Work List by Genre

Usually: Title | Year of Composition | Timing | Publisher | Instrumentation

Catalog Of Published Scores And Recordings 

Principal Publishers:

Peermusic Classical:

CF Peters:

McGinnis and Marx (distributed by CF Peters)

Theodor Presser:

Stefan Wolpe Society

(For additional information to the links given below, please see program booklets for recorded works.)

Orchestra & Chamber Orchestra

Chamber Piece No. 1 for 14 Players. 1964. 8:30. Peermusic Classical:

fl, ob, eh, bn, tpt, hn, trb, pno, 2vn, va, vc, cb

Austin Clarkson, ed.

Link to Wolpe’s program note

Chamber Piece No. 1 (1964)

The work belongs to a recent group of works of mine concerned with the economy in the invention of musical structure and exercise of restraint even at moments of great activity. The apparent simplicity of the music is only one of the levels of language that, along with the mobility of the ensemble and constantly varying texture, make up the materials of this one-movement work.

Program note for a concert, 9 May l968.

Chamber Piece No. 2 for 13 Players. 1967. 3:30. Peermusic Classical: 

fl, ob, cl, bn, hn, tpt, trb, perc, pno, vn, va, vc, cb

A. Clarkson & Anthony Korf, eds.

Konzert für Neun Instrumente, op. 22. 1933-34. 25:00. Peermusic Classical:

fl, cl, bn, tpt, hrn, tbn, [vn], vc, pno Violin part fragmentary.

Johannes Schöllhorn, Emilio Pomàrico, A. Clarkson, eds.

1. Rasch, unverwüstlich, mit großer Vitalität. 2. Adagio. 3. Lied ohne Worte. 4. Mäßig rasch, mit Freude (Variationen).

The Man from Midian, Suite for Orchestra. 1942. 32:00. Peermusic Classical: First suite, 1942. Second Suite, orchestrated by Antony Beaumont, 2005.

Passacaglia for Orchestra, op. 23. 1936. 11:30. Theodore Presser

A note on the piece by Austin Clarkson

The “Passacaglia” for Piano is Wolpe’s signature piece, a vision of dodecaphony for the socialist utopia. The conductor William Steinberg urged Wolpe to orchestrate the “Passacaglia,” but the Palestine Symphony turned down the score. It was not performed until 1983, eleven years after the composer’s death. The score and parts of the “Passacaglia for Orchestra” have been corrected on the basis of the new edition of “Four Studies on Basic Rows.”

The “Passacaglia” is the culmination of the “Four Studies on Basic Rows” in which Wolpe synthesized the dodecaphonic theory and practice of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern with that of Josef Matthias Hauer, the fourth Viennese pioneer of twelve-tone music. While studying with Webern in 1933, Wolpe composed a short “Pastorale in Form of a Passacaglia” a 12-note theme of thirds and tritones.

Preparing to compose the “Four Studies,” Wolpe devised source sets based on the eleven intervals from the minor second to the major seventh. He modeled the twelve-note sets on the hexachordal tropes of Hauer.

The first two Studies, “Study on Thirds” and “Presto furioso,” are based on the chromatic hexachord (Trope No. 1 of Hauer’s 44 Tropes), while “Study on Tritones”is based on a set of tritones (Hauer’s Trope No. 8). The full title of the “Passacaglia” is “Study on an All-interval Row in Conjunction with 11 Basic Rows.” The subject of 22 notes is in the form of a wedge that expands slowly from the minor second to the major seventh. A counter-theme adds 14 notes, so that the theme and counter-theme together comprise three 12-note collections. This thematic complex is treated to the Schoenbergian procedures of inversion, retrograde and transposition.

The variation design of the “Passacaglia” unfolds in five main actions:

The powerful architecture recalls the woodcut of a cathedral that Lyonel Feininger made for the cover of the Bauhaus Manifesto (1919), in which Walter Gropius described the Bauhaus project as the “building of the future that will rise toward the heaven like the crystal symbol of a new faith.” For Wolpe, who had studied at the Bauhaus, the “Passacaglia” was a manifesto of his faith in dodecaphony and the emancipated interval as music for the socialist utopia.

Wolpe dedicated the “Passacaglia” to Edward Steuermann, a student of Busoni. Since no such virtuoso was then available in Palestine, he arranged the work for two pianos. When he and Irma Wolpe performed the “Passacaglia” at the Palestine Conservatoire, his colleagues let him know that twelve-tone music was neither needed nor wanted in Palestine. William Steinberg, who was conducting the Palestine Symphony, invited Wolpe to arrange the “Passacaglia” for orchestra. Working from the arrangement for two pianos, Wolpe orchestrated the piece in 1937, but the Symphony turned it down.

Ten years after Wolpe’s death in 1972, Charles Wuorinen, composer and conductor, organized the preparation of a new score and parts from the original manuscript of the “Passacaglia.” The new score was prepared with great care and performed in Carnegie Hall with Mr. Wuorinen conducting the American Composers’ Orchestra. The new edition incorporates corrections from the new edition of “Four Studies on Basic Rows” and from the two-piano arrangement of the “Passacaglia” from which Wolpe worked when he prepared the orchestration.

Piece in Three Parts for Piano & 16 Instruments. 1961. 14:00. Peermusic Classical 

2 fl, ob, cl, bar sax (bcl), 2hn, 2tpt, tba, hp, electric gui, perc, vn, va, vc

A. Clarkson, ed.

Wolpe’s program note

The Piece For Piano and Sixteen Instruments consists of three interfluent parts, the middle of which focuses on the piano as an autonomous and continuous unit, separated from, though coordinated with, a reduced ensemble of, for the most part, two flutes and two trumpets. In the outer parts the piano maintains among the shifts of instrumental combinations (caused by the fluidities and volatile transformations of musical actions) a principle of instrumental constancy, which affirms the sense of the title: Piece For Piano and Sixteen Instruments. Only in the last thirty bars is the full ensemble used.

The choice of instrumental combinations depends upon the choices made in regard to the serial (fixed) material and is often decided upon by the permutational devices. The functional role of the piano is at times one which initiates action, or ramifies, or multiplies it on other levels. At other times, it opposes, deflects, confuses, destroys events proposed by the orchestral ensemble. Then again, it simultaneously filters or catalyzes them, always a focal force, in the same way as the total musical spectacle is a multifocal force.

The organic quality of the material is of a constantly changing nature. It sometimes exists as a reservoir of a limited amount of pitches from which any number can be chosen and used freely, recombined freely in exchange with other pitches drawn from slightly altered, mode-like formations. Or the pitches are joined in an order whose sequence is at times absolutely unalterable, at other times unalterable only in certain sections, yet in other ones free, as, for example, part of a disorderly pitch conduct.

The idea is to modify greatly the character and tempo of the unfolding of the chromatic circulation, in the same way as the level of the musical language is often very rudimentary, often intricately involved, depending upon the generic role the material is appointed to play, which also (among a host of other things) decides behavior and articulation of content.

*Program note for the premiere at the New School Auditorium, May 13, l962, with Ralph Shapey, conductor, and Paul Jacobs, pianist. The piece was commissioned by Paul Fromm in celebration of Wolpe’s 60th birthday. Wolpe dedicated the work to his daughter, the pianist Katharina Wolpe.

Suite from the Twenties. Peermusic Classical

cl, bcl, alto sax, tpt, tbn, bjo, pno, vn, vc Arranged by Geert van Keulen.

1. March Nr. 1.2. Tango für Irma.
3. Blues.
4. Tango.
5. Tanz (Charleston).
6. Rag-Caprice.

Symphony No. 1. 1956. 25:00. Peermusic Classical A. Clarkson & Robert Falck, eds.

1 Not too slow. 2 Charged. 3 Alive

Wolpe’s commentary and a program note

I have worked incessantly and–I guess–in a few weeks, perhaps earlier the third movement of vital, vehement, charged, blown, zestish, rampant bursting affairs will be finished. I don’t have any idea how much time I have composed by now. It is much. And of a character of wide dimensions. I had interrupted to work on the orchestration of the 2. mov. (a fugue with 3 subjects) because it always splits up my thinking, channels me wrong and it goes even slower than my composing is already (and always a bit too slowly) going. But I am trying now again and I must get to a better coordination.

Letter to Netty Simons, 1955. Netty Simons Papers, Music Division, New York Public Library.

I worked terribly hard (with damaged sleep. I am just swept in to my many vortexes) on finishing the orchestration of the first movement, which I finished yesterday. I am wide awake and awake to the conditions of my whole artistic existence which–so I feel–breaks open through–out of all–all its fences and fogged and often falsely mirroring walls, windows, mirrors, self-containments–How doing all the things at the same time?! I work fiendishly but my biology carries the shadows of a man becoming 53 on the 25th. Who in history started so late his essential work? Who?

I think feel that the symphony will be an important work. I have many difficulties to overcome. Moulds of thoughts to destroy, ‘Habits’ of technical solutions to revise. I didn’t write for such a long time for orchestra. And my music changed very much. Many solutions I had to find anew! Many possible solutions I find, found impossible. I am happyly[sic] occupied with studying entirely new the techniques and studying the instrumental areas with an entirely new curiosity, need to know more encompassing the things, more penetrating less the arts of disposition, of setting content in to sound, which is a linear device, or had been so, or was a device for articulating the motion of sound, which I master sufficiently and which is no problem. But here I am working with a much greater fluency of radical shifts, more use of leaps of relations and a greater drasticness of changes.

I have forgotten the harmonics on flute and oboe. I remember distinctly your harmonics of a distinctly different quality of piano, a kind of lucidly floating tone. Can you tell me about the harmonics on flute, how they are being produced and where they are. (I heard the other day gorgeous ones in Strawinski’s Pulcinella).

Letter to Josef Marx, August 12, 1955.

Symphony No. l was written at Black Mountain College, North Carolina, in l955-l956. It was a Rodgers-Hammerstein commission given to me by the League of Composers-I.S.C.M. (American Section). It is in three movements. All of these movements consist of a series of transformations of an initial two-bar melody that acts as root and source material. This is a structured field of pitches, the various tones standing in relation to one another that the composer views as an analogue to those of physical bodies in a force field. The successive elaborations of the material resume when these relations of the tones are in some way disturbed and at times restored. The material is such as to admit of manifestations that vary widely in nature, and in fact often contradict each other. Thus, there are treatments of complexity and of simplicity, of tension and of calm, of animation and of ebbing activity.

I Not too slow. This movement has a high concentration of such oppositions.

II Charged. In contrast to the first movent, the second represents a vast, arc-like expansion of the root materials. It begins with a unison passage that sets a tone of emotional intensity, which is sustained up to the closing bar.

