Albert Wolff (conductor)

Albert Louis Wolff (19 January 1884 – 20 February 1970) was a French conductor and composer of Dutch descent. Most of his career was spent in European venues, with the exception of two years that he spent as a conductor at the Metropolitan Opera and a few years in Buenos Aires during the Second World War. He is most known for holding the position of principal conductor with the Opéra-Comique in Paris for several years. He was married to the French mezzo-soprano Simone Ballard.


Early life and education

Wolff was born in Paris, of Dutch parents, though he was a French citizen from birth, never lived in the Netherlands, and never had a Dutch passport. When only 12 years old, he began his musical education at the Paris Conservatoire. There, he studied with such teachers as André Gedalge, Xavier Leroux, and Paul Antonin Vidal. At the same time he played the piano in cabarets and was organist at the Église Saint-Thomas-d'Aquin (Paris) for four years. Upon graduation at the age of 22, Wolff was awarded first prizes in harmony and accompaniment.[1]

Early career

In 1906 Wolff joined the staff of the Opéra-Comique, the theatre which became the centre of his career, while leading ensembles elsewhere in the city of Paris. He made his conducting debut at an opera gala in Strasbourg (then under German control) on 9 May 1909, following this by getting as much experience as possible with many short engagements in all operatic genres around France.[2] Meanwhile, in 1908, Wolff was appointed chorus master at the Opéra-Comique. This was his first experience with any form of stage work. He remained in that position for three years before being given an opportunity to conduct the premiere of Laparra's La jota.[1] Impressed with his performance, the Opéra-Comique took him with them to Argentina in 1911 where he conducted the Buenos Aires premiere of Pelléas et Mélisande at the Teatro Colón.[1] He later conducted the opera again in its premieres in Naples, Copenhagen, Kristiania (now Oslo) and Stockholm.[3] In August 1910 Wolff conducted Fauré’s incidental music in Georgette Leblanc’s production of the play Pelléas and Mélisande in the cloisters and gardens of Saint-Wandrille abbey.[4]

He continued as a conductor at the Opéra-Comique until the outbreak of World War I. Throughout that conflict, Wolff served his country first as at Les Éparges, then as a pilot (including a tour of Morocco), and was decorated for his courage.

At the end of the War, Wolff went to the United States to join the conducting staff at the Metropolitan Opera, replacing Pierre Monteux in the French repertoire. His made his debut on 21 November 1919, in Gounod's Faust. Although Wolff's work with the company received consistently positive reviews from critics, he spent less than two full seasons at the Metropolitan Opera. While with the company Wolff was able to conduct several performances of his own opera L'oiseau bleu, the premiere being in the presence of Maurice Maeterlinck, whose play of the same name the opera was based on.[1]

Later career

Wolff returned to the Opéra-Comique in 1921, succeeding André Messager as chief conductor, a position he held for the next three years.[1] He notably conducted the first Paris performances of L'enfant et les sortileges and Angélique by Ibert, and the world premiere of Le brebis égarée (1923) by Milhaud.[1] Around this same time, he founded the Concerts Modernes Paris to provide a medium for the public performance of new works. In 1924 he resigned his post at the Opéra-Comique and became musical director of the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées.

In 1925 he became second conductor of the Concerts Pasdeloup, greatly extending his work in purely orchestral music (including an appearance at the Royal Albert Hall, London in 1926); he later served as head conductor and director of the Pasdeloup from 1934–1940. From 1928 to 1934 he became principal conductor of the Orchestre Lamoureux.[1] He notably conducted the premiere of Roussel's 4th symphony (which was dedicated to him) with the Orchestre Lamoureux in October 1935; he had previously made the premiere recording of Roussel's 3rd symphony with the Lamoureux.[5][6] In 1938 he was twice a guest conductor at the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra;[7] in 1947 he conducted the same orchestra with Geirr Tveitt in a recording of the latter's 3rd piano concerto. He also conducted a radio performance of his own flute concerto with Per Wang as soloist with Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra on NRK.

