Pianist; Burdocks / Wolff / Mumma, Nash, Behrman, Rzewski, Tudor
    Label: Wergo   Catalog: 6777 Release Date: 09/12/2012   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Christian Wolff
    Performer:  Gordon Mumma,  Frederic Rzewski,  David Tudor,  David Behrman  ... 
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  • 15.
    John Cage: Shock, Vol. 1
    Label: Em Records   Catalog: 1104 Release Date: 09/11/2012   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Toru Takemitsu,  Christian Wolff,  John Cage
    Performer:  David Tudor,  Yuji Takahashi,  Kenji Kobayashi,  John Cage
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  • 16.
    Earle Brown Contemporary Sound Series, Vol. 6
    Label: Wergo   Catalog: 6943 Release Date: 06/12/2012   Number of Discs: 3
    Composer:  John Cage,  Christian Wolff,  George Crumb,  Isang Yun  ... 
    Performer:  Paul Zukofsky,  Gilbert Kalish
    Conductor:  Alcides Lanza
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Sound Composers-Performers Group
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  • 17.
    Christian Wolff: Kompositionen, 1950-1972
    Label: Edition Rz   Catalog: 1023 Release Date: 11/08/2011   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Christian Wolff
    Performer:  Cornelius Cardew,  János Négyesy,  Frederic Rzewski,  David Tudor  ... 
    Conductor:  Manfred Peters,  Silke Egeler-Wittmann
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Neue Musik
    On sale! $46.98
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  • 18.
    Wolff: Long Piano / Thomas Schultz
    Label: New World Records   Catalog: 80699-2 Release Date: 11/10/2009   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Christian Wolff
    Performer:  Tom Schultz
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  • 19.
    Original Works For Theremin - Rozsa: Spellbound;  Shore, Grainger, Etc / Lydia Kavina
    Label: Mode   Catalog: 199 Release Date: 06/24/2008   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Christian Wolff,  Percy Aldridge Grainger,  Olga Neuwirth,  Howard Shore  ... 
    Performer:  Lydia Kavina
    Conductor:  Charles Peltz
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Sospeso
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  • 20.
    Wolff: Piano Pieces / Sabine Liebner
    Label: Neos   Catalog: 10723 Release Date: 05/27/2008   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Christian Wolff
    Performer:  Sabine Liebner
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  • 21.
    Christian Wolff: 10 Exercises
    Label: New World Records   Catalog: 80658 Release Date: 09/05/2006   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Christian Wolff
    Performer:  Christian Wolff,  Robyn Schulkowsky,  Frederic Rzewski,  Chiyoko Szlavnics  ... 
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  • 22.
    Trumpet & Percussion - Cage, Wolff, Walter / Friedrich, Schulkowsky
    Label: Capriccio Records   Catalog: 67178 Release Date: 01/01/2006   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Christian Wolff,  Achim Bornhöft,  Nicolaus A. Huber,  Caspar Johannes Walter  ... 
    Performer:  Jens-Peter Maintz,  Kornelia Brandkamp,  Reinhold Friedrich,  Robyn Schulkowsky  ... 
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  • 23.
    Peruvian Honeymoon / Andrew Rangell
    Label: Bridge   Catalog: 9154 Release Date: 09/28/2004   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Christian Wolff,  Igor Stravinsky,  Franz Joseph Haydn,  Fartein Valen  ... 
    Performer:  Andrew Rangell
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  • 24.
    Christian Wolff: (Re):making Music / The Barton Workshop
    Label: Mode   Catalog: 133 Release Date: 04/06/2004   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Christian Wolff
    Conductor:  James Fulkerson
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Barton Workshop
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  • 25.
    Christian Wolff: Bread And Roses
    Label: Wergo   Catalog: 6658 Release Date: 09/01/2003   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Christian Wolff
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