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Josef Marx

When Wolpe met me [Jerusalem, 1935], he said, get your oboe and come over. So I did, and I played for him, and I played everything that he had so tediously learned in school can't be done. He would ask, can you do this, can you do that, and I did it. I had a fingering chart for quarter-tone scales and all kinds of stuff, which I subsequently I threw away. All what's now called multiphonics, those noises that we worked so hard to get rid of, are now the discovery of Dr. Rozzi. I knew all those and did all those. At that time I composed a tonal cadenza in double stops on the oboe, which I wish I had written down, because it was very impressive. I have no idea how I did it. And out of that then grew the Suite that Wolpe wrote. Twentieth-century changes in oboe technique and therefore in oboe literature began with the pieces that Wolpe wrote for me. The first is the Suite im Hexachord for oboe and clarinet, which he began composing shortly after we met in Jerusalem in 1935. It was finished in early 1936. [...] The second piece was the Oboe Sonata, which was begun in 1937 and finished in 1941. When I got it in 1939 it was three movements, and the last movement was yet to come. Wolpe very frequently stopped composing before the last movement and then had great difficulty finishing the work. I spoke with him about it, and he said that in the course of working on a piece he advances so much with the material that by the time he gets to the last movement he doesn't have the technique yet to compose the ideas he has generated. Then there is a time lag of several years. The time lag in the case of the Oboe Sonata brings about a great discrepancy in style between the first two movements and the last movement. The last movement is the most remarkable movement in the piece. The last movement of the Suite does not exist except in name and becomes the first movement of the Oboe Sonata. When he planned the Duo, he wanted to end on a Danza, and there is no such dance. That dance is the opening of the first movement of the Oboe Sonata. In between the Duo and the Oboe Sonata is another Oboe Sonata of which I have a pencil manuscript, which includes the greater part of a first movement, and then it breaks off. It gets so complicated and so embroiled in trickiness that he couldn't go on and started all over again. [...]

The third piece is the Quartet for Oboe, Cello, Percussion, and Piano, composed in the middle 1950s. Wolpe had come back from Black Mountain College, and I think it was the night that he came back, or in those very first days, that I played a performance of the Mozart Oboe Quartet [K.370] in Carnegie Recital Hall, a performance that I had very carefully prepared from the photograph of the manuscript in the Paris Conservatory Library and the first edition in the Library of Congress. I had made an edition based on these two sources and rehearsed for about six weeks very carefully. It was a very exciting performance, except for what the New York Times thought. Wolpe then wrote his Oboe Quartet in reaction to it, which Quartet is to my mind the most beautiful piece for oboe that exists, and also the most difficult. I don't know any other piece that is that fiendishly difficult.

Born in Berlin in 1913, Josef Marx moved with his family to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1927. He later studied comparative literature at the University of Cincinnati, oboe at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, and composition with Wolpe from 1935-41. He held teaching appointments at the Jerusalem Conservatoire, the New York College of Music and at the C.W. Post. He performed internationally with organizations including the Tel Aviv Symphony Orchestra, the Palestine Orchestra, and the Metropolitan Opera Company. In 1946, he founded the publishing house of McGinnis and Marx. He died in 1978. Interview: HR, New York City, 1973.


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