Joseph Woelfl

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Joseph Woelfl

Joseph Johann Baptist Woelfl (surname sometimes written in the German form Wölfl) (24 December 1773 - 21 May 1812) was an Austrian pianist and composer.


"Gedenktafel" at Woelfl's birthplace, donated 2012 by Stieglbrauerei
Plaque (2012) in London's St. Marylebone Churchyard (200th anniversary of his death)

Woelfl was born in Salzburg, where he studied music under Leopold Mozart and Michael Haydn.

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 Václav Tomášek); 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.[1] After spending the years 1801 -1805 in Paris, Woelfl moved to London, where his first concert performance was on 27 May 1805. On 12 March 1806 he published "Six English Songs" which he dedicated to the English soprano Jane Bianchi.[2]

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. He is buried in St. Marylebone Churchyard.

His music was championed and performed by Romantic composers like Schubert, Chopin and Liszt.


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.)

Joseph Woelfl (Gravure de Meyer, 1811)

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.[3] 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. Nataša Veljkovic has since recorded the 2nd and 3rd Piano Concertos and the Concerto da Camera in E flat major (1810) on CPO.[4]

There are also now recordings of the two symphonies (Pratum Integrum Orchestra, 2008), three string quartets (Quatuor Mosaïques, 2012), and the Grand Duo for cello and piano.[5] Toccata Classics has issued two CDs of the piano music (2017 and 2021).[6]


Piano Concertos[edit]

  • Piano Concerto No. 1 op. 20 in G major (ca 1802-1803)
  • Piano Concerto No. 2 op.26 (published c.1806)
  • Piano Concerto No. 3 op.32 in F major
  • Piano Concerto No. 4 op. 36 in G major "The Calm" (published c.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 1809)


  • Symphony in G minor Op. 40.' Dedicated to Luigi Cherubini.[7][8]
  • Symphony in C major Op. 41.' Dedicated to Johann Peter Salomon.[7] Parts available at the Moravian Music Foundation - see OCLC 905233657.
  • IMSLP has an autograph manuscript of an 1807 "Symphony No.3" by Woelfl (in one movement, or one movement of a larger work.)
  • A publication ca.1825 was made of 3 "Grand Symphonies" by Wölfl. (The British Library record does not give an opus number.)
  • The Moldenhauer archive has (in manuscript, though possibly not autograph) part of what is described as "J. Woelfl's 5th grand sinfonia : for full band".[9]

String Quartets[edit]

  • 3 String Quartets Op. 4 dedicated to Leopold Staudinger[10]
  • String Quartets Op. 5 (3 or more?)[11]
  • 6 String Quartets Op. 10. Dedicated to Count Moritz Fries.[12][13]
  • 3 String Quartets Op. 30. Dedicated to Mr. Bassi Guaita.[14]
  • Six String Quartets op.51. Published by Lavenu in London.[15]


Romanza of the Opera Das schöne Milchmädchen
  • 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)

Other works[edit]

  • 68 Sonatas for the piano, several sonates for piano and violin, 18 piano trios, and some 4-hands music
  • Grand Duo in D minor for Pianoforte and Violoncello op. 31. Dedicated to Madame Hollander
  • Clarinet concerto in B major (premiered 1796)[16][17]
  • Variations, rondoós, German dances...

Thematic catalogue (Werkverzeichnis) and Biography[edit]

  • 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.


  1. ^ Denora, Tia (1996). ""The Beethoven-Woelfl piano duel". In Jones, David Wyn (ed.). Music in eighteenth-century Austria. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 259–282.
  2. ^ Kassler, Michael (2016-04-29). Music Entries at Stationers' Hall, 1710–1818: from lists prepared for William Hawes, D.W. Krummel and Alan Tyson and from other sources. Routledge. p. 561. ISBN 978-1-317-09205-6.
  3. ^ "Piano Concertos 1, 5 & 6".
  4. ^ Reviewed at MusicWeb International
  5. ^ Eighteenth Century Music, Cambridge University Press (2010)
  6. ^ Toccata Classics
  7. ^ a b Published around 1808 according to Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.
  8. ^ Parts and movement breakdown @ the Moravian Music Foundation - see OCLC 905233658. This work is rather larger in dimensions (320+ bars in each of first movement and finale) than Woelfl's Op. 41.
  9. ^ Re Woelfl's 5th symphony, see OCLC 122417037. Dated March 1808.
  10. ^ see description from Austrian National Library (ÖNB) entry of Op.4 based on Vienna: Kozeluch parts (plate 243)
  11. ^ Description of String Quartet Op.5 No.2 from Austrian National Library ; Quartet Op.5 No.1 also from ÖNB; Op.5 No.3 also from ÖNB
  12. ^ Austrian National Library description of Book 1, nos.1-3
  13. ^ IMSLP has all 6 quartets.
  14. ^ OCLC 905231734 - manuscript parts @ Moravian Music Foundation.
  15. ^ British Library Holdings.
  16. ^ Clarinet concerto first published 2013 by Apollon Musikverlag; see Apollon Musikverlag page Archived 2015-12-22 at the Wayback Machine, which has an image of the first page of the score (clearly B-flat major). "Die Uraufführung fand am 27. 09. 1796 im kaiserl. königl. Hoftheater in Wien statt."
  17. ^ Jones, David Wyn (2 November 2006). Music in Eighteenth-Century Austria. ISBN 9780521028592. OCLC 927292895.

External links[edit]