S.C. Eckhardt-Gramatté | The Canadian Encyclopedia


S.C. Eckhardt-Gramatté

Reunited with her mother in 1904, Sophie-Carmen was taken to Paris, where her musical education began. Under her mother's instruction, 1906-8, her advancement at the piano was precocious.

Eckhardt-Gramatté, S.C.

 S.C. (Sophie-Carmen, 'Sonia') Eckhardt-Gramatté (b Fridman, m Gramatté, m Eckhardt). Composer, pianist, violinist, teacher, b Moscow 6 Jan 1899, naturalized Canadian 1958, d Stuttgart 2 Dec 1974; honorary D MUS (Brandon) 1970. Her mother, Catherina de Kochevskaya, a pupil of Anton and Nicholas Rubinstein and music instructor in the household of Tolstoi, was married to Nicolas de Fridman, from whom she separated before Sophie-Carmen was born. (The matter of paternity is in doubt and, although Fridman is definitely not the father, the child bore his name and until 1920 was known professionally as Sonia Fridman.) Her mother sent the infant to England, where she spent four years with foster parents in an expatriate Tolstoian colony, Whiteway, in the Cotswold Hills, Gloucestershire.

Reunited with her mother in 1904, Sophie-Carmen was taken to Paris, where her musical education began. Under her mother's instruction, 1906-8, her advancement at the piano was precocious. Her Alphabet Pieces and Character Pieces (a title given by Lorne Watson, editor of Pieces from My Childhood, Waterloo 1980, to 14 early pieces) were composed in Paris 1905-9. In September 1908, although she had had no regular violin instruction, she was accepted as a violin student at the Conservatoire, where her teachers were Alfred Brun and later Guillaume Rémy. She also studied piano there with Mme S. Chenée. At 11 she gave solo concerts in Paris, Geneva, and Berlin, appearing on the programs alternately as pianist and as violinist. In Geneva her program included a Bach Partita for solo violin, the violin part of Beethoven's Sonata in A ('Kreutzer'), and Chopin's Fantaisie-Impromptu. In 1911 she gave a recital of improvisations in Paris and a recital in Berlin which included a Chopin Étude, the Chaconne from Bach's Partita No. 2 for solo violin, and the Violin Concerto in F Sharp Minor by Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst. In 1910 her virtuoso Étude de Concert was published in Paris, followed in 1912 by the character piece, Marcelle and her trio Ein Wenig Musik. She left the Conservatoire in 1913.

Sophie-Carmen had moved to Berlin with her mother and sister early in 1914 and for a time supported them there by playing in cafés. However, the daughter-in-law of the violinist Joseph Joachim presented her with one of Joachim's violins and arranged a scholarship from the banker Franz von Mendelssohn (grandson of a cousin of Felix) for her to study with Bronislav Huberman. During her first six years in Berlin she appeared in a number of recitals and private musicales. In 1915 in Berlin she played Beethoven's (piano) Sonata in F Minor, Opus 57, and the violin part of the 'Kreutzer' on the same program. Soon a conflict developed however: her patrons wanted her to continue as a performer, whereas her own inclination was to devote herself to composition. By 1920 she was composing larger works (eg, Ziganka, a pantomime ballet). She married the German expressionist painter Walter Gramatté 31 Dec 1920 and from 1922 until 1929 used Sonia Fridman-Gramatté as her professional name. (From 1929 to 1936 she was to use only Gramatté).

The Gramattés' move to Spain, where they lived in Barcelona 1924-6, brought Sonia a new mentor - the cellist Pablo Casals - and yielded several works, including the Concerto for Solo Violin. During the years in Spain she performed frequently there and also travelled to Germany for a 1925 concert series with the pianist Edwin Fischer, playing Bach's Concerto in C Minor for two keyboards and orchestra, Mozart's Sonata K526 for violin and piano, and also her own solo-violin concerto. After resuming residence in Berlin in 1926 she returned to Spain for nine concerts in 1927. News of her versatility and virtuosity had reached the conductor Leopold Stokowski, who engaged her for appearances with the Philadelphia Orchestra, but these were postponed owing to the serious illness of her husband. Gramatté died in 1929 of tuberculosis, and it was only later in that year that the young widow was able to fulfil her US engagement. In the 1929-30 season she performed her own works for piano (Konzertstück) or violin and orchestra with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Stokowski and the Chicago SO under Frederick Stock. The Philadelphia Public Ledger reported that she had 'enormous talent in all three capacities' and continued, 'she unquestionably has great possibilities as a soloist with either instrument'. The Chicago Evening Post found the young composer-performer 'an interesting personality, businesslike and straight to the point, with none of the airs of the virtuoso'.

