This CD presents premiere recordings of 18 Stefan Wolpe songs in English, German, and Yiddish as well as a new recording of Wolpe’s cycle of Hebrew songs, begun in 1938, during the composer’s residence in Palestine. In January of 1950 President Harry Truman announced that the U.S.A. would build the hydrogen bomb, and on February 12 Albert Einstein responded by speaking out against the bomb on a television program hosted by Eleanor Roosevelt. Two days later Stefan Wolpe wrote in his diary, “[. . .] it is time that all men should be freed and the perpetually besieged, exploited, and defiled earth with them. It is time to precisely define the concept of mankind’s freedom.” Wolpe poured his outrage into setting nearly one-half of Einstein’s speech for voice and piano in the remarkable work that opens this program. The Ten Early Songs of 1920 are stylistically disparate settings with an eclectic harmonic language that ranges from the atonal to the neoclassic, using whole-tone scales, quartal harmonies, bimodality and bitonality, and nonfunctional triads. Wolpe’s language here veers sharply from expressionism to popular idioms, including ragtime. Wolpe’s wonderful 1925 Arrangements of Yiddish Folk Songs sets passionate folk melodies against accompaniments that are spare, cool, witty, and replete with modern harmonies, dissonant counterpoints, and broken rhythms.
Wolpe selected texts for his Songs from the Hebrew from contemporary poets and playwrights, and from the Bible. He selected passages from the Prophets that conveyed his condemnation of injustice the hoped for utopia, and in the Song of Songs, he discovered an ancient, luxuriant eroticism. Hans Sachs (1494-1576) is best known today, at least outside Germany, via his later reincarnation in Wagner’s nationalistic Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg. Wolpe’s setting of the Sachs fable is virtually a miniature cantata. This recording, the third in Bridge’s Wolpe series, features the singing of 2007 Grammy nominee, baritone Patrick Mason.