III Alive. The third movement uses elements acquired and revealed in the first two, and is meant to be an exuberant, joyful, athletic piece.

All three movements are characterized by great metrical complexity, with time signatures changing at almost every bar. Even so, the score used in these performances is simpler than the original version; the re-notation was the result of an extended collaboration in the spring of l962 between myself and Mr. Stefan Bauer-Mengelberg.

Note for the program of the premiere performed by the New York Philharmonic, January 16, l964. The performance was introduced by Leonard Bernstein and conducted by Stefan Bauer-Mengelberg. The third movement was not played.

Zwei Studien für grosses Orchester. 1933. 6:00. Peermusic Classical Martin Brody & Matthew Greenbaum, eds.

1 Ouvertüre (inc.). 2 Pastorale in Form einer Passacaglia.

Chamber Music

Drei kleinere Kanons in der Umkehrung zweier 12-tönig correspondierender Hexachorde, [op. 24a]. 1936. 5:00. McGinnis and Marx 

va, vc

Duo für zwei Geigen, op. 2. 1924. 11:00. Peermusic Classical:

2 vn

From Here on Farther. 1969. 6:30. Peermusic Classical: 

vn, cl, bcl, pno. A. Clarkson, ed.

In Two Parts for Six Players. 1962. 11:00. EMI Music PublishingI

cl, tpt, vn, vc, hp, pno Martin Brody, ed.

Music for Le malade imaginaire (Molière). 1934. 16:00. Peermusic Classical:

fl, cl, vn, va, cb. A. Clarkson, ed.

1 Ouvertüre Akt 1: Thema mit drei Variationen und Coda. 2 Ouvertüre Akt 2: Rondo. 3 Rezitativ und Duet. 4 Ouvertüre Akt 3: Schlafmusik in Form einer Passacaglia auf einer Baß von Schoenbergs Streichquartette, op. 10. 5 Traumtanz.

Musik zu Hamlet. Langsamer Satz. 1929. 5:00. Peermusic Classical:

fl, cl, vc.

Palestine Suite. Film music. 1941. 10:00. Stefan Wolpe Society

Fl, vn, va, vc, pno. 1941.

1 Military Review. 2 Diamonds Shop View. 3 Top of Sawmill. 4 Children at Givat Brenner. 5 Tel Aviv. 6 Shikim Cooperative Houses. 7 Jewish Soldier’s Day.

Program note by Austin Clarkson

Wolpe was commissioned by the Palestine Labor Committee to provide music for a short film. The film itself has not been recovered, but the titles of the musical episodes describe scenes of town and country life framed by numbers with a military theme. Wolpe had played piano for silent films and had strong views about film music: “Why Grieg for sunsets? Why Chopin’s B-flat minor when someone is in a bad way?” He argued that rhythm is the principal means for uniting music with the moving image, and these vignettes vividly call up the scenes in wartime Palestine. For Fl, Vl, Va, Vc, Pno. 10:00 min

Piece for Oboe, Cello, Percussion and Piano [Oboe Quartet]. 1954. 24:00. McGinnis and Marx

1 Early morning music. 2 Calm. 3 Intense and spirited. 4 Taut, to oneself.

Wolpe’s commentary on the piece

I finished one big movement of the Second Sonata for Oboe, etc. [Piece for Oboe, Cello, Percussion, and Piano] I originally thought it is the first movement. But I wish to precede it by an ‘early morning music’, in which I am very much involved this minute. (It will take me a week to finish this movement.) I plan to write then the slow, pure, still, simple, alabaster-like chant of the second movement. Then comes (I think) the one which I finished the other day, which is of a very “concretish”, rustic, realistic, con-moto quality. After this I let follow a very short movement-separating affair, and as the last will come a sort of moderato part (which some is of multiple motions, quick, slow, hampered, expressive, popular, and with peopled speech…) Vielleicht[perhaps]. . . .

Letter to Josef Marx, July 27, l954. Josef Marx Archive.

 I finished the oboe work for oboe, cello, percussion and piano. An important work, I think. Compressed, ‘handy’, tight, wild, fluctuous, sometimes moist and like burning air. My Enactments poured into a bottle.

From a letter to Irma Jurist Neverov, November 19, l954. Neverov estate.

Piece for Trumpet and Seven Instruments. 1971. 7:30. CF Peters

cl, bn, tpt, tbn, vn, va, vc, cb

Wolpe’s program note

In today’s aesthetics, brilliantly managed densities weigh a great deal. The use of densities means the opening of sources hidden in the material. One must purge oneself of certain aspects of contemporary writing which have been used so much that they have lost their significance and exploitability. This means, for instance, that in the composition of my String Quartet (1969) the elimination of simultaneities of movement became an open problem to work at. Everything multiple had to be put under control. Movement and directions of the multiple layers of language had to be re-engaged with the new control.

In the Piece For Trumpet and Seven Instruments one must look as well for unique environments. Beautiful situations are one of these environments. A regained symmetry, rarefied events and a multiple mobility of the instruments employed form the materials of the piece. The work was commissioned by Ronald Anderson and was composed in the spring and winter of 1970.

Piece for Two Instrumental Units. 1963. 12:00.

fl, ob, perc (gong, vib, glk, xyl, tamt), pno, vn, vc, cb

James Avery & A. Clarkson, eds.

Wolpe’s comments on the piece

It’s almost unnecessary to have that particular title, ‘Two Instrumental Units’, because I always compose, always set up the intercourse of a variety of units. But it was a particular situation where one unit was, so to speak, a stationary unit, meaning the unit of Charles Wuorinen, Harvey Sollberger, and Joel Krosnick. So this is an instrumental unit well knit together. Pre-existing to the fact of my composition they play together. Against that unit is set another one, which is a temporary unit, a unit used ad hoc. Sometimes I composed it as being separate from each other, sometimes I composed it as being not so separate from each other. So it’s like two objects sometimes in search of each other, and sometimes they get lost. Whatever distances can be composed between two units, I think I did them. And whatever distances could be caught up with, I think I did that also. It happens so enormously much in that piece that I wouldn’t know where to start. Something which is of importance to me, namely, that the traffic problems of handling units in a state of simultaneity is an interesting one, and I solve all these things with particular concepts of how to operate with large units in space. I have particular ideas about symmetrical relationships, asymmetrical relationships, in a particular proportion in which these proportional distances, at which all these bodies in space move. So what is for me terribly important is a certain elegance of movement to which, naturally, belongs everything from the sparsest and unhampered, untrammelled condition to a condition of cloggedness and stuckness and a diabolic and fiendish density, like a beehive. So that I have a layout, a very particular direction in regard to a particular situation, and in regard to a particular pitch constellation how these things shall move. And my traffice sense is form. My operational sense—how to operate in state of densities—is based on elaborate systems of proportional interactions of these bodies in the space of sound.

Excerpt from the conversation with Eric Salzman in 1962 and broadcast over WBAI in April, 1963 (Wolpe, 1999, pp. 406-407). The piece was commissioned by the Group for Contemporary Music and premiered by Charles Wuorinen, Harvey Sollberger, and Joel Krosnick, February 18, 1963.

Piece for Viola Alone. 1966. 3:00. McGinnis and Marx

Transcription of Second Piece for Violin Alone by Peter Perrin.

Piece in Two Parts for Flute and Piano. 1960. 15:00. McGinnis and MArx

Piece in Two Parts for Violin Alone. 1964. 13:00. McGinnis and Marx

Quartet for Trumpet, Tenor Saxophone, Percussion, and Piano [Saxophone Quartet]. 1950, rev. 1954. 13:00. A. Clarkson, ed.

1 Lento. 2 Con moto.

Wolpe’s comments and a program note

The Saxophone Quartet is one of my best Kampfmusiken [music for the struggle], as one called it so most scheußlicherweise [wretchedly] in Germany. Es ist populism and my personal human radicalism mit offenen Armen gesungen [sung with open arms] (that’s a good title for a piece of music).

Letter to Josef Marx, November 1, 1954. Josef Marx Archive, New York.

The popular expression I speak of is not only the athletic mirth and peppiness of Copland’s piece, or the city noises and sirens in Varèse, or the voice (the hymnic sonority) at the end of Ionisation, or the physical frenzy of jazz. Sometimes one reaches below one’s own language; one begins to sing and begins to bite into one’s own consonants and vowels; one has the feeling of folding up together the tongues of all peoples in one’s own tongue. There is something of that in this piece. It [the first movement] is a lament.

The material of this movement is defined by the interval relationships of a particular chord and the pitch structures derived from it. From the fact that a series of varied structures can continually be combined with the central situations that are variants of the chord, it follows that the constellation of the chord regulates the material as much as do the departures from it. There are two kinds of departures, because there are two kinds of constellations: one is elastic, the other is static. In the former one encounters variations, in the latter one expects none. The timidity of analytical approaches often derives from a misunderstanding of a condition of variations in which variation belongs to the givens of a situation. Variations in which a situation continually involves itself in its original condition does not conform to any protocol. Variation is part of the situation itself.

‘On new and not-so-new music in America’, Darmstadt, l956. (Wolpe, 1984, pp. 9-10).

 I didn’t intend at all to write a piece which even by its faintest traces would include jazz. But it came out as a piece which allows to think of jazz in a remotely related way. Because among my students which came to me in the years from 1946, immediately after the war till including the present days, I taught an enormous amount of jazz people. I didn’t teach them jazz altogether, I taught them theories and the concepts of serial music, or even of serious music—oh, that’s a nice connection between serious and serial. They came to me to get a technique of composing based on concepts which they could assimilate. Among them were Eddie Sauter, Bill Finegan, Kenyon Hopkins, Elmer Bernstein, John Carisi, endlessly, endlessly many people. And it’s very well possible that certain material dormant in me, material which belongs to my own ancestry, my ancestry of doing those things, might have been reawakened. But something is more important than jazz, namely, my genuine relationship to what I call material-in-use, material which has an empirical character, which is tongued, what I call tongued material. Tongued material is not quotational material, though quotational material today plays an enormous role in my music. I will use the material for a thousand different purposes—of destruction, of liberation, or construction, or deconstruction, or reuse, and so on. So I know that the Saxophone Quartet, which you plan to play, has something to do with that. And what is important in the Saxophone Quartet is the concept of simultaneity, the concept that the musical ideas run on many different tracks that this was my earliest piece.

Conversation with Eric Salzman in 1962, broadcast over WBAI in 1963 (Wolpe, 1999, p. 399).

