The Music of Stefan Wolpe (1902-72)
Richard Bernas chaired a well structured event at Tate Modern by, consisting of a lecture, instrumental recital and round table discussion, and also 'webcast' live at http://www.tate.org.uk/modern/programmes/events.htm#sw , offered an excellent introduction to an important, prolific, but 'difficult' composer who is being celebrated in the coming weeks with a series of six weekend Stepan Wolpe Centenary Concerts to be given at The Warehouse, Waterloo, 11/12 October, 8/9 November & 6/7 December. Harry Halbreich included 3 works by Stepan Wolpe in ' Salon des Refusés ' - towards an alternative history of 20th century music , his selection of undeservedly neglected composers of the recent past for the Gulbenkian Festival held in Lisbon last year.
Organised by the pianist Katarina Wolpe , his daughter from Wolpe's first marriage, this will constitute one of the most extensive surveys in UK ever devoted to this challenging composer's instrumental and chamber music. Financial constraints will have precluded inclusion of orchestral music, such as the Symphony (1959) which, as I have urged , is in need of a modern recording by a conductor like Knussen or Brabins; perhaps this centenary flurry of interest will stimulate that enterprise? http://www.musicweb.uk.net/classrev/2001/Jan01/wolpe.htm
Wolpe was born in Berlin and had to leave Germany , his colourful life taking him to live in many countries. He was a pioneer of modernism in the New York scene of the 1940s and 50s and maintained a Bauhaus-influenced belief in the interchange between the arts. Stepan Wolpe was a close fri end of such painters as de Kooning, Kline, Rothko and Tworkov. The leading Wolpe scholar Austin Clarkson introduced his music and the two daunting major works from his 'maximalist' middle period performed by pianist Nic Hodges and violinist Mieko Kanno , Battle Piece (1943-47) and the Violin Sonata (1949), the former dense and relentless with conflict, the four movement sonata having more transparent textures. Both require "enormous determination" on the part of performers and listeners to get through them, and Katarina Wolpe, distancing herself a little from her father's music and its "excessive demands on everybody", admitted herself "not genetically determined to know what he meant" - she wished he would slow down sometimes, "let me in - stop for a minute".
An invigorating event and readers are recommended to view the whole event at the archive of Tate webcasts. (These are invaluable sources of background to important artists and exhibitions.)
Peter Grahame Woolf