Books & Journals on Wolpe


»…ein grandioser Ausdruck der Zeit«
Stefan Wolpes Frühwerk und die Avantgarde der 1920er Jahre

Königshausen & Neumann, 2023

Annette Schwarzer

Irma Schoenberg Wolpe Rademacher
“… in den Wassern meines Lebens: Es flüstert, meist rauscht es und stürmt.”

edition text + kritik, 2024.

Nora Born

Das Gesetz harmonischer oder dis-harmonischer Entprechungen: Irma und Stefan Wolpe Briefwechsel 1933-1972

Nora Born (Hg.).
Munich: Edition Text + Kritik, 2016.

Additional Information: A brief essay by Austin Clarkson on this extraordinary volume.

Irma Schoenberg (1902-1984) and Stefan Wolpe (1902-1972) first became acquainted in 1927, when Irma was teaching Jacques-Dalcroze eurhythmics at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik and preparing for her concert debut, while Stefan was composing music for the theater and, with Hans Heinz Stuckenschmidt, organizing concerts for the Novembergruppe, an association of radical socialist painters, writers and composers. Stefan invited Irma to appear at some Novembergruppe event and forthwith composed Two Revolutionary Marches for Two Pianos (1928) for them to play together. It was evidently not long before Stefan recognized in Irma a soulmate, for she recalled that he wrote beautiful letters in a poetic German that “no one could understand”. The letters that they exchanged before 1933 do not survive, thus a brief account of the first five years of their relationship will provide background for their later correspondence.

When Stefan met Irma he was married to the Viennese painter Ola Okuniewska (1902-1985). Ola was a student of Johannes Itten at the Bauhaus, where Stefan met her. They were married in 1927 and lived in the Friedenau Artists’ Colony of Berlin. Ola painted in their one-room apartment, while Stefan composed in the basement studio of the Dahlem home of his patron Else Schlomann (“Schlo”). Stefan’s need to earn money from teaching and to compose and perform music for the revolution left little time for domesticity. Ola’s and Stefan’s respective mood swings further upset their relationship. When they reconciled, Ola expressed the wish to have a child. She returned to her mother’s home in Grinzing, a suburb of Vienna, and gave birth to their daughter Katharina on Sept. 9, 1931. Ola remained in Vienna with their child and studied to become a teacher. She then entered into a relationship with the Communist writer Otto Hahn, a close friend and colleague of Stefan’s.

By 1932 Stefan was a leading composer for the Communist Party in Berlin. After four hectic years as a proletarian “Musikant”, he felt the need to compose music of greater scope and value. Perhaps encouraged by Irma, he began March and Variations for Two Pianos, which he dedicated to Irma with the intent that they would perform it in support of the resistance against fascism. He composed the first six variations and sent the score to Schlomann with the request that she make a copy. When Hitler seized power in January of 1933, Stefan refused to believe that further resistance was futile. After his brother was captured and brutally beaten, Stefan knew that he must leave. Irma took him to her neighborhood, bought him a business suit and in the first week of March put him on a train bound for Czechoslovakia, where his sister Boby lived.

Stefan wrote the first three letters of this edition from the border town of Eger.

He instructs Irma to package his scores and mix up the pages so that the pieces will be difficult to figure out in case the parcel is inspected. He will tell her shortly where to send the package, as he cannot stay in Eger. The second letter asks Irma to find out the cost of renting the Mozarteum hall in Prague and telephone Stuckenschmidt, who is music critic there, and ask him for letters of recommendation. In the third letter Stefan laments the news from Berlin that the Nazis have overcome all opposition. He cautions Irma as a co-conspirator: “Learn, report and don’t be weak.” Stefan will go to Vienna and discuss with Ola and Hahn about providing support for Kathi and about another collaboration with Hahn. He then asks Irma whether he can join her in Bucharest so that he can finish March and Variations. Apparently he has decided to give up Ola and cast his lot with Irma. The letter ends: “I feel terribly cut off from everything. This state of affairs is so abstract, unstable. It signifies beginning anew, and something new.” With courage and irrepressible optimism Stefan regarded exile as opening up new horizons.