In 1930 Gramatté decided to give up her performing career to concentrate on composition. Stokowski recommended studying with Max Trapp at the Preussische Akademie in Berlin, but it was not until 1936 that she finally took that advice. In 1934 she married Ferdinand Eckhardt (b Vienna, 28 Apr 1902, d Winnipeg, 27 Dec 1995), an Austrian art historian living in Berlin, who had been interested in the graphics of her late husband. In 1939 the couple moved to Vienna, and she adopted the professional name with which her later works were signed: S.C. Eckhardt-Gramatté. In 1945 Eckhardt-Gramatté was one of a small group who re-established the Austrian branch of the ISCM. She won several major composition prizes in 1948, 1949, and 1950, and first prize in the International Competition for Women Composers (GEDOK, Mannheim) in 1961.

In 1952 her Violin Concerto No. 2 was played at the ISCM Festival in Salzburg. In 1953 her husband became director of the Winnipeg Art Gallery, and the couple arrived in Winnipeg 24 October. Being transplanted from Vienna presented the active, ambitious musician with new challenges. Her first recital in Canada was for CBC radio 14 Mar 1955 in the 'Distinguished Artists' series. Winnipeg musicians became regular visitors to the house on Harrow Street for evenings of Hausmusik. She also undertook a limited amount of teaching. Kenneth Winters described her as cutting a striking figure: 'She is small but sturdy, with the large, useful hands of the virtuoso, short-cropped black hair, black snapping eyes and a voice rather like an adventurous alto saxophone with a few flute notes for excitement and some viola tones for pathos. She is friendly, volatile, restless, quick-witted, quick-tempered and altogether alive. She loves conversation and good food and is a tireless, somewhat impatient promoter of her own music and her ideas on music' (Winnipeg Free Press, 17 Feb 1962).

In 1959 Eckhardt-Gramatté was commissioned to write a Duo Concertante for cello and piano for performance in Saskatoon during the Saskatchewan Jubilee. The work was premiered by two Manitoba musicians who had become strong supporters, Peggie Sampson and Lorne Watson. Other commissions followed, and the resulting works included the Symphony-Concerto for piano and orchestra and the Manitoba Symphony in honour, respectively, of the Canadian and the Manitoba centennials. The Piano Trio, also commissioned in 1967, was premiered by the Hidy Trio, whose founder, Marta Hidy, later commissioned, and in 1970 premiered, the Suite for Solo Violin No. 4, 'Pacific'. In 1970 Eckhardt-Gramatté was awarded the title 'professor' by the Austrian government.

Eckhardt-Gramatté composed music virtually throughout her life, beginning with the Alphabet Pieces at six and concluding with the Trumpet Concerto left incomplete at her death.

The works of her childhood reflect the charm of the Parisian salon, with a considerable gesture towards virtuosity and Bach polyphony. As she performed extensively throughout the 1920s it is not surprising that the output for this decade is characterized by virtuoso repertoire for the violin (a solo concerto, three solo suites, nine original caprices, and four Paganini transcriptions) and for the piano (the Piano Concerto No. 1 and four sonatas). The relatively small output of the 1930s is due in part to the shock of Gramatté's death and in part to her decision to write more for orchestra. To the late 1930s, however, belong the development of a highly individual style of counterpoint and the composition of the String Quartet No. 1 and Symphony in C. In the symphony, the Mahleresque second subject of the opening movement and other thematic and coloristic details suggest Trapp's conservative influence.