There is a coincidence between my artistic condition and the existence of a language so profoundly and genuinely constructed as jazz is. It should be understood that the coincidence is not a calculated act, but an act of certain artistic interests of mine to write a piece which has a variety of levels, only one of which is jazz, and only scarcely used. I love the piece. I love its craziness, its openness. It really should be played also in public places, so closely is the spirit of the piece related to people’s exaltations.

Program note for the recital of Ronald Anderson, Town Hall, New York, September 27, l966.

Quintet with Voice. 1957. 14:00. Peermusic Classical

bar, cl, hn, vc, hp, pno A. Clarkson, ed.

1 Of festive grace. 2 “Here the sun violet.” Text: Hilda Morley.

3 Variations.

Wolpe’s comments on the piece

I am in midst of the Rothschild [Foundation] work, with setting a poem of Hilda [Morley] about Cézanne to music. Which isn’t easy. I am not a ‘lyricist’, and to blend a human’s vibration of throat and chest with music which fits my knowledge of the human species, or the being or the socialness of all that is in him. But I will have to find it, a musical speech-maker, which I am, a folklorist (on total trails), a street-musician–eigentlich, virtually, after all (of that).

Letter to Jonathan Williams, January 1, l957.

I used Hilda’s poem about Cézanne for a baritone song as a second movement. Altogether I feel I have come to an end of a circle of works, of which most of them were written in Black Mountain, and I wished Black Mountain College stood there forever ever, and my longing for it sits deep, and I hold with a smiling eye the place in my hand.

Letter to Charles Olson, May 2, l957.

I did finish the Quintet with Voice (on a beautiful text by Hilda about nature and Cézanne) for the Rothschild Foundation (for clarinet, horn, cello, harp, piano, and in the second movement a baritone), and finished a cycle of four works, a concept of doing, inventing, realizing. After this I’ll start anew on a different plane.

Second Piece for Violin Alone. 1966. 3:00. McGinnis and Marx

Program note

Three notes found in the major scale–G, A, B–and played simply on the lowest string. Classical music, folk music, how many pieces start that way! How many pieces start that way and then take you on a musical journey, like a symphony, down the great Mississippi River from one state to another, from one region to another–levels, motion, development–how many! And then again, afterwards, how not to do it! How not to take that trip! Suppose you have a steady state in which you can elect to remain, but a state the parts of which can be rearranged endlessly, kaleidoscopically. Now let’s start again! Take these three notes G, A, and B, play them five times and then stop! And then. . . .

Program note read by Max Pollikoff before he gave the first performance at Kaufmann Auditorium, New York, May 11, l966.

Solo Piece for Trumpet. 1966. 4:00. McGinnis and Marx

Wolpe’s program note

Many of the musical concerns found in a multifocal and spendthrift way in the Enactments, the Piece For Two Instrumental Units, and the Symphony are found in a more economical and rarefied manner in this work of concrete phrases, asymmetrical events, and implied polyphony.

Program note for a concert by Ronald Anderson, to whom the work was dedicated, Alice Tully Hall, New York, October 6, l97l.

Sonata for Oboe and Piano. 1941. 20:00. McGinnis and Marx

Josef Marx, Margaret Gresh, & Patricia Spencer, eds. Commentary booklet.

1 Tanz. Allegro comodo. 2 Molto adagio. 3 Embittered, violent, and quick. 4 Allegro con grazia.

Sonata for Violin and Piano. 1949. 28:00. McGinnis and Marx

1 Un poco allegro. 2 Andante appassionato. 3 Lento. 4 Allegretto deciso.

Wolpe’s comment on the piece

This phrase [beginning of the first movement] is as general as it can be, and with it goes a personal interest in a sort of anonymous material, like peasant art, or the static material of scales, primordial units (pattern), like those in tropes, modes, figure-types, as in maquams of Arabian music, or Japanese, or any of these which move in rooted, moulded materials (as certainly our music does too, and easily 50 perhaps, or less, primary, elemental units could be deduced like central figures, turns, coincidences). The three motives represent the initial cells from which everything in the first movement (basically) is fed. The piece is maturing, progressing (progressively) towards the making of greater, more diversified entities. The piece becomes the perspectual [sic] situation of primordial units, a process (in action) of continuous, generative furtherances (a process of consequences) arising at other higher organized unit-specializations or ‘deeper-set’ recurrences (later stages) of prototypes of action.

Letter to Joseph Livingston, July 14, 1954

String Quartet. 1969. 17:30. EMI Publishing

Suite im Hexachord, op. 24b. 1936. 14:00. McGinnis and Marx

ob, cl.

1 Allegretto grazioso. 2 Pastorale. 3 Fuga. 4 Adagio.

Trio in Two Parts for Flute, Cello and Piano. 1964. 17:00. Peermusic Classical

Edward Levy, ed.

Wolpe’s comment on the piece

I am working on the Trio for [Charles] Wuorinen and write an amazing (that is I am amazed) piece of simple events in a less simple, syntactical environment. Long bygone time elements, like etc. I have a horror of exaggerations and long-drawn out grandeur (at this moment). I wonder about the un-weight of leaves, and letters, and facial expressions.

From a letter to Austin and Beverly Bond Clarkson, June 17, l963.

I am composing a Trio for the Wuorinen group [Group for Contemporary Music], a simple thing (though what can be so simple these days in music). I probably mean music hardened and freed by earlier complexities, by that insatiable pleasure of multiple exposure of progressive facets. I am writing less notes. The time is coordinated on the basis that to each configuration belongs a number of time progressions (variable or extendable), as to the pitch configuration itself belongs characteristic morphological structures (conditions, behavior forms, castlike proportions, reduced dynamics, etc.

From a letter to Austin and Beverly Bond Clarkson, 25 June l963.

Twelve Pieces for String Quartet. 1950. 6:00. Stefan Wolpe Society

Zwei Studien. 1933. 6:00. Peermusic Classical

2vn, pno. Arr. of Zwei Studien für grosses Orchester.

1 Ouvertüre. 2 Pastorale in Form einer Passacaglia.

Piano Music

Piano Solo

Battle Piece. Encouragements, First Piece. 1943-47. 23:00. Peermusic Classical

A. Clarkson & David Tudor, eds.

1 Quasi presto. 2 Molto sostenuto. 3 Con moto ma non troppo. 4 Vivo.

5 Moderato. 6 Con brio. 7 Allegro ma non troppo.

Form for Piano. 1959. 3:00. Tonos Musikverlag (available through online distributors)

Form IV: Broken Sequences. 1969. 3:30. CF Peters

Four Studies on Basic Rows, op. 23. 1935-36. 26:30. Theodore Presser

A. Clarkson & D. Holzman, eds.

1 Study on Tritones. 2 Study on Thirds. 3 Passacaglia. 4 Presto furioso.

Austin Clarkson’s note on the piece

The sources of Wolpe’s “Four Studies on Basic Rows” lie in the pianism of Busoni and Scriabin, the dodecaphony of the Viennese Trinity, the color-interval theory of Johannes Itten and Josef Matthias Hauer, and the modernism of the Leningrad School of the 1920s and early 1930s. “Four Studies” was first published by Theodore Presser in 1974, but Wolpe died two years before and was unable to supervise the final proofs. The new edition, co-edited by Austin Clarkson and David Holzman, is based on a thorough review of all the sources. In the “Preface” Clarkson traces the sources of the Studies and Wolpe’s successive revisions, and in “Notes to the Performer” Holzman discusses form, passagework, rhythm, texture, touch, pedaling and expression. (See Interview with Austin Clarkson)

Wolpe escaped from Nazi-ruled Berlin in March of 1933 with the help of the Romanian pianist Irma Schoenberg. In May and June Wolpe visited Leningrad and was greatly impressed by the music that Shostakovich and other Leningrad modernists were writing for the socialist cause. He spent the fall in Vienna to study with Anton Webern, but was expelled from Austria at the end of the year. In 1934 he and Irma immigrated to British Mandate Palestine, where they were married. They lived in Jerusalem and taught at the Palestine Conservatoire.

In the fall of 1935 Wolpe began a set of interval studies based on the color-interval theory of Johannes Itten and Josef Matthias Hauer. Wolpe was greatly impressed by Hauer, who wrote that, “Everything purely musical resides in the interval. The essence of the interval is motion. The interval is a gesture.” Wolpe derived twelve-note rows based on all eleven intervals from the minor second to the major seventh on the model of Hauer’s twelve-note Tropes. He called them “basic” or “neutral” rows as distinct from the more characteristic rows of Schoenberg and Berg. Study No. 1, is a “Study on Tritones,” No. 2, “Study on Thirds,” is based on the chromatic hexachord, and No. 3, “Presto furioso,” is based on chromatic hexachords in contrary motion. The open form of the first three Studies is complemented by the closed form of the “Passacaglia.”

The subject of the “Passsacaglia” is a magnified version of the traditional “wedge”. The intervals from minor second to major seventh are expressed as pairs of notes that rise through two octaves. To that collection of 22 notes Wolpe added a collection of 14 notes to make a subject of 36 notes, that is, three sets of twelve-notes. Wolpe treated this massive subject to inversion, retrograde and transposition. The eleven interval rows orbit around the subject like planets. It was a bold synthesis of the ideas of Schoenberg and Hauer.

Irma Wolpe gave the first public performance of the “Passacaglia” in 1947. The reviewer for The New York Timeswrote that “Mrs. Wolpe played the difficult work so that it sounded clear and expressive, and often oddly charming.” The next year, when her student David Tudor performed the “Passacaglia,” Olin Downes wrote of “a vast and striking design, with finely interrelated parts and a powerful summing up as a climax” (New York Times, April 21, 1948). When Tudor played the “Passacaglia” at Darmstadt in 1956, one critic noted that the piece was “a very important way of organizing freedom by means of structuring the intervals.”

The “Four Studies” were performed as a cycle by Irma Wolpe’s student Jacob Maxin, and more recently by Nicolas Hodges. This revised and corrected edition is based on an examination of all the sources and on David Holzman’s preparation of the Studies for the first integral recording on Bridge Records (2011).

Austin Clarkson

Klaviermusik 1920-1929. Thomas Phleps, ed. Peermusic Classical

Fünf Adagien für Klavier. 1920. Klavierstücke, op. 5b. 1923. Klavierstücke, op. 7: 1 Hymnus. 1920. 2 Variation. 1923. 3 Invention. 1927. 4 Fuge a 3. 1927.

