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Music of Stefan Wolpe

Lazy Andy Ant (1947)
Suite for Marthe Krueger (1940)
The Angel (1959) (Blake)
Two Songs for Baritone (1938)
O Captain (1946) (Whitman)
Jewish Songs Rebecca Jo Loeb & Ursula Oppens
To a Theatre New (1961) (Winthrop Palmer)
Matt Boehler, bass-baritone; Ursula Oppens, piano


Stefan Wolpe (1902-1972) is a cult figure whose legacy has been maintained by a Stefan Wolpe Society and especially by Bridge Records and by Mode - see below our review of their Wolpe in Jerusalem mode 156.

It is a worthy enterprise on the part of these organisations, but for most record collectors it is necessary to be chary of intégrales...

This latest boasts an fine cover illustration for the equally attractive children's puppet show tale, Lazy Andy Ant, “a parable of the heroic artist, scorned, pilloried, and exiled, who never gives up hope that society can be redeemed by art.

But I found the varied songs and two-piano music which complete the disc uncompelling, and less interesting than the music reviewed below. It is all well put together, with notable artists including pianist Ursula Oppens, but I fear it is a disc only for committed Wolpe afficionados.

What I'm always hoping for is a DVD to include Wolpe's Enactments for three pianos, which has haunted me ever since its inclusion in a summer season on London's South Bank Centre curated by Harrison Birtwistle: - - Enactments for Three Pianos (& three page turners whose task was little less demanding than that of the pianists!) was of mind-boggling complexity, and is well remembered as a highlight of a summer festival at South Bank of a programme selected by Harrison Birtwistle, before minimal music and easy listening took over and that annual event went determinedly down-marke...

Mode records has just released a portrait DVD of George Crumb; what about one for Stefan Wolpe??

Peter Grahame Woolf

Wolpe in Jerusalem

jerusalemPassacaglia, op. 23 (1937)
Bühnenmusik zu Molière's Le malade imaginaire (1934) 
Drei kleinere Kanons, op. 24a (1936) 
Suite im Hexachord, op. 24b (1936) 
Konzert für neun Instrumente, op. 22 (1933-1937)

ensemble recherche, WDR Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by Werner Herbers and Johannes Kalitzke

mode 156 [77.32: 2006]

In the early 1930s Stefan Wolpe (1902-1972) studied in Vienna with Anton Webern. Threatened with deportation back to Germany, he left and settled in Jerusalem from 1934 to 1938, finally moving to USA after meeting resistance toward his music as well as growing violence against the Jews in Palestine, where he had been composing music at the forefront of modernism and attempted to organize a Palestine Section of the Inter-national Society for Contemporary Music. His extraordinary musical gifts, fierce energy, and optimistic spirit were admired by his friends and students and Wolpe always retained a deep attachment to Jerusalem as his spiritual home. This important disc concentrates on his important works composed there 1934-38 and includes 3 world premiere recordings.

The 12-tone Passacaglia was turned down by the Palestine Symphony Orchestra and was not heard until 1983, in Carnegie Hall. It is invigorating, tough but not inaccessible music for nowadays, but still not generally known. The incidental music for Molière's Le malade imaginaire makes for an invigorating and thoroughly enjoyable suite, played with obvious enjoyment by ensemble recherche.

The Hexachord Suite for oboe and clarinet amalgamates Middle Eastern elements with progressive European modernism, and the little canons are for violin and cello. The Concerto from his time with Webern went missing and had to be reassembled from 8 remaining parts, lacking that for the violin. The music is dense enough to work well without it!

This is an altogether admirable CD, with excellent production values and fully illustrated background notes and history.


I have previously reviewed Wolpe's Symphony and wished for a more modern recording.

See also review of a centenary presentaion at the Tate Gallery 3 September 2002, with a telecast of Wolpe's violin sonata that you can access on line.

See http://WWW.Wolpe.Org - the Site of the Stefan Wolpe Society; Wolpe recordings athttp://www.wolpe.org/page14/page14.html