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Zvi Kaplan

I was in Berlin, January, 1933, and one evening I bought a ticket and went to Wer ist der Dümmstmmste?, the play by the Truppe 1931. On this very day the Nazis were all ready. This performance group of about six or seven people on the stage was out in special costumes in the style of modern Russian theater. A somewhat funny man came with a little harmonium, and he sings a song [sings]: "Es wird die neue Welt geboren," which is afterwards one of his very famous songs here in Israel. And then is the intermission between the first and the second act, and I'm going out in the foyer, and this funny man comes around with some stenciled music copied through a machine and goes around [yells]: "Es wird die neue Welt geboren, für fünf Pfennigs." The new world is born for five pennies. He has a leather bag around his shoulder, as he afterwards appeared here in this country, and I understand in New York he went the same way. So I approached him. He said, "Little man, well, you are going to buy, can you sing music?" I said, "Well, what do you think? Of course I can." "So please, sing me the tenor or something a little, so you will get it for no money." And at this very time [in Israel] the Fire Department sings those hymns.

It was the Theater Unter den Linden, a small theater in the east sector of Berlin, and the fire brigade was driving by with loud sirens [to the Reichstag fire]. Nobody knew at this moment what's going to happen, but the policeman at the entrance to the theater said, "Das haben die Kommunist gemacht." And you could see in the sky fire going up from the Reichstag. This very night. So this was what the policeman said. Nobody knew what happened, but he said already that this was done by the Communists. It was a funny feeling, but the show went on. There were no stops. I went into the metro and held this music sheet in my hand, standing in the metro. Somebody pushed me on the shoulder--it was the funny man--and said, "Young man, put this paper away! Put it away, it's not good for you!" The new world was just born, and he wanted me not to be involved in some unpleasant things. That was the idea of this man.

I had forgotten I had known about this man. Then I had to leave my school and went to Palestine. I started studying music here in Jerusalem at the Conservatory, and then I met this funny man again. I knew that he was here, and I started to appreciate him. He remembered the fact of the little boy, but not personally. I had even at that time his paper, this printed song in German. Then I was his pupil. He was an excellent friend, and I loved him very much, and regretted very much when he left.

He wanted me to read the Schoenberg Harmonielehre, and on the other hand we read quartets, we looked at Bartók scores. That was a very uncommon way of teaching. It was afterwards difficult to get connections with other people, because nobody had such a line of teaching. He was very enthusiastic about, for example, Yemenite music, oriental music from Jews. And he made wonderful choir arrangements of songs, sometimes original, sometimes composed. Very, very beautiful arrangements.

Zvi Kaplan (1916-1993), born in Berlin, immigrated to Palestine in 1935. He taught music in both schools and teachers seminaries. After a two-year position as a music director in a Hebrew school in Detroit (1961-63), Kaplan settled in Jerusalem, where he took an appointment as a music supervisor. Interview: AC, Jerusalem, 12 April 1985.


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