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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
Browse 1-8 of 8 Available Recordings
  • 1.
    Christian Wolff: Pianist - Pieces / Philp Thomas
    Label: Sub Rosa   Catalog: 389 Release Date: 07/22/2014   Number of Discs: 3
    Composer:  Christian Wolff,  Christian Wolff
    Performer:  Philip Thomas
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  • 2.
    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,  Josef Matthias Hauer  ... 
    Performer:  Steffen Schleiermacher
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  • 3.
    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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  • 4.
    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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  • 5.
    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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  • 6.
    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:  Yuji Takahashi,  David Tudor,  Kenji Kobayashi,  John Cage
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  • 7.
    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:  Silke Egeler-Wittmann,  Manfred Peters
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Neue Musik
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  • 8.
    Christian Wolff: Bread And Roses
    Label: Wergo   Catalog: 66582 Release Date: 08/03/2010   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Christian Wolff
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