Neo-classic ideas for small chamber groups characterize the music of the 1940s. The Ruck-Ruck Sonata (clarinet and piano) and the Triple Concerto (clarinet, trumpet and bassoon with chamber orchestra) are typical in their clarity of purpose, their imaginative treatment of rhythm and counterpoint, and their bi-tonal, often jazzy, good humour. The Piano Sonata No. 5 (1950) represents Eckhardt-Gramatté's first excursion into serial music. Metric procedures associated with Messiaen and Blacher are incorporated into the Concerto for Orchestra (1955), as well as serial principles. As a child Eckhardt-Gramatté had come to love the unaccompanied violin works of J.S. Bach, and as a mature composer she concluded this concerto with a tribute to the master - an adaptation of one of her favourite encore pieces, the Prelude from the Partita in E. The concerto and other works of the composer's maturity frequently show a Bartókian concern for interval structure and a predilection for the interval of the fourth. An earlier movement based essentially on fourths is the slow movement of the Piano Sonata No. 2.

Eckhardt-Gramatté had had a strict classical training as a performer, but in composition largely depended on musical intuition. Apart from basic theoretical studies with her mother and at the Conservatoire, her writing of music was in her own hands until she was nearly 37 and spent three intensive years with Max Trapp. And while she acknowledged Trapp's important contribution to her skills in counterpoint and orchestration, there can be little doubt that her distinctive and somewhat wilful creative personality had been formed through her own investigations of the creative experience, often guided by her virtuosity as a performer. It was affected, too, by the challenge of being a woman composer, first in the highly structured, precedent-laden, intensely competitive milieu of the Europe of her day, and then in the radically contrasting frontier situation of Canada. The result was a music of marked, not to say headstrong, character, full of ideas, impulses, and technical difficulties, but seldom serene in mood or classically ordered.

Eckhardt-Gramatté never held an official teaching appointment, yet she maintained throughout her professional life a great interest in teaching. As a performer with strong personal approaches to the piano and the violin, she evolved a 'method' for each. A basic principle in the 'E-gré Piano Technique' is to utilize the natural rotary and rolling actions of all limbs, and she described her 'method' as the Natural Piano Technique. In its purest form it takes a stand exactly opposite to that of the 'finger' technique. Over a period of some years, beginning in 1959, she worked with Lorne Watson on a book on the 'E-gré Technique,' which remained unpublished in 1991. Important to the evolution of this technique was Eckhardt-Gramatté's outstanding pupil, Diedre Irons, who studied with her from 1957 to 1965. European piano pupils included Erna Heiller and Luise Fischer-Thielemann.

An early supporter of Eckhardt-Gramatté in Canada was the cellist, later gambist, Peggie Sampson. Intrigued by Eckhardt-Gramatté's new approach to the violin, she worked with her, adapting principles of bowing and hand position to the cello. Another important string pupil was the violinist and teacher Gwen Thompson. In recognition of Eckhardt-Gramatté's unique achievements, the CBC in November 1974 broadcast a two-hour radio documentary prepared by Lorne Watson and produced by Walter Unger. Shortly after the broadcast she departed for a European trip. During a visit to Stuttgart she fell while on a bus and was removed to hospital, where she died during a bone-setting operation. She was buried beside Walter Gramatté and her mother, in the village of Wilhelmshagen in Berlin.

For the last two years of her life plans had been proceeding with a dream - a competition to encourage young artists to play the works of contemporary composers. After her death the planning committee decided in 1975 to name the event the S.C. Eckhardt-Gramatté Competition for the Performance of Canadian Music,. The first competition took place in 1976. In 1975 she was awarded posthumously the CCA's Diplôme d'honneur. Ferdinand Eckhardt completed a catalogue of his wife's compositions in 1980 which was published in volume 1 of the 23-volume S.C. Eckhardt-Gramatté: Selected Works (Winnipeg 1980-4), a limited edition reproduction of the manuscripts of virtually all the composer's works. His biographical study, published in 1985 as Music from Within, is a detailed personal account of her extraordinary life. He established the Eckhardt-Gramatté Foundation in Winnipeg in 1981 to provide assistance in the performances of her works. Volume 21 of RCI's Anthology of Canadian Music (5-ACM 21), issued in 1985, is devoted to Eckhardt-Gramatté's compositions and reissues some of her performances of her works. Eckhardt-Gramatté was a member of the CLComp; her status as an associate composer is maintained at the Canadian Music Centre.

