Stefan Wolpe (1902-1972, German, American)

I consider myself to have an ear well-trained in contemporary music, I listen with much pleasure and excitement to Xenakis, the radical Penderecki of the 1960s and early 1970s, Ligeti, Nono, Crumb and the likes – and sure, I can whistle the tunes of Schoenberg as if they were by Beethoven, and not just those from Transfigured Night. Yet some composers from the serial coterie leave me behind, I find no appeal in their music and it’s often been an ordeal to listen to their CDs to the end, and consequently I usually try to avoid them like the smallpox. Along with Milton Babbitt, Charles Wuorinen, and even the music of Elliott Carter oftentimes, past his early, Schoenberg-indebted period of the Orchestral Variations and Piano Sonata, Stefan Wolpe is one of those composers.

That said, every rule has its exceptions, and there are some pieces by all these composers that I’ve enjoyed. Wolpe’s Quartet for trumpet, tenor saxophone, percussion & piano, on Spectrum: New American Music. Works of Stefan Wolpe, Seymour Shifrin, George Rochberg, Milton Babbitt, Richard Wernick. The Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, Arthur Weisberg. Elektra Nonesuch 9 79222-2 (1990), with its reminiscences of and references to cabaret music, jazz, and the spoofs on military music composed in the 1920s by Schoenberg, Hindemith or Weill, is one of those pieces.

Comments are welcome