Wolff: Piano Works

Wolff: Piano Works

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  • 126 pages (115 containing music)
  • Includes very rare scores
  • Modern critical edition
  • Detailed source commentary
  • Printed on heavy duty eco-friendly sustainable paper (120 gsm)
  • Also available as download.

What’s it like?

Style. Wolff's music is a product of his time, heavily influenced by his friend Chopin. This is not surprising, as they were taught by the same teacher and also both lived in Paris as emigrants.

Character. Some of Wolff's music lived up to the expectations of his time. In his circle of Polish emigrants, melancholic music with a strong Polish influence was in high demand. The Chanson Polonaise and the Grand Allegro de Concert are infused with the melancholy we know and love so much about Chopin. In the Grande Polonaise and the Bolero, the virtuoso Wolff, who was a rival of Liszt and Thalberg, is demonstrating his phenomenal technique. The Scherzo, on the other hand, looks like nothing else. It is a diabolic and somewhat awkward work, which remotely resembles Chopin's third Scherzo, but is completely different in character.

Technique. Wolff's technique belongs to that pioneering generation, which also included Henselt, Alkan, Mendelssohn, Liszt and Chopin. Before them there were virtuosos like Ries, Field and Hummel, who composed in a totally different style. In terms of technique, Wolff fits right in with Chopin and Liszt: thirds, major chords, polyrhythms and other things that baffled Moscheles when he was confronted with them in the 1830s.

Originality and quality. In my opinion, the highlight of this collection is the Grand Allegro de Concert. Although this homage is quite derivative in terms of style - it is, after all, an homage - Wolff's ideas are very well developed. The form is so well put together. The work lasts about 22 minutes, but because the form is so well worked out, it feels much shorter. Wolff's music is well put together and there is clearly a skilful master at work. The Scherzo is Wolff's most original work.

Difficulty. Technically, this is a difficult bundle. The Bolero is extremely difficult, the Grande Polonaise is also very difficult. So is the Grand Allegro de Concert, which is more or less comparable in difficulty to Chopin's slightly more difficult Allegro de Concert. The Scherzo is similar in difficulty to Chopin's second Scherzo. The Chanson Polonaise offers few technical challenges, but requires a singing tone and conveying a sense of melancholy.


This 129-page album contains the following five works.

Grand Allegro de Concert This phenomenal tribute is an homage to the creator and pianist Chopin. No one but a compatriot could write such a work. The work opens with a grand orchestral introduction. After a difficult cadenza, the piano plays the melodies from the opening, interspersed with passages of great emotional and technical intensity. The gentle, melancholic theme, which, as in Chopin's Allegro de Concert, makes its appearance twice, is of rare beauty. The piece ends with a magisterial cadenza. The videos include several highlights from this work. Difficulty 10/10

Grande Polonaise This Polonaise is in simple ABA form. The whole work is quite catchy and full of catchy tunes. The corner movements contain a typical Polonaise melody, with figurations like major chords and various polyrhythmic scales (e.g. 18 against 16). The middle section contains a catchy tune played in three different ways: scherzando, followed by variations with many notes and huge arpeggios. This is followed by a recapitulation of the first theme, a video of which can be found on this page. Difficulty 10/10

Bolero Wolff used the Bolero at his concerts. It follows a familiar recipe from the 19th century: using tunes familiar to audiences to impress them yourself. Wolff succeeds quite well. The Introduction is followed by a typical Bolero. This piece too, after the Introduction, is in ABA form. The first section is pretty straightforward and so is the first part of the middle section. However, from then on, Wolff slowly builds up to a crazy climax that will have left his audience stunned. Difficulty 10/10

Chanson Polonaise This modest composition expresses like no other the intense melancholy that living in another country meant in the 19th century. Family and friends lived days travelling far away and the only communication was by post. Paris was full of Polish emigrées, among whom works like this one were in great demand. Wolff wrote many of them and this is the finest, in my opinion. Difficulty 5/10

Scherzo In the time of Beethoven and Schubert, the Scherzo was a joking piece used in a sonata between a slow and a fast movement. It was later corporatised, including in the Mendelssohs. Chopin put his own spin on it, writing epic and virtuosic works that have nothing to do with the light-hearted humour of the earlier generations. Wolff follows this pattern. In my opinion, the Scherzo might as well have been called Scherzo Diabolique. The themes are angular, uncomfortable and, for lack of another word, possessed. The gentle theme that Wolff deploys to lighten the mood a little, sounds only briefly each time, so that the work's alienating atmosphere is not lost. Difficulty 8/10

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