Da Capo is particularly excited to be offering this concert as a part of the New York Wolpe Festival of the International Stefan Wolpe Centennial. Stefan Wolpe's groundbreaking music and unforgettable teaching inspired countless American composers, including many jazz artists. One memorable teaching maxim is often quoted: "Only when you have painted yourself into a corner does the ceiling become a possible exit." Another, "Silence . . . must be earned" was set to music in Quintet with Voice by Raoul Pleskow.
Wolpe's vital influence was strongly felt by the composers and performers who were creating the new music scene in New York in the sixties—Charles Wuorinen and Harvey Sollberger, Josef Marx, Cheryl Seltzer and Joel Sachs, Joan Tower, and Arthur Weisberg, to name but a few. The founding of Da Capo shortly after that, by composer Joan Tower, was in turn inspired by the dynamic examples of those groups. Wolpe's Trio for Flute, Cello, and Piano has remained in Da Capo's repertoire over the years.
This evening's program offers works from four distinct periods of Wolpe's life:
Stefan Wolpe's early years in Berlin were spent first in studying at the Klindworth-Scharwenka Conservatory and the Berlin Hochschule für Musik, then seeking escape from such stuffy academism through his involvement with the Bauhaus, radical socialism, and Dadaism. His works of that period include anti-fascist socialist workers' songs as well as works for Communist theater and dance companies. Fleeing Germany in 1933, he spent four months in Vienna studying with Anton Webern before emigrating to Palestine. There, at the same time that he continued his own highly individual development of the twelve-tone techniques he had explored with Webern, he was constantly hearing (with fascination and a deep natural affinity) the Arabic modes—meanwhile writing songs for the kibbutzim, meanwhile continuing his radical politics. In 1938 he came to the United States, teaching first in NewYork and Philadelphia, later at Black Mountain College (where he once walked out of a concert of John Cage's), and eventually at C.W. Post College of Long Island University, from 1957-1970. He held weekly analysis classes in his apartment in New York, described by composer Howard Rovics as "shock treatment" for anyone with a tradition-bound conservatory background. In the sixties he was a source of inspiration for many of the new music groups born in that decade: the Group for Contemporary Music, Continuum, the Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, the Greenwich House Concert Series of Contemporary Music. In his final years, though physically incapacitated by Parkinson's disease, he nevertheless composed as much as ever, completing not only his Trio for Flute, Cello and Piano but also his Piece for Trumpet and Seven Instruments, Chamber Piece No. 1, Chamber Piece No. 2, String Quartet, and From Here On Farther, among other works.
For more about the life of Stefan Wolpe, see the website: www.wolpe.org.
(zur Ola, liebe Frau)
Music for Hamlet was composed in 1929 in Berlin, for the Renaissance Theater. During this period, Wolpe was active in an array of radical, iconoclastic artistic movements—music director for the Berlin dadaists, composer and pianist with the Novembergruppe (dedicated to furthering the aims of the socialist revolution of 1918), in addition to Communist theater and dance companies. He also frequently attended lectures at the Bauhaus, in Weimar. Austin Clarkson writes: "He was profoundly affected by the lectures of Klee, Kandinsky, Moholy-Nagy, and the other masters . . . He travelled to Weimar many times 'like a pilgrim to Mecca'."
The music is intended to accompany Act 3, Scene 2 of Shakespeare's Hamlet, a scene which consists of a play within the play. The work is dedicated to Ola Okuniewska, Wolpe's first wife.
