Jean-Claude Wolff



© G. Bompais









After about sixty vocal and instrumental works from instrumental soloist
to full orchestra, Jean-Claude Wolff, contemporary composer, devoted himself to an opera, for which he received the support of the Foundation Beaumarchais (January 2005). He now plans to work on pieces mixing music and fine art, and to also work on sacred music.

Jean-Claude Wolff was born on 27th October, 1946, at Neuilly-sur-Seine, France.

He made his beginning in composition, in a traditional form and style, in 1962.

In 1963 and 1964, readings of romantic German writers, such as Hoffmann, Novalis, Chamisso, Hölderlin, Rilke, T. Mann and Hesse made him discover several topics which would haunt his thought and his works: night, melancholy, roaming, confrontation with death.

In 1964, he decided to devote himself to music composition, so went to the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique de Paris (CNSMP) in 1966 to continue his studies in music history, analysis, harmony and counterpoint.

In 1968, he met Henri Dutilleux. "He opened my eyes on the essential curiosity, but also on the insistent and constant necessity of choice".

During the summers of 1968, 1969 and 1970, he studied with Franco Donatoni at the Accademia Chigiana di Siena (Italy). At this time, Jean-Claude Wolff considered Franco Donatoni as "a Latin serialist who also made him know about the thinking of John Cage".

In 1969, he met and studied with Jean-Pierre Guezec. He was fascinated by his attitude, "a mix of extreme kindness and absolute accuracy".

From 1969 to 1974, he studied composition at the CNSMP, with Andre Jolivet, Maurice Ohana, Henri Dutilleux, Michel Philippot and Ivo Malec.

In 1972 he studied with Jean-Etienne Marie who made him discover a "listening like electroacoustic of the instrumental music".

In 1974 he got the first prize in composition at the C.N.S.M.P.

From 1970 to 1975, he watched several times nearly all the films by Bergman and immediately felt a great complicity with the nordic universe, in the set of themes, expression, aesthetics.

From 1978 to 1980, he had a residence at the Academy de France in Roma, Italy (Villa Medicis). First true contact and sometimes enthusiastic, sometimes critical or perplexed reactions, concerning Italy and Latin civilization. Friendship with several other boarders, especially painters and sculptors, which continues today.

In 1979, Jean Claude Wolff composed the Symphony n° 2 for violin and orchestra, a significant work in which he tried "the synthesis of a developed melodic writing and an evolution of orchestral material in moving clusters", influenced by Xenakis and Ligeti". He also got the first Prize at the Musical Youths International Competition (Belgrade).

In 1980, he composed "Night", for soprano and string quartet, on a poem by Max Jacob. It was his first vocal works, and "the desire of a synergy between text and music, of a complicity between words and sounds, between verbal significance and musical direction" was already expressed.

From 1980 and 1985, he composed the Symphonies n°1, n°3, n°4. In these works, a great attention was given to the form; "the violence of the sound masses tries to be put at the service of a vast overall, perceptible architecture without being too obvious".

Between 1984 and 2002, many works of instrumental chamber music were written. In these pieces, the composer more and more researched on melody and harmony, with a great attention in the various aesthetic trends of the musical world. But he never submitted to trends or watchwords, and obstinately refused an adhesion with any "school" or "coterie".

In 1989, he settled in Aix in Provence. This city generated a delicate confrontation between the secret, dark and introvert nature of the composer and the bright Mediterranean light. Reflexions on the evolution of the musical language. Rereading of works by Adorno, Boucourechliev and frequent reading of the New Testament, the Apocalypse, and some passages of the Old Testament (Genesis, Psaumes).

In 1991, the film-maker Camille Guichard produced a short film, "the shades of the sin", starting from his work Nuit. In this occasion, the composer gained a renewal of interest for cinema through Bresson, Rohmer, Rivette, Resnais and Kubrick.

In 1992, he got a residence at the Foundation of art "Henri Clews" in Napoule (06) and finished his Symphony n° 5.

In 1993, he met Rory Nelson, a poet, writer and musician. It was the beginning of a long-lived friendship and a fertile collaboration, which started in two works: Symphony n°6, Elements d'une traversee (1994) and L'inquietude (1995).

In 1997, Jean-Claude Wolff returned to live in Paris, where he could have an enthusiastic or critical but always full of interest look on the musical world and its evolution, its practices, its syntax and its aesthetics.

