Pius Alexander Wolff

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Pius Alexander Wolff

Pius Alexander Wolff , also Wolf, (born May 3, 1782 in Augsburg , † August 28, 1828 in Weimar ) was a German actor and writer. He was the husband of actress Amalie Wolff-Malcolmi .

Live and act

On May 3, 1782, Pius Alexander Wolff came to Augsburg as the son of the bookseller Franz Xaver Wolff († January 29, 1803) and his wife Sabina, b. Schropp (1754-1821) to the world. He enjoyed the initial upbringing and lessons at home from a private tutor before he attended the Jesuit college St. Salvator in Augsburg to become a clergyman.

Commercial instead of spiritual training

When his mother inherited a flourishing business, his parents decided to let him learn a trade. They sent him on a journey at an early stage so that he could gain further training and business skills. Pius Alexander learned French, English, Italian and Spanish and read the writers in the respective national languages. He also practiced drawing and painting, poetry and making music.

On September 9, 1797, he began a commercial apprenticeship with his mother's relatives in Berlin in the Schropp art and map shop . During his training, he attended the theater in Berlin, where August Wilhelm Iffland , Ferdinand Fleck and Heinrich Eduard Bethmann celebrated great successes. At the end of his training, he made an extensive trip to the Rhine at the end of 1800, which took him via Schaffhausen to Basel , Colmar and Strasbourg .

Discovered love for acting

In Strasbourg he played in a family performance for lovers and took so much pleasure in acting that on his return to Augsburg he and other young, educated people founded a society of amateurs which performed the first plays to much applause - much to the displeasure of his father. It was only when his father died on January 29, 1803 that he was able to tackle the long-term decision to become an actor. Without his mother's knowledge, he went to Weimar, where he hoped to be introduced to acting and beautiful literature by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe .

On June 28, 1803, on the way to Weimar, his friend from Augsburg, Karl Franz Grüner , joined him in Nuremberg , who also wanted to be trained as an actor after his military service. Together they arrived in Weimar on July 21, 1803 and immediately introduced themselves to Goethe. At that time, however, Goethe had "pretty much thrown theater out of mind", but let the two young people inspire him again for the theater. Since he had just the time and was enjoying his serene calm, he instructed both of them thoroughly in his ideas about acting, from which his now famous rules for actors developed. He even wrote to Pius Alexander Wolff's mother to reassure her about her son's decision.

Engagement in the Weimar court theater and acting lessons by Goethe

The old court theater around 1800

With a six-month probationary period, Wolff received a three-year engagement at the Weimar court theater . Goethe was very satisfied with him.

"As much as I have worked on the whole and some things have been stimulated by me, I can only name one person who has developed from the ground up according to my own ideas: that was the actor Wolff!"

- Goethe in conversation with Eckermann

Goethe shaped Wolff personally and tried to shape his taste through the roles he gave him to play, including those in pieces by Friedrich Schiller .

“Wolff loved his teacher like a child, like a father Goethe loved his pupil. And this bond of spirits and hearts lasted until the latest days, until the last moment when Goethe inquired about the condition of the dying person in heartily worried lines from his country seat. "

On October 1, 1803, Wolff appeared for the first time in the Weimar Court Theater in the first performance of Shakespeare's " Julius Caesar ". Wolf played the three small roles of Cinna, Marcellus and Massala. The next major role that Goethe gave him was Seid in Voltaire's “ Mahomet ”. Goethe was so satisfied with Wolff's portrayal that he regularly entrusted him with smaller roles. Nevertheless, some time passed before Wolff was able to sound out his inclinations and the subject for which his talent was most suitable. He strove for formal perfection, the goal of the Goethesche Theater School.

In his appreciation for Wolff and his work, Goethe had Wolff's first play performed on May 26, 1804, The Three Prisoners , a revision of a French comedy by Emmanuel Dupaty . Wolff's first piece remained in the repoire of the German theaters for a long time.

On December 26, 1804, he married his newly divorced colleague Amalie Becker, b. Malcomi, who was employed at the Weimar Court Theater in 1794 at the age of 11.

Amelie Wolff-Malcomi as the Maid of Orleans

Wolff's next two smaller dramatic pieces were also performed the following year. On February 2, 1805, the comedy The Complacency , written in verse, was performed, followed by the one-act farce Bankrott aus Liebe on May 8, 1805 . Unfortunately, both pieces have been lost. In the same year Wolff played the dervish Al Hafi in Lessing's Nathan the Wise and showed his talent as Anton in Ifflands Jäger , as Leiceister in Friedrich Schiller's Maria Stuart and as Weislingen in Goethe's Götz von Berlichingen . His portrayal of the Leiceister was regarded as exemplary.

Wolff Spiel harmonized on stage (as in life) with that of his wife. He played the title role in Goethe's Tasso , while his wife played the princess. Both played together in Iphigenie and in Romeo and Juliet . She often carried away her more timid husband with her temperament.

"Wolff gained inner stability through this marriage, it protected him from many errors and contributed to keeping his artistic pursuits pure"

In 1806 the warlike events did not stop at Weimar. The Duchess Anna Amalia fled into exile with her lady-in-waiting. Weimar was sacked by the French.

