Publication Year: 2012
Published by: University of Illinois Press
Series: American Composers
Title Page, Copyright
This book began twice. The first beginning was when Christian Asplund invited Christian Wolff and others to the campus of Brigham Young University in the spring of 2006 for a small symposium in Wolff’s honor. Asplund, who had studied...
That may suggest why, in an academic musical culture obsessed with reasons and explanations, theory and analysis, Wolff’s music has attracted less than its share of critical attention. Analysis craves methods and systems to which works may be...
1. Orpheus in Tennis Sneakers
Kurt Wolff had long been restless and on edge. Since the 1910s he had sought out and published progressive European authors, including Kafka and so-called “expressionists”—though Wolff rejected attempts to “force on them a shared identity...
2. Situations of Too Extreme Difficulty: 1951-1959
But he continued to compose. From the time he entered Harvard in 1951 until he enlisted in the army in 1959, all but one of Wolff’s surviving compositions were piano pieces—seven works in which he moved from Cageian gamuts and prepared...
3. Vast, Sparse Areas of Possibility: 1960-1969
In 1960 Stockhausen’s Die Reihe published a second article by Wolff. Moving from a detailed discussion of Cage’s square-root form, through summaries of music by Earle Brown and Stockhausen, Wolff uses his own Duo II as a case study in...
4. Let Playing Be Composition and Composition Playing: 1969-1974
In late 1968, Cardew had finished the first portion of what would be a basic score for the Scratch Orchestra: The Great Learning, a massive seven-part setting of the first chapter of Confucius’s text by that name. Its notation varied with each section, though...
5. Something More Specifically "Musical": 1973-1984
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...
6. Not to Do Something I've Already Done: 1982-1999
Just so, it would be difficult to imitate Wolff’s music. Although it had mutated from its earliest and arguably most radical techniques, it followed a certain continuum. As we’ve noted, Cage described Wolff’s exercises as “classical music of an unknown...
7. Among Friends, in a Private World
For Wolff, surviving his New York School colleagues—or, more to the point, some of his closest friends—had its professional detriments. He might be pegged as a merely recherché artist, a relic of an outmoded era. Consider the underlying bias in...
For Further Reading