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Stefan Wolpe

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Stefan Wolpe (August 25, 1902 – April 4, 1972) was a German-born composer.

Wolpe was born in Berlin. He attended the Berlin Conservatory from the age of fourteen, attended the Berlin Hochschule für Musik 1920-1921. He studied composition under Franz Schreker and was also a pupil of Ferruccio Busoni. He also studied at the Bauhaus and met some of the dadaists, setting Kurt Schwitters’ poem Anna Blume to music.

The music Wolpe was writing between 1929 and 1933 was atonal, using Arnold Schoenberg’s twelve tone technique. However, possibly influenced by Paul Hindemith’s concept of Gebrauchsmusik (music which serves a social function) and, as an avid socialist, he wrote a number of pieces for worker’s unions and communist theatre groups. For these he made his style more accessible, incorporating elements of jazz and popular music. His songs became popular, rivalling those of Hanns Eisler.

When the Nazis came to power in Germany, Wolpe, Jew and convinced communist, fled the country, passing through Romania and Russia en route to Austria 1933-1934, where he met and studied with Anton Webern. He later moved to Palestine, 1934-38, where he wrote simple songs for the kibbutzim. The music he was writing for concert performance, however, remained complex and atonal. Partly because of this his contract was not renewed for the 1938-1939 school year.

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