Christian Wolff

Lines has been performed in Borås…

Lines, for string quartet or possibly other and larger combinations of string instruments, was commissioned by Hans Otte for North German Radio Bremen. The composition began with the desire to find new string sonorities and with a formal notion related to the actual lines of the (four) indiv idual strings of each instrument and the lines described as a sound passes from one of the (four) instruments to another. Retuning the four instruments’ individual strings so that sixteen different pitches become available on their open strings—underscores the line of each string. The players are spaced far apart in performance to help show the lines of sound between them.

The score first specifies exactly the connections of these lines (say, from viola to first violin to cello) but their speed of movement (and certain aspects of articulation, dynamics, et cetera) is determined by the players in the course of playing. Thus, for example, viola lets her sound go when she wishes, at which point the violin must pick it up immediately, holds it as desired, lets it go for the cello to pick up, and so forth. Next the players indiv idually draw their material freely from more distinctly characterized bits of music (which are repeatable, as is all the material in the score). Here coordination is free or circumstantial (for example, hold a sound until the next sound you hear, whoever produces it). The material now also includes provision for retuning the strings to their usual pitches. Finally the score takes the form of prose instructions, requiring continuous sound from the players, to be changed in response to changes, whenever these happen to occur, in the playing of another. The specific character of an individual player’s sound, texture, melodic continuity, et cetera, are now entirely her or his choice. The music as a whole, then, is a collaboration between the composer’s score and the players’ playing, and the latter becomes increasingly directed by the players’ own decisions and feelings—the forming of which may have been assisted by the score to begin with.


  • Composer(s): Christian Wolff
  • Year of composition: 1972
  • Duration: 15:00
  • Instrumentation: string quartet
2 Octo 2004
In person
Borås (Sweden)