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Joseph Fiore

It was Christmas Eve, 1953, and we were staying in Minimum House at Black Mountain. We went across the road to where Stefan and Hilda lived. Stefan was ill at the time with his hemorrhoids and he really didn't feel well. It was a beautiful night, cold and sparkling, and the stars were out. I don't remember what we sang, who knows, "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," the two of us. Stefan and Hilda came out, and Stefan was very moved and said it was beautiful. They asked us in for tea. It was a high moment.

At some point Stefan decided to have a chorus. There was a very small student population at this time, so we joined. We'd meet in what was called The Round House, which was a small building next to the dining hall. It had a grand piano and some music. Isabel, God bless her, had a thyroid problem and she got very sleepy. But I can see Stefan on his knees before Isabel just trying to get a sound. I mean here is Stefan the composer with this pitiful chorus. Nobody said that he had to do it.

At one point I thought I would like to study composition with Stefan. I wasn't a musical innocent, as I could read music and had some acquaintance with modern music and theory. I had dabbled around with composing a little bit previously. Here was this great composer, and he was perfectly willing to do this. So I wrote a little something and took it to him. And we had this great crazy session. He just took it all apart and then started notating down all these different possibilities, all these crazy graph lines. The whole thing was like a graphic composition. It left me so flabbergasted. It was so involved and intense that I thought, Oh gee, I'll never be able to go on. This was after one or two sessions. It was the involvement, the intensity. I had the feeling that if I was really going to dig into that, I would practically have to drop painting. Of course, Stefan would never have said anything like that, but it's just the way he worked that meant I would have to dig into it that way.

There's something about the way events occur in Stefan's music that seem to come from various places that would somehow relate visually or to painting. It wasn't something from a fixed classical perspective, if you put it in visual terms, that one thing proceeds to the next somehow. But there was always this sense of displacement in space about Stefan's way of working. I remember sometimes paintings of mine that Stefan particularly responded to, certain things may have struck some kind of a chord in his mind about certain convolutions of form, or where things come into the painting. I got some sense sometimes of what he responded to in visual art, in paintings.

He wrote beautiful music for the plays, especially The Good Woman of Setzuan and Peer Gynt. He was a very respected member of the community; he had really a special niche. I thought of him as dignified, slightly older, firmly established in his own discipline. He was very verbal, but I distinguished him in that sense from some of the more volatile people who were there. He had an inner sense of what he was doing, was dedicated. He had a kind of discipline about his work, which he would do in the morning. Every day he did his composing, but he didn't hold back from other participation. There was an awareness of his work habits, it represented a steadiness there. Stefan's question was always, "How is your work? How is your work?"

Joseph Fiore was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1925. He studied at Black Mountain College from 1946-48 and at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute) in 1948-49. His work has been exhibited widely; recent group shows include an exhibition at the North Carolina Museum of Art (1998-99). His works are part of the permanent collections at the National Academy of Design and the Whitney Museum of American Art, both in New York City. In 1995, he was elected Full Member of the National Academy of Design, and in 1998 received the Purchase Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Interview: AC, New York City, 21 February 1985.


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