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Leopold Last

We were in the same year at the Gymnasium from 1915 to about 1921. I left school in '21. The school was a Humanistisches Gymnasium, roughly a grammar school, in which Latin and Greek were the things that mattered. We would have eight lessons a week in Latin and two in German. It was classical languages that were important. The options were later on. Two subjects were optional, Chemistry and English. It had the reputation of being a very good school scholastically in teaching you an awful lot. We had all the things like Geography, History, Mathematics, and Physics, all the usual subjects. But the emphasis, the subjects which mattered, were the classical languages, and we had to write Ciceronian Latin. It was a very Prussian school, very, very rigid. The behavior expected was rigid, but corporal punishment didn't exist, which in an English school was very common until recently. I was thirteen when I entered, but Stefan must have been there when he was a little boy.

Stefan certainly was anti-authoritarian. He tended to be bullied by the teachers, but not by his classmates, who treated him with complete lack of understanding as a bit funny, but that was that. I don't think Stefan could have been easily bullied by the other boys, and being anti-authoritarian made him quite popular. I was in those days anti-authoritarian. It was one of the things we shared, and I was known in the school as Red Last. I tried to do all sorts of school revolutionary things. Having a debating society was an unheard of thing in a Prussian school. But I don't think Stefan took any part in that sort of thing. I certainly called myself a Communist in those days, but I don't think then Stefan was interested in that. That probably must have come later. We were both much influenced in our thinking by Tolstoy's writings, especially his pacifism. I think there was a Tolstoi-Bund [Tolstoy League].

I can't remember him standing up for his own views when he was very young, but later, yes. He became more self-assertive, more sure that he was right and others were wrong. He shared with his brother a little bit of the tendency to do things pour èpater le bourgeois. I was never sure when he told me that there was now a composer who would not bother about the details of the notes, but only what mattered was really the crescendo and decrescendo. Whether he really meant that, or whether this was just to tease I never knew.

His problem with authority was with school discipline and dress. It was his lack of interest in most school matters. I'm not sure, but I think he was once kept back in the class, he didn't move up to the next form for six months. This school was the wrong school for him. He had a very difficult life at school. There were no schools in Germany that would have suited. He had the wrong parents, they had no understanding. I think he found it difficult at home that he had no understanding.

We went to concerts together, and he introduced me to modern music. My mother was keen on music and would take me to concerts from an early age. They stopped at Mahler and Richard Strauss, so I didn't know anything further until Stefan, because I'm not really a musician. [...] We certainly sometimes went to some of the artists' dances together. It was roughly then [1920] that he sometimes affected a Viennese accent, which he had no business to have. There were quite a few young people who used to come by our house, and Stefan paid little attention to conventions. Whether he was a guest or not a guest, he would want to have his way. If he wanted to play the piano, he would play the piano whether people would like it or no.

Leopold Last (b. 1902) was a physician in London. Interview: AC, Aston-Abbots, Buckinghamshire, England, 14 December 1979.


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