(b Onstwedde, 19 June 1932). Dutch organist and conductor. He studied the organ at the conservatory in Utrecht with Stoffel van Viegen and George Stam, at the Amsterdam Conservatory with Anthon van der Horst, and with Jeanne Demessieux in Paris. He also studied conducting in Hilversum (1956–9). His favoured organ repertory is, in addition to the organ works of J.S. Bach, contemporary Dutch and French music. He gave the premières of many Dutch organ works during the Schnitger festivals (1967–82) on the Schnitger organ in the Michaelskerk in Zwolle. Wolff has conducted various choirs, including the Nederlandse Bach Vereniging; he also directed annual performances of Bach's St Matthew Passion in Naarden (1965–83). As conductor of the Noordelijk PO in Groningen from 1964 to 1989, he gave many first performances in the Netherlands of modern works, notably by Messiaen.
(b Nice, 8 March 1934). American composer of French birth. He moved to the USA in 1941 and became associated with Cage, Earle Brown and Feldman in New York in the early 1950s. Almost entirely self-taught as a composer, he studied classics at Harvard (BA, PhD), remaining there as a teacher until 1970, when he was appointed professor of classics and music at Dartmouth College. He became Strauss Professor of Music at Dartmouth in 1979. Wolff’s honours include an award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and several commissions, notably those from West German Radio, the Concord String Quartet, the Wesleyan Singers and Ursula Oppens.
Of the four ‘New York’ composers, Wolff has been most concerned to engage the performers in what he terms ‘parliamentary participation’, allowing them to mould the music, to act and to react to sounds in a manner that may be more or less free; the ‘monarchical authority’ of the conductor is eliminated. However, Wolff’s early compositions (c1950–57) are fully notated. The great importance of silence in these pieces derives aesthetically from Cage and technically from Webern, though 12-note and serial procedures are not used, nor is tonality. The music is stripped of a sense of goal or climax, and the repetitive use of pitch leads to a degree of stasis, accentuating interest in individual sounds rather than progressions.
In the music of a second phase (1957–c1964) Wolff introduced performer choice within fixed time spans, and the most distinctive characteristic of his work, the technique of ‘cueing’, appeared during these years. This technique provides that the decisions of one performer are to some extent directed by the sounds of another, so that chains of action and reaction may be set up, requiring the musicians to be alert and flexible and lending the result an improvisatory quality. An early example of this kind of music was the Duo for Pianists II (1958), which gives each player a set of units of imprecisely notated material (durations are almost always determined, but other aspects may be strictly fixed, somewhat limited, or completely free). The choice of which unit to play next is more or less specifically ruled by what the performer has last heard; both pianists play continuously until an agreed period of time has elapsed.
Wolff’s work after 1966 provides material and rules that are still less determinate, permitting a wide scope for improvisation. He has summarized the convictions behind such music under four headings: a composition must make possible the freedom and dignity of the performer; it should allow both concentration and release; no sound or noise is preferable to any other sound or noise; and the listeners should be as free as the players. From the early 1970s onwards Wolff’s works reflected an interest in political subjects and a desire, as he has said, ‘to stir up … a sense of the political conditions in which we live and of how these might be changed, in the direction of democratic socialism’. This theme is expressed through the use of texts addressing political issues, as in Wobbly Music (1975–6) and Changing the System (1972–3), and the use of material borrowed from traditional and contemporary labour and protest songs, as in the collection of works drawn from the song ‘Bread and Roses’ and Hay una mujer desaparecida (1979). A handful of recent compositions also draw upon particular works or techniques from western art music history, such as Aarau Songs (1994), which refers to Malleur me bat (ascribed to Ockeghem), or Percussionist Songs (1995), which borrows from a Josquin chanson.
Duo for Vns, 1950; For Prepared Pf, 1951; Nine, fl, cl, hn, tpt, trbn, cel, pf, 2 vc, 1951; Trio I, fl, tpt, vc, 1951; For Magnetic Tape, 1952; For Pf I, 1952; For Pf II, 1953; Suite I, prepared pf, 1954; For Pf with Preparations, 1955; Duo for Pianists I, 1957; Sonata, 3 pf, 1957; Duo for Pianists II, 1958; For Pianist, 1959; Music for Merce Cunningham, vn, va, tpt, trbn, pf, db, 1959; Duet I, pf duet, 1960; Suite II, hn, pf, 1960; Duet II, hn, pf, 1961; Duo for Violinist and Pianist, 1961; Summer, str qt, 1961; Trio II, pf duet, perc, 1961