Stefan found refuge in Switzerland with friends of Otto Hahn. In the first week of April he rendezvoused with Irma in Zurich and she handed him his scores. He spent May and June in the Soviet Union and was greatly impressed by composers in Leningrad who were creating modernist music under socialism. He returned to Switzerland and completed March and Variations. Irma invited Stefan for a holiday in Austria, after which they went on to Vienna. From September through November Stefan had weekly sessions with Anton Webern. When the Austrian police expelled Stefan in December, Irma came from Bucharest and took him to her home. It is likely that they were married in Bucharest in March of 1934 before they sailed for the British Mandate of Palestine.

The correspondence from the Palestine years (1935-1936) comprises the letters Irma wrote to Stefan while he attended a conducting course in Brussels in 1935. On his return to Palestine, Stefan composed Four Studies on Basic Rows (1`935-1936), pieces that posed unprecedented pianistic challenges. In addition to devising special methods for performing Stefan’s music, Irma’s notebooks document that she studied theory and composition with him. The Wolpes immigrated to America in 1938 and settled in New York. In 1941, on account of Stefan’s affairs, Irma insisted that they live apart, and yet she continued to collaborate and correspond with him. Stefan dedicated several more piano pieces to Irma, which she performed. She attended Stefan’s seminars on analysis and hosted musicales in her apartment for which her students played and Stefan’s students heard their compositions performed.

Irma obtained a divorce in 1949 and married the mathematician Hans Rademacher, but Stefan could not let her go. More than half of the edition consists of Stefan’s letters from the 1950s in which he wrote at great length about daily events, his health, difficulties finding a job, the music he is writing, and visits to Israel and Darmstadt. Although Irma seldom replied, he continued to regard her as his confessor, advisor and muse. These letters written at the height of his career provide invaluable information on Stefan’s life and art.

Ms. Born drew the title of the edition from a letter Stefan wrote in July 1951 while on holiday in the Catskill Mountains (letter No. 143). It begins with a litany of distress: his health (hospitalization for a gall bladder infection), poverty (he spent $9.00 for a train ticket to the City to receive $26.00 in unemployment insurance), and friends (the ones that visit are poor and the rich ones stay away). While in hospital Stefan faces his mortality:

O, don’t end! No! To die in the midst of the abundance of song! With the 10,000 birds breaking forth from the falling body, full of life’s flight! To die with the Grosse Fuge of Beethoven, with the Battlepiece, with the joy of whirring birds, to think on life, the whole [of life], life again transmuted into life. Those who die count for less, (to acknowledge the universal)…. [Translation: N. Born and A. Clarkson]

His mood brightens on returning to the cottage where he is staying with the poet Hilda Morley, whom he married the following year:

… the lovely warmth of the earth, the thousand and one shades of green, the panoply of distances, many-layered—I see much with the eyes of Cezanne and the early cubists (and the astounding flower paintings of Picasso from the year 1926). [Translation: N. Born and A. Clarkson]

Stefan writes of a visit to Brigitte Hausberger, with whom he had a long affair. He admits to the utter foolishness of his actions, which he ascribes to “an unrestrained and unbalanced character”. In a lengthy expiation Stefan describes his unhappy childhood and youth—frequent beatings by his father, a distant mother and bullying by teachers and fellow students. He dwells on the traumatic experience of his bar mitzvah and his sexual confusion as a teenager. Isolation and depression, he writes, caused him to withdraw into a world of fantasy and to adopt a defensive, aggressive attitude to the outside world. In closing he pleads with Irma to value what endures of their relationship:

