Christian Wolff

(b. 1934)

mode 74

Wolff Edition 3–Tilbury Pieces



mode 74 Christian WOLFF: Vol.3 – Tilbury #1-5 (complete); Snowdrop. – Roland Dahinden (trombones, melodica), Hildegard Kleeb (piano), Dimitrios Polisoidis (violin, viola).

Only 7 left in stock

Wolff Edition 3–Tilbury Pieces

First recordings

Roland Dahinden, trombones, melodica
Hildegard Kleeb, piano
Dimitrios Polisoidis, violin, viola

Tilbury 1 (1969) 10:08

Download the MP3 sample (1MB)

Tilbury 2 (1969) 4:14

Tilbury 3 (1969) 5:33

Download the MP3 sample (1.5MB)

Tilbury 4 (1970) 7:40

Download the MP3 sample (1.4MB)

Snowdrop (1970) 14:47

Tilbury 5 (1996) 10:08

First recordings of the Tilbury pieces

At 65-years old in 1999, Christian Wolff is enjoying a renewed interest in his work, with many performances of his music worldwide. The works on this disc, volume 3 of Mode’s Christian Wolff Edition, belong to his minimalist, and open-form, styles.

The Tilbury pieces (1969-70) are named for the pianist John Tilbury, whom Wolff had recently met at that time. Snowdrop (1970), from the same period, was named for the snowdrops among the earliest Spring flowers found in the Vermont countryside where Wolff lives. They attempt to integrate a systematic way of writing with chance and the excitement of early minimalism from Riley, Glass and Reich along with their English counterparts Hobbs, Smith, Nyman and White. A reaction against Serialism, their sound motifs come in fixed cycles, now and again two or more sounds appear at the same time, coincide and collide, making chords.

Tilbury 5 was written 25 years later at the request of the performers Dahinden, Kleeb and Polisoidis to extend the Tilbury set.

Roland Dahinden, a master of extended techniques for the trombone, is in demand as both a new music and jazz trombonist as well as a composer. He has often performed with Anthony Braxton. He has recorded for Black Saint and as a duo with new music specialist Hildegard Kleeb for Hat Art.


Christian Wolff
Roland Dahinden / Hildegard Kleeb / Dimitrios Polisoidis

Strictly applied chance procedures are the ultimate systemic procedures,” writes Christian Wolff about this “minimalist” series of pieces. Anyone expecting old-school  minimalism will be disappointed, though: Wolff’s systems are far from discernible, and the  flexibility of instrumentation, choice of clef and open-form structures reveal his evident  desire on a musico-political level to leave performers a certain degree of freedom – in sharp contrast  to much early minimalism, where they become mere components of a machine. The piece here  that most resembles standard systems  music is “Snowdrop”, a notated realisation of an open form similar  to those used in the “Tilbury” series, though its gently rolling arpeggios sound  nothing like Phil Glass. The other works, their notes delicately poised in silence like flecks of paint on a blank canvas, recall Feldman, Cage and Satie rather than the austere droneworld of LaMonte  Young or the bustle of Steve Reich.
—Dan Warburton, TOWER PULSE!, 1999

Performance 9, Sound 3

Ami de Morton Feldman, Christian Wolff a composé une musique d’esprit minimal donnant une grande place à l’indétermination, au silence et interruptions. Ses premiers Tilbury (hommage au compositeur John Tilbury), datent de 1969. Il s’agit d’une “tentative d’écriture systématique, qui était alors dans l’air avec le début du minimalisme de Riley, Glass et Reich ou en peinture Sol Lewitt.”

Dix ans avant, John Cage avait anticipé le mouvement avec ses Piano Solos, si on considère le hasard comme le summum des procédés à système. Christian Wolff épure à l’extrême, le matériau comme le processus de composition: “L’idée est que les sons apparaissent en cycles réguliers, comme les planètes dans un système solaire.”

Le dernier Tilbury est fait vingt-cinq ans après. Wolff s’est adouci. Non, pas de postmoderne, il est trop honnête, trop pur. Mais cet aveu, tout de même: ” Ce dernier morceau arrive après de longues années passéesà tenter d’assouplir la musique, tentative qui avait débuté [.] par un travil à partir d’images du XIXe et Xxe siècles, plus familières et réponant plus au standard occidental, bien sûr sans les reproduire mais en les reflètant de façon différente.” Il y est même question, de façon invisible (filigrane) de chansons flokloriques.

On pourra commencer la découverte de Christian Wolff par ce morceau, effectivement très sensuel, enjôleur, surtout grâce à l’interprétation très tendre desDahinden, Kleeb et Polisoidis.
—Jean Vermeil, Répertoire, Octobre 1999

Christian Wolff, Tilbury 1-5, Snowdrop, Dimitrios Polisoidis, violin/viola, Roland Dahinden, trombone/melodica, Hildegard Kleeb, piano (Mode 74)

While Cage, Feldman and [LaMonte] Young all eventually began to attract the attention of a broader listening public, Wolff has remained an obscure figure even in America. One reason for this could be that musical composition has had to share a place in the composer’s life with an academic career spent teaching classics at Harvard.

Maybe Wolff’s comparative neglect can also be explained by the nature of his music. Whereas his contemporaries Cage, Young, and Feldman began to work on ever larger canvases, it is Christian Wolff whose work remains closest to the spirit of the early 1950s, a time when the term ‘minimalism’ still meant, in the composer’s own words, ‘setting drastic limits on one’s material’. And while Feldman in particular began to embrace harmony and instrumental timbre as expressive elements, the compositional impulse behind Wolff’s music has continued to be primarily linear.

As a result Wolff’s music is seriously lean. His compositional method may have originally been a reaction against serialism, yet his music sounds closer to Webern than to the lusher idiom of minimalists such as Riley, Reich or Glass. To appreciate this, you only have to listen to Tilbury 1 and Tilbury 2, which consist almost entirely of single pitches separated by silences. As these performers clearly recognize, the sparse nature of the material can also lend an extraordinarily intense expressivity to the music. When, for instance, we reach Tilbury 3 and the single notes are replaced by arpeggios being played at different speeds, the effect is as startling as if the players had suddenly started to breathe in helium. On considered reflection, I found all the Tilbury performances here fresh and engaging, and enjoyed the way the violinist and the trombonist allowed themselves the licence to ‘bend’ and ‘colour’ notes by emphasizing different partials above the fundamental tones stipulated by Wolff.
—Martyn Harry, Gramophone Awards Issue, 1999


Also by Christian Wolff on Mode:
Vol. 1: The Piano Works 1976-83 performed by Sally Pinkas (mode 43)
Vol. 2: “I Like to Think of Harriet Tubman” performed by The Barton
Workshop (mode 69)
Vol. 4: Look She Said: Complete Works for Bass (mode 109)
Vol. 5: Complete Works for Violin and Piano (mode 126)
Vol. 6: (Re):Making Music (mode 133/134)
Vol 7: Incidental Music & Keyboard Miscellany (286/287, 2-CDs)

Flying White (mode 175)
Naima (mode 62)
Silberen, Lichtweiss (mode 138)

Roland Dahinden Profile
Hildegard Kleeb Profile
Dimitrios Polisoidis Profile
Christian Wolff profile