5 Tanz (Charleston). 1929.

Music for a Dancer. 1950. 15:00. Peermusic Classical

A. Clarkson & David Holzman, eds.

1 Spirited. 2 Andante. 3 Fast and intense; Love Duet; A la Tango; Tango d’Apaches. 4 Vital, joyous.

Music for Any Instruments: Interval Studies. 1944-49. 65:00. Peermusic Classical

A. Clarkson, ed.

1 Three canons a 3. 1944. 2 About the seventh in settings for two voices. 1945-6. 3 Two studies for piano, part I: Displaced spaces, Shocks, Negations, A new sort of relationship in space, Pattern, Tempo, Diversity of Actions, Interactions and Intensities. 1946. 4 The spheres of fourth in three-part writing (1946-48).

5 Melische Uebungen von Verbindungen zweier und vielfacher Quarten: Eroberung des melos. 1947-8. 6 On thirds, sixths, and tenths, part I: On thirds. 1948. 7 On thirds, sixths, and tenths, part II: On sixths. 1948. 8 On thirds, sixths, and tenths, part III: Series of extensive pieces (inc.). 1948. 9 On thirds, part I: Two pieces for two voices. 1948. 10 On thirds, part II. 1948. 11 Four little pieces about the tenth for two voices. 1949.

Palästina-Notenbuch (Palestinian Notebook). 1939. 8:00. Peermusic Classical

A. Clarkson & David Holzman, eds.

1. Jemenitischer Tanz (Yemenite Dance) Nr. 1. 2. JemenitischerTanz Nr. 2.

3. Hora. 4. Jiddische Hochzeit (Yiddish Wedding). 5. Wiegenlied (Lullaby).

6. Turque.

Piano Music 1939-1942. 22:00. Peermusic Classical

A. Clarkson & David Holzman, eds.

I. Lied, Anrede, Hymnus, Strophe. 1939. 1:00.

II. Zemach Suite. 1939. 14:00

1 Song. 2 Piece of Embittered Music. 3 Fuge a 3 no. 1. 4 Fuge a 3 no. 2.

5 Jubilation. 6 Complaint. 7 Dance in Form of a Chaconne.

III. Two Pieces for Piano. 1941. 4:00. 1 Pastorale. 2 Con fuoco.

IV. The Good Spirit of a Right Cause. 1942. 3:00.

Comment on the pieces by Austin Clarkson

Composed soon after Wolpe arrived in America from British Mandate Palestine, these pieces were contributions to a repertoire of new music for the Jewish people, though he was by no means a nationalist. Lied, Anrede, Hymnus, Strophe (1939), celebrated his wife Irma Wolpe’s birthday, and carries the subtitle: “In anticipation of new musics.” The melody appears in the third and fourth movements of the Sonata for Oboe and Piano (1941). Zemach Suite (1939) was commissioned by the Russian dancer Benjamin Zemach. The pieces (1 Song, 2 Piece of embittered music, 3 Fuge a 3 no. 1, 4 Fuge a 3, no. 2, 5 Jubilation, 6 Complaint, 7 Dance in form of a chaconne) are based on various Middle Eastern modes and dances. Two Pieces for Piano (1941): 1 Pastorale, 2 Con fuoco. The gentle Pastorale and the stormy Con fuoco both make use of the whole tone-semitone (octatonic) scale that Wolpe derived from an Arabic maqam. The Good Spirit of a Right Cause (1942) was music to raise the spirits of the people during the darkest days of the war. The march fantasy recalls the Kampfmusik that Wolpe composed ten years earlier in Berlin and looked forward to Battlepiece (1943-1947). 

Sechs Märsche [Six Marches]. 1928-34. 16:30. Peermusic Classical

Thomas Phleps, ed.

1 Energisch und belebt. 2 Ruhig im Schritt, (kindlich), cantando semplice.

3 Feurig, energisch. 4 Ruhig, im Schritt. 5 Trauermarsch aus Passion eines Menschen. 6 Vivo e sereno.

Six Piano Pieces 1920-1929. 14:00. Peermusic Classical

A. Clarkson, ed.

1 Adagio. Gesang weil ich etwas teures verlassen muss. 1920. 2 Stehende Musik. 1925. 3 Rag-Caprice. 1927. 4 Tango. 1927. 5 Marsch Nr. 1. 1929.

6 Presto agitato. 1929.

Sonate Nr. 1, “Stehende Musik.” 1925. 9:00. Peermusic Classical

Thomas Phleps, ed.

1. Sehr Schnell. 2. Fast langsam (=Early Piece for Piano). 3 Schnell (inc.)

The three piano sonatas are concerned with a music that is formally experimental in nature, in which the thematic and modulatory elements withdraw to the background in favor of purely rhythmic and dynamic elements. One can best apply the term ‘Stehende Musik’ [music of stasis] to these pieces, for the formal tensions and relaxations are here developed from the principle of repetition (in contrast to variation). The attempt is made in this music to analyze the concept of musical time to the furthest possible limit.

Thus arise effects and structures of which there are only a few examples in earlier music, but which are striven for more or less by Schönberg in the third of the Orchesterstücke, Op. l6, or the Piano Rag Music by Stravinsky.

If this music requires the performers to use the fist or the forearm, it is not a gratuitous excess, but rather an extension of pianistic possibilities that deserves no more opposition than Beethoven experienced with his immense extension of orchestral techniques.

Program note for the Nineteenth Evening of the Novembergruppe, Berlin, May 2, l927. The concert included a Sonata by Hans-Jörg Dammert played by Franz Osborn, a Sonata by H.H. Stuckenschmidt played by Wolpe, and Wolpe’s Sonata played by Else C. Kraus

Sonatina. 1918 (unpublished)

Toccata in 3 Parts. 1941. 10:00. Peermusic Classical

1 Allegro moderato. 2 Adagio, Too much suffering in the world. 3 Fuge a 3.

Two Studies for Piano, Part II. 1948. 3:00. McGinnis and Marx

Waltz for Merle. 1952. 3:00. Peermusic Classical

A. Clarkson & David Holzman, eds.

Zwei Tänze für Klavier. 1926. Peermusic Classical

D. Holzman, ed.

1 Blues. 2 Tango.

Note by Austin Clarkson

Wolpe was a skilled improviser in classical and popular styles and enjoyed making outrageously modern renditions of dance forms of the day. These montage-like fantasies of the Blues and Tango were thought to have been lost, until the sole surviving manuscript recently came to light.

Two Pianos

The Man from Midian, Suites 1 and 2. 1942. 32:00. Peermusic Classical

Program note by Austin Clarkson

Soon after Stefan Wolpe arrived from Palestine in 1938, he became involved with the New York dance community. He composed a suite of dances for solo piano for the Russian dancer Benjamin Zemach (1939) and a score for two pianos for the German dancer Marthe Krueger (1940). Eugene Loring, who choreographed for Lincoln Kirstein’s Ballet Theater, founded his own comipany in 1941 and commissioned Wolpe to set a scenario on the story of Moses by the poet and playwright Winthrop Bushnell Palmer. Wolpe composed “The Man from Midian” for two pianos in January and February of 1942 and orchestrated the First Suite later the same year.

The New York debut of the Loring Players was keenly anticipated. John Martin wrote that, “Mr. Loring has established himself as one of the most interesting artists in the American field, and the formation of a company of his own is accordingly an event of genuine moment” (The New York Times, April 19, 1942). The opening night program, April 21, began with the revival of “Billy the Kid” (1938) to music by Aaron Copland, followed by “The Man from Midian.” It closed with “Harlequin for President (1936)” on music by Scarlatti, arranged by Trudi Rittmann. According to Martin, “The Man from Midian” was “the most interesting work of the evening, if not the most entertaining.” Wolpe’s score was “rich and impassioned,” and Loring “worked out a prodigiously complex choreographic setting” that at least in two scenes “is of extraordinary power and style and achieves a genuine emotional communication” (April 22, 1942).

Winthrop Palmer (1900-1988) had a remarkable career as a poet, playwright and author of books on the dance. She was an ardent socialist and ran for Democratic senator in the Connecticut State legislature. In 1938, on the strength of her writings for a labor magazine, John L. Lewis invited her to Pittsburgh to attend the first convention of the C.I.O., after which she spoke to mine workers in Florence, Pennsylvania, where they had their first vacation with pay. Her sympathies as a New Dealer seem to have colored her scenario on the figure of Moses.

The cast lists Moses, Aaron (brother of Moses), Miriam (his sister), Jocheved (his mother), Pharaoh, Pharaoh’s daughter, Ladies in Waiting, Magicians of the Court, Israelites, and Taskmasters.

  • Scene 1, “At the Wailing Wall”: The Israelites suffer under Egyptian tyranny. Jocheved is distraught by Pharaoh’s decree that all newborn sons be killed.
  • Scene 2, “Along the Nile”: Jocheved hides Moses and flees with Aaron, Miriam stays to watch over the infant. Pharaoh’s daughter discovers the child and asks Miriam to find a wet nurse for him. Miriam appoints Jocheved, who cares for Moses until he comes of age.
  • Scene 3, “Pharaoh’s Court”: Pharaoh accepts Moses at court. The boy hates the fawning courtiers and dishonest soothsayers and runs away.
  • Scene 4, “A Work Field in Egypt”: Moses comes upon a slave camp of Israelites and is moved by their suffering. He quarrels with a Taskmaster and kills him. The Israelites turn on Moses, as they will have to pay for his actions.
  • Scene 5, “The Fields of Midian”: Moses flees to Midian and turns to God, who orders him to return to Egypt and become a leader of his people.
  • Scene 6, “On the Way to the Red Sea”: Aaron assembles the Israelites, who accept Moses as their leader. Moses leads them through the Red Sea.
  • Scene 7: “The Camp in the Desert”: The Israelites await the return of Moses, who has withdrawn to the mountain to contemplate. He returns with the tablets of the law to find the Israelites have regressed to idolatry and orgies. Moses breaks the tablets and orders the ringleaders be executed. He realizes that he failed as a leader, as he resorted to dictatorial power rather than teach the people self-government. Moses gives over leadership to Joshua. The Israelites depart for the Promised Land, leaving Moses to die alone in the wilderness. As Neil Levin points out, Palmer’s scenario takes motifs from the accounts in Exodus and Deuteronomy of the life of Moses and combines them with “fanciful aspects concerning his final hours” to depict Moses as the liberator of the Israelites according to a “modern political-social agenda.” The title of a musical item in Scene 4, “Moses Among the Workers,” suggests that the people were more indentured workers than slaves.

