Ruth Schonthal passed away in 2006.
Ruth Schonthal's compositions, which reflect the concerns of today's world, display a unique blend of her deeply rooted European tradition, depth of feeling and masterful blending of traditional and contemporary techniques.
Born in Hamburg in 1924 of Viennese parents she began composing at five and became the youngest student ever accepted at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin where she received piano and theory lessons. In 1935, as Jewess, she was banished from the Conservatory. The persecution of Jews by the Nazi regime in Germany led the family into exile and settle in Stockholm. Because of her exceptional talent she was accepted at the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm, in spite of not meeting the standard regulations for admission, a fact the Swedish press noted and duly protested. In 1940 her first Piano Sonatina was published. At the Academy Ruth Schonthal studied piano with Olaf Wibergh and composition with Ingemar Liljefors.
In 1941 the political situation became too dangerous again and the family was forced to flee a second time, this time to settle in Mexico City. There Ruth Schonthal continued her studies of composition with Manuel M. Ponce. When she was nineteen years old she was the soloist at the world premiere of her own Piano Concerto in the Palacio de Bellas Artes. In 1946 she met Paul Hindemith, who was on a concerttour in Mexico City. She accepted his offer to study with him at the Yale University on a scholarship that Mr. Hindemith procured for her. She graduated in 1948, one of the few who graduated with honors.
Ruth Schonthal never followed the prevalent contemporary aesthetic fashions. At a time when Anton Webern and John Cage were the American role models, she followed her own musical path, never denying her own classic-romantic heritage. The extraordinarily varied impressions she absorbed in the course of her life in the different parts of the world provided the foundation of her musical style. Through the exposure to diverse influences and methods in Germany, Sweden, Mexico and the USA, Ruth Schonthal was able to extrapolate from these experiences an unusually rich mixture of compositional techniques. She used these to form a comprehensive stylistic synthesis.
What makes her work so remarkable? First of all the great openness and curiosity with which she manages to combine and melt stylistic elements of the European musical tradition, the Mexican folkmusic, the aleatoric and minimalism techniques into a new synthesis. The deployment of special techniques was never an end in itself for Ruth Schonthal, but was chosen to express the intent and fit the content of each given work. The emotional quality of the music is foremost in her mind. She once said that she envisions her work as a mirror held up to a world full of complex human emotions. She endeavors to translate human gestures and motions in her melodic and rhythmic material and attempts to communicate with her listeners through her music. A Bird Flew Over Jerusalem deals with the clash of different cultures and religions. Fragments of a Woman's Diary deals with the conflicts inherent in the traditional role of women, and like many others of her works, the great Cantata for chorus and orchestra cantata The Young Dead Soldiers, deals with the horrors of war.
Ruth Schonthal has received commissions for chamber music, operas, symphonic works as well as compositions for piano and organ. In 1994 she was the recipient of the Intemationaler Kunstlerinnen Preis of the City Heidelberg and was honored by the Prinz Carl am Kommarkt Museum in Heidelberg with an exhibition of her life and work. Also in the USA she is the recipient of many honors and awards, amongst them Meet the Composer grants and ASCAP awards. She was a finalist in the New York City Opera Competition with her opera The Courtship of Camilla (A.A. Milne) and a finalist in the Kennedy- Friedheim Competition with her 'In Homage of ...'(24 Preludes). In addition she received a Certificate of Merit from the Yale School of Alumni Association for outstanding service to music and an Outstanding Musician Award from New York University as well as numerous honors and awards from local Arts and Cultural organizations. Her works find wide circulation inand outside the USA. Her music is published by Furore Verlag, Oxford University Press, Southern Music Co, Carl Fischer, G. E. Schirmer, Sisra Press, Fine Arts Music Co and Hildegard Music Publishing Co. Since 1997 the publisher Furore Verlag in Kassel (Germany) is publishing Ruth Schonthal's compositions exclusively. Discs containing her music are to be found on the Crystal, Leonarda, Opus One labels, many of them reissued on CDs on the Cambria, Leonarda & Capstone label.
