He first appeared in public as a soloist on the violin at the age of seven. Moving to Vienna in 1790 he visited Wolfgang Mozart and may have taken lessons from him. His first opera, Der Höllenberg, appeared there in 1795.
Wölfl was very tall (over 6 feet), and with an enormous fingerspan (his hand could strike a thirteenth, according to his contemporary Frantisek Tomasek); to his wide grasp of the keyboard he owed a facility of execution which he turned to good account, especially in his extempore performances.
Although he dedicated his 1798 sonatas op. 6 to Beethoven, the two were rivals. Beethoven however completely trounced Wölfl in a piano 'duel' at the house of Count Wetzlar in 1799, after which Wölfl's local popularity waned. After spending the years 1801 -1805 in Paris, Wölfl moved to London, where his first concert performance was on May 27, 1805.
Here he enjoyed commercial if not critical success. In 1808 he published his Sonata, Op. 41, which, on account of its technical difficulty, he entitled Non Plus Ultra; and, in reply to the challenge, a sonata by Dussek, originally called Le Retour à Paris, was reprinted with the title Plus Ultra, and an ironic dedication to Non Plus Ultra. He also completed for publication an unfinished sonata of George Pinto.
Wölfl died in Great Marylebone Street, London, on the 21st of May 1812.
Wölfl's works have long disappeared from the concert repertory. However, in 2003 four selected piano sonatas of his (Op. 25 and Op. 33) were brought back to life and recorded by the pianist Jon Nakamatsu (Harmonia Mundi CD # 907324).
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