Schoenberg’s Moses was the philosopher-priest, while Palmer’s was a visionary autocrat who freed the people from oppression only to oppress them further. Was Palmer addressing the current political situation in the United States, or Germany, or Russia? Her scenario seems to illustrate the principle that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Loring’s choreographic outline divides the scenario into short scenes of between 1.5 and 4 minutes each. Wolpe’s score is a set of developing variations on two types of material: Moses (dodecaphonic) and the People (diatonic). Wolpe looked on diatonicism and dodecaphony not as mutually exclusive systems but as nodes on a continuous spectrum of resources. Diatonic, octatonic and twelve-tone materials characterize the various protagonists and provide a dramatic ebb and flow.

Wolpe had just spent four years in Palestine and was interested in developing a modern repertoire suitable for the emerging state of Israel. Theodor Adorno, who opposed folklorism in the music of Bartók and others, admired Wolpe’s achievement in combining progressive European ideas with music of the Middle East. In a radio broadcast over WNYC in 1941 Adorno said that Wolpe’s music seems extreme because it speaks with the passionate qualities of Arabic music. John Martin agreed: “Stefan Wolpe provided a passionate and vigorous musical setting for ‘The Man from Midian’” (New York Times, May 3, 1942)

March and Variations for Two Pianos, op. 21. 1933-34. 14:00. Peermusic Classical

A. Clarkson & Cheryl Seltzer, eds.

Wolpe’s program note

In these Variations new degrees of assent and affirmation are used as elements of expression of the élan of a l5-bar, one-voice theme. The four variations develop in an uninterrupted succession: the basic characters vary in appearance without destroying the authentic order. The rhythm of the March becomes more refined; it loses its open gestures and becomes a compound structure of multiple rhythmic connections. To weld these four variations together into one integral unit, it was necessary to invent all harmonic relationships (because the theme is in unison) and to involve all elements contrapuntally. The cadence of one becomes at the same time the beginning of another variation, which in turn coincides with the further development in another voice, with the results that the different elements of the theme are contained throughout. A sort of canon of different proportions. At times (for example, the fourth) in the same way that beginning and ending coincide, the theme and its variation fall together. Technically this involves the prolongation, or rather augmentation, of the theme placed against its original presentation. With the fourth variation the more classical type (in which the innermost structure of the theme remains unchanged) ends.

In the rest of the work each variation reaches a greatly augmented state by a development of specific elements of the theme. While this goes on in one voice, the lacking parts of the theme are presented in the other. This changes the shape, as though the theme had been born under different conditions. As such it is discussed, accepting the consequences of the new state without losing sight of the original. As a result of this procedure, one variation grows out of, and is a variation of, the previous. The highest conde of the theme is mirrored in and reflected against its development and variation by contrapuntal means. By this, all re parts, as separate entities, are subdued by one all-embracing unit . . . a material symbol of the main features.

Another procedure is the separation and release of motivic parts from the whole, and the invention or revelation of their counterparts. A sort of reflection of a part against itself. Further development consists of a disintegration of motivic elements and allowing them to proceed self-actively. The limit of the expansion of traits depends upon a sincere and true representation of their relation to the original. There are variations in which the single parts of the motive are carried through and developed from bar to bar. As the motives have their own consistent consequences, their individual and collective development is valid as regards the theme as a whole.

As a result of all these technical procedures, an extraordinary situation is reached. The struggle of the individual motive to act as itself against the attraction of its relationship to the whole results in striking forces which pull away from and are drawn back to the original point of association. It is this force which is used as a transitory element between variations and developments.

The prevailing character is intentionally heroic. This justifies a great development of those features which reveal the purpose. The characters of courage, looming consciousness and faith are expounded as intense emotional principles. The Adagio [Variation 8], for instance, is not one of quietness, but of the deepest concentration and the emotional response derived therefrom. The simplicity of the language of the material is presented in a way that denies all conventional and hide-bound regulations for connections. This was a willful creative act.

*Program notes read by the composer on the occasion of the U.S. premiere performed by Irma Wolpe and Edward Steuermann, February 11, l940, at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The text is on two typewritten pages with many lines crossed out. The edges are badly singed by fire, thus obscuring some words, which have been completed in angle brackets.

Suite for Marthe Krueger. 1940. 14:00. Peermusic Classical

A. Clarkson, ed.

1 The Women. 2 Remembrance. 3 The Tides of Man: Passions Spin the Plot.

Program note by Austin Clarkson

The score was discovered in the papers of the dancer and teacher Marthe Krueger (1910-2000), who came to America in the 1930s and worked for a time with Martha Graham. The scenario does not survive, but the three movements may have been inspired by Graham’s ballet, Every Soul is a Circus (1939), which explored woman’s inner landscape. The first movement, “Women,” contrasts gently questing and strongly assertive motions in diatonic modes; “Remembrance,” for solo piano, is by turns, elegiac, aggressive, and fearful; “The Tides of Man: Passions Spin the Plot” opposes a march-like, directed motion against a freely flowing motion in 5/4 time. Order and disorder, clarity and obscurity play out over this tumultuous, fully chromatic movement that builds until the “tides of man” crash in towering waves of sound. 

Three Pianos

Enactments for Three Pianos. 1953. 32:00. Peermusic Classical

A. Clarkson, ed.

1 Chant. 2 In a state of flight. 3 Held in. 4 Inception. 5 Fugal motions.

Wolpe’s comments on the piece

I am busy till my neck with writing (writing the music which I started to write in my Seven Pieces for Three Pianos**,** the ones I did for Yale), only doing it on a much vaster and bolder scale. What intrigues me so thoroughly is to integrate a vast number of different organic modes, existing simultaneously under different conditions of age, time, function and substance. The continuity of a piece is the expression (or manifestation) or a number of purposeful reproductions of these modes. I longed (and did terribly much in that direction) for writing this music. For a first time (for years) I see a vast orbit possible to write music existing (as definite totalities of organic modes) under most different conditions of complex behavior. I come close to my ideal of writing a language with a common-sense, and this in a sense of an all-union-of-the-human-tongue.

Letter to Josef Marx, June 17, l952. Josef Marx Archive, New York.

I just finished the fourth movement (called ‘Inception’) and I am fully (and a little fearfully) concerned with the writing (and gathering) of the last movement (called ‘Fugal Motions’), which is to be a thing in between two stages of formation, verging, and also not, on freer channel, and on those of more preformedness. A main concern of mine is the direction and focalisation of shapes in ways where I can (if I can) combine enormously bound and pushed forces of definite focal directions within a scheme of thoughts of multifocal-shooting-in-multiple-opposite directions (like order of stars, or the stream of motion in which fishes swim and act). This work deals as a whole with the phenomena (and intriguing intricacies) of simultaneous modes of action, structures and organisms.

Letter to Josef Marx, January 25, l953. Josef Marx Archive, New York.

More (a little bit) about my sound sensations. I very much like to maintain the flexibility of sound structures (as one would try to draw into water). That leads me to the promotion of a very mobile polyphony, in which the partials of the sound behave like river currents and a greater orbit-spreadout is guaranteed to the sound, a greater circulatory agility (a greater momentum too). The sound gets the plasticity of figures of waves, and the magneticism and fluid elasticity of river currents, or the fire of gestures and the generative liveliness of all what is life (and Apollo and Dionysus and the seasons of the heart and the articulate fevers). This also is done in order to give to the sound a wealth of focal points with numerously different directory tendencies . . . to keep the sound open, that openness which leads me to think in layers (like the cubists). Often I use canonic (or double canonic) foldings to keep the sound as porous as possible. (I use then all possible techniques of inversions, retrogrades, like attacking an object from all sides, or moving out from all sides of an object.) Often I use a different technique. Where the sound is a solid, compact, terse, closed-up entity, and only its linear involvements are fluid and open. This sort of squaring up or freezing the sound mass (which remains variable nevertheless.

Letter to Joseph Livingston, July 14, 1954.

Enactments doesn’t mean anything else but acting out, being in an act of, being the act itself.

From a letter to Beverly Bond, 9 February l96l.

Now I would like to play a piece of mine, a work for three pianos, where what then was really a bold and never-heard-of assemblage of multiple aspects of the same thing has become today a normal workable procedure of a composer who knows what he is doing. Then, one didn’t know so well what one was doing. One wanted only to try out how the thing comes out. But in music one can try out things and the musical material is very benign in its behavior. It doesn’t come in and hit you in the face back. One tries out and discovers numerously many interesting things, and later on one masters these things and knows exactly what to put together in order to get the blessing of a lively simultaneity. There is something new in this kind of simultaneity, namely, so many things happening that you can move like in a landscape. The composer offers you a large territory through which you can move. Many things are happening at the same time, curves hugely expanding, curves enormously contracting, new curves, a sound, a hit, a tone, a silence. These are not random situations, they’re highly calculated, but one experiences also the disparity of different qualities of events. For example, the maximum activity, while much is going on in music, finds in a minimum activity its silence is a complementary condition. I can have deeee-KA! and then all of a sudden shhhh. Burst out into acts, then the acts can crumble, and I have very quiet passages. By which is meant that you have in this kind of music a kind which was also one of the early Dada obsessions, or interests, namely, the concept of unforseeability, non-influence, non-directivity. You cannot explain. It means you cannot infer what is going to happen. That means that every moment events are so freshly invented, so newly born, that it has almost no history in the piece itself but its own actual presence. It has its presence, its now situation, and then the now situation is joined with another, with the next now–an unfoldment of nows!

Lecture on Dada

Seven Pieces for 3 Pianos. 1951. 7:00. Peermusic Classical

A. Clarkson, ed.

1 Calm. 2 Aggressive. 3 Precipitately. 4 Moving, stiff throughout. 5 Tired.

6 Taut like a high voltage wire. 7 Moving moderately.


Blues. 1929. 9:30. Peermusic Classical

2 sax (2cl), tpt, perc, 2pno, speaking chorus. 9:30.

Thomas Phleps, ed.

1. Blues. 2. “Stimmen aus dem Massengrab” (Text: Erich Kästner). 3. Marsch.

Notes by Austin Clarkson

In November, 1929 Wolpe composed a suite of three pieces for jazz ensemble for the opening of Cabaret “ANTI.” The central piece accompanies the declamation of a poem by Erich Kästner, “Voices from the Common Grave: For All Souls Day, Instead of a Sermon,” a bitter denunciation of the living by those who died in the war. The Suite begins with a somber Blues and ends with a strident March.

