Ann Wolff – a short biography
Born in 1924, in Bath, to a Scottish mother and English father, Ann spent her younger years at her father’s boarding school in Cockfosters, where she mingled with the boarders – all boys – and spent her days under the care of her governess.
She liked to recount the story of how she became acquainted with one of the teachers there – John Betjeman. When he asked her what her name was she said “A Na Na”, which – as she was learning how to read at the time – seemed to be the appropriate pronunciation. From then on, whenever he met her around the school he would recite the ditty “Hark to the trains they go A Na Na, A Na Na”.
Ann attended Dartington School, an institution renowned for its emphasis on creativity and personal freedom. She lived there as a boarder throughout her teenage years, and appears to have been greatly influenced by this relaxed and non-conformist environment.
In 1949, she married Heinz Wolff. They lived in Hampstead, where they brought up their three children.
Throughout the family years, Ann worked on a stream of creative endeavours. While Nicholas, Janet and Charlotte were young, she would decorate the walls with handcrafted murals, make beautiful clothes, and entertain them on holiday by making costumes out of leaves. After studying film at the Royal College of Art, she began to make her own films, often using her family as the cast.
By 1967, she was working alongside some maverick personalities, such as the writer and raconteur Quentin Crisp, and director Don Levy, helping to produce films such as Herostratus, which had a huge influence on the filming community.
She went on to work as a producer for several years, creating documentaries at London Weekend Television, and forming, in the process, some lasting friendships with beat poets, fellow filmmakers, and other creatives. Many of these remained close to her for years to come.
Her novel, The Grand Master Plan – a disturbing tale of a murderous and rebellious child – was published in 1985.
In 1975 Ann helped found the London Musician’s Collective, an organisation devoted to experimental music and improvisation. Later, Ann became a key member of CoMA (Contemporary Music for All) and London Composers’ Forum.
Ann has been a member of Contakt since its inception in 2009.
In all of these organisations, Ann played flute and, later, theremin and composed music for a wide variety of instrumental groups and genres, including:
small chamber groups
vocal music – opera, choir and songs
You can listen to these pieces on the website (see Past Events):
A very big noise
Tough on Time
Tributes from members of Contakt:
Derek – Ann was a determined individual and an efficient organiser. I will remember the humour that was often involved in her life and her music.
Karen – Ann was a real character, with a wicked sense of humour – quite irreplaceable.
Paul – Ann, and her music, was inspiringly bold, mischievous, confident, and assertive.
Kerry – I knew Ann since the first CoMA (Contemporary Music for All) summer school in 1993. She was then 68 and starting out on a new venture with the rest of us – making new music (a genre without borders, if that is possible). Ann was a great mix of naive and ‘professional’ – I think that is what I most admired and most related to in her. Today, we tend to undervalue the amateur – but it is often the most creative part of us. Ann had an unerring belief in the creative impulse – a raw truth of our lives.
Debbie – I found this in a programme note Ann wrote. It says what I saw in Ann better than I can: “Sometimes there comes a moment when you wish to state where you are and where you are going, and the Statement of Intent is one such point of rest before leaping forward again. I wrote this a little while ago but still I wish to state both loud and clear that I am here now and the musicians and the soloists add to the determination to keep leaping.”
Like Ann, I was at the first wonderfully stimulating CoMA summer school in 1993 and I met her again at many subsequent ones as well as other CoMA activities. I didn’t know any of the background that I’ve just read here, but she was always stimulating company. It’s a while since I’ve managed to get to a CoMA event, but if I do it will seem strange not to see her there.