Stefan Wolpe - Wolpe in Jerusalem

Stefan Wolpe

  (1933-1938)

  mode 156

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Mode Records - A Record Label Devoted to New Music Stefan Wolpe - Wolpe in Jerusalem

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


Passacaglia, op. 23 (1937)   (12:12)
for large orchestra
WDR Sinfonieorchester; Johannes Kalitzke, conductor

Bühnenmusik zu Molière's Le malade imaginaire (1934)   (20:01)
for flute, clarinet, violin, viola and double bass
     Thema mit drei Variationen und Coda (Andante doloroso)
     Rondo (Rasch, lustig)
     Duett (Beschwingt, leicht und schwärmerisch)
     Schlafmusik in Form einer Passacaglia auf einen Baß aus
        Schönberg's Streichquartett, op. 10 (Andante, wie im Schlaf)
     Traumtanz. Suite kurzer Tanzstücke (Ostinato, Intermezzo
        und zwei Variationen)
        Sostenuto - Heftig (Variation I) - Langsam, breit (Variation II)
        Rasch und wild (Polka) - Sanft und ruhig (Lyrische Phase) - Rasch
        und wild (Polka) - Leicht bewegt, doch mit Ruhe (Lied) - Behäbig
        und grob (Polka) - gemächlicher, zarter Walzer - Ruhig (Choral) -
        Finale (Langsam beginnen und kontinuierlich steigern)
     Schlußtanz (Frisch und kräftig)   (1:09)
ensemble recherche; Werner Herbers, conductor

Drei kleinere Kanons, op. 24a (1936)   (4:56)
for viola and cello
     Lento ma non troppo
     Andante amabile
     Allegro giusto. Epilog, andante
ensemble recherche

Suite im Hexachord, op. 24b (1936)   (14:52)
for oboe and clarinet
     Sostenuto
     Pastorale, molto lento
     Fuge, allegro moderato
     Adagio   (5:57)
ensemble recherche

Konzert für neun Instrumente, op. 22 (1933-1937)   (24:48)
for clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, violin, cello and piano
     Rasch, unverwüstlich, mit großer Vitalität
     Adagio
     Lied ohne Worte. Ziemlich langsam, glänzend und pathetisch
     Mäßig rasch, mit Freude (Variationen)
ensemble recherche; Werner Herbers, conductor

*premiere recording


In 1931, Stefan Wolpe escaped from the growing Nazi threat, eventually arriving in Vienna to study with Anton Webern. When the Austrian authorities threatened to deport him back to Germany, he left and eventually settled in Jerusalem in 1934 where he began to teach composition and direct the choir at the Palestine Conservatoire. There he composed 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. Resistance from some toward his music as well as growing violence against the Jews in the area caused Wolpe to move again in 1938-this time to the United States.

However, Wolpe always retained a deep attachment to his spiritual home of Jerusalem, and this disc concentrates on his important works from that time and place.

After a conducting course with Scherchen, Wolpe had a vision of how to compose with 12-tones and within a few months completed the Passacaglia for the newly founded Palestine Symphony - but the orchestra turned it down. The work was not heard until 1983, 11 years after the composer's death, when Charles Wuorinen led the American Composers Orchestra in Carnegie Hall.

Soon after Wolpe arrived in 1934, he was invited to compose music for a theater production of Molière's Le malade imaginaire. The music served the play wonderfully and "made a very great impression".

The Hexachord Suite is Wolpe's first essay in amalgamating elements of the musics of the Middle East with progressive European modernism. The oboist is called upon to use a harsh sound that recalled the Arabic double reed instrument, the zurna, which Wolpe heard in Palestine.

In 1937 Wolpe returned to and completed the Concerto that he had begun while studying with Webern. The full score and the violin part were lost, and all efforts to locate them have thus far failed. The score for this recording was assembled from the 8 remaining parts under the supervision of the composer/conductor Johannes Schöllhorn. Schöllhorn considered reconstructing the violin part, but concluded that the most convincing solution was to leave the work as is: "Wolpe's music is so dense and unpredictable that no attempt to restore the violin part could match the other parts." The first performance was given Cologne in 2000 by ensemble recherche.

This CD marks a cooperative effort among institutions in Germany, the USA, Canada, and Israel, expressing the historical debt to, as well as recognition of, the stature of Wolpe's music and a belief in the values he championed with dedication, loyalty, and optimism.

3 world premiere recordings.