  1. Blues
  2. “Stimmen aus den Massengrab” (Erich Kästner)
  3. Marsch

Poets Max Kolpe, Erik Ode and Rolli Gero opened the Cabaret ‘ANTI’ in the Berlin theater district on November 29, 1929. “Our project was very simple,” they said, “We were against everything.” For the opening show they asked Wolpe to set a poem by Erich Kästner, “Voices from the Common Grave: For All Souls Day, Instead of a Sermon,” a bitter denunciation by those who died in the war of the living who have forgotten them. The piece was to be performed by “Teddy Stauffer and his Jazz-Sinfoniker,” a band of four musicians recently arrived from Switzerland. The Suite opens with a somber “Blues” and closes with a grim “March.” On the title page of “Blues” Wolpe inscribed the words: “Written for Teddys and his Band,” and on the title page of “Stimmen aus,” “Written for ‘ANTI’”.

Wolpe’s setting for 2 Saxophones (Clarinets), 1 Trumpet, 2 Pianos and Percussion, has fragmentary melodic lines, harmonies that veer from tonal to fully chromatic, and a percussion part for “Stimmen aus” that tends to avoid downbeats. According to Erik Ode, two of Stauffer’s musicians could not read music, so it is unlikely that they performed the Suite, which was very demanding. Phleps suggests that Wolpe may have accompanied the performance alone by playing the second piano part, which runs continuously through the score.

Teddy Stauffer wrote in his memoirs that all the personnel of the Cabaret, including the musicians, took part in the “The Common Grave” scene. They lay on the stage as corpses while a big, looming cross was projected on the back wall of the stage by shining a flashlight on a pair of matches. He said that the recitation of the poem was recorded and played on a gramophone while the corpses lip-synced the words. Wolpe presumably accompanied the vocalist on the recording, and may have recited the text himself, as he had an excellent voice. A review of the opening night praised the “All Souls’ Day scene” as having had “an overwhelming effect.” 

Cantata for Voice, Voices, and Instruments. 1963. 12:00. Peermusic Classical

Solo mezzo-sop, 3 female voices (S, Mz, A), 2 speakers, fl, cl, bn, tpt, tbn, 2vn, va, cb

1 “New World” (Friedrich Hölderlin). 2. “Smells that intoxicate” (Herodotus). 3 “I know a man” (Robert Creeley). 4. “I had wanted a quiet testament” (Robert Creeley).

Four Pieces for Mixed Chorus. 1954. 14:00. Peermusic Classical

(Original title, Three Pieces for Mixed Chorus with Words from the Bible and a Piece by Gershon Shofman.) Hebrew text.

Israel Adler & A. Clarkson, eds.

1. Psalm 122. 2. Piece by Shofman (Shlu Naaleichem). 3. Isaiah 43:18-22.

4. Jeremiah 31:6-12.

Wolpe’s comments on the piece

I managed to work on three choruses for which the Israeli government has set out a contest. The deadline was December 31 [1954]. I read about it a few days before. They have to be for amateur choruses. How I love (the whole world then circles in me, rages in me, flowers in me). How I feel good to write music for the people (I, son of my many people, of all the Mediterranean people).

Letter to Irma Jurist Neverov, January 4, l955. Estate of Neverov.

I was ill on Christmas Eve and composed in bed, structuring, moulding, filing, edging, welding tonal phrases. Oh how my Hebrew music settles in my blood!! And how this bloodstream, this remarkably ancient, history-filled stream, deepens, mingles wonderfully and is purified. I was truly born for this state of working, to be a rhapsodist, to sing melodies for epics, legends, and true stories. I have composed a Psalm about Jerusalem, then Isaiah and Jeremiah, and a piece from a contemporary writer, G. Shofman. (I am very happy to have done it.) About 40 pages in score. One can win $100, which I hope to do. Even though I missed the deadline of Dec. 31 by two weeks, (I sent a telegram to Tel Aviv to allow two weeks more, which they did), I would be very proud and content to win in the contest; I verily cannot fathom that one could write better choruses (in a somewhat preordained material).

Letter to Irma Wolpe Rademacher, January 22, 1955. When Wolpe visited Israel in 1956, he was told that the jury was unanimous in judging his the best piece, but that it was thought too difficult for amateur choirs. The prize was awarded to Haim Alexander of Jerusalem, who had studied with Wolpe in Jerusalem. The texts of the four pieces: 1. Psalm 122; 2. Shelu na’alekhem, by Gershon Shofman; 3. Isaiah 43: 18-21; 4. Jeremiah 31: 6-12.

Lazy Andy Ant. 1947. 18:00. Seesaw Music (Available through 

(singer-narrator), 2 pno Text: Helen Fletcher.

Sportrevue “Alles an den roten Start” (Cantata on Sport). 1932. Peermusic Classical

Thomas Phleps, ed.

2 cornet, 2 tpt, 2 hn, 2  ten hn, bar hn, trb, tba, perc Text: Siegfried Moos.

Note by Austin Clarkson

The overt purpose of the Sport Revue “Alles an den roten Start” [Everyone at the Red Starting Line] was to promote the communist programs of amateur sports and athletics for the working classes. The covert agenda was to rally support for Ernst Thälmann in the presidential election of March 13, 1932. Thälmann, head of the Communist Party, was running against the incumbent, Paul von Hindenburg, and Adolf Hitler of the National Socialist Party.

Articles and advertisements appeared almost daily in the leftwing press during the two weeks leading up to the event. They announced that the Revue was organized by the Fichte Sports Society as the first attempt to promote Red programs for amateur sport, to demonstrate the achievements of the athletes, and to depict on stage the problems facing the amateur sports movement. The program was to include new music by Stefan Wolpe, songs, speech- and singing choirs, agitprop troupes, and films. Athletes will demonstrate sports and gymnastics. Threaded through the show will be the story of Walter Vogel, an office employee, Marie Schmidt, a factory worker, and Anton Schmidt, who was recently “rationalized” from his job and is now unemployed. All these elements will be combined in a unified show with the most up-to-date techniques of staging.

Two days before the event an article appeared describing the preparations. “An ear-shattering din” from the back room of a tavern turned out to be Stefan Wolpe rehearsing the Fichte-Balalaika Troupe. Wolpe was “stamping the rhythm of the song so hard with his feet that the floorboards cracked.” 5,000 athletes and gymnasts were practicing all week at various locations. “Old, young, short, tall, workers, jobless, women, children. Everyone!”

The Sport Revue attracted some 4,000 people and was regarded as a huge success. The day before, the chief of police forbade the event as a public political demonstration, which was forbidden in the run-up to the election. At the outset of the show there was an announcement that the film that was to provide continuity during the Revue had been banned by the police. Near the end of the show the curtain came down with an announcement from the stage that the police demanded that the show be stopped. The curtain went up again to reveal police officers on stage and behind them the athletes, children’s groups, women and youth waving red flags in a powerful final apotheosis. All the while “Stählt die Muskeln” was being sung. Then a red scrim was drawn across the stage with lettering in white: “For the Red Unity Front, vote Ernst Thälmann.” The banned Revue ended with everyone singing the “Internationale.” After the show Wolpe had to get to the Kleines Theater unter den Linden for a 4 p.m. performance of Die Mausefalle, the hit show by Truppe 31 that had been running daily since the previous December .

According to one reviewer, the music of the Sport Revue was “not always particularly well chosen, but that the expression was especially strong in the song about a factory worker (Wolpe’s song ‘Das Lied vom Nebenmann’ from Die Mausefalle) and ‘Stählt die Muskeln.’” By comparison with the “Suite for ANTI,” the Sport Revue settings are easier to play, except for the very fast introduction of the second number:

3. Marsch (2 Saxophones, 2 Trumpets, Trombone, Percussion, Piano)

4. Zweierlei Tempi [Two kinds of tempi]: “Das ist der Sport der herrschenden Klasse” [This is the sport of the ruling class]. Instrumentation same as No. 1, plus chorus.

5. Song, “Stählt die Muskeln” [Toughen your muscles]. (2 Cornets, 2 Trumpets, 2 Horns in Eb, 2 Tenor Horns in Bb, Baritone, Trombone, Tuba, Percussion, Piano, Chorus.

In later years Wolpe referred to the Sport Revue settings as the “Cantata on Sport.” Siegried Moos (1909-1988) wrote the texts for the musical numbers of the Sport Revue. Moos was editor of Arbeiterbühne und Film [Workers’ Stage and Screen], the organ of the ATBD (Workers’ Theatre League of Germany). 

Street Music. 1962. 7:30. Peermusic Classical

Bar, narrator, fl, ob, cl, vc, pno Text: Stefan Wolpe.

Yigdal. 1945. 26:00. Peermusic Classical

Bar, SATB, org. Text: Maimonides (Hebrew).

Israel Adler & A. Clarkson, eds.

Theatre Music

An Anna Blume von Kurt Schwitters, op. 5c. 1929. 6:00. Peermusic Classical

Lyric scene for T (musical clown), pno Text: Kurt Schwitters.

Thomas Phelps, ed.

The Exception and the Rule. 1961. SF

Voices, tpt, cl, bn, perc, pno. Text: Bertolt Brecht, trans. Eric Bentley. Score reconstructed by Austin Clarkson. Overture and 9 songs.

The Good Woman of Setzuan. 1953. SF

Voices, pno. Text: Bertolt Brecht, trans. Eric Bentley. Overture and 19 songs. E. Bentley & A. Clarkson, eds.

The Hour Glass. 1958. Stefan Wolpe Society

Voice, pno Scene and song. Text: W. B. Yeats.

King Oedipus. 1957. Stefan Wolpe Society

Speaking vo, pno. Text: Sophocles, trans. W. B. Yeats. Introduction, 5 choruses.

Schöne Geschichten, op. 5b. 1927-29. 24:00. Peermusic Classical

Für Andeutungsbühne, Schauspieler, Sänger, Marionetten, Chor und kleines Orchester. fl, 2cl (sax), tpt, tbn, perc, vn, pno, chorus. Text: Otto Hahn & Stefan Wolpe. Thomas Phleps, ed.

Zeus und Elida, op. 5a. 1928, 25:00. Peermusic Classical

Musikalische Groteske für Solisten, Sprecher, Chor und Orchester. 3sax (cl, bcl), 2tpt, tbn, sous, 2cb, Tbjo, perc (drum set, xyl, glk, gongs, flexaton), 12vn, 2pno (cel). Text: Karl Wickerhauser & Otto Hahn. Thomas Phleps, ed.

Program note by Austin Clarkson

A satire on the model of Busoni’s Arlecchino. with stock characters from the puppet theatre: amorous old man (Zeus), femme fatale (Elida), policeman (Public Prosecutor), and skeptical Announcer, and a chorus of street people dressed in rags. In search of Europa, Zeus (Hitler) descends onto the traffic island in the middle of Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz. He sees a billboard for Elida cosmetics (anagram of Ideal) and mistakes the picture of the blond beauty for the object of his search. A street-walker who resembles the woman in the ad enters, and Zeus accosts her. The imbroglio results in the Prosecutor banning the entire Potsdamer Platz and Zeus being carted off to the asylum. The through-composed scenes are based on the styles of the Boston, Tango, Blues, Foxtrot, Baroque concerto, etc. 

