Plunging from ecstasy to ecstasy, from extreme to extreme, passionately
investigating the materials and ideology of his art, he has demonstrated in
numerous works of all kinds a more than exceptional talent that awaits maturity.
, music critic (1928)
Wolpe, born in Berlin in 1902, was the 3th child in a Jewish-Rusian-Austrian family. Thanks
to his mother he is sent to the Berlin conservatory. Under Alfred Richter he studies
fugue, but he doesn't feel attracted to the music style and (after an incident) he's sent home.
He then follows the Berliner Hogeschule für Musik (1920), but here he also feels that he
is only taught how to write fugues. In 1921 he meets Ferruccio Busoni
teaches and encourages him to moderate his early rebellion
music while teaching him the aesthetics of atonal music
. Wolpe, attracted to modern
art, literally falls in the arms of the Dada
movements. To show his support
to those movements he sets some of their poems to music. In 1922, he joins the November-
where he meets other radical composers like Hanns Eisler
, Kurt Weill
, a group devoted to change the style of composing by using modern music like Jazz.
Stolpe, attracted by the Jazz music, writes his 'Zeus and Elida' (an absurd 'Chamber Opera').
The Depression abruptly ends the popularity of the new music, and Stolpe (who also learned
that his music is pretty hard to understand and to perform) joins the German Communist Party
. For the party
he writes several agitprop
songs and several (anti-fascist) plays, like the extremely popular
'Die Mausfall' (The Mouse trap
). The rise of the Nazis and the arrestment of his brother,
forces Stolpe to flee from Germany. He rejects an Russian offer to live in Moscow
decides to settle down in Palestine
instead. In Jeruzalem he composes mainly Hebrew Chorals
while teaching at several schools. In 1938 he finally decides to move on to New York
he learns that his music isn't really appreciated as the way it was in Berlin
In America, he concentrates on producing twelve tone system
based musical scores like 'The Man
' (ballet, 1940) but as most German refugees experienced, initially, his music isn't recognized
and most of time ignored by the New York music establishment. From 1952 to 1956 he becomes director of music
at the Black Mountain College
and here composes his first Symphony (1956). During the 60s, Wolpe's
music finally gets embraced by renowned ensembles like Continuum
, the Group for Contemporary Music
, and Speculum Musicae
At last he's recognize when he's presented two Guggenheim fellowship
s and when he's awarded a membership in the
National Institute of Arts and Letters
. The last 10 years of his life he fights a Parkinson disease
Some months after finishing his last piece ('Piece for Trumpet and Seven Instruments', 1971) he dies in New York, April 1972.
Wolpe composed in too many genres and styles, and was reputed to be a 'twelvetoner'.
Whatever the medium, his music is characterized by spontaneous vitality, physical presence and
musical traps, hearable in his most famous work 'Zeus and Elida'. Even nowadays, musicians
have troubles to play the complex score of the absurd opera or all his other works.
Wolpe was clearly a proponent in combining visual art with his music, which clearly stems from his time at the Bauhaus
Weimar, where he learned aesthetics in design from Paul Klee
, Walter Gropius
, Vasily Kandinsky
and Theo van Doesburg
. Even in the US, Wolpe didn't neglect art
he embraced the New York abstract expressionist painters and attended meetings of the
Eighth Street Club
Important Works (chronological order)
Fünf Lieder nach Friedrich Hölderlin, op. 1, 1924, rev. 1935.
Duo für Zwei Geigen, op. 2, 1924.
Drei Lieder nach Heinrich von Kleist, op. 3, 1925.
Sonata für Klavier, 1925.
Zeus und Elida, op. 5a, chamber opera, 1928.
Schöne Geschichten, op. 5b, chamber opera, 1927-1929.
An Anna Blume von Kurt Schwitters, op. 5c, scene for tenor and piano, 1929.
Vier Lieder auf Texte von Lenin, Majakowski, und anderen, op. 7, 1929.
Sechs Klavierstücke, 1920-1929.
Drei Lieder von Willi für Alt und Klavier, op. 8, 1929.
