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Christian Wolff

Christian Wolff

Michael Hicks
Christian Asplund
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 136
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  • Book Info
    Christian Wolff
    Book Description:

    In this first interpretive narrative of the life and work of Christian Wolff, Michael Hicks and Christian Asplund trace the influences and sensibilities of a contemporary composer's atypical career path and restless imagination. Written in full cooperation with Wolff, including access to his papers, this volume is a much-needed introduction to a leading avant-garde composer still living, writing music, and speaking about his own work. _x000B__x000B_Wolff has pioneered various compositional and notational idioms, including overtly political music, indeterminacy, graphic scores, and extreme virtuosity. Trained as a classicist rather than a musician, Wolff has never quite had both feet in the rarefied world of contemporary composition. Yet he's considered a "composer's composer," with a mind ensconced equally in ancient Greek tragedy and experimental music and an eccentric and impulsive compositional approach that eludes a fixed stylistic fingerprint._x000B__x000B_Hicks and Asplund cover Wolff's family life and formative years, his role as a founder of the New York School of composers, and the context of his life and work as part of the John Cage circle, as well as his departures from it. Critically assessing Wolff's place within the experimental musical field, this volume captures both his eloquence and reticence and provides insights into his broad interests and activities within music and beyond._x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09416-3
    Subjects: History, Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    Of the many analogies made to music in our time, that may seem one of the oddest—a respiratory one, made not with contempt but admiration. John Cage is not always easy to read, and his meaning here has the ring of a Zen koan. But admirers of Wolff’s music may find in Cage’s epigraph, as Marianne Moore said of poetry, a place for the genuine. One often responds instinctively to Wolff’s music, its impulsiveness, its teasing gestures, its prickly resistance of logic. It is a music often more halting than flowing. But many of us are drawn to it...

  5. 1 Orpheus in Tennis Sneakers
    (pp. 5-18)

    Late at night, february 27, 1933, forty-six-year-old Kurt Wolff sat with his fiancée Helen listening to Hermann Göring on the radio ferociously blaming the Communists for the burning of the Reichstag. Kurt burst out: “These are madmen. Pack!”¹ Within three days he and Helen had left Germany. By the end of March they had married in London and moved into a house in the hills above Nice, France, where they rented rooms to other Germans who had fled.

    Kurt Wolff had long been restless and on edge. Since the 1910s he had sought out and published progressive European authors, including...

  6. 2 Situations of Too Extreme Difficulty: 1951–1959
    (pp. 19-30)

    After manhattan, wolff found Boston sleepy and sedate—a perfect place to study the canon of dead languages, but less apt for radical experiments in sound. Harvard itself was notoriously conservative, not only in its social habits and politics but in its cultural life. Music composition on campus was staid, though avid, its thriving academic program overseen by Walter Piston and Randall Thompson, both eminent composers with Old World regard for form, coherence, and balance. Although they guided their students (who included Leonard Bernstein and then neoclassicist Elliott Carter) into the modernism of Stravinsky, Bartok, Hindemith, and even Schoenberg, Piston...

  7. 3 Vast, Sparse Areas of Possibility: 1960–1969
    (pp. 31-44)

    Although trained as a medic in Texas, Wolff had been assigned in January 1960 to the Information Section of Headquarters, Seventh Army, in New York, from which he was shipped out to Patch Barracks, Stuttgart-Vaihingen, Germany, to become an instructor and administrative assistant, teaching officers and enlisted men how to teach and managing paperwork for servicemen at all levels. The director of the schools, Burdette Stampley, would later write glowingly of how “cooperative, imaginative and highly intelligent in every respect” he found Wolff in planning, teaching, and indeed being “the epitome of tact” in working with his military students.¹ At...

  8. 4 Let Playing Be Composition and Composition Playing: 1969–1974
    (pp. 45-56)

    In june 1969, amid his negotiations with Dartmouth, Wolff had received a letter from John Tilbury inviting him to put money into—and even join—a new venture of Cardew’s: the Scratch Orchestra, a quasi-anarchic group of trained and untrained musicians who would perform improvisatory new pieces and ad hoc renditions of conventional old ones.¹ The group would embody Cardew’s “ethics of improvisation,” which saw improvisation as a tool to develop virtue and strength through cooperation. “Training” (including “moral discipline”) would replace “rehearsal,” so that preparing for performance would not be like preparing a play so much as preparing to...

  9. 5 Something More Specifically “Musical”: 1973–1984
    (pp. 57-69)

    At dartmouth, wolff constantly had to prepare new lesson plans. Throughout the 1970s, he manned three to five courses a year in comparative literature, humanities, classics in Greek and Latin (as well as in translation), Greek tragedy, Homeric poetry, Marxist literature, and special-topics courses that explored subjects such as Eros, political philosophy, and feminism. During his first year at Dartmouth (1970–71), Wolff also started a “Workshop in Experimental Music,” loosely based on his workshops in British art schools. He enrolled workshop members not by audition but by interviews in which students, regardless of their musical training, had to commit...

  10. 6 Not to Do Something I’ve Already Done: 1982–1999
    (pp. 70-86)

    In november 1982 john cage turned seventy. By then, books and articles generally labeled Wolff as Cage’s disciple, with little reciprocal influence implied. In a Cage birthday tribute Wolff wrote forTriQuarterly, he tried to adjust the historical lens. He conceded that Cage had hugely influenced him. After all, they had met when Wolff was an impressionable sixteen-year-old. Nevertheless, he said, Cage’s real influence on him and others was his “discipline, uncompromisingness, asceticism, at the same time as his untiring declarations of support, cheerfulness, discovery and communication pleasure. His call for the use of intelligence and conscience.” But no one...

  11. 7 Among Friends, in a Private World
    (pp. 87-98)

    On 2 july 2002, earle brown died. That event left Wolff in a new role: he was now the last surviving member of the so-called New York School of composers. For many that made him the last ambassador for a latter-day tradition that Cage had constructed and whose first generation was now about to conclude. Four decades earlier Wolff had foreshadowed the creative box in which he might now find himself: in his dissertation he explains that he would show “the various expressions of the notion of survival, its ramifications and conditions, in [Euripides’] later plays.” “Private survival,” he notes,...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 99-108)
    (pp. 109-110)
    (pp. 111-112)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 113-118)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 119-126)