Choral Music

SATB unless indicated otherwise.

Dust of Snow. 1958. 1:30. Stefan Wolpe Society

Text: Robert Frost.

Four Hebrew Choral Arrangements. 1938. Stefan Wolpe Society

Heidy Zimmermann, ed., in preparation.

1. Haseh Hato’eh (The Lost Goat). Melody: Sara Levy Tanai. Text: Miriam Pollack. 2. Seh Ug’di (The goat and the kid). Text and melody: M. Weiner. 3. Sisu V’simchu (Rejoice and be merry). Text and melody: M. Weiner. 4. Na’alzah V’nism’chah (Let us be joyous and merry). Text and melody: M. Weiner.

Four Pieces for Mixed Chorus. See Cantatas.

Four Songs from Ballad of the Unknown Soldier. 1937.

Hebrew version by Nathan Altermann from Moshé Lifshitz.

Heidy Zimmermann, ed., in preparation.

1. Zot Hi Habaladah (Life flows onward). 2. Al Admateinu (On this our blessed land). 3. Sim Shalom (Give peace to the tree). 4. Hachayalim Ts’u Lilchom (Know how to fight).

Hebrew Choral Songs I. 1935-1938.

Heidy Zimmermann, ed., in preparation.

1. Ali B’eir (The Well). Arr. Melody: Sara Levi-Tanai. Hebrew text: Nathan

Bialik. 2. Bimkomoteinu (We Have a Court of Justice) 1938. Hebrew version by Nathan Altermann from the German of Gerhard Hauptmann. [English version: Men whose boast it is] 3. Kvish (Road). 1937. Hebrew text: author anon.

4. Olam Chadash. 1931. Hebrew version by Sinai Leichter from German of Ludwig Renn. 5. Shir Hanapach (Song of the blacksmith). 1938. Hebrew text: Nathan Altermann. 6. Tein Li Chaveir. Text: Hebrew version by Sinai Leichter from the German of Oscar Maria Graf.

Hebrew Choral Songs II. SA.

Heidy Zimmermann, ed., in preparation.

1. Moshe V’hasneh. Hebrew text: E. Lisitzki. 2. Piyutim K’tanim. Hebrew text: I. Gabirol. 3. Shir Hanapach (Esh). 1938.

Ts’daktem Habonim (You were right). 1936. Hebrew text: Saul Tchernichovsky; English version, Hilda Morley.

Zwei Chinesische Grabschriften (Two Chinese Epitaphs), op. 25. 6:00. Peermusic Classical

SATB, perc (sn dr, high gong, cym, bdr)

German text: Louise Peter; English version, Elizabeth Papernow-Shapiro.

A. Clarkson, ed.


Bearbeitungen Ostjüdischer Volkslieder [6 Yiddish Folksongs]. 1923-1925. Peermusic Classical

Med voice, pno David Bloch, A. Clarkson, eds. (edition completed by Nora Born and Heidy Zimmerman)

1. Inter dem Kinds Wigele (Wiegenlied). 2. Be man Mames Hasele. 3. Amul is gewen (Kinderlied). 4. Alle Menschen tanzendik. 5. Wi asoi ken listik san? (Mädchenlied). 6. Es kimt gefloigen gilderne Pawe.

Note by Austin Clarkson

Born and raised in a secular household, Wolpe had little knowledge of his Jewish heritage. His interest in Yiddish folklore was aroused in 1923, when he arranged “Es kimt gefloigen” from the collection of songs of “Ostjuden” edited by Fritz Mordechai Kaufmann (1920). Kaufmann intended the edition for practical use by acculturated German Jews (“Westjuden”) and so provided extensive notes on the songs, a key to pronunciation of Yiddish dialects, and a note on performance style. He wrote that he presented the melodies as they were sung, without prettifying them. He added pauses to indicate the improvisational, recitative-like manner, as Yiddish vocal style differed greatly from that of German folksongs.

Wolpe’s interest in Yiddish folklore seems to have been reignited by the singer Rahel Ermolnikoff (b. Odessa, 1890), who specialized in Jewish folksongs from Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Alice Jacob-Loewenson (1895-1967), pianist, composer, musicologist and promoter of modern music by Jewish composers, gave a concert of her arrangements of Jewish folksongs from Yiddish and Yemeni sources in January, 1925. She accompanied Ermolnikoff at the piano. Wolpe must have been in the audience and smitten, for he invited Ermolnikoff to perform his own Yiddish song arrangements for his Berlin debut as a composer only three months later. Along with Wolpe’s Violin Sonata, op. 20 and Cello Sonata, op. 21 (both now lost), the program included thirteen Yiddish song arrangements, Op. 14. Wolpe’s enthusiasm for Yiddish folklore was such that he cited the Kaufmann edition as the source of the songs, printed the complete texts in the concert program, and provided German equivalents for obscure Yiddish words. Only six of the thirteen songs survive, of which five were composed in April, just before the concert on the 27th of the month.

Wolpe’s settings are cool, modern and inventive, with spare textures, post-tonal harmonies, late Mahler counterpoints, and offbeat, sporadic rhythms. Picking up on Kaufmann’s description of improvisatory Yiddish performance, the strophic settings are rich with unexpected variations. There is no trace of the thrumming ostinatos, and Western chordings that usually accompanied such folksongs.

The image for the strophe of each song is set with a distinctive figure and design. No. 1: A song of longing for the beloved, in which every chord is off the beat. No. 2: the lament of a jilted maiden, the active harmony and rhythm are varied fancifully. No. 3: The quiet glissandi offer a dreamy background to the lullaby and dissolve into trills and tremolos in the following stanzas. The accompaniment to No. 4, a children’s dance song, is extremely spare with sudden offbeat accents. No. 5 is the widely known lament of the bride trapped in a hostile household far from her home. The accompaniment is a collage of four-part chords, strumming, two-part counterpoint, and fragmentary rhythms. No. 6 is a children’s song about a boy who plays many instruments. The cumulative form of the song is amplified by a stream of inventive and accelerating figurations. This song concluded the 1925 concert.

Ermolnikoff must have enjoyed working with Wolpe, for she asked him to accompany her on a tour of Poland and a concert in Berlin. A review of the Berlin concert lists the program as Jewish folksong arrangements by Darius Milhaud, Heinrich Schalit, Jacob-Loewenson and Wolpe. It praises the “religious fervor” with which Ermolnikoff “celebrated” the excellent settings of Jewish songs from Yemenite and Yiddish sources. The singer was less successful in the Yemenite songs, which were influenced by Arabic music, than in the Yiddish songs with their “unusual, salty-lyrical settings” (probably referring to Wolpe’s arrangements). Wolpe at the piano was a “hyper-sensitive bundle of nerves” who provided “a veritable tour de force of the accompanist’s art, … a chromatic scale of musical expressions, . . . a complete inventory of all possible nuances of articulation and pedaling.” The audience responded enthusiastically (Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, February 11, 1927).

The edition was prepared by David Bloch (1939-2010), the pianist and musicologist who did much to promote Wolpe’s music in Israel. 

Decret Nr. 2 an die Armee der Künstler. 1929. Peermusic Classical

High voice, pno Thomas Phleps, ed.

Drei Lieder nach Bertolt Brecht. 1943. 7:00. Peermusic Classical

Low voice, pno.

1 Ballade von den Osseger Witwen. 2 Der Gott sei bei uns. 3 Keiner oder Alle.

Drei Lieder nach Heinrich von Kleist, op. 3. 1925. 26:30. Peermusic Classical

sop, pno. A. Clarkson & Zoltan Roman, eds.

1 Der Engel am Grabe des Herrn. 2 Gleich und Ungleich (Eine Legende nach Hans Sachs). 3 Die beiden Tauben (Eine Fabel nach La Fontaine).

Epitaph. 1938. 2:00. Peermusic Classical

Low voice, pno Hebrew text: anon. Eng. trans. Hilda Morley.

Excerpts from Dr. Einstein’s Address about Peace in the Atomic Era. 1950. 3:30. Peermusic Classical

medium voice, pno. A. Clarkson, ed.

Der faule Bauer mit seinen Hunden. Fabel von Hans Sachs. 1926. 10:00. Peermusic Classic

bar, pno A. Clarkson, ed.

Fünf Lieder nach Friedrich Hölderlin, op. 1. 1924, 1927; rev., 1936. 20:30. Peermusic Classical

Mezzo-sop  or alto, pno. A. Clarkson, ed.

1. Hälfte des Lebens. 2. An Diotima. 3. Diotima. 4. Der Spaziergang.

5. Zufriedenheit.

Fünf Vertonungen aus “Gitanjali” von Rabindranath Tagore für Alt und Klavier. 1926. 12:00. Peermusic Classical

alto, pno A. Clarkson & Zoltan Roman, eds.

1. O du letzte Erfüllung. 2. An dem Tage. 3. Voll verzweifelter Hoffnung. 4. Bist

du draußen in stürmischer Nacht. 5. Gottheit des zertrümmerten Tempels.

If it be my fate. 1938. 3:30. Peermusic Classical

low voice, pno. Hebrew text: Rachel. English version, Hilda Morley.

La-Menatzeach al Ha-Mecholot (To the Dancemaster). 1938. 2:30. McGinnis and Marx

Mezzo-sop. z, cl (Bb, C), pno. Hebrew text: Nathan Bialik; English version.

[60] Lieder mit Klavierbegleitung 1929-1933. Peermusic Classical

Voice, pno Thomas Phleps, ed.

Palestinian Folksong Arrangements. 1938. A-R Editions

medium voice, pno in, Israeli Folk Music: Songs of the Early Pioneers.

Hans Nathan & Philip Bohlman, eds.

1. Rainu Amalenu. 2. Saleinu Al K’tefeinu. 3. Tel Aviv [Lamidbar].

Note by Austin Clarkson

In the mid-1930s Hans Nathan, then living in Berlin, was involved with a project of the Palestinian National Fund to distribute “postcards with folk songs to Jewish organizations through the world, hoping to stimulate a nationalist music project.” He continued the project after immigrating to Boston in 1936. He published settings by Aaron Copland, Paul Dessau, Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, Ernst Toch, Kurt Weill and Stefan Wolpe in two issues as Folk Songs of the New Palestine (1938). Philip Bohlman took over the project after Nathan’s death in 1989 and prepared the critical edition. Three of the fifteen setting are by Wolpe.

