Every week [was a lesson], and it happened sometimes that I couldn't find him at all, because he just forgot. That was not only with me, that was with everybody. If he was in the middle of a composition, he would not take care. But mostly I got the lesson, and then he sat down, and he scribbled. He gave me a row and said, "Write now a piece for violin and another instrument." And he introduced me to strict twelve-tone writing.
Stefan's music always made a really immense impact on me. I mean, you couldn't say, "all right, neutral." What I said to his personality I would say to his music. He was a man you could accept wholeheartedly, or you could reject wholeheartedly. So with me, first of all, I loved him. I liked him very much as a personality. He made an impact on me as a young fellow. I was here alone, I had nobody, and he was like a father to me.
I would say he gave me the beginning of what I could call a bridge to Darmstadt, and Darmstadt was my second shock. But the shock of Wolpe was perhaps not as great as of Darmstadt, because after all, I was in the mean time embedded in this Mediterranean thing. And suddenly I see Stockhausen, and Cage, and Wolpe on the other side again. I feel that I missed a lot of experiences. We were here in Schlaraffenland [fool's paradise], and we forgot that music was going on in the world. We did not know what's going on.
On the one hand, it absolutely transformed me in a way. I thought that it must be a man with an absolute genius personality who is able to do such things in such a manner. That he is fearless about what he is doing gave a real impact on me. On the second hand, I was also a little bit influenced by the people around me who where disgusted mostly. And mainly the mediocre musicians, who did not understand. And they laughed silently and said, "What do you think about him?" And I said, "It's a great impact." "Ah, it's rubbish, you throw it away, it's nothing." I would not say that everything which Stefan has done would give tribute to my own thinking, that I would accept it wholeheartedly. But on the whole, I would say that certainly he was such an outstanding personality and composer that the great things he has done were really some things that could not have been done by anybody else. He had his own style. And in his own style he made on me a great impact. And sometimes I was also against it.
We discussed very often how the music should be taught. And he said, "For my opinion, you shouldn't start with Beethoven or Mozart, you should start with twentieth century. And your students should be aware of what's going on today, not of yesterday. Then, when they want to learn also about the great music of the past, either they should do it on their own, or later on. But it is for my opinion a fault of starting with old music, and then perhaps the danger that they will never get to the twentieth century. They will stick to this, and you cannot develop them." I discussed these things later with many, many great musicians, like Penderecki, and Ligeti, and Berio (he comes quite often here and is quite a good friend). "I would not accept this way of thinking," all these men said. "First of all, let them learn the way of Fux counterpoint, and so on, let them have their way of basic knowledge, and then they may do whatever they think." Wolpe was in that day when I met him exactly the other way around.
Born in Berlin (1915), Haim Alexander studied music there, then immigrated to Jerusalem in 1936. He studied with Irma and Stefan Wolpe and graduated from the Academy of Music in 1945. He later taught composition at the Rubin Academy and improvisation at the Institut Jacques-Dalcroze in Geneva. Interview: AC, Jerusalem, 26 April 1985.