CHAMBER ENSEMBLE

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ENSEMBLE PIECES, 1929, 1932
New Critical Edition by Thomas Phleps
(Peermusic)

Suite for Cabaret ANTI, 1929 (10:00)
In November, 1929 Wolpe composed a suite of three pieces for jazz ensemble for the opening of Cabaret “ANTI.” The central piece accompanies the declamation of a poem by Erich Kästner, “Voices from the Common Grave: For All Souls Day, Instead of a Sermon,” a bitter denunciation of the living by those who died in the war. The Suite begins with a somber Blues and ends with a strident March.
1. Blues
2. “Stimmen aus den Massengrab” (Erich Kästner)
3. Marsch

Poets Max Kolpe, Erik Ode and Rolli Gero opened the Cabaret ‘ANTI’ in the Berlin theater district on November 29, 1929. “Our project was very simple,” they said, “We were against everything.” For the opening show they asked Wolpe to set a poem by Erich Kästner, “Voices from the Common Grave: For All Souls Day, Instead of a Sermon,” a bitter denunciation by those who died in the war of the living who have forgotten them. The piece was to be performed by “Teddy Stauffer and his Jazz-Sinfoniker,” a band of four musicians recently arrived from Switzerland. The Suite opens with a somber “Blues” and closes with a grim “March.” On the title page of “Blues” Wolpe inscribed the words: “Written for Teddys and his Band,” and on the title page of “Stimmen aus,” “Written for ‘ANTI’”.

Wolpe’s setting for 2 Saxophones (Clarinets), 1 Trumpet, 2 Pianos and Percussion, has fragmentary melodic lines, harmonies that veer from tonal to fully chromatic, and a percussion part for “Stimmen aus” that tends to avoid downbeats. According to Erik Ode, two of Stauffer’s musicians could not read music, so it is unlikely that they performed the Suite, which was very demanding. Phleps suggests that Wolpe may have accompanied the performance alone by playing the second piano part, which runs continuously through the score.

Teddy Stauffer wrote in his memoirs that all the personnel of the Cabaret, including the musicians, took part in the “The Common Grave” scene. They lay on the stage as corpses while a big, looming cross was projected on the back wall of the stage by shining a flashlight on a pair of matches. He said that the recitation of the poem was recorded and played on a gramophone while the corpses lip-synced the words. Wolpe presumably accompanied the vocalist on the recording, and may have recited the text himself, as he had an excellent voice. A review of the opening night praised the “All Souls’ Day scene” as having had “an overwhelming effect.” The Suite for Cabaret “Anti” is recorded by Ensemble Accanto & XASAX under the direction of Marcus Weiss (Hat[now]ART 136).


Stefan Wolpe, Berlin, ca. 1930
SPORT REVUE, 1932
The overt purpose of the Sport Revue “Alles an den roten Start” [Everyone at the Red Starting Line] was to promote the communist programs of amateur sports and athletics for the working classes. The covert agenda was to rally support for Ernst Thälmann in the presidential election of March 13, 1932. Thälmann, head of the Communist Party, was running against the incumbent, Paul von Hindenburg, and Adolf Hitler of the National Socialist Party.

Articles and advertisements appeared almost daily in the leftwing press during the two weeks leading up to the event. They announced that the Revue was organized by the Fichte Sports Society as the first attempt to promote Red programs for amateur sport, to demonstrate the achievements of the athletes, and to depict on stage the problems facing the amateur sports movement. The program was to include new music by Stefan Wolpe, songs, speech- and singing choirs, agitprop troupes, and films. Athletes will demonstrate sports and gymnastics. Threaded through the show will be the story of Walter Vogel, an office employee, Marie Schmidt, a factory worker, and Anton Schmidt, who was recently “rationalized” from his job and is now unemployed. All these elements will be combined in a unified show with the most up-to-date techniques of staging.

Two days before the event an article appeared describing the preparations. “An ear-shattering din” from the back room of a tavern turned out to be Stefan Wolpe rehearsing the Fichte-Balalaika Troupe. Wolpe was “stamping the rhythm of the song so hard with his feet that the floorboards cracked.” 5,000 athletes and gymnasts were practicing all week at various locations. “Old, young, short, tall, workers, jobless, women, children. Everyone!”

The Sport Revue attracted some 4,000 people and was regarded as a huge success. The day before, the chief of police forbade the event as a public political demonstration, which was forbidden in the run-up to the election. At the outset of the show there was an announcement that the film that was to provide continuity during the Revue had been banned by the police. Near the end of the show the curtain came down with an announcement from the stage that the police demanded that the show be stopped. The curtain went up again to reveal police officers on stage and behind them the athletes, children’s groups, women and youth waving red flags in a powerful final apotheosis. All the while “Stählt die Muskeln” was being sung. Then a red scrim was drawn across the stage with lettering in white: “For the Red Unity Front, vote Ernst Thälmann.” The banned Revue ended with everyone singing the “Internationale.” After the show Wolpe had to get to the Kleines Theater unter den Linden for a 4 p.m. performance of Die Mausefalle, the hit show by Truppe 31 that had been running daily since the previous December .

According to one reviewer, the music of the Sport Revue was “not always particularly well chosen, but that the expression was especially strong in the song about a factory worker (Wolpe’s song ‘Das Lied vom Nebenmann’ from Die Mausefalle) and ‘Stählt die Muskeln.’” By comparison with the “Suite for ANTI,” the Sport Revue settings are easier to play, except for the very fast introduction of the second number:

  • 1. Marsch (2 Saxophones, 2 Trumpets, Trombone, Percussion, Piano)
  • 2. Zweierlei Tempi [Two kinds of tempi]: “Das ist der Sport der herrschenden Klasse” [This is the sport of the ruling class]. Instrumentation same as No. 1, plus chorus.
  • 3. Song, “Stählt die Muskeln” [Toughen your muscles]. (2 Cornets, 2 Trumpets, 2 Horns in Eb, 2 Tenor Horns in Bb, Baritone, Trombone, Tuba, Percussion, Piano, Chorus.

In later years Wolpe referred to the Sport Revue settings as the “Cantata on Sport.” Siegried Moos (1909-1988) wrote the texts for the musical numbers of the Sport Revue. Moos was editor of Arbeiterbühne und Film [Workers’ Stage and Screen], the organ of the ATBD (Workers’ Theatre League of Germany). The English author and educator Marilyn Moos wrote about her father in an article on the Wolpe! Show at the Edinburgh Festival of 2009. Follow the link to, “Siegfried Moos at Edinburgh.”