These so-called “folk songs” were by amateur musicians who had immigrated to Palestine from Russia and Poland and were living on various kibbutzim. Among the authors of the tunes were Shalom Postolsky and Mordechai Zaira, who took lessons with Wolpe during his stay in British Mandate Palestine (1934-1938). In making arrangements of the songs before he left Palestine for the USA, Wolpe had the advantage of direct contact with the pioneers and their aspirations for a national music. Two of the songs he arranged were by Postolsky and Zaira.

To ensure that the arrangements would be suitable for amateur musicians, Nathan sometimes asked composers to simplify their settings. Nathan accepted Wolpe’s settings of “Ra’inu amaleinu,” “Saleinu Al K’tefeinu,” and “Tel Aviv,” but returned “Holem tza’adi.” Wolpe made a second arrangement, then a third, but Nathan rejected them all. The pedal sonorities, pointillistic, open textures and improvisatory style of the first part of the song mark Wolpe’s attempt to transform these “folk songs: into a new language that addressed the historical moment. He avoided the ostinatos and heavy chording patterns of those who dressed Jewish folk music in European clothing in favor of spare settings inflected by ornamentation that evokes the indigenous music of the Middle East. As he wrote about his “Songs from the Hebrew”: “Whatever I heard there . . . transformed itself into new aural images, re-crystallizing itself in its encounter with a modern musical mind.” 

Psalm 64 & Isaiah Chapter 35. 1939. 11:00. Peermusic Classical

sop, pno. Bible (English).

1. Psalm 64, “Hear my voice, O God, in my prayer.”

2. Isaiah Ch. 35, “The wilderness and the solitary place.”

Wolpe’s program note

Ladies and Gentlemen: I was asked to speak about the Palestinian song. I think this is not the occasion for speaking about musical affairs in scientific ways or in an analytical manner, disintegrating, examining, and criticizing a music which you love. All of you know, of course, there is much singing in Palestine, much composing, and much playing of music. The percentage of the people in Palestine who are in one or in another way interested in music is amazing. The enthusiasm is enormous. An inborn emotional fervor, a vivid sense for any kind of creative manifestations, are evidently great. These are facts. Why should I enlarge upon them? But about two facts I would like to talk. One is concerned with the relationship between the audience (which in Palestine, you must understand, is the people) and the composer. The other is concerned with the composer’s attitude to writing music which deviates from what we call popular/folk music.

In Palestine exists a closer cooperation between the composer and the people. The needs of the people for songs and choral music are the expression and the proof of an intense collective life. In songs sung together, in choral works studied together, a multitude of single individualities is merged into one body. This being a frequent experience of these people creates a need for an increased repertoire, thereby making demands on the composer. An intense musical practice like this evokes dormant creative abilities among people themselves, which are evidenced in a great number of amateur composers in the cities and farms of Palestine. The professional composer, in his awareness of the musical needs of the community, willingly participates in ministering to these needs, thus himself becoming an active part of this community. His production having become organized, he no longer writes only for an undefined market. This contract between the professional and the people results in a reciprocal influence, wherein the composer reacts to the spontaneity and ability with which the people accept his work, and the people exert a subtle influence on the composer’s formulation of his own ideas. Another result of this interrelation is that the composer becomes the guide of the amateurs, gradually lifting the musical values and preventing the stagnation of musical folklore. The composers, for example, like Zaira, Postolsky, Ben Haim, Gideon, whose songs you are familiar with, were (if I may mention it) pupils of mine when I was in Palestine.

The coincidence of popular needs and the composer’s astuteness abilities creates that which we call a folksong, which becomes so much the part and property of the people. And so complete is this union, that the seeming anonymous authorship of these folksongs becomes even a matter of pride to the composer. But this participation in the creation of the folksong is by no means the only manner of expression of a composer. His own personal needs often lead him in very different ways. In the same as people and things are the product of a historical development, so is the composer rooted in a heritage of musical history and evolution. His is a language of accumulated emotions, thoughts, and expressions, a language which is constantly changing in relation to a changed need for expression. This naturally requires a greater complexity in the presentation of ideas. In this language is embodied a world of forces and energies of its own, comparable to the forces in all the various manifestations of nature itself. In the same way as the composer reflects the time and world in which he lives, it is this world documented through the composer’s everlasting search for an adequate and valued medium of expression.

The two songs which you are going to hear [Psalm 64 and Isaiah Chapter 35] were written about eight years ago, when I arrived here from Palestine. It was my first work in America.

Read at the Fourth Public Meeting of the Jewish Music Forum, Feb. 18, 1946, Young Men’s Hebrew Association, New York. The holograph text is written in pencil on six pages, with a few notations and strikings out in ink. The three leaves are only slightly damaged by fire. The concert included music by Wolpe and Mordecai Sandberg. Wolpe’s Zemach Suite (1939), Two Songs on Poems of Berthold Viertel (1945), Toccata (1941), and Psalm 64 and Isaiah Chapter 35 (1939) were performed by Anneliese von Molnar, soprano, and David Tudor, piano.

Six Songs from the Hebrew. 1938, 1954. 11:30. McGinnis and Marx

mezzo-sop, bar, pno Hebrew texts: Noach Stern, Bible.

1 Lilacs (Lilakh). 1938. Mz. Hebrew text, Noach Stern; English version, Hilda Morley. 2 On a Mural by Diego Rivera (R’u Katsiporim). 1938. Bar. Hebrew text: Stern; Eng. version, Hilda Morley. 3 David’s Lament over Jonathan (Hatsvi, Israel). 1954. Bar. Text: Bible. 4 Lines from the Prophet Micah (Hoi, Khoshvei). 1938. Bar. Text: Bible. 5 Isaiah (Ki Hin’ni). 1936. Bar. Text: Bible. 6 Song of Songs. 1948. Mz. Bible (English).

Wolpe’s program notes on the Songs from the Hebrew

These songs, which I call Palestinian Songs (and which belong to a larger group of related songs) were written for the greater part in Jerusalem in the years l937-l939.2 They represent an unique experience for me in the sense that some of the inherent traits of these songs are akin to elements in the music of Palestine. I in no way intended to adapt myself to a folkloristic language in connection with which I have no fetishistic prejudices. Nor did I intend to abandon any of my artistic experiences in connection with which I refrain from any stubborn defense of aesthetic prerogatives. The music of Palestine was unknown to these experiences. Whatever I heard there, however, transformed itself into new aural images, re-crystallizing itself in its encounter with a modern musical mind. This constituted at the same time a process of crystallization within me, which pushed me (as I still intensely remember) into new stylistic directions over which I no longer had any retarding control. So that at the end I found that I had composed a language which I sensed as peculiarly possible in this corner of the world. It was only after I had finished several of these songs that I became fully aware of the orbit in which this music exists.

From the program of the Fifth Annual Festival of Contemporary American Music, sponsored by the Alice M. Ditson Fund of Columbia University, May 14, l949, McMillin Academic Theater. The ‘Six Palestinian Songs’ were performed by Arline Carmen, mezzo soprano, and Irma Wolpe, piano: ‘Si meini kahotam’ (1937), from Two Songs from the Song of Songs, in Hebrew; ‘Epitaph’ (1938), in English; Song of Songs (1949), in English; ‘If it be my fate’ (1938), in English; Isaiah (1938), in Hebrew.

Ten Songs From the Hebrew were composed between l936 and l938. They are not the results of an analysis of the folklore of the country, but, when I was in that country, I felt the folklore which I heard there to be profoundly latent within me. The songs of the Yemenite Jews, the singing of Coptic monks in a monastery near Jerusalem, and the Arabic songs filled me with enchantment. To this day I cannot forget how the cadences of the languages there struck me, how the light of the sky, the smell of the country, the stones and the hills around Jerusalem, the power and the sinewy beauty of the Hebrew’s language, all turned into music, which suddenly seemed to have a topographical character. It seemed new to me, and yet I felt it as an old source within me. The musical language is, naturally, related to a wider heritage than that which seems so purely instinctual. The whole orbit of the material yielded to my techniques of composition, which are, naturally, of contemporary origin. The musical language stretches, therefore, from strict patterns belonging to a particular locality to their most extended transformations.

Notes for the recording on Columbia Masterworks, Modern American Music Series, ML 5l79 (l957) of Six Songs From the Hebrew and Two Songs From The Song of Songs. Two of the songs were composed after Wolpe immigrated to America: ‘Song of Songs’ (1949) and ‘David’s Lament over Jonathan’ (1954).

Songs 1955-61. Stefan Wolpe Society 

A. Clarkson, ed.

1 Apollo and Artemis. From Sophocles, Women of Trachis; English version, Ezra Pound. 1955. First setting, vo, pno. Second setting, vo alone. 2 The Angel. 1959. Text: William Blake. 3 I Left My Love Upon a Hill. 1959. Text: Willis Barnstone. 4 Music for Medium Voice and Piano. 1959. [Vocalise.] 5 Lively. 1959? [Vocalise.] 6 To a Theater New. 1961. Bar. Text: Winthrop Palmer.

Three Songs for Medium Voice and Piano. 1946. 7:00. Transcontinental 

1 Unto the New Day. Text: Elizabeth Papernow-Shapiro. 2 People’s March. Text: Elizabeth Papernow-Shapiro. 3 O Captain, My Captain. Text: Walt Whitman.

Two Songs for Alto and Piano from the Song of Songs, op. 24. 1937. 6:30. Peermusic Classical

Hebrew text: Bible. 1 Smolo Tahat Roshi (His left hand is under my head). 2 Si Meini Kahotam (Set me as a seal).

Zehn frühe Lieder. 1920. Peermusic Classical

Note by Austin Clarkson

A collection of remarkably accomplished songs by the 18-year-old prodigy, they are among the very few pieces that Wolpe kept from before 1924. They include poems on spiritual love by medieval mystics, and verses by Rilke, Kokoschka, Christian Morgenstern, and the feminist poet Catherina Godwin. Wolpe himself wrote a couple of playful poems for infants. Whether tonal hymns, or post-tonal novelties with dashes of ragtime, the songs display a lively fantasy and impressive control of a wide range of materials.

High voice, pno. Texts: Christina Godwin, Mechthild von Magdeburg, Christian Morgenstern, Des Knaben Wunderhorn, Oskar Kokoschka, Rainer Maria Rilke, Johannes Sternegassen, Stefan Wolpe. 

Zwei Lieder aus Gedichte von Berthold Viertel. 1945. 4:30. Peermusic Classical

High vo, pno. 1 Lebensmüdigkeit. 2 Salomonischer Spruch.