Joseph Johann Baptist Woelfl (German spelling:) Joseph Wölfl (24 December 1773 - 21 May 1812) was an Austrian pianist and composer.
He first appeared in public as a soloist on the violin at the age of seven. Moving to Vienna in 1790 he visited Wolfgang Mozart and may have taken lessons from him. His first opera, Der Höllenberg, appeared there in 1795.
Woelfl was very tall (over 6 feet), and with an enormous finger span (his hand could strike a thirteenth, according to his contemporary Frantisek Tomasek); to his wide grasp of the keyboard he owed a facility of execution which he turned to good account, especially in his extempore performances.
Although he dedicated his 1798 sonatas op. 6 to Beethoven, the two were rivals. Beethoven however bested Woelfl in a piano 'duel' at the house of Count Wetzlar in 1799, after which Woelfl's local popularity waned. After spending the years 1801 -1805 in Paris, Woelfl moved to London, where his first concert performance was on 27 May 1805.
In England, he enjoyed commercial if not critical success. In 1808 he published his Sonata, Op. 41, which, on account of its technical difficulty, he entitled Non Plus Ultra; and, in reply to the challenge, a sonata by Dussek, originally called Le Retour à Paris, was reprinted with the title Plus Ultra, and an ironic dedication to Non Plus Ultra. He also completed for publication an unfinished sonata of George Pinto.
Woelfl died in Great Marylebone Street, London, on 21 May 1812.
Woelfl's works have long disappeared from the concert repertory. However, in 2003 four selected piano sonatas of his (Op. 25 and Op. 33) were recorded by the pianist Jon Nakamatsu (Harmonia Mundi CD # 907324). (An Adda CD in 1988 contained his three opus 28 sonatas, played by Laure Colladant, who also recorded the sonatas opus 6 for Adès in 1993 and the three opus 33 sonatas for the label Mandala in 1995.)
In 2006, German pianist Yorck Kronenberg recorded Woelfl's piano concertos 1, 5 and 6 in addition to a movement from the piano concerto 4. The piano concertos closely resemble the later piano concertos of Mozart, who had pioneered the genre; they can be distinguished from Mozart's works by the larger range of the piano, which had been extended shortly after Mozart's death.
- Piano Concerto No. 1 op. 20 in G major (ca 1802-1803)
- Piano Concerto No. 2 op.26
- Piano Concerto No. 3 op.32 in F major
- Piano Concerto No. 4 op. 36 in G major "The Calm" (1808)
- Piano Concerto No. 5 op. 43 in C major "Grand Military Concerto" (1799?)
- Piano Concerto No. 6 op. 49 in D major "The Cuckoo" (published 1811)
- Symphony in G minor op. 40.' Dedicated to Luigi Cherubini.
- Symphony in C major op. 41.' Dedicated to Johann Peter Salomon.
- A publication ca.1825 was made of 3 "Grand Symphonies" by Wölfl. (The British Library record does not give an opus number.)
The String Quartets
- 4 String Quartets op. 4
- String Quartet in E flat major op. 30 No. 1. Dedicated to Mr. Bassi Guaita
- String Quartet in C major op. 30 No. 2. Dedicated to Mr. Bassi Guaita
- String Quartet in D major op. 30 No. 3. Dedicated to Mr. Bassi Guaita
- Six String Quartets op.51. Published by Lavenu in London.
- Der Höllenberg (Freihaus-Theater 1795), Libretto by E. Schikaneder
- Das schöne Milchmädchen, oder Der Guckkasten (1797)
- Der Kopf ohne Mann (1798)
- Liebe macht kurzen Prozess, oder Heirat auf gewisse Art (1798)
- Das trojanische Pferd (1799)
- L'Amour romanesque (1804)
- Fernando, ou Les maures (1805)
- 68 Sonatas for the piano, several sonates for piano and violin 18 piano trios, some 4-hands music
- Grand Duo in D minor for Pianoforte and Violoncello op. 31. Dedicated to Madame Hollander
- Variations, rondós, German dances...
- Charles Neate, one of the original members of the Philharmonic Society.
- Joseph Bottomley, future organist at Sheffield.
Thematic catalogue (Werkverzeichnis) and Biography
- Margit Haider-Dechant: Joseph Woelfl. Verzeichnis seiner Werke. Apollon-Musikoffizin Vienna 2011
- Margit Haider-Dechant: Art. Wölfl, Joseph. In: Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Zweite, neubearbeitete Ausgabe, hrsg. von Ludwig Finscher, Personenteil Bd. 17, Kassel u. a., 2008, pp. 1122–1128.
- Denora, Tia (1996). ""The Beethoven-Woelfl piano duel". In Jones, David Wyn. Music in eighteenth-century Austria. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 259–282.
- Published around 1808 according to Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.
- British Library Holdings.
- Opera Glass
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Woelfl, Joseph". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. - but not too much in the present version
- Free scores by Joseph Wölfl at the International Music Score Library Project
- Sonata in C minor Op.25 4th movement - Adagio on YouTube