Getting Exercised: Ensemble Relations in Christian Wolff's Exercises

Emily Payne, Philip Thomas

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


In 1973, American experimentalist Christian Wolff embarked upon a series of pieces titled Exercises for (mostly) unspecified instrumentation and numbers of players. This chapter examines the ways in which the music is worked out in performance, through playing and other forms of ensemble exchange. The ways in which the indeterminacies of the score and the skeletal notation function in relation to a more or less democratic praxis are explored. The shift in Wolff’s compositional practice at around the time of the Exercises’ composition, the result of a conscious effort to foreground political thinking – specifically a tendency towards democratic socialism – in and through his music, is explored. The chapter draws upon documentation of a recent recording session featuring the ensemble Apartment House, in which a selection of the Exercises was rehearsed and recorded, as well as an interview with Wolff about the Exercises, conducted specially for this project. Analysis from the sessions draws on both personal involvement and reflection and ethnographic observation to isolate and analyse individual and collective behaviours, and to explore how decisions are prioritized, arrived at, and implemented.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFinding Democracy in Music
EditorsRobert Adlington, Esteban Buch
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9780367486938
ISBN (Print)9780367486921
Publication statusPublished - 3 Nov 2020

Publication series

NameMusical Cultures of the Twentieth Century


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