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Stefan Wolpe

August 25, 1902 - April 4, 1972
born in Berlin, Germany, composed during the Modern period
Stefan Wolpe was a composer notable for providing a fresh perspective on atonality. Despite excursions into popular, folk and jazz idioms, Wolpe continued to compose in atonal styles throughout his career. His works are often characterized by cross-cutting and discontinuity between different musical gestures and textures, quite possibly an influence he gathered from Dadaism. Wolpe was an influential teacher in the United States, where his pupils included Morton Feldman, Ralph Shapey and Charles Wuorinen.

Wolpe spent the early part of his life in Berlin, a stimulating artistic milieu in the 1920s and 1930s. He associated there with the Bauhaus, studied composition with the expressionist composer Schreker, and became a devotee of Busoni. He supported himself as a jazz pianist in cabaret and cinemas.

Wolpe's early compositions use the 12-tone techniques of Schoenberg and the Second Viennese School. From the outset he favored irregular rhythms and contrapuntal textures, and his music is notable for avoiding the isolated points of sound (pointillism) which was common to Schoenberg and his followers. He was also influenced by jazz and popular dance music in such pieces as Tango (1927), and his socialist convictions led him to reflect on the function of music in society. At this time he believed that music should be socially useful; he wrote worker's songs and pieces that satirized society. He also simplified his dense, atonal writing, making it more accessible to people without musical training.

When the Nazis rose to power in Germany, Wolpe fled from the country, traveling through Russia and Rumania before landing in Vienna in 1933-1934, and studied there with Webern. From Vienna he moved to Palestine, where he became interested in his Jewish musical heritage. He absorbed traits of the local music, which found their way into such works as Songs From the Hebrew (1938) for soprano and piano, and the ballet suite Man From Midian (1942). He also wrote songs and choruses for the Kibbutz movement, several of which have become folk songs in Israel.

In 1938 Wolpe moved to New York, where his mature style crystallized. Important works from this period are Enactments (1950-53) for three pianos, Battle Piece (1947) for solo piano, and the notorious Symphony (1956). Wolpe's association with influential artists and musicians continued in America, where he had connections with New York jazz musicians and Abstract Expressionist painters. From 1952-1956 he taught at Black Mountain College with John Cage, David Tudor and Lou Harrison. In the 1950s and early 1960s he regularly lectured at the Darmstadt Summer School. He contracted Parkinson's Disease in 1964, which proved fatal. ~ Rachel Campbell, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

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Track List: Stefan Wolpe: The Man from Midian; Sonata for violin & piano

Title: The Man From Midian, Ballet For 2 Pianos, C. 97

1. The Man From Midian, Ballet For 2 Pianos, C. 97: Overture

2. The Man From Midian, Ballet For 2 Pianos, C. 97: Serfdom Lamentation

3. The Man From Midian, Ballet For 2 Pianos, C. 97: Mother Conceives Child

4. The Man From Midian, Ballet For 2 Pianos, C. 97: Pharoah's Daughter Bathes In The Nile, Finds The Baby

5. The Man From Midian, Ballet For 2 Pianos, C. 97: Procession

6. The Man From Midian, Ballet For 2 Pianos, C. 97: Pet Of The Court-political Intrigue

7. The Man From Midian, Ballet For 2 Pianos, C. 97: Moses Among The Workers

8. The Man From Midian, Ballet For 2 Pianos, C. 97: Moses Buries The Taskmaster In The Sand

9. The Man From Midian, Ballet For 2 Pianos, C. 97: Conversation With God

10. The Man From Midian, Ballet For 2 Pianos, C. 97: Moses Meets Aaron;command Of Moses For The Waters

11. The Man From Midian, Ballet For 2 Pianos, C. 97: March Through The Red Sea

12. The Man From Midian, Ballet For 2 Pianos, C. 97: Restlessness

13. The Man From Midian, Ballet For 2 Pianos, C. 97: Aaron's Depseration

14. The Man From Midian, Ballet For 2 Pianos, C. 97: Joshua's Pleading

15. The Man From Midian, Ballet For 2 Pianos, C. 97: Bacchanal

16. The Man From Midian, Ballet For 2 Pianos, C. 97: Return Of Moses:breaking Of Tablets;moses Falls On The Arm Of Joshua

17. The Man From Midian, Ballet For 2 Pianos, C. 97: Moses Walks Among The People;commands Some To Be Killed

18. The Man From Midian, Ballet For 2 Pianos, C. 97: Gathering Of People

Title: Sonata, For Violin & Piano, C. 117

19. Sonata, For Violin & Piano, C. 117: Un Poco Allegro - Garrick Ohlsson

20. Sonata, For Violin & Piano, C. 117: Andante Appassionato - Garrick Ohlsson

21. Sonata, For Violin & Piano, C. 117: Lento:scherzo - Garrick Ohlsson

22. Sonata, For Violin & Piano, C. 117: Allegretto Deciso - Garrick Ohlsson

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