Changing the System: The Music of Christian Wolff (Hardback) book cover

Changing the System: The Music of Christian Wolff

By Stephen Chase

Edited by Philip Thomas

© 2010 – Routledge

284 pages

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About the Book

Christian Wolff is a composer who has followed a distinctive path often at the centre of avant-garde activity working alongside figures such as John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and Cornelius Cardew. In a career spanning sixty years, he has produced a significant and influential body of work that has aimed to address, in a searching and provocative manner, what it means to be an experimental and socially aware artist. This book provides a wide-ranging introduction to a composer often overlooked despite his influence upon many of the major figures in new music since the 1950s from Cage to John Zorn to the new wave of experimentalists across the globe. As the first detailed analysis of the music of this prolific and highly individual composer, Changing the System: The Music of Christian Wolff contains contributions from leading experts in the field of new and experimental music, as well as from performers and composers who have worked with Wolff. The reception of Wolff's music is discussed in relation to the European avant-garde and also within the context of Wolff's association with Cage and Feldman. Music from his earliest compositions of the 1950s, the highly indeterminate scores, the politically-inspired pieces up to the most recent works are discussed in detail, both in relation to their compositional techniques, general aesthetic development, and matters of performance. The particular challenges and aesthetic issues arising from Wolff's idiosyncratic notations and the implications for performers are a central theme. Likewise, the ways in which Wolff's political persuasions - which arguably account for some of the notational methods he chooses - have been worked out through his music, are examined. With a foreword by his close associate Michael Parsons, this is a valuable addition to experimental music literature.


'Perhaps this collection of essays, and Michael Hicks's forthcoming monograph on Wolff, is a sign that Wolff scholarship is gaining a foothold in the musicological world. This collection is a strong resource for scholars wishing to take up the task.' Notes '[Changing the System is] particularly welcome: its nine contributors between them conspire successfully in providing both basic information on, and useful insights into, a generous selection of the composer's works.' Music and Letters 'Bearing in mind the interdisciplinary approach that enables a wide range of insight into the complex […] issues of Wolff's activities […] this book will be an important contribution to the study of contemporary musical practices.' TACET

About the Author/Editor

Dr Stephen Chase, Independent scholar and composer, UK; Dr Philip Thomas, Senior Lecturer, University of Huddersfield, UK

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
MUSIC / General