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christian wolff and writing music

In October 2010 I listened to Adrian Heathfield and Jonathan Burrows in dialogue as part of Performance Matters at Toynbee Studios in London. They read – or perhaps performed – an email exchange that had occurred between them in the months leading up to the event.

At some point in the evening, Jonathan quoted composer Christian Wolff’s four dictums for writing music1:

  • A composition must make possible the freedom and dignity of the performer.
  • It should allow both concentration and release.
  • No sound or noise is preferable to any other sound or noise.
  • Listeners should be as free as the players

What I like about these ideas is the overwhelming sense of respect within them: respect for artists, respect for audiences, and respect for the work itself.

The full exchange between Heathfield and Burrows can be read at http://www.jonathanburrows.info/#/text/?id=102&t=content


  1. These were published in Audio Culture: Readings In Modern Music, a book edited by Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner (2004).

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