From 1997 to 2002, he composed three works for piano: Crepuscules, Onze Preludes and Cis.

From 1998 to 2000, he also turned his attention to vocal music, with works such as Psaumes, le lointain le plus proche, Poemes de revolte and Poemes d'alliance. These two last works are due to a meeting with Andrée Chedid, a warm and sensitive personnality who "made me discover the light of the Eastern Mediterranean sea".

On 22nd December 2000 his father died. Perhaps the composer had had a presentiment of that when he wrote his trio Requiem(s) at the beginning of the year.

In 2001, he started to be interested in Tibetan Buddhism, but "without succeeding in establishing a link nor a complementarity with the Judeo-Christian tradition which is in me".

In 2002, he met with François Szabo, a French of Spanish expression poet, who made him sense the violence and the strengh of this culture. He composed on some of his texts excerpt from Paginas de invierno, a sort of Spanish and contemporary "Winterreise".

Then, as he wished to compose an opera for a long time, he encouraged his friend Rory Nelson to write a booklet from his novel "le Quatuor". This opera, which composition is in progress, will be in five parts, with a prologue, three acts and an epilogue, and will be written for seven voices and orchestra.

2006: Résidence from October, at the Abbaye de La Prée (Fondation "Pour Que l'Esprit Vive"). He finished the second act of his Opera "Le Quatuor". He wrote many short works for voice and piano ("Deux mélodies russes", "Trois chansons mélancoliques", "Trois chansons cruelles") with an emphasis on the text-music relationship.

2007: The residence in l'Abbaye de La Prée continued. He started writing the last act of his Opera. Intense writing activity: for the "Rencontres Musicales de La Prée", he wrote Cinq Mantra, for piano, and Je me souviens for wind instruments, a tribute to G. Perec. He also wrote Passage(s), for orchestra, and Les chants du rosaire, on poems by G. Trakl, for soprano and electronic musical instruments

2008: End of the residence at "l'Abbaye de La Prée" (September). He wrote Chemins de traverse for cello "obbligato" and string orchestra, and the Magnificat for six women's voices. Beginning of many projects on sacred texts including some extra-european musical instruments, particularly the koto..

2009: End of "Le Quatuor" opera writing.
Jean Claude Wolff wrote for the movie Pensées-du-Japon by his firend Yann Kassile, short piano pieces, gathered in the cycle: Allusions.

2010: The composer lived in Paris, but he still often stays at the Abbaye de la Prée. At the initiative of Fabienne Morel, cinéaste, he wrote there the music for the staging of a live show "Murmures d'archive", mixing a montage de films d'archives amateurs, du théâtre, and original music for vocal and instrumental ensemble directed by the composer. Finally, he just finished an instrumental piece, Le vertige du funambule, inspired by certain works of Pascal Fancony. These last works are testament to the orientation of certain later projects, that will attempt to marry different forms of artistic expression, without neglecting purely "musical" work, in particular around sacred texts.

2011: Premiere at the "Théâtre de Nîmes": Symphony number 8, which mixes both traditional instruments amplified and a prerecorded soundtrack. Guest composer at the "Printemps musical d'Annecy," he presents his work at two conferences on the occasion of the creation of "Fragment d’exil" piece for cello and piano. Premiered in May in the United States (Purchase College Institute, New York) "Pratea" of ​liturgical resonance, indicating an influence of the sacred, which is a concern in recent years, including in instrumental works.

2012 New show in collaboration with Fabienne Morel, which is like a following from their meeting in 2010. Under the title of Mémoire lointaine, this show has been represented several times at festivals in the French Centre region. In the same idea of binging closer different forms of expression, the composer wrote original music for a film by Yann Kassile around the Provençal years of Van Gogh. Finally, Jean-Claude Wolff composed a song cycle "Le guetteur mélancolique" on Apollinaire's poems.

2013 The composer dedicated this year to several chamber music works: a work for sopranino saxophone and small ensemble, a piece for viola principal, two guitars and bass and a piano piece of some magnitude, "Exil d'enfance"..

2014 Composition of a vast cycle "par les chemins..", for wind quintet, chemin crié for bass clarinet and piano, chemins croisés for wind quintet and piano; composition of a work for solo flute and 24 flutes, Symphonic Songs. This partition, and "Ma petite colombelle..", with texts by Ronsard, can be considered as the beginning of an orchestral work of which the composer has dreamed for some years.