Christian Wolff Begins Teaching at Dartmouth

The influential new music composer came to teach in the classics department and the comparative literature program.

An almost completely self-taught composer, Wolff's initial involvement with the College's music department was limited. He joined that department as a Strauss Professor of Music in 1979. After Wolff retired from Dartmouth in 1999, he became the house pianist of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company for the next dozen years, accompanying the company on international tours. In 2015, Dartmouth hosted a two-day series of concerts and events called “The Exception and the Rule", which celebrated Wolff's work. The following is excerpted from a Dartmouth News article covering the event:

Wolff has been considered a force in experimental music for most of his life. Over six decades, his methods and results have enthralled many fellow artists, musicians and composers—from the late Cunningham, who used many Wolff compositions with his dances; to the punk rock group Sonic Youth, which included works by Wolff on its 1999 album Goodbye, 20th Century; to the experimental composer John Cage, who described Wolff’s music as “like the classical music of an unknown civilization.”

One of Wolff’s major contributions has been compositions that give performers choices rather than telling them what notes to play and for how long, with instructions that prompt them to improvise according to particular guidelines and cues from other performers. Some scores intersperse passages of conventional notation with written instructions; while some “prose scores” consisting solely of text instructions. He also created “semi-graphic scores” like his often-performed Edges (1968): a sheet of symbols signifying various sorts of sounds, accompanied by instructions stating that it can be played by any number of performers, using any instruments (or voices), with each player deciding what symbol to perform when and for how long.

Read more from Dartmouth News

View a commemorative booklet produced by the Hopkins Center for the Arts

 

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