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Christian Wolff

Michael Hicks

Publication Year: 2012

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. 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_

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Series: American Composers

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

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...

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pp. 1-4

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...

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1. Orpheus in Tennis Sneakers

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pp. 5-18

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...

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2. Situations of Too Extreme Difficulty: 1951-1959

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pp. 19-30

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...

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3. Vast, Sparse Areas of Possibility: 1960-1969

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pp. 31-44

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...

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4. Let Playing Be Composition and Composition Playing: 1969-1974

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pp. 45-56

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...

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5. Something More Specifically "Musical": 1973-1984

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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...

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6. Not to Do Something I've Already Done: 1982-1999

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pp. 70-86

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...

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7. Among Friends, in a Private World

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pp. 87-97

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...


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pp. 99-108

For Further Reading

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pp. 109-110


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pp. 111-112


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pp. 113-118

About the Author, Further Reading, Publication Information

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E-ISBN-13: 9780252094163
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252037061

Page Count: 136
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: American Composers

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Subject Headings

  • Wolff, Christian, 1934-.
  • Composers -- United States -- Biography.
  • Avant-garde (Music) -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
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