Something abides in me of our life [together], something unique, grand, unprecedented, elemental: the value (and the sense) of a profound affinity of our natures [Natur-Synonym]/ In the eternal mysteries (of creativity), of creative liveliness, of vivid, creative inflow, of atoms of life-rhythms, atoms of the heart-force [Herzkraft], of the expanse of out-reachings, of strivings, of channels of creative feelings—all this holds us together in a web of interrelationships, even if you resist them in broad-scaled conflict with me and in opposition to me, despite all that, it abides like the law of harmonic or non-harmonic correspondences, like the law of reactions, like the law of particular organizations, like the law of particular, inescapable necessities – you abide just so. [Translation: N. Born and A. Clarkson]

Stefan eulogized their relationship with extravagant images of laws of nature, the cosmos and the life force, language with which he also described his music. At the time, he was embarking on a vast work for three pianos that he hoped Irma would play with her two students, Jacob Maxin and David Tudor. The Wolpes had virtually adopted the two young prodigies from Philadelphia, who stayed in the Wolpe apartment when they came to New York for lessons. In successive letters Stefan apprised Irma of progress on the work, which he eventually titled Enactments for Three Pianos. A few days before completing the piece, Stefan wrote:

It is my “composer’s piece,” Weltnah [near to the world], Menschenzünglerisch [like the tongues of mankind] vast, of a latitude like elements infinitely divisible, like what is: infinitely discoverable, in an unending way of crossings, interplays, intersections, interferences.… like a 1000 Birdsflight, like Earth, a hearts hour, dimension, story and panorama, like Speech, like Zeit [time] and History bundled in layers of continouities [sic], stepped on, traced through, moulded [sic], erred, regarded, discarded, envisioned, attempted, constructed…. And I hold my warm arms around the globe, to hold it like Gulliver, to hold a huge echoieing [sic] all over this globe, Irma, our earthly crust, given to us, who have ears and eyes awake and an awareness, unidle, unbroken. [Original in English]

With all the poetic language at his command Stefan strove to reawaken Irma’s memory of their relationship and her commitment to his music. The piece itself appears to represent the family circle they had enjoyed with their two young pianists. Each piano has a distinctive character, such that Pianos I, II and III may be imagined, respectively, as intended for Irma, Maxin and Tudor. When in 1963 Enactments was at last given complete, the only dedicatee to play in the ensemble was David Tudor.

After Hans Rademacher died in 1969, Irma returned to full-time teaching and inspired many distinguished pianists with her mastery of the piano and its literature. She continued to perform Stefan’s music and gave the first all-Wolpe recital in 1975. This volume thus brings to light the relationship of two extraordinary artists who individually and together created music of exceptional value and mentored generations of pianists and composers in many walks of musical life. It is of especial value to students of Stefan’s music, who will find in these pages exceptional insights into his musical universe.

The appendices include the program essay that Irma wrote for her all-Wolpe concert of 1975, her note on two Wolpe pieces that Russell Sherman performed the following year (both in English), the 1979 interview with Austin Clarkson in German translation, separate chronologies for Stefan and Irma, the catalogue of archives, selected bibliography, the index of Stefan’s compositions and index of persons.

Austin Clarkson

Toronto, November 2016

Stefan Wolpe and the Avant-Garde Diaspora

Brigid Cohen 
Cambridge University Press, 2012

Additional Information

Stefan Wolpe and the Avant-Garde Diaspora is a fascinating study of modern music’s encounter with and assimilation of tonalities, rhythms, and practices from well outside of the European mainstream, and it accounts for the subsequent production of a critical avant-garde practice in the United States in the 1950s. Cohen makes a convincing argument for the importance of Wolpe to understanding modern music as a much more fluid and dynamic field than either Schoenberg or Stravinsky can account for…. 

Stefan Wolpe and the Avant-Garde Diaspora accomplishes an important task by reclaiming the narratives of Wolpe’s sometimes inconsistent and often un-categorizable work and career, bringing him to the center of the history of modern music. In so doing, Cohen has greatly enriched our understanding of the complex and often arcane meanings of twentieth- century music. 

