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.
H. Stuckenschmidt, 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, who teaches and encourages him to moderate his early rebellion against romantic music while teaching him the aesthetics of atonal music. Wolpe, attracted to modern art, literally falls in the arms of the Dada and Bauhaus movements. To show his support to those movements he sets some of their poems to music. In 1922, he joins the November- gruppe where he meets other radical composers like Hanns Eisler, Kurt Weill and Vladimir Vogel, 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 and 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, when 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 from Midian' (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, Parnassus, and Speculum Musicae. At last he's recognize when he's presented two Guggenheim fellowships 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 at Weimar, where he learned aesthetics in design from Paul Klee, Feininger, Walter Gropius, Vasily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg. Even in the US, Wolpe didn't neglect art where 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.
Symphony, 1955-1956.
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
Ebony Band/NPS

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