Wolff conducted the premieres of the opéra-comiques L'École des maris (1935) and Madame Bovary (1951) by Emmanuel Bondeville.[8]

In 1945 he became director of the Opéra-Comique for a short while. While there, he conducted the first performance of Poulenc's Les mamelles de Tirésias (1947) and although he resigned from the position not long after he took it, Wolff continued to conduct occasionally at the theatre up until his death in 1970. He conducted 124 performances of Pelléas et Mélisande at the house, more than any other conductor.[9] He also became associated with the Paris Opera where he became a conductor beginning in 1949.[1] In 1960 he conducted the Ravel Piano Concerto in G major in Stockholm with the eminent Swedish pianist Lars Sellergren.

He died on 20 February 1970.


Having made a couple of records with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 1928,[10] Albert Wolff made many recordings of French orchestral music for Polydor in Paris in the 1930s,[11] along with some Russian pieces, and abridged versions of Faust and La Bohème (in French).[12]

In the 1950s he set down opera and orchestral music for Decca, first in mono and later a few in stereo. His recordings included Carmen, and Bizet's complete music (in the context of the play) for L'Arlésienne. With the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra, his discography included Adam's Giselle (complete) and Glazunov's The Seasons, overtures by Berlioz, Auber, Hérold, Suppé, Nicolai and Řezníček, orchestral works by Falla, Ravel, Lalo and Franck, Gustave Charpentier's Impressions d'Italie and Massenet's Scènes Pittoresques and Scènes Alsaciennes.[13] With the Pasdeloup Orchestra, he recorded Landowski's Symphony No. 1 'Jean de la Peur'.

Some of his opera recordings for French radio have subsequently been issued on CD, such as Adam's Le chalet (Gaité-Lyrique label), Massenet's Thaïs (Le Chant du Monde) and Bondeville's L'École des maris (Decca/London).



  • Sœur Béatrice (1911 ; Nice, 1948),
  • Le marchand de masques (Nice, 1914),
  • L'oiseau bleu (New York, 27 December 1919).


  • Le clochard, from a scenario by his son Pierre.

Music for orchestra

  • La randonnée de l'âme défunte
  • Concerto pour flûte (1943)
  • Symphonie en la

Other works


  1. Christiane Spieth-Weissenbacher: "Albert Wolff", Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy, (subscription access) (Accessed 18 January 2009)
  2. Cinquante Ans de Musique Française de 1874 à 1925. Les Éditions Musicales de la Librairie de France, Paris, 1925.
  3. Laurent, F. "Albert Wolff". Notes for Testament CD 1308, 2003.
  4. Opstad, G. Debussy's Melisande. The lives of Georgette Leblanc, Mary Garden and Maggie Teyte. The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 2009.
  5. Sanders, A. Liner notes to André Cluytens - A French Collection CDs. London, Testament, 2002.
  6. Manduell, J. "Albert Roussel" in The Symphony, 2: Elgar to the Present Day ed. R. Simpson, London: Penguin, 1967.
  7. Andersen, RJ. Norges Musikk Historie. Accessed 16.1.09.
  8. Wolff, Stéphane. Un demi-siècle d'Opéra-Comique 1900–1950. André Bonne, Paris, 1953.
  9. Pelléas et Mélisande. L’Avant-Scène Opera. 9, March–April 1977.
  10. CHARM accessed 25 October 2010
  11. Most of those from 1928–1932 were re-issued on CD by Timpani in 1994.
  12. Darrell, R. D. The Gramophone Shop Encyclopedia of Recorded Music. The Gramophone Shop Inc, New York, 1936.
  13. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 11 June 2010. Retrieved 25 October 2010.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  • Biography: Jean-Philippe Mousnier: Albert Wolff - Eugène Bigot, Edition L'Harmattan 2001. (in French)
Cultural offices
Preceded by
Paul Paray
Principal Conductors, Lamoureux Orchestra
Succeeded by
Eugène Bigot
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