In 1807 the Weimar Theater gave a guest performance with the two Wolffs in Leipzig, at which his wife was celebrated.

Wolff saw the famous actor François-Joseph Talma at the Erfurt Prince Congress in 1808 . When Talma came to Weimar at Goethe's invitation, Wolff and Talma became friends. It became a friendship for life.

On May 17, 1809, Wolf appeared for the first time as Hamlet in Shakespeare's play, which the brothers August Wilhelm and Friedrich Schlegel had re-translated. His portrayal was praised as first class by the critics.

In the twenty-fourth February by Zacharias Werner , performed on February 24, 1810, the Wolffs as Kurt and Trude were triumphant according to Goethe's judgment.

“Werner's twenty-fourth February, performed on his day, was utterly a triumph of perfect representation. The horror of the subject vanished before the purity and safety of the performance; the attentive connoisseur left nothing to be desired. "

- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

In the same year, the Weimar court theater performed Wolff's comedy Caesario , which was rated as his best to date. Wolff and his wife were the first to play Goethe's Faust . The admired August Wilhelm Iffland gave a guest performance in Weimar and invited the Wolffs to a guest performance in Berlin. However, they could not accept the invitation until 1811, as they had not received any leave beforehand: Goethe tried to prevent the Weimar actors from appearing on foreign stages because of the risk of being enticed away.

Guest performance in Berlin and end in Weimar

The Wolff couple first gave a few performances in Leipzig in April 1811. It arrived in Berlin at the end of the month and took part in the plays agreed with Iffland. However, according to the regulations of the Berlin theater, they were not allowed to perform together. Wolff's talent only unfolded in interaction with his wife. Wolff's brilliant roles, Hamlet and Torquato Tasso , were also not rehearsed in Iffland's theater. It did not escape the audience that different views about acting separated Wolff and Iffland. The Wolffs were accused of being unnatural and stiff, even if one acknowledged the good presentation and both responses to the roles. As a result, Wolff tried to better combine idealistic and realistic representation.

The reception of the returnees in Weimar was warm. Goethe showered her with recognition for her achievements, including lines on Amalie Wolff's birthday. Nevertheless, the Wolffs looked around for other engagement. The office of director was denied Pius Alexander by Franz Kirms .

When Count Brühl, who had taken over the management of the Royal Theater in Berlin after Iffland's death , made them an offer, they accepted it. When his Weimar contract expired on September 28, 1815, Wolff also submitted his request for dismissal on behalf of his wife. On October 27th, Goethe reluctantly accepted it. Unpleasant arguments ensued over the return of cloakroom items and the repayment of advances. Unaffected by this, the two Wolffs said goodbye to the Weimar audience on March 28, 1816 with Romeo and Juliet . Goethe's anger also subsided. He asked his friend Carl Friedrich Zelter to tell him about their reception in Berlin.

Member of the Royal Stage in Berlin

Pius Alexander Wolff as the steadfast prince in Calderón 's drama of the same name

Initially, the Wolffs in Berlin were to receive 3,000 thalers a year, 1,700 thalers for Amalie and 1,000 thalers for Pius Alexander. The rules were later changed in his favor, which meant a significant salary increase.

Wolff's first appearance on April 23, 1816 as a member of the Royal Stage was eagerly awaited. Wolff chose the role of Hamlet and the critics attested him significant progress compared to his previous guest appearance. Zelter reported to Goethe that he was paying tribute to his pupil. Amalie Wolff as Phaidra made her debut less happily because she was measured by the expectations that her predecessor, Friederike Bethmann-Unzelmann , had aroused in the audience in this role. In the beginning neither of them had an easy position. One missed liveliness and naturalness in their play. The audience's favor also changed. If she was previously in guest performances with Amalie Wolff, now she has shifted more to her husband.

Soon, however, both won hearts with their play, especially after Count Brühl gave Pius Alexander the direction of the drama and mourning. The first major success he achieved on October 15, 1816 with the performance of "Steadfast Prince" by Pedro Calderón de la Barca . In this role, which he had already played in Weimar, Wolff received "the greatest and well-deserved fame".

In contrast to Weimar, the Wolffs did not feel at home in the lively city of Berlin and liked to withdraw from society. They were in a small circle of close friends, including the Beer family , Karoline Bauer and the so-called Wednesday Society - an association of artists, writers and art lovers.

The Berliner Schauspielhaus burned down on July 29, 1817. After that Wolff had to play in the opera house, the huge room of which gave him vocally problems.

Diseases and death

In the period that followed, diseases increased. Nevertheless, Wolff met his obligations conscientiously, performed with his wife on guest tours and wrote on his pieces. In 1818 he completed the farce Der Hund des Aubry and on March 14, 1821 Preciosa was given for the first time in Berlin with incidental music by Carl Maria von Weber . During this creative period, in the autumn of 1821, an encephalitis robbed him of the ability to read and speak for 28 days.

