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Yohanan Boehm

Before Hitler I was active in so-called "saving the world through Communism." All these Jewish intellectuals were busy at that time thinking that that was the salvation of the world. As a pianist I was active in the agitprop troupe in Breslau. I didn't know Wolpe himself, but I knew all sorts of his songs, which I learned by heart by playing so many times for all different kinds of political assemblies. Then for a year I was playing French horn in the symphony orchestra in Frankfurt with William Steinberg. And when I came here in '36 I was sitting in the hall and playing the piano. I had nothing to do, because the Palestine Conservatoire of Music, which gave me the certificate, was more or less a name. So I was sitting there and playing for myself all these tunes I remembered rather nostalgically. And suddenly the door opened with a big bang, and in comes a wild man. "Who is playing my music? That's my music, that's my music!" I said, "It's me, but I didn't know it's your music." And then of course we became friends, because that was a link.

I studied with him a little bit conducting. He had only a course with Hermann Scherchen, but he had elbow technique. He did really what Scherchen [said] in his Handbook of Conducting. Not a normal conductor. Of course, we didn't have an orchestra, we didn't even have a record player, so the whole thing was very theoretical. We did the Haydn Symphony in C minor, and in order to give us the musical mind, he used to put in words: "Wie schön ist, wie schön ist wenn Wolpe dirigiert." He would have made a good conductor for certain things, because he had a fantastic ear and was very precise. [...]

You see, Stefan wasn't bourgeois enough to be administratively acceptable. He couldn't if he wanted to be. He would have blown up the thing within no time. Nobody could really then keep up with his tempo and with this tension he used to work. He was a terribly impractical man, and that's a good thing about it, just for the worker's choir. [...] Stefan never tried to be an Israeli at that time because of his political background. His outlook was about twenty years ahead of his time here.


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