Matthew Friedman, Modernism/modernity

This brief review cannot do justice to Cohen’s fusion of meticulous research, rigorous textual and musical analysis, and a cautiously considered theoretical apparatus to construct a close scrutiny of this composer’s intense engagement with his shifting environments and their impact on his work. Her study, furthermore, is a welcome contribution to a long tradition of studies on musicians in exile….

Pamela M. Potter, Central European History

The author carefully and creatively interprets Wolpe’s self-revelatory poetics in previously unexplored diaries and correspondence located at the Paul Sacher Foundation in Basel. Vibrant and often confounding metaphors permeate Wolpe’s writing and in order to elucidate his artistic philosophy and its implementation in his music, Cohen translates and beautifully teases out multivalent meanings and significance in his language. She pays special attention to Wolpe’s evolving “self-narration,” as espoused in his lectures and diaries. A chronological narrative of Wolpe’s artistic and political thought is extracted from these writings, placing each within the context of the composer’s contemporary environment.

Alexandra Monchick, German Studies Review

On the Music of Stefan Wolpe

Pendragon Press Releases
edited by Austin Clarkson

Additional Information

Stefan Wolpe was a member of a generation of composers, born around the turn of the twentieth century, who sought to refashion the entente between the artist and society in the belief that the artist could transform the individual and society. To that end they composed “artful functional music” for amateurs as well as for the theater and concert hall.

Born in Berlin in 1902, Wolpe was a disciple of Ferruccio Busoni and studied at the Bauhaus in Weimar. He collaborated with Hanns Eisler in the workers’ music movement and left Germany in 1933 as an acute refugee. He studied briefly with Webern in Vienna before settling in Palestine. In 1938 he emigrated to the United States, where he remained until his death in 1972.

Wolpe responded to the musics of his adoptive homelands, incorporating elements from folklore in the music of driving and exhuberant complexity. He was a leading member of the abstract expressionist milieu in New York and was much sought after as a teacher by avant-garde composers in the fields of jazz, film, and concert music. His deeply-held optimism sustained him through a continual struggle for livelyhood and recognition.

The essays are by distinguished composers, critics, performers, and musicologists, many of whom were acquainted personally with the composer. They include recollections, studies of social and cultural contexts, and detailed analyses of particular compositions and performances. The book is editied by Austin Clarkson, professor emeritus of York University and general editor of the composer’s music and writings. A chronological catalogue of Wolpe’s works concludes this first book on an eminent American Composer.

Accompanying this book is a CD with the following works:

Battle Piece for Piano [versions by David Tudor and David Holzman]

In Two Parts for Six Players [Parnassus]

Piece in Two Parts for Solo Violin [Rose Mary Harbison]

Das Ganze ist Überall: Vorträge über Musik 1940-1962

Stefan Wolpe
Edited by Thomas Phleps

Saarbrücken: Pfau Verlag, 2011. 185p.
25.00 Eur.

Table of Contents

Zur Organisation des musikalischen Materials (1940)

Über Praeludium und Fuge f-moll von Bach (1941)

Raum (Regionen) (1961)

Asymmetrische Proportionen (1961)

Asymmetrische Proportionen (1962)

Notes on Dada and on Proportions (1960)

Lecture on Dada (1962)

Das Ganze überdenken: Vorträge über Musik 1935-1962

Stefan Wolpe
Edited by Thomas Phleps.

Saarbrücken: Pfau Verlag, 2002. 262p.
35.00 Eur.

Table of Contents

Die musikalische Idee und das orchestrale Equilibre (1935)

Zum 1. Satz der Symphonie Nr. 95 in c-moll von Haydn

Über die ersten acht Takte der Violinsonate a-moll op. 23 von Beethoven (1935)

Die Modulation als Prozess (1940)

Der musikalische Vorgang (1941)

Über den 1. Satz der Klaviersonate D-Dur, op. 10,3 von Beethoven

Zur Passacaglia in c-moll von Bach (1941)

Über Dance in Form of a Chaconne (1941)

Über neue (und nicht so neue) Musik in Amerika (1956)

Einblick ins Komponieren (1957)

Thinking Twice (1959)

Proportionen (1960)

Über Simultaneität (1962)


Contemporary Music Review, Vol. 27, Issue 2+3, 2008

Individual articles can be purchased online

Table of Contents

Foreword, Austin Clarkson

Stefan Wolpe, “What is Film Music?”

