Jonathan Burrows mentioning Christian Wolff

I had the pleasure of going to see Jonathan Burrows and Adrian
Heathfield last Monday at Toynbee Studio as part of Performance
Matters (


Burrows mentioned Christian Wolff’s four dictums of writing music:

  • A composition must make possible the freedom and dignity of the performer.
  • It should allow both concentration and release.
  • No sound or noise is preferable to any other sound or noise.
  • Listeners should be as free as the players.

They are also listed in a book called ‘Audio Culture – Readings In
Modern Music’, edited by Cox and Warner, which is a mighty fine read.


I was particularly drawn to allowing “both concentration and release” – which is the one that Burrows talked most about on Monday. So much of my training as a choreographer/dancer has been about ‘filling’ an audience with an experience and although I understand that sonic and visual perceptual systems are different, there is something liberating (both as an audience member and a performance maker) about the possibility of allowing for (perhaps even desiring) time and space for ‘release’.


One Reply to “Jonathan Burrows mentioning Christian Wolff”

  1. A good moment for me to see this post. I like it.I am wondering what this release might mean in my current performance research. I’m curious that it goes hand in hand with concentration, and wonder about them working simultaneously as well as in ‘differentiated moments’. I so don’t want to try and ‘fill’ my audience. Its such a temptation.I also wonder that this release (and not filling) is very much connected with Wolff’s first point – the freedom and dignity of the performer

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