Deluxe packaging in slipcase, including essays by Austin Clarkson and Yuval Shaked, and historical photos.

Liner notes in English, German, French and Hebrew.


REVIEWS:

Stefan Wolpe
Wolpe in Jerusalem

WDR Symphony Orchestra, ensemble recherche
Johannes Kalitzke, Werner Herbers, conductors.
Mode 156
3 stars

WHEN Stefan Wolpe came to New York after fleeing Nazi Germany, he was known as a stubborn composer of brilliantly Modernist music. He was also known as something of a reluctant father of American avant-gardists - he was mentor to both pianist David Tudor and composer Morton Feldman. But little is known of the four years he spent in Jerusalem after leaving Berlin and before arriving in America. The Israelis all but erased him from their history, finding him too ornery for a then conservative musical culture - a headache is better than his music, one Israeli critic wrote.

They can have their headaches. It turns out Wolpe wrote some remarkable music while in Jerusalem that is only now being rediscovered; much of this disc contains first recordings. The "Passacaglia" for orchestra is a gripping 12-tone score from 1937 that manages to sound angry and visionary at the same time. To dislike Wolpe's witty, rambunctious and engagingly melodic incidental music for Molière's "The Imaginary Invalid" seems all but impossible. The "Hexachord Suite" for oboe and clarinet is intriguingly inspired by Arab music. The "Concerto for Nine Instruments" is a curiosity, since the violin part was lost and reconstructed in 2000, but the vigor of the musical imagination is still unmistakable. The performances are compelling.
--- Mark Swed, The Los Angeles Times, April 16, 2006


Stefan Wolpe
Wolpe in Jerusalem

Mode 156

The history of Western classical music, like the history of anything else you care to mention, doesn't advance in a neat straight line (from Beethoven to Boulez via Brahms, Mahler, Schoenberg and Webern), but it seems to reassure many people to think that it does. If composer Stefan Wolpe (1902 - 72) hadn't emigrated to the USA and become associated with the post-war New York School - he was a prominent member of the Eighth Street Club, director at Black Mountain College from 1952 to 1956 and taught, amongst others, the young Morton Feldman - one wonders whether his music would have attracted the attention it has over recent years. Not that Wolpe is exactly a household name (though he is in this particular household) - but the works he produced during the final years of his life were enthusiastically championed by a younger generation of composers and performers who recognised an approach to serialism that navigated a path between the dry dogma of Schoenbergian dodecaphony and the crippling strictures of Darmstadt-style total serialism. There are several fine discs of late Wolpe out and about, including the Ensemble Recherche's For Stefan Wolpe (Audivis Montaigne), which juxtaposes his work with music by Feldman, Cage, Carter and Schöllhorn, the historic 1954 recordings of the Violin Sonata (1949) Passacaglia for Piano (1936) and Quartet for Trumpet, Tenor Saxophone, Percussion and Piano (1954) on hatART (Passacaglia), the Juilliard Quartet's reading of his late String Quartet and, if you can hunt down a copy, there's a disc on Bridge with the Piece in 3 Parts (1961), the Quintet with Voice (1957) and the Hexachord Suite (1936). If you can't find this one, help is at hand - the Suite is also available on this fine new outing from Mode, which concentrates on the music Wolpe wrote while he was living in Palestine between 1934 and 1938. The story of how the composer fled Nazi Germany after the burning of the Reichstag along with a detailed account of his activities in Jerusalem over the next four years is told in Austin Clarkson and Yuval Shaked's magnificent accompanying essay - once more Mode is setting the standard for excellent and informative liner notes - translated into French, German and, not surprisingly, Hebrew. The disc contains five works, the Passacaglia Op 23, an orchestration of the 1936 piano piece namechecked above, the Incidental Music to Molière's Le Malade Imaginaire (1934), the Three Smaller Canons Op 24a, the Hexachord Suite (also mentioned above) and the Concerto for Nine Instruments Op 22 (1933 - 37). Before disembarking at Jaffa in May 1934, Stefan Wolpe had been moving around Europe, from Czechoslovakia to Romania, via Vienna, where he studied briefly with Anton Webern (those fond of the "straight line" history can, then, chart a direct line from Schoenberg to Feldman, via Webern and Wolpe, if they so wish). Yet, as Clarkson points out in his notes, Wolpe's take on twelve tone writing has more in common with Josef Mathias Hauer than it does Schoenberg. Traditional Schoenbergian practice sets down strict rules regarding how the series it is to be used (which if followed to the letter can all too easily result in the earnest grey plodding stuff that Schoenberg himself turned out in the last two decades of his life), whereas what Hauer postulated by way of alternative was an idea of serialism more closely related to the idea of scale, or more specifically mode, which allowed certain intervals to be repeated, thereby establishing if not a sense of tonality at least an idea of gravitational pull within the pitch universe, which allowed musical ideas to establish themselves in a more direct manner, thereby enabling attentive listeners to follow their development more easily. This is evident in the Passacaglia (and the motivic development is made even clearer by Wolpe's orchestration), in which Wolpe devised 11 "counter-sets", each based on an interval from the semitone to the minor seventh, which would "rotate like planets around the main subject," to quote Clarkson. Though the work was originally scheduled for performance at the time under the baton of William Steinberg, the members of the newly founded Palestine Symphony found it too difficult (presumably technically, though one suspects the real reasons were musical) and the piece wasn't heard in public until as late as 1983, when it was finally premiered by Charles Wuorinen and the American Composers Orchestra. This debut recording - at last - should help establish the Passacaglia as one of the major early orchestral twelve-tone works, one worthy of taking its place alongside Berg's Der Wein and Schoenberg's Variations.

