Albert Wolff


Born: January 19, 1884 Died: February 20, 1970
Although identified most closely with the French repertory, conductor/composer Albert Wolff was of Dutch parentage. Most of his career was spent in European venues, although his two years at the Metropolitan Opera were acclaimed by critics for the style and detail he brought to his work.

Wolff began his musical studies at the Paris Conservatoire at age 12. By the time he graduated a decade later, he had absorbed the careful ministrations of such distinguished teachers as Gédalge, Leroux, and Vidal and had been awarded first prize in piano. After leaving the Conservatory, Wolff continued with the teaching and concert work already begun during his years as a student. In 1906, he entered upon a four-year engagement as organist at St. Thomas D'Aquin Church in Paris while leading ensembles elsewhere in that city.

His first experience in music theater came with an appointment as chorus master at the Opéra-Comique in 1908. He remained in that position for three years before being given an opportunity to conduct a production of Laparra's La jota. His mastery with cast and orchestra were sufficient to assure him an ongoing employment as conductor, a post he kept until the outbreak of WWI. Throughout that conflict, Wolff served his country with distinction at the front lines, receiving promotions for his courage.

Following the war's conclusion, Wolff came to the United States to join the conducting staff at the Metropolitan Opera, replacing Pierre Monteux. His debut took place on November 21, 1919, in Gounod's Faust. Amidst several positive reviews, critic Richard Aldrich wrote of Wolff's "notable vigor of accent, stress of rhythm and dramatic emphasis." Later, Wolff led a restudied Manon in which he cut the gambling segment, but restored the "cours la reine" scene. During the 1920 - 1921 season, Wolff led a much admired reading of Louise, with Geraldine Farrar as the eponymous heroine, and in January 1922, he presided over a production of Lalo's Le roi d'Ys in which his conducting was appreciated even though the work itself was found wanting. Not even the blandishments of Wolff's excellent conducting and Ponselle, Alda, and Gigli led to a second season for the score. During his less-than-two full seasons at the Metropolitan, Wolff also conducted a production of his own L'Oiseau bleu.

After his American years, Wolff returned to the Opéra-Comique as a conductor, succeeding André Messager in the post of chief conductor in 1922. At the same time, he founded the Concerts Modernes Paris to provide a medium for the public performance of new works. Resigning from the Opéra-Comique in 1924, Wolff accepted the musical directorship of the Champs Élysées Theatre. In 1928, he became conductor of Concerts Lamoureux, remaining with that orchestra until 1934. There, his memorable direction of the concert repertory led to his appointment in 1934 as conductor of the Concerts Pasdeloup, a position he held until 1940.

His recurrent involvement with the Opéra-Comique took the form of the theater's general directorship in 1945 and he began an association with the Paris Opera in 1949. Wolff had also begun a relationship with Buenos Aires with a tour in 1911. This was renewed during the years of the Second World War, and it was there that he conducted the premiere of his own Symphony in A.

Wolff was among that handful of French conductors who defined French style in the first half of the twentieth century, masterful in technique, elegant in execution.