(written for and dedicated to Josef Marx)
After Wolpe was exiled from Germany in 1933 and after a few months of study with Webern in Vienna, he settled in Palestine, where he began to re‑examine the possibilities of the twelve‑tone idiom. In August of 1936, after completing the Four Pieces on Basic Rows for piano, he began a series of what were to be Seven Little Canons in the Inversion of Two 12‑Tone Corresponding Hexachords for Viola and Cello. For the first three of these Wolpe split the chromatic scale into two sets of five semitones. He assigned one of the hexachords to each instrument and proceeded to compose canons with one voice as the inversion of the other. It was one of those exercises in stringently limited resources that Wolpe liked to set himself from time to time. But his exuberant imagination expanded beyond the initial idea, and the last four pieces jumped off the canonic rails and became the four movements of Suite im Hexachord (1936) for oboe and clarinet. The instruments are no longer in canon, but the pitch resources are limited even more drastically. The first three movements—eight‑and‑one‑half minutes of brilliantly variegated music—utilize the six pitch classes of only one of the hexachords (G, Ab, A, Bb, B, C). Because these pitches appear in several registers, it is as though Wolpe is composing with some strangely gapped scale. When the remaining six pitch classes of the chromatic scale enter for the concluding Adagio, it is as though a whole spectrum of new colors enters the picture, as though switching from black and white to color film.
The suite marks a major step beyond the big city expressionism which Wolpe inherited from the Berlin years. His discovery of the richly decorative melos of the Mediterranean infuses the work, especially the Pastorale. Irma Wolpe, his second wife, recalled how Wolpe loved to listen to shepherds in the fields playing their pipes. The move from strings to woodwinds can be seen as the naturalization of the Yekke (the German emigré to Palestine) ear to the indigenous sounds of the Mediterranean, but it also marked the beginning of Wolpe's life‑long friendship with Josef Marx, the American oboist, musicologist, music dealer, and publisher who brought out many of Wolpe's works under the McGinnis and Marx imprint. Marx, who was playing in the Palestine Orchestra at the time, premiered the Suite at concerts in Tel Aviv and Jerulalem in May of 1937.
With Marx as his guide, Wolpe explored the furthest reaches of oboe technique in theis and other contributions to the oboe repertoire. Nora Post, who studied with Marx, noted that Suite im Hexachord makes one of the first requests for harmonic fingering in the oboe literature (8 bars from the end of the first movement) and calls for an extraordinary range. "With total disregard for existing convention the piece sweeps from the oboe's lowest note to the first A3 in the oboe literature (last bars of the third movement). Other composers did not begin tentative explorations of this register for another 20 years."
The play of antinomies between the oboe and clarinet is a hallmark of Wolpe's music. The two instruments relate and divagate in an intensely inventive and intimate discourse of freshly turned phrases.
Notes by from Bridge CD
During the 1940s and early 50s, Wolpe wrote more than sixty works "for any instruments" including many canons and/or studies on the interplay of particular intervals. Elliott Carter, telling (in Perspectives of New Music, 11,1 Fall-Winter 1972) of a class he invited Wolpe to give for his students at the music school at Dartington Hall in England, describes the intensity and multi-faceted consciousness Wolpe brought to interval studies. Perhaps the way a painter uses smaller works, or "studies," as preparation for a major opus, Wolpe used these works to explore compositional elements and techniques. His long subtitle for one of the studies gives a glimpse of his thinking: "Displaced spaces, shocks, negations, a new sort of relationship in space, pattern, tempo, diversity of actions, interreactions and intensities (1946-48)."
Wolpe's Trio was written in 1963-64 at the request of Harvey Sollberger and Charles Wuorinen, directors of the (then fledgling) Group for Contemporary Music. They premiered it in November 1964, with Joel Krosnick, cello. Wolpe wrote the trio partly in Rome, on a Guggenheim Fellowship, and partly in New York. It was at that time that he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Edward Levy, the editor of the Trio, observes that, although Wolpe wrote two marginal comments in the manuscript about the diagnosis, there is nothing about the trio that remotely suggests any programmatic relationship.
The Trio is characterized by Wolpe's typical wit and juxtaposition of opposites. Lyrical lines are sharply punctuated by jagged accents; repetitions are suddenly interrupted, or played twice too fast, or turned upside down. Jazzy rhythms are willfully displaced, giving a dancing but unbalanced, mischievous character. The work also represents a departure from the composer's earlier works, a search for a more transparent texture. In a New York Times interview (February 6, 1972), when asked about his recent work, Wolpe replied "Now I find I don't need so many densities. All my life I have worked for the reverse of density."
Austin Clarkson, writing in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, describes Wolpe's writing in this period: " . . . his thought is purified, the complexities are internalized, and the masterly control of a powerful musical vision is sustained."