Wolpe is best known for his serial explorations, but it shouldn't be forgotten that he was, prior to his sudden departure from his native Germany, an active Communist and composer of a number of agitprop anthems for trade unions and theatre companies. Though the names of Weill and Eisler spring more naturally to mind as composers of "music for the people", Wolpe's music didn't go unnoticed - when he arrived in Palestine he was surprised to learn that many people he met there were familiar with his marching song Es wird die neue Welt gebored. Proof that he was equally at home writing more harmonically and rhythmically straightforward music comes in the six pieces he wrote in 1934 as incidental music for Molière's Le Malade Imaginaire, brilliantly scored for flute, clarinet, violin, viola and double bass. Accessible they might be, but there's no question of a dumbing down in terms of language - the Schlafmusik is another passacaglia based on a theme from Schoenberg's String Quartet, op 10. The canons and the suite may already be familiar to readers, having appeared before on disc, but this version by the Ensemble Recherche is the best that's appeared to date. Wolpe's contrapuntal mastery is clear throughout: this is set theory in action (I shan't bore you with talk of hexachords - why tell you how it works when you can hear how it works?) and terrific music to boot, comparable with Webern and late Stravinsky in its combination of formal complexity and lucidity of line and texture.

The album's third scoop is the first recording of the Concerto for Nine Instruments, a work Wolpe had begun while studying with Webern and returned to four years later. It's scored for near-identical forces as Webern's well-known piece of the same name - the only difference being that Wolpe calls for bassoon and cello where Webern uses oboe and viola - but there the similarities end. Wolpe's work is considerably more substantial in scope; calling it a chamber symphony might have been more appropriate, and comparing it to Schoenberg's two chamber symphonies might make more sense. Where Webern seems to be looking forward to the second half of the twentieth century, and the pointillism of Nono, Boulez and Stockhausen, Wolpe, like Schoenberg, often glances affectionately back at the latter part of the nineteenth, with its octave doublings and rather dense scoring. That said, what we hear on the disc is not exactly what Wolpe wrote, unfortunately: both the full score and the violin part have been lost, and the work has been reconstructed by Johannes Schöllhorn from the other existing parts, with only a few written cues to hint at what the violin was to have played. Rather than attempt to write a violin part, Schöllhorn decided (wisely) to leave the work as is, with eight complete parts and fragments of a ninth. Even so, its appearance at last is cause for celebration, and another feather in Mode's cap. It's an impressive and rousing - if challenging - conclusion to an excellent and highly recommended disc.
--- Dan Warburton, ParisTransatlantic.com, April 2006


Stefan Wolpe
Wolpe in Jerusalem

Passacaglia, 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

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.
--- Peter Grahame Woolf, Musical Pointers


RELATED RESOURCES:

Also by ensemble recherche on Mode Records:
Walter Zimmermann: Schatten der Ideen (mode 111)

Also by Johannes Kalitzke on Mode Records:
Chaya Czernowin: Shu Hai Practices Javelin (mode 117)
Giacinto Scelsi: The Orchestral Works 2 (mode 176)
Iannis Xenakis: Music for Strings (mode 152)

Ensemble Recherche profile
Johannes Kalitzke profile
WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln profile
Werner Herbers profile



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