After an acclaimed appearance on April 10, 1822 as Orest and Iphigenie in Dresden , the couple made the acquaintance of the writer Ludwig Tieck . Back in Berlin, Wolff fell ill with a fever that kept him from giving presentations until the end of January 1823. A trip to the south of France in 1824 brought little improvement.

In this situation Wolff took up negotiations with the Dresden stage , for which Tieck tried to win the couple. They were offered a salary of 4,000 thalers for life and were otherwise accommodating. But Wolff's hopes failed because of the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm III. who politely, appreciatively and flatteringly declined the request for dismissal.

Because of his health, Wolff resigned from his position as a director in 1823 and only rarely appeared in Berlin. In the autumn of 1825 he asked for a longer vacation for a cure in Nice , which doctors had advised. Since the cure did not work, he traveled to Paris in December . There he arranged his theatrical affairs and met Talma again. Wolff then continued his interrupted cure in Bad Ems and apparently returned to Berlin strengthened after a ten-month absence.

However, his larynx tuberculosis worsened and finally deprived him of speech in 1828. He broke off another cure in Bad Ems when he felt it was coming to an end. On the return trip to Berlin he had to take a break in Weimar. There he died on August 28, 1828. At his funeral on Sunday, August 31, his colleague Karl Ludwig Oels , a Freemason like Wolff, gave the funeral speech. Goethe, who was not in Weimar, sent a lyre woven from ivy to decorate the grave.

Amalie Wolff continued to perform at the Berlin theater until an eye disease ended her career in 1844. Despite physical ailments, she remained mentally fit until her death on August 28, 1851. She was buried in the Dreifaltigkeitsfriedhof in Berlin.

Of all the works by Pius Alexander Wolff, Preciosa has still remained in the repertoire of the theater. It was translated into foreign languages, such as Danish and English and - somewhat mutilated into an opera - into French. With his other works, however, Wolff was unable to assert himself on stage, especially since they suffered from a certain sentimentality. His talent lay in lyric poetry; in drama he did invent comical situations, which he was sure to get, but his characters degenerated too much into the grotesque and therefore often fell into caricature unintentionally. This fact also explains why his comedies and antics survived the change of taste pretty well.


Pius Alexander Wolff: The valet . Digitized version of a Reclam edition from approx. 1870 ( Reclam's Universal Library )
  • The three prisoners , drama, 1804
  • Der Smugly , comedy, one-act play in verse, 1805 (lost)
  • Bankruptcy out of love , Posse, 1805 (lost)
  • Caesario , Comedy in five acts, 1810
  • Duty for duty , drama, 1817
  • Aubry's Hound , Posse, 1818
  • Preciosa , drama (with incidental music by Carl Maria von Weber ), 1820
  • Adele von Budoy , Singspiel in One Act, 1821
  • The Signs of Marriage , Posse in Four Acts, 1828
  • Loyalty wins in love networks, play in one act, 1828, in: Jahrbuch dt. Bühnenspiele, Vol. 7
  • The valet , Posse, first edition 1832


"If you are well received somewhere, you don't have to come twice."

- Pius Alexander Wolff


  • Ludwig Eisenberg : Pius Alexander Wolff . In: Large biographical lexicon of the German stage in the XIX. Century. Paul List, Leipzig 1903, p. 1142 ( daten.digitale-sammlungen.de ).
  • Hermann Arthur LierWolff, Pius Alexander . In: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Volume 44, Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1898, pp. 45-51.
  • Max Martersteig : Pius Alexander Wolff. A biographical contribution to the theater. and literary history. Leipzig, 1879
  • Ernst Pasqué : Goethe's theater management in Weimar. Leipzig 1868, Volume II
  • G. Gleich: From the stage world. Leipzig, 1863 II, pp. 9-20
  • WG Gotthardi: Weimar theater images from Goethe's time. Jena and Leipzig, 1865 II, pp. 38–51
  • Hans-Georg Böhme: The Weilburger Goethe finds. Sheets from the estate of Pius Alexander Wolff. ISBN 3-7849-0914-0
  • Hans-Georg Böhme: Pius Alexander Wolff: The Weilburger Goethe finds. Lechte, 1950
  • Hans Wahl, Anton Kippenberg: Goethe and his world. Insel-Verlag, Leipzig 1932 p. 156, 273
  • Karoline Bauer: From my stage life. A selection from the artist's memoirs. Published by Karl von Hollander. Gustav Kiepenheuer Verlag, Weimar 1917
  • Dieter Götze: The memoirs of Karoline Bauer . In: Berlin monthly magazine ( Luisenstädtischer Bildungsverein ) . Issue 7, 1998, ISSN  0944-5560 , p. 84-86 ( luise-berlin.de ).

Web links

Commons : Pius Alexander Wolff  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Wolff, Pius Alexander. In: Carl-Maria-von-Weber-Gesamtausgabe. Digital edition (version 3.5.1). August 26, 2019, accessed December 19, 2019 .
  2. According to Winged Words Der Citatenschatz des Deutschen Volkes . Collected and explained by Georg Büchmann, continued by Walter Robert-Tornow. 19th edition. Haude & Spener'sche Buchhandlung (F. Weidling), Berlin 1898, p. 239.