Christian Wolff was born in Nice, France. He's lived mostly in the U.S. since 1941. He studied piano with Grete Sultan and composition, briefly, with John Cage. Though mostly self-taught as composer, the work of John Cage, Morton Feldman, David Tudor and Earle Brown have been important to him, as well as long associations with Cornelius Cardew and Frederic Rzewski. A particular feature of his music is the various freedoms it allows performers at the time of performance as well as the variable results possible for any one particular piece, for which various new notations have been invented. Underlying notions in the work are shared freedom, self-determination and democratically-spirited collaboration.
He has received awards and grants from the American Academy and National Institute of Arts and Letters, the Ford Foundation, DAAD Berlin, the Asian Cultural Council, the Fromm Foundation, the Mellon Foundation and Meet the Composer. In 1995 he received the John Cage Award for Music from the Foundation for Contemporary Performing Arts. He is a member of the Akademie der Kuenste in Berlin and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2004 he received an honorary Doctor of Arts degree from the California Institute of the Arts. Academically trained as a classicist, Wolff taught classics at Harvard from 1963 to 1970 and was professor of classics and music at Dartmouth College from 1971 to 1999.