Ensemble interaction in indeterminate music: A case study of Christian Wolff’s Exercises

Emily Payne, Philip Thomas

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The exploration of social organisation through the use of indeterminate notation has been a recurring concern of the music of experimental composer Christian Wolff (b. 1934) since the late 1950s. In 1973 he embarked upon a series of pieces titled Exercises for (mostly) unspecified instrumentation and numbers of players. Since then he has returned to the title to extend the number of works to, currently, 37;1 they are among his most frequently performed pieces. The notation Wolff employs in these pieces is skeletal and there are no separate parts: every musician reads from the same set of instructions and musical score. Consequently, players negotiate a way of working with the score and with each other, making decisions prior to, and during, the moment of performance. Orchestration, tempo, dynamics, sequence, coordination, and much else are all ‘up for grabs’, and can differ radically from performance to performance. Consequently, the Exercises offer considerable potential for navigating approaches to ensemble interaction, and for exploration of performance possibilities. Exactly how these possibilities are exercised in practice is the focus of this case study.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTogether In Music
Subtitle of host publicationCoordination, expression, participation
EditorsRenee Timmers, Freya Bailes, Helena Daffern
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages7
ISBN (Print)9780198860761, 0198860765
Publication statusPublished - 4 Nov 2021


Dive into the research topics of 'Ensemble interaction in indeterminate music: A case study of Christian Wolff’s Exercises'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this