Education in Salzburg
Joseph Johann Baptist Woelfl was born in Salzburg 24 December 1773. As a child Joseph Woelfl was taught in playing the violin and the piano and in theory by Leopold, Nannerl and W. A. Mozart. He was treated like a family member in the Mozart household. As a 7-year-old he played his first public concert as violin soloist. In 1783 he joined the Kapellhaus of the Salzburg Cathedral where he had different famous teachers, e.g. Leopold Mozart and Michael Haydn. Between 1786 and 1788 Woelfl was a student of the Benediktineruniversität. Music preserved from his time in Salzburg shows that he must have had lessons in composition, too. In 1790 Woelfl came to W.A. Mozart as a well-educated pianist.
Warsaw, Vienna, Concert Tours
Mozart recommended his friend to Prince Michał Kleofas Ogiński in Warsawa as piano tutor. Two years later Woelfl was established as an independent musician and worked there very successfully. The Third Polish Partition in the year of 1795 made it necessary for Woelfl to return to Vienna where he went public as pianist and composer of operatic, piano and chamber music works. He achieved a special public awareness by his virtuous performance as well as improvisation in 1798 when he relegated Beethoven to the second place at a piano competition, as is testified in contemporary papers. Between 1799 and 1801 he undertook extended concert tours to German musical centres (e.g. Dresden, Berlin, Leipzig, Hamburg, etc.). The success he had there was described in various reviews by AmZ (Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung: a musical paper published in Leipzig by Breitkopf and Härtel in the 19th century). Breitkopf and Härtel became the main publisher of his works following a recommendation by Konstanze Mozart.
When Woelfl came to Paris in 1801 he was welcomed as “le fameux Wolff, l’un des hommes les plus étonnans de l’Europe, sur le piano”. Here he took a leading position in concert life and stood out as a composer of operas as well as orchestral and chamber music works.
1805 Woelfl went to London, where concert organizers competed in winning him for their events. As a composer he was offered the most honourable contracts. After three years Woelfl rated as the most important musician of the city and his income exceeded those of J. Haydn, W. A. Mozart and L. v. Beethoven combined. He lived in Marylebone, a very classy suburb where most of his works, which encompass all kinds of music were composed. On 21 May 1812 Woelfl died at home after a short illness but highly esteemed and very well off. His early death was the price he paid for his actively pursued careers as pianist, composer, piano teacher and composition teacher. It was said in an obituary that there was supposed to be no household in England without a sheet music by Woelfl on the piano.
After his death his works were published by various publishers till the end of the 19th century. In British musical history Joseph Woelfl is eminent as founder of the British pianist school and pioneer of English-Classicism. In the history of 19th century piano music he is considered as the role model for Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy and Franz Liszt. More about Woelfl’s life can be found in: Haider-Dechant, Margit: „Joseph Woelfl. Verzeichnis seiner Werke“
Joseph Woelfl, 24th December 1773 - 21th May 1812