Selected Compositions

Skelettenspiel E39 and L'Ile E40. 1925. Ms

Weihebild E91 and Tanzbild E92. 1924-35. Ms

Passacaglia and Fugue E102. 1937. (Berlin 1937). Ms. (2 piano version, E101) Canzona CT-89004 (cass) (C. Duncan, L. Duncan)

Symphony in C E104. 1940 (Breslau 1942). Ms

Capriccio Concertante E106. 1941 (Vienna 1942). Ms. CBC SMCD-5089 (Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra)

Concertino for Strings E119. 1947 (Vienna 1948). Str orch. Ms

Concerto for Orchestra E137. 1955 (Winnipeg 1961). Ms

Symphony No. 2 'Manitoba' E158. 1970 (Winnipeg 1970). Ms

Also the ballet suite Ziganka E36 (1920). Ms

Soloist(s) with Orchestra

Concerto No. 1 E60. 19265, re-orch 1931 (Berlin 1932). Pf, orch. Ms. 1932. 4-Tri-Art WRC1-1596-99 (Eckhardt-Gramatté piano, Berlin Symphonics, Kunwald conductor)

Grave Funèbre E86. 1931. Vn, chamber orch. Ms

Piano Concerto No. 2 E117. 1947 (Vienna 1948). Ms

Triple Concerto E123. 1949 (Vienna 1949). Tpt, clarinet, bassoon, orch. UE 1952. CBC SM-272/5-ACM 27 (NACO)

Markantes Stück E121. 1948 (Vienna 1952). 2 piano, orch. Ms. 1952. 4-Tri-Art WRC1-1596-99 (Eckhardt-Gramatté, Weber piano, Vienna SO, Schüchter conductor)

Concerto E124. 1950. Bn, orch. Ms

Concerto for Violin, Concertante Wind Instruments, and Orchestra E127. 1951 (Vienna 1954). Ms

Molto Sostenuto E131. 1938-52. Str orch. Ms. Centrediscs CMC-2287 (Vancouver SO)

Four Christmas Songs E133-6(F. Eckhardt). 1953. SSATBB, woodwind, brass, piano, orch. Ms

Symphony Concerto E154. 1967 (Toronto 1968). Pf, orch. Ms. CBC SM-107/RCI 328/RCA LSC-3175/5-ACM 21 (Kuerti)

Symphony Concerto E162. 1972-4. Tpt, chamber orch. Ms

Also Konzertstück for Cello and Chamber Orchestra E163 (1928, rev 1974), manuscript; and arrangements of three Paganini Caprices for violin and orch E76bis-78 (1927?-8)


Ein Wenig Musik E27. 1910. Pf trio. Vieu et Vieu 1912

Suites for Violin Solo, No. 1 and 2 E41, 43. 1923. Simrock 1924

Suite for Violin Solo No. 3, 'Mallorca' E50. 1924. Eschig 1929. 1943 (2nd and 3rd movement). 4-Tri-Art WRC1-1596-99 (Eckhardt-Gramatté)

Ten Caprices for Violin Solo E47-9, 63-4, 67, 69-70, 81, 90. 1924-34. (E47-9) Simrock 1925. (1984) Masters of the Bow MBS-2018 (F. Chaplin)/1943 (E47), 1932 (E63-4), 1974 (E69, 81, 90). 4-Tri-Art WRC1-1596-99 (Eckhardt-Gramatté)

Berceuse E55. 1925. Fl, piano. Ms. 1943. 4-Tri-Art WRC1-1596-99 (? fl, Eckhardt-Gramatté piano)

Concerto for Solo Violin E57. 1925. Ms. 1934. Odeon O-6973-6 (78)/Masters of the Bow MB-1031/5-ACM 21 (Eckhardt-Gramatté)

Lagrima E61. 1926. Va (violoncello), piano. Ms

February Suite E88. 1934. Vn, piano. Ms. Eckhardt-Gramatté Foundation EGF-200-D (CD) (J. Glatzer violin, D. Keahey piano)

Presto I 'In the Old Style' E89 (based on the 4th movement 'Presto' from Suite for Violin Solo No. 1 E41). 1934, rev 1951 as Presto II E129. Fl, piano. Ms. 1943 (E89) 4-Tri-Art WRC1-1596-99 (? fl, Eckhardt-Gramatté piano)/1951. (E129) 5-ACM 21 (Franz Opalnesky fl, Eckhardt-Gramatté piano)

