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Irma Jurist Neverov

I met Stefan in '45 or '46. I found him unquestionably the most engaging and penetrating and unusual person I ever encountered up to that time. And well he might have been, because the people I always associated with at that time, who were very famous and very successful, were a bunch of half-assed American intellectuals, and for the most part philosophically involved in their politics and seeing nothing beyond their own noses. Whereas this man already, I could sense, had a world view. Even though I couldn't put it in those words, I could tell at that time that in his art there was a kind of world view, a way of looking at music as an activity of man for some purpose or other. He had consciousness about what he was doing. I was really profoundly stirred by that, and I must say from that time forward we became very intense and understanding friends.

I don't know how he thought I understood him, and I don't quite know how I thought he understood me, but there was a kinship, and he described it as a kinship of the soul. I remember him saying to me one time after I began studying with him, "Ach, Irma, your mind is like the mind of my soul." I don't think I've ever had that kind of kinship with anyone. He was profoundly encouraging. He was profoundly gentle, and non-critical, non-destructive. He was, I must say, a very valued friend. I don't know that any of us ever were able to return to him the abundance of what it is he gave to us. He gave it without measure, and I just feel like a piker when I think of how little I gave him back. He wasn't even looking for adulation. Sometimes one thinks of him as a man who sought worshippers, people who were idolatrous about him. On the outside it would look like that. I think he desperately both needed support from others, needed sort of acquiescence, and at the same time he didn't need it at all. There was within him, as I think back on it, an extreme of sufficiency that nothing could touch. It was intangible. By that I mean that you couldn't touch him. You couldn't harm him. It was inviolable. Even in times of desperation that I have seen him in--for a period I spent a great deal of time in their home, and even when he taught elsewhere in his absolutely ratty, but abundant-with-vitality studio in a cellar of some crummy, Westside tenement, I think it was on 91st Street--I have seen him radiant with purpose. His mind was indefatigably entwined with the conversion of ideas into sounds, which is a really noble path, very noble pursuit. He just imbued everything with glamour, and the tawdriest places--and they were tawdry--intellectually lifted into another realm. He was able to accomplish that. That's a kind of magic, really a transformation.

I know that by his thoughts my thoughts were stimulated, but my thoughts were like fledglings. They were like babies, and he just guided me into various places of flight, and I flew. But where I was flying, or why I was flying, I didn't know. He freed me, in other words. Now, I came across some months ago some manuscripts which I had written, and I looked and said, "Did I write that? I mean, that's beyond my ken." In other words, what he did was loose something within me that was kin to him. I don't think he did that with a great many people. It's like unchaining a spirit of music in us, and I had liberty on manuscript paper to write things of enormous compass which were unplayable. I mean, for me they were unplayable. I could hear them, but not playable. That's what he did. He took me out of the petty and slow and confined places into an enormous realm. I'm not sure I knew what I was writing, I just knew it was grand.

Irma Jurist Neverov (b. 1913, New York City) graduated from the Diller-Quaile School of Music where she studied classical harmony. A leading improviser in New York theaters, she also wrote works for the Broadway theater, including the original score for Caesar and Cleopatra. She currently teaches the art of performance to actors at The Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theater. Interview: AC, New York City, 21 October 1984.


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