Drei Arbeitslieder von Thomas Ring, op. 9, 1929-1930.
Cinq marches caracteristiques, for piano, op. 10, 1928-1934.
Ballade von Karl Schmidt aus der grauen Stadt (Text: Johannes R. Becher
), cantata for chorus and piano, op. 11, 1930.
Acht Lieder auf Texte von Heine, Ottwalt, Weinert und anderen, op. 12, 1929-1931.
Vier Antikriegslieder, op. 16, 1931.
Musik zur Die Mausefalle (Text: Wangenheim), op. 18a, 1931.
Marsch und Variationen für Zwei Klaviere, op. 21, 1933-1934.
Konzert für Neun Instrumente, op. 22, 1933-1937.
Four Studies on Basic Rows, op. 23, for piano, 1935-1936.
Passacaglia for Orchestra, 1936.
Kleinere Canons in der Umkehrung zweier 12-tönig Correspondierender Hexachorde, op. 24a, for va and vc, 1936.
Suite im Hexachord, op. 24b, for ob and cl, 1936.
Zwei Chinesische Grabschriften, op. 25, for chorus and drums, 1937.
Four Songs from Ballad of the Unknown Soldier (Text: M. Lifshitz-N. Altermann), op. 27, chorus, 1937.
Vier Palästinischen Lieder für Alt oder Bariton und Klavier (Texts: Serubavel, N. Stern), op. 29, 1938.
Zemach Suite, for piano, 1939.
Sonata for Oboe and Piano, 1937-41.
Psalm 64 and Isaiah Chapter 35, soprano and piano, 1940.
Toccata in Three Parts for Piano, 1941.
The Man From Midian, for two pianos, 1942.
The Man From Midian, Suite for Orchestra, 1942.
Drei Lieder von Bertolt Brecht, 1943.
Yigdal (Text: Maimonides), cantata for baritone, mixed chorus, organ, 1945.
Battle Piece, for piano, 1943-1947.
Zwei Lieder aus Gedichten von Berthold Viertel, 1945.
Lazy Andy Ant (Text: Helen Fletcher), soprano and two pianos, 1947.
Two Studies for Piano, 1948.
Music for Any Instruments, 1944-1949.
Sonata for Violin and Piano, 1949.
Music for a Dancer, for piano, 1950.
Seven Pieces for Three Pianos, 1951.
Waltz for Merle, for piano, 1952.
Music for The Good Woman of Setzuan (Text. B. Brecht), 1953.
Quartet for Trumpet, Tenor Saxophone, Percussion and Piano, 1950-1954.
Enactments for Three Pianos, 1953.
Four Pieces for Mixed Chorus (Texts: Bible, G. Shofman), 1954.
Music for Peer Gynt (Text: H. Ibsen), 1954.
Piece for Oboe, Cello, Percussion, and Piano, 1955.
Quintet With Voice (Text: H. Morley), 1957.
Form for Piano, 1959.
Piece in Two Parts for Flute and Piano,1960.
Piece in Three Parts for Piano and Sixteen Instruments, 1961.
Music for The Exception and the Rule (Text: B. Brecht), 1961.
In Two Parts for Six Players, 1962.
Street Music (Text: Wolpe), cantata, 1962.
Piece for Two Instrumental Units, 1963.
Cantata (Texts: Herodotus, Hölderlin, R. Creeley), 1963.
Chamber Piece No. 1 for 14 Players, 1964.
Trio in Two Parts for Flute, Cello, and Piano, 1964.
Piece in Two Parts for Violin Alone, 1964.
16 Songs from Die Hauspostille (Text: B. Brecht), 1965.
Second Piece for Violin Alone, 1966.
Solo Piece for Trumpet, 1966.
Chamber Piece No. 2 for 13 Players, 1967.
String Quartet, 1969.
From Here On Farther, for vn, cl, Bcl, pno, 1969.
Form IV, for piano, 1969.
Piece for Trumpet and Seven Instruments, 1971.
The Stefan Wolpe Society