2 String Quartets E103, 107 (1938, 1943). Ms

2 Duos for Two Violins E108, 110. 1944. (E110) Oesterreichischer Bundesverlag 1949. 1946 (E108) 4-Tri-Art WRC1-1596-99 (Eckhardt-Gramatté, C. Johannis vns)

Wind Quartet E112. 1946. Fl, clarinet, bassetthorn, bass clarinet. Ms

Nicholas Trio E116 and Triotino E114. 1947. Str trio. Ms

Ruck-Ruck Sonata E113. 1947, rev 1962. Cl, piano. Ms. 1947. 4-Tri-Art WRC1-1596-99 (F. Wildgans clarinet, Eckhardt-Gramatté piano)

Duo Concertante E138. 1956. Fl, violin. Ms. 1957. Tri-Art WRC1-1599 (Eckhardt-Gramatté violin, Keetbaas fl))

Duo Concertante 146. 1959. Vc, piano. Ms. RCI 224 /RCA CCS-1018/5-ACM 21 (Sampson violoncello)

Woodwind Quintet E148. 1963. Ms. 5-ACM 21 (Tor Ww Quin)

String Quartet No. 3 E149. 1962-4. Ber 1982. 5-ACM 27 (Purcell String Quartet)

Nonet E151. 1966. Str quartet, woodwind quintet. Ms

Piano Trio 152. 1967. Ms. 5-ACM 21 (Marta Hidy Trio)

Suite for Solo Violin No. 4, 'Pacific' E157. 1968. Ms

Concertino E159. 1971. V da gamba, harpsichord (violoncello, piano). Ms. Jubal 5006 (D. Bishop violoncello, D. Keahey piano)

Fanfare E160. 1971. 8 brass. Ms. 1981. 1981. 2-Music Gallery Editions MGE-34 (Composers' Brass Group)

Also duos for viola and violoncello E109, and for 2 violoncello E111 (both 1944); 2 woodwind trios E115, 153 (1947 and 1967), both manuscript


Pieces From My Childhood E1-14, 16-26, 28, 93, 95 (28 Alphabet and Character Pieces). 1905-11. Wat 1980-1 (L. Watson ed.), ('Y' E13) Vieu 1912, ('Marcelle' E17) Vieu 1912, ('Étude de Concert' E28) Mercier 1910. 1979, 1986. Eckhardt-Gramatté Foundation unnumbered cass (various young pianists)/('Nocturne' E93, 'Boîte à surprise' E16) World WRC1-5471 (I. Baerg)

Danse de nègre E42. 1923. Simrock 1924. (1990). Eckhardt-Gramatté Foundation EGF-100-D (CD) (K. Redekopp-Edwards)

Sonata No. 1 E45. 1923. Simrock 1924. (1990). Eckhardt-Gramatté Foundation EGF-100-D (CD) (K. Redekopp-Edwards)

Sonatas No. 2-5 E46, 52, 68, 126 (1924, rev 1952; 1924; 1928; 1950). Ms. (1969, 1957. No.1 incomplete; 1936. No. 3, 5) 4-Tri-Art WRC1-1596-99 (Eckhardt-Gramatté)/(No. 5) Eckhardt-Gramatté Foundation EGF-100-D (CD) (K. Redekopp-Edwards)

Sonata No. 6 (Drei Klavierstücke) E130. 1928-51. Ms. RCI 224/RCA CCS-1018/5-ACM 21 (Irons)/1951. 4-Tri-Art WRC1-1596-99 (Eckhardt-Gramatté)

Piano Caprice No 2-5 E96, 87, 97-8. 1932-37. Ms. 1943. 4-Tri-Art WRC1-1596-99 (Eckhardt-Gramatté)

Introduction and Variations on a Theme from my Childhood E94. 1936. Wat 1990. World WRC1-5471 (I. Baerg)

Also Kosak E51 (1924), Cirque de Village E53-4 (1925), Trepak E62 (1926), Arabesque E73 (1928), and Tune for a Child E161 (1972). All manuscript. Some arrs of piano works by Chopin and Paganini

Further Reading