Preface by Hyesu Shin

Stefan Wolpe, “What is Jewish Music?”

Preface by Austin Clarkson

Stefan Wolpe, “The Frances Parker Lecture,” Preface by Martin Brody

Stefan Wolpe, “Remarks before Concerts”

Martin Brody, “’Where to Act, How to Move’: Unruly Action in Late Wolpe”

Heidy Zimmermann, “Friedl Dicker and Stefan Wolpe: Portrait of a Friendship”

Austin Clarkson, “Ola Okuniewska Wolpe, 1902-1985”

Thomas Phleps, “Schöne Geschichten and Zeus und Elida: Wolpe’s Chamber Operas

Austin Clarkson and Hyesu Shin, “Zeus und Elida: Wolpe’s Kunstjazz Opera”

Heidy Zimmermann, “Folksong versus High Modernism: Stefan Wolpe’s Song of Songs Settings in the Context of the ‘New Palestine’”

David Holzman, “Musical Free-fall: Projecting the Time-Space of Wolpe’s Battle Piece

Larson Powell, “Itinerant Atonality: Stefan Wolpe’s Middle Period Work”

Brigid Cohen, “‘Boundary Situations’: Translation and Agency in Wolpe’s Modernism”

Matthew Greenbaum, “Debussy, Wolpe and Dialectical Form”

Austin Clarkson, “Wolpe, Varèse and the Busoni Effect”

Stefan Wolpe I

Musik-Konzepte 150
Herausgegeben von Ulrich Tadday

Table of Contents


Austin Clarkson, Thomas Phleps, Larson Powell

Stefan Wolpe, “Was ist Kino-Musik?” (1926)

Kommentar von Hyesu Shin

“Die Lieder dieser Völker sind keine Museumsstücke”

Vier Vorträge zum Musikleben in Palästina 1938/39.

Herausgegeben und eingeleitet von Heidy Zimmermann

Stefan Wolpe, “Das Ganze überdenken” (1959)

Kommentiert von Austin Clarkson

Stefan Wolpe, “Vortrag über Dada” (1962)

Übertragen, übersetzt und eingeleitet von Thomas Phleps

Stefan Wolpe II

Musik-Konzepte 152/153
Herausgegeben von Ulrich Tadday

Table of Contents

Stefan Wolpe

Vier Gedichte

Austin Clarkson

Wolpe, Vier Gedichte Erläuterungen

Larson Powell

Über Wolpes Hölderlin Lieder

Thomas Phleps

“Gebt eine neue Kunst uns”: Stefan Wolpes vollchromatische Musik 1929

Nora Born

Irma Wolpe Rademacher (1902-1984)

Martin Zenck

  • Über eine schmerzende Leerstelle in René Leibowitz’ und Theodor W. Adornos Musikgeschichtsschreibung der 1930er und 1940er Jahre
  • Die nicht nur historische Bedeutung von Stefan Wolpes Körper-Musik und das Problem ihrer zurückdatierbaren Aktualität

Carlo Bianchi

Das Ringen um Neues: Tonale Gebilde in Stefan Wolpes Battlepiece

Andrew Kohn

Verkörperung und die Kritik des Abstrakten Expressionismus am Beispiel von “Inception” aus Wolpes Enactments

Stefan Wolpe

Anmerkungen zur Symphony No. 1 (1956)

Robert Falck

Arbeitsbericht zur Neuausgabe der Symphony No. 1

Austin Clarkson

Varèses Deserts, Wolpes Symphony und Busonischer Modernismus

Martin Brody

“Wo gehandelt wird, wie sich bewegt wird”: Unbändiges Verhalten im Spätwerk Wolpes