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Gottfried Michael Koenig

I was introduced to him by [Heinz-Klaus] Metzger, I suppose, or by [Wolf] Rosenberg or [Herbert] Brün, who knew him from Israel (when it was still Palestine). Metzger and I went to his lecture on Neue (und nicht ganz so neue) Musik in Amerika, sat in the front row, very interested in what he would say, and enjoyed his lecture tremendously--and that was why I copied the lecture immediately afterwards. The first impression of his lecture on the audience was that it was very funny, especially because all the other people who spoke at Darmstadt, such as Stockhausen and others, wouldn't have dared to make remarks like Wolpe's. The way he looked and talked and laughed in front of his audience was quite unusual in Darmstadt. Very refreshing; I think he was very much respected for his presentation. That was the first impression. It was, as far as I can remember--this is way back, thirty years or so--just a welcome addition to the information for which one went to Darmstadt. And I suppose this was the best information about American music to be had in Darmstadt. He was not well received by the critics, and he complained about that in a letter to me in which he said, "Ich habe soviel Sinnloses über meinen Vortrag gelesen ("amüsant-witzig", "geistreich-paradox"). Stuckenschmidt verstand kein Wort! O Höllen verkrusteter Sprache, hat man im deutschen Land keinen Sinn für Hintergründe und Beschaffenheit?" ["I have read so much senseless stuff about my lecture ("amusing-witty," "spirited paradox"). Stuckenschmidt did not understand one word! Oh hell of encrusted language, is there no understanding in Germany for the background and the bases of things?"]

On re-reading his lecture, I realized that it was less about American music than about music. His more general remarks about music were much more interesting than his personal observations about living composers, who were better served by the examples he played. His lecture--funny on the surface, but basically very serious--was more or less about music, how he, Stefan Wolpe, thought about music. And that was what made such an impression on an audience like that, much more impressive than facts and figures--dates, opus number, and things like that. I later read my copy several times, and I was in personal contact with him. We talked about music and corresponded. He said things like "Die Beschränkung auf die kürzeste Weile..." ["concentration in the briefest while"]. This kind of language is very typical of him and very powerful when applied to music, especially when spoken by such a musical person, who was himself a kind of living music. What he says is always a statement about music, even if not about music directly. That impressed the few people who knew what he was taking about. He made that impression on me, and I think also on our friends like Metzger, Rosenberg, and Brün.

The fact is that Wolpe's approach was clearly not by way of the strict serialism that was encouraged at the time. Indeed, he issues a challenge in his lecture when he says that jazz is so important in america. Jazz was of no interest and was not discussed at Darmstadt in those days. There were two factions: on the one hand the composers--one or two of them had played a little jazz, maybe to earn some money, but it was not as important in Europe as in the States. and on the other hand the musicians. I'd say that musicians--pianists for instance--are much more interested in jazz than composers. It's something you play, not compose. I never talked about jazz with my fellow composers. But ask a pianist to play, and he will go to the piano and what will he play? Jazz, baby! Of course that's not completely true, but more likely than not. In darmstadt there was a large group of musicians who would probably have been very interested to hear about American composers whose music they might play one day. For composers it's slightly different, because it's another kind of contact. And i must say that in Darmstadt I had very little contact with musicians. I went to the concerts, I talked to my colleagues, the composers. famous musicians, very good musicians, played in the concerts, but I did not rub shoulders with flutists or pianists, except perhaps with the Kontarsky brothers. I remember Wolpe making a pause in his lecture and then saying, "Und das ist jazz. Vielen von uns liegt er wie ein naturstück in den knochen." ["And that is jazz. For many of us jazz is in our bones like a piece of nature."] At least that's how I remember the moment he started talking about it.

I heard some pieces by Wolpe last year played by Geoffrey Madge, I think. Music that is going to be popular, I mean popular enough to have at least some radius, some reason for being played on a more or less regular basis, has a kind of openness that is accepted and welcomed and recognized by the audience, and I think Wolpe's music is just not open enough, or at least there will have to be a future generation to detect possible openings in his music so as to gain access to it. That's my impression. Of course I am completely able to cope with his music; I like music of this kind. Once a composer has made a name for himself and is played often enough in the right places, it doesn't matter whether you like it or not, whether you understand it or not; it is part of your cultural household. And to bring Wolpe into that household is the task.

Born in Magdeburg (Germany) in 1926, Gottfried Michael Koenig studied music in Braunschweig (1945-46), Detmold (1947-50) and Cologne (1953-54), and computer programming at Bonn University (1963-64). Director of the Institute of Sonology at Utrecht University (Netherlands) from 1964-1986, he has composed instrumental, electronic and computer music and written computer programs for composition. His theoretical writings have been published in 4 volumes (5th appearing shortly) by Pfau-Verlag, Saarbrückencken, Germany. Interview: AC, Utrecht, 29 May 1985.


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