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Trude Rittman

At the Scherchen Conducting Course in Bruxelles I coached Stefan conducting a Bach Suite. He conducted silently, and I watched him with the score. He was already then a remarkable pianist of his own stuff. He was so musical, the music dripped out of his fingers. He had always a magnetic quality in anything he did, whether he talked or played, such intensity and drama. He looked pretty much as he looked later on, already the little bald spot. He changed very little throughout his life. He looked older when he was young, and younger when he was older.

He was exclusive. I don't think he suffered small talk. He like talented and intelligent people around him, especially when people admired him. About six weeks after I arrived I was engaged by Lincoln Kirstein for the Ballet. I started first as a pianist going on concert tours with him, replacing Elliott Carter. Elliott wanted to compose and turned it over to me, and I became their musical director for four years. First year I did it all by myself, the second I engaged another pianist, and Stefan was commissioned to write a ballet. I have a very vague memory that something was commissioned, and he got stuck, or they didn't like his style. I converted the entire repertoire for two pianos in 1939. Got myself a very good pianist, Pablo Michel. Virgil Thomson wrote Filling Station, Copland, Billy the Kid, Carter, Pocahontas. I remember Stefan playing me parts of The Man From Midian, and explaining how it should go choreographically. Gene Loring was dancing with Ballet Caravan. I remember how he played it for me and visualized what was going on.

His politics smoothed out later. I knew that he wrote Arbeitermusik for the Massen. He would sit down and play them at the drop of a hat. He did play a lot and played excellently with enormous verve. There was an ease to his playing, as you can see by his piano writing, which is difficult for a normal bent of mind, it goes all over the keyboard. [...]

Adorno had a program on WNYC, and he had Steuermann playing something, and some songs, maybe Schoenberg [recte, Mahler]. I was supposed to play the Berg Sonata, Op. 1, and then to end the program Joe Marx and I played Stefan's Oboe Sonata. Then a terrible thing happened. I played the Berg Sonata, and nobody knew that I would repeat the exposition part, which I did. And so when Joe and I started the Oboe Sonata and played and played and played, we were not done when the time was finished. So part of it was hacked off, and poor Stefan had a fit. We played to the end, but didn't know they had turned off. Adorno was called out while we were playing, and returned looking very pale and disturbed, and afterwards he told us Mayor LaGuardia had called to say he didn't want any more of that music on his station. He was very outspoken about it. I still feel very guilty for having done that to poor Stefan. I made that repeat, which nobody had foreseen. It's such a short piece, that if I repeat the exposition it will make it a bit longer.

Adorno and Stefan were good friends. I knew Adorno from Frankfurt. I had already written my lyrical songs and went over to Frankfurt. How Adorno knew about me, I cannot tell you. We were flirting somewhat wildly. I went over, and Adorno said, "Watch out for that eight-bar period, that always spells tonality." He was very atonal-oriented.

All the American composers I knew were interested in Stefan and saw him as a very gifted man. Virgil Thomson was very much in favor of Stefan. But as to making a success, for a person like Lenny Bernstein, with whom I was very friendly, [he was] too outré. He had a certain haughtiness about him, he was rather opinionated, easily given to judgment. He looked down on other composers, and that was very much resented. People appreciated his worth, but there were little jealousies. And then his role as a socialist spokesman also shocked some people, certainly not Blitzstein, but others. He didn't have the gift of making himself popular. He came across as a specialist. He shocked many people through his honesty, and his knowledge, and his opinions, especially here in America, where there is an inferiority built in. At the time there were only the refugees, and everyone fought for survival.

Born in 1908 in Mannheim, Germany, Trude Rittmann studied composition and piano at the Staate Hochschule für Musik in Cologne, Germany; she graduated in 1932 with an artist's and teacher's diploma in both fields. In 1938 she was appointed musical director for the American Ballet Caravan, which included both composing and arranging for the company. She arranged Rodgers and Hammerstein's music of Carousel for Agnes de Mille's choreography; other productions with which she was involved included South Pacific, The King and I, and The Sound of Music. Interview: AC, Waltham, Massachusetts, 9 November 1983.


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