The Meaning(s) of Chaos. A Semiosis of Stefan Wolpe’s Battlepiece

Carlo Bianchi -


During his American exile in the period of World War II, Stefan Wolpe composed an epic piano work called Battlepiece. Though the piece includes exceptionally chaotic passages, it is counterbalanced by order and rigorous organization. The present article investigates these features both in their strictly material connotation and in their extra-musical meaning(s). Battlepiece is presented as a musical «metaphor» that relates to the broad imagery of modern warfare and to Wolpe’s ethical concerns (how this work embodies and resists the message of destruction and the suffering of emigration); it also makes references to the realm of visual art. In Battlepiece we glimpse the different aestheticexistential meanings that the composer and the communities around him have attributed to the dialectical tension between chaos and integration during the period between the two world wars, which was characterized by the rise of totalitarian regimes. The overall meaning of Battlepiece, both intra-musical and extra-musical, has to do with the modern sublime. This article discusses Wolpe’s own statements, passages from the published score, the Peer Musikverlag (1995) critical edition, and preparatory material from the Wolpe Collection in the Paul Sacher Foundation in Basel.

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Registrazione presso la Cancelleria del Tribunale di Pavia n. 552 del 14 luglio 2000 – ISSN elettronico 1826-9001 | Università degli Studi di Pavia Dipartimento di Musicologia | Pavia University Press

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