For 5 or 10 People, any insts, 1962; In Between Pieces, 3 players, 1963; For 1, 2, or 3 People, any insts, 1964; Septet, 7 players, conductor, 1964; Elec Spring I, hn, cbn, elec gui, elec db, 1966; Qt, 4 hn, 1966; Elec Spring II, t rec + a rec, trbn, gui, elec gui, elec db, 1966–70; Elec Spring III, vn, hn, elec gui, elec db, 1967; Edges, any players, 1968; Pairs, 2/4/6/8 players, 1968; Toss, 8 or more players, 1968; Prose Collection, any players, 1968–9; Tilbury, any inst/insts, 1969; Tilbury 2 and 3, any inst/insts, amp ad lib, 1969; Snowdrop, hpd and/or other insts, 1970
Burdocks, 1 or more orchs of 5 or more players, 1970–71; Accompaniments, 1972; Lines, str qt/other str ens, 1972; Variations (Extracts) on the Carman’s Whistle Variations of Byrd, kbd/other insts, 1972; Changing the System, 1972–3; Exercises 1–14, any 3 or more insts, 1973–4; Songs, unison vv, 1973–4; Studies, pf, 1974–6; Str Qt Exercises out of Songs, 1974–6; Str Bass Exercise out of ‘Bandiera rossa’, db, 1975; Exercises 15–18, kbd, trbn, any insts, 1975; Wobbly Music (texts from World War I history), mixed chorus, insts, 1975–6; Bread and Roses, pf, 1976, version for vn, 1976
Dark as a Dungeon, cl, 1977; Dark as a Dungeon, trbn, db, 1977; The Death of Mother Jones, vn, 1977; Braverman Music, inst ens, 1978; Vc Song Variations, 1978; Hay una mujer desaparecida (after H. Near), pf, 1979; Stardust Pieces, vc, pf, 1979; Rock About, Instrumental, Starving to Death on a Government Claim, vn, va, 1979–80; Exercises 19 (Harmonic Tremors) and 20 (Acres of Clams), 2 pf, 1980; Preludes I–II, pf, 1980–81; Exercise 21, pf 4 hands, 1981; Isn’t this a Time, sax, 1981; Exercise 22 (Bread and Roses, for John, 1982), pf 4 hands, 1982, orchd as Exercise 24, 1983
Eisler Ensemble Pieces 1 (For Cornelius) and 2 (Dig a Hole in the Meadow), cl + b cl, vn, vc, pf, 1983; Exercise 23 (Bread and Roses), chbr orch, 1983, unperf.; Pf Song (I am a Dangerous Woman), 1983; Peace March 1 (Stop Using Uranium), fl, 1983–4; I Like to Think of Harriet Tubman, female v, any tr inst, any a inst, any b inst, 1984; Peace March 2, fl, cl, vc, perc, pf, 1984; Peace March 3 (The Sun is Burning), fl, vc, perc, 1984; Pf Trio, vn, vc, pf, 1985; Inst Exercises with Peace March 4, 2 cl, bass cl, 2 kbd, perc, elec bass, vn, vc, 1985; Bowery Preludes, fl/pic/a fl, trbn, perc, pf, 1985–6
Exercise 25, orch, 1986; X for Peace Marches, 1986; Black Song Organ Preludes, organ, 1986–7; Long Peace March, ens, 1986–7; For Morty, glock, vib, pf, 1987; Digger Song, vn, va, vc, perc, 1988; Exercise 26 (Snare Drum Peace March), snare drum, 1988; Exercise 27 (Snare Drum Peace March), snare drum, 1988; From Leaning Forward (G. Paley), S, Bar, cl/b, cl, vc, 1988; Emma, va, vc, pf, 1988–9; Mayday/Mayday Materials, tape, 1989; Malvina, solo koto, 1989; Rosas, pf, perc, 1989–90; 8 Days a Week Variation, pf, 1990; For Si, ens, 1990–91; Rukus b/t sax, elec gui, db, 1990–91
Gib den Hungrigen dein Brot, fl, pf, 1991; Jasper, vn, db, 1991; Kegama, ens, 1991; Look She Said, db, 1991; Ruth, trbn, pf, 1991; Malvina, 2 va, 1992; Tuba Song, 1 or 2 tubas, 1992; Aina Gonna Study War No More, timp, mar, 1993; Exercise X, ens, 1993; Flutist and Guitarist, 1993; 6 Melodies Variation, vn, 1993; Merce, 1 to 9 perc, 1993; Peggy, 1 or 2 trb, 1993; Aarau Songs, cl, str qt, 1994; Memory, ens, 1994; 2 Pianists, 1994; Or 4 People, 1–4 players, 1994; Responsibility, vc, fl, sax, db, pf, 1994; Bratislava, ens, 1995; Percussionist Songs, solo perc, 1995; Pieces for Julius, fl, hn, va, vc, 1995; Spring, chbr orch, 1995; 2 players, hn, vc, 1996; Tilbury 5, vn/va, trb, pf, 1996; Trio III, vn, pf, perc, 1996; Untitled, elec b gui, db, 1996; Violist and Percussionist, 1996; Instrumentalist(s)–Singer(s), 1997; Percussionist Dances, solo perc, 1997; Violist Pieces, va, 1997; John, David, orch, solo perc, 1998; Pulse, tpt, perc, 1998; Melodies, melodica solo, melodica, perc, 1998–9; Schoenen met Vetters, fl + b fl, cl + b cl, trbn, vn, va, vc, cb, 1998–9; Pebbles, vn, pf, 1999; Ghent Song, recs (4 pfmrs), perc, 1999; Vc Suite Variation, vc, 2000; Fall, perc ens (3/6 pfmrs), 2000
Principal publishers: Peters
F.Goebels: ‘Gestalt und Gestaltung musikalischer Grafik’, Melos, xxxix (1972), 23–34
M.Nyman: Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond (New York, 1974, 2/1999)
I.Jack: ‘Metamusik’, Music and Musicians, xxiii/3 (1974–5), 53
W.Zimmermann: ‘Christian Wolff’, Desert Plants: Conversations with 23 American Musicians (Vancouver, 1976)
T.DeLio: Circumscribing the Open Universe: Essays on Cage, Feldman, Wolff, Ashley and Lucier (Washington, DC, 1984)
D.Patterson: ‘Cage and Beyond: an Annotated Interview with Christian Wolff’, PNM, xxxii/2 (1994), 54–87
G.Gronemeyer and R.Oehlschlägel, eds.: Christian Wolff: Cues, Writings and Conversations (Cologne, 1988) [in Ger. and Eng.]