A lengthy and comprehensive biography and analysis of her life and work Ruth Schonthal - Ein Werdegang im Exil (Ruth Schonthal, a Development in Exile) by Dr. Martina Helmig has been published by the Olms Verlag and is currently slated to be published in the USA in its English translation by Scarecrow Press. Shorter biographies and analyses of her work have been published in many American and German dictionaries and compilations by Theodor Presser, Greenwood Press, Scarecrow Press, Pro Am, Feminist Press. Various newspapers and magazines have published articles about her life and work. She is also featured in the new Grove's Dictionary of Woman Composers and is slated for a comprehensive article in the next issue of the Grove's Dictionary of Women Composers to be published in the year 2000. Ruth Schonthal is on the composition faculty of New York University and SUNY, Purchase.
Ruth Schonthal was Composer-in-Residence at the Songs of the Americas Festival in La Paz, Bolivia, during August 2003. Several of her works were performed, including Early Songs (texts by Rainer Maria Rilke), Wildunger Lieder Zyklus (texts by Olbricht), Songs of Love and Sorrow, Drei Liebeslieder (texts by Kottek), Two Songs with texts by Garcia Lorca, and Six Times Solitude (text by A. A. Milne). Performers including soprano Maya Hoover, tenor David Judish, baritone Keith Clifton, and pianists Ruth Friedman, Jessica Paul, Jose Melendez, and the composer. In October, several piano works were presented by Adina Mornell at the Jewish Museum in Vienna, including Sonatina, Reverberations for Timbred Piano, Canticles of Hieronymus, and Variations in Search of a Theme. Schonthal celebrated her 80th birthday in June 2004. In June 2005, she was named the winner of 12th Competition of the Invitational Composers Competition of the Van Cliburn Foundation. Thirteen pianists played Schonthal’s Sonata Quasi Un’Improvvisazione at the competition, including the Gold Medal winner Alexander Kobrin. Since 1996, all works by Schonthal not previously released in the United States are being published by Furore Verlag in Kassel, Germany. You are invited to visit the composer’s website at www.ruthschonthal.com.
Pianist Josef Mayr introduced While Contemplating the Ocean Waves on June 6, 2005, in a concert at the Austrian Cultural Forum in Rome, Italy. Mayr subsequently presented the work on September 24 for the Austrian Cultural Forum in Washington, DC, and on September 26 for the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York, NY.
The Canticles of Hieronymus was performed February 25-26, 2004, by pianist Josef Mayr, Austrian Cultural Center, New York, NY. Canticles of Hieronymus and Reverberations were presented by pianist Werner Barho in a performance broadcast over Amsterdam Radio in March. Mayr performed Toccata and Arietta for an April radio broadcast in Vienna, Austria. Between June 9 and 18, a Festival Celebration of the 80th Birthday of Ruth Schonthal was held in Heidelberg and Mannheim, Germany. The Temptation of St. Anthony was performed by organist Peter Schumann on June 9 in Heidelberg. Ingrid’s Songs (text Ingrid Olbricht) was presented at the Mannheim festival by mezzo-soprano Anna Maria Dur and pianist Rudolf Meister at the Hochschule für Musik. Canticles of Hieronymus and Bouquets for Margaret were heard in a June performance by Margaret Mills and Rosemary Caviglia, Third Street Music Settlement School, New York. In Homage of...24 Preludes, was presented by pianist Claudia Knafo on March 17, 2005, Greenwich House of Music, New York, NY, and on April 3, Manhattanville, Purchase, NY. The CD recording of Bells of Sarajevo for clarinet and prepared piano was heard over Deutschlandfunk (German Radio) on May 17 with clarinetist Esther Lamneck and the composer at the piano.
The English translation of Dr. Martina Helmig’s book Ruth Schonthal - a Composer’s Development in Exile will be published by the Andrew Mellen Press, London, England. In Homage of...24 Preludes, piano; Furore Verlag, Kassel, Germany