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Bruria Baufman

I came to Jerusalem in 1934, and I'd heard that there was somebody who was fascinating and had very many students who adored him. I wanted to belong to some musical crowd, and so I went to sign up for lessons with Stefan. I didn't get very much out of the lessons, but I got to know Stefan and the crowd, and Stefan was really wonderful. He was a very warm person, and everybody around him loved him tremendously, adored him. All the young musicians who later on became the important composers of Israel were his students at that time. The house was always full of people all the time trooping in and out. Irma was giving piano lessons in one room, and Stefan was teaching composition in the other room, and there was a lot of activity. I would say that the group of musicians they had was about forty to sixty people in Jerusalem, which is a large number.

Stefan had a very hard time in Palestine. He couldn't make money. Both he and Irma dreamt about America, the big world, where he would become famous and well known. Irma was better known in Palestine than Wolpe was, because she played on the radio, and she also had many students. Wolpe was known only for a few of his songs, nothing else. I don't think his music was played anywhere, it was far too modern at that time. [...] Then, in addition to that, there was one other fact--he was a Communist. When he returned from a year's stay in Russia, he said that the only thing wrong with Russia was the fact that they didn't give the artists freedom; he thought the way they acted was very stupid, but everything else was just right. This didn't go down well here in this country, because at that time there were the riots: '36 to '39 was a very bad period. The Communists were helping the Arabs against the Jews, and a person who was a Communist was altogether undesirable. [...]

A few years later [in Philadelphia in 1939] I started taking piano lessons with Irma and composing lessons with Stefan just to keep up the relationship. My family there had a large house, and whenever the Wolpes came to Philadelphia, they would stay over. I don't think Stefan stayed for more than a year or two at the Settlement Music School, but Irma stayed on for many years and had excellent students--Jackie Maxin and David Tudor. The Wolpes always stayed in my family's place, so that I saw a great deal of them. I can say something about the composition lessons I took in the Settlement School. Stefan would take all the compositions that we brought in as homework--there were eight people in the class--he would sit down at the broken-down piano, and he played these amateur attempts and made them sound marvelous, like something worthwhile. He really could play the piano beautifully, though he had no pianistic technique.

I got my Ph.D. in mathematics, and that's why he came to me [in the 1950s] to ask me questions about elementary things in mathematics. He wants me to explain why, if he wants to have a bar in which he has five quarters, the first is on the beginning of the bar, the second is after a fifth, the third after two fifths, three fifths, four fifths, and so on. He said, "There must be something wrong, because why is it at the beginning of the bar and not at the end." You see, I can't even re-phrase the question. It bothered him philosophically that he had to state that the quarter began at the beginning of the interval and not in the middle of it. He wanted to know why. This was a kind of question that I couldn't answer, because to me it was too clear. He knew very well how to fit the five into the seven. He did that instinctively. He didn't have to think about how to do it, but he wanted to understand. Divide the bar into three parts, and you have three intervals in the bar. Why do you make only two lines in the middle? He couldn't understand it.

Mathematician and physicist, Bruria Kaufmann-Harris was born in New York in 1918, earned the M.A. from Hebrew University in 1938 and the Ph.D. from Columbia in 1948. In addition to her career as a teacher, she conducted research at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton, N.J. During the 1940s and 50s she collaborated with both Lars Onsager and Albert Einstein while conducting her own research in the application of Spinor Analysis to physical problems. Interview: AC, Tel Aviv, 14 April 1985.


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