(b Botoşani, Romania, 29 April 1896; d Bradenton, FL, 22 June 1973). American composer and pianist. He went to the USA with his family in 1898. He studied composition with Goetschius and piano with Friskin at the Institute of Musical Art, and then after World War I taught music in New York public schools, was a concert pianist and accompanist, and served as president of the Composers and Authors Guild. He moved to Miami in 1947, where he became chairman of Grass Roots Opera and a noted photographer.
Wolfe is best known for his songs and arrangements in the style of negro spirituals, such as Shortnin’ Bread, Gwine to Hebb’n, and De Glory Road (to words by Clement Wood), which achieved international familiarity. He also wrote descriptive chamber music, including Maine Holiday for piano and Prayer in the Swamp for violin and piano, a serenade for string quartet and three operas, of which John Henry (New York, 10 Jan 1940), first performed with Paul Robeson in the title role and a nearly all-black cast, was loosely adapted from black American folktales. Wolfe’s revision of the work as Mississippi Legend (New York, 24 April 1951), performed by the Village Opera Company, received wide attention. While the New York Times critic found ‘neo-Gershwinesque’ harmonies and ‘traces of artiness’ in the musical settings, he praised the prosody as ‘well-nigh perfect’ and held that ‘this score deserves to be studied by all American operatic composers’.
C.Harman: ‘Jacques Wolfe, Composer of “Folk Songs”’, New York Times (22 April 1951)
DEANE L. ROOT
(b Philadelphia, 18 Dec 1958). American composer. She attended the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (BA 1980), where she studied with Jane Heirich, George Wilson, Leslie Bassett and others. After helping to found the Wild Swan Theater (Ann Arbor) and writing music for its productions, she continued her studies with Bresnick at Yale University (MM 1986). In 1987 she co-founded, with David Lang and her husband Michael Gordon, the Bang on a Can Festival, a showcase for postminimal and vernacular-based new music. In 1992 a Fulbright Fellowship enabled her to work with the Orchestra de Volharding in Amsterdam and brought her into contact with Louis Andriessen, who became a notable influence.
Wolfe’s early music, such as the wind quintet On-Seven-Star-Shoes (1985), is in a postminimal style influenced by Stravinsky, and features running quavers and frequent metre changes. Later works grow out of irregular repetition patterns and embrace extremes of consonance and dissonance within a circumscribed set of harmonies. The orchestral works The Vermeer Room (1989) and Window of Vulnerability (1991) exhibit a wealth of timbres and percussive sonorities, earning her a reputation as a colourist. The influence of rock music, particularly that of Led Zeppelin, becomes explicit in Lick (1994), a sextet beginning with a series of fragmented rock beats that gradually resolve into a flowing continuity. In addition to its narrowly-focussed nervous energy, Wolfe’s music is characterized by gradual processes that build through levels of accumulation rather than through linear change. In Tell Me Everything (1994), for example, harsh chords articulated in polyrhythms gradually reach a degree of frenzied consonance.
On-Seven-Star-Shoes, wind qnt, 1985; Song at Daybreak, SATB, cl, vc, pf, perc, 1986; Amber Waves of Grain, orch, 1988; The Vermeer Room, orch, 1989; Four Marys, str qt, 1991; Window of Vulnerability, orch, 1991; Early that Summer, str qt, 1993; my lips from speaking, 6 pf, 1993; Lick, s sax, vc, db, elec gui, pf, perc, 1994; Tell Me Everything, orch, 1994; Steam, fl, vc, Harry Partch insts, 1995; Believing, sextet, 1997
Recorded interviews US-NHoh
Wolff, Albert (Louis)
(b Paris, 19 Jan 1884; d Paris, 20 Feb 1970). French conductor and composer. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire under Leroux, Gédalge and Vidal. At the same time he played the piano in cabarets and was organist at St Thomas-d'Aquin, Paris. In 1906 he joined the staff of the Opéra-Comique, the theatre which became the centre of his career. He was appointed conductor in 1911 and made his début with the première of Laparra's La jota. In 1921 he succeeded Messager as musical director for three years, and in 1945 he was appointed director-general. Although he soon resigned from this position, he continued to conduct occasionally at the theatre. He was also second conductor (from 1925), then president (1934–40), of the Concerts Pasdeloup, president of the Concerts Lamoureux (1928–34) and conductor at the Opéra (from 1949). In 1911 he conducted the French season in Buenos Aires, and he returned there during a South American tour (1940–45) when he conducted the première of his Symphony in A. He also conducted (1919–21) the French repertory at the Metropolitan Opera, including the première of his own L’oiseau bleu. In Paris Wolff conducted many French premières of works by foreign composers, but there, as in other countries, he was best known as a dedicated exponent of the French music of his time. He gave, among many others, the first performances of Milhaud’s La brebis égarée (1923) and First Piano Concerto, Roussel's Fourth Symphony and Poulenc's Les mamelles de Tirésias (1947). Wolff's conducting combined strength and sensitivity, and he was a helpful accompanist. His compositions show a similarly sensitive character.
Stage: Soeur Béatrice (op, 1, M. Maeterlinck), 1911, Nice, 1948; Le marchand de masques (op, 2, L. Merlet, T. Salignac), 1914, Nice, 3 April 1914; Lise et Lucas (operetta, 1, F. Lacoste), 1916, Amélie-les-Bains, 6 Aug 1916; L'oiseau bleu (op, 3, Maeterlinck), 1919, New York, Met, 27 Dec 1919
Orch: La randonnée de l'âme défunte, sym. poem, 1926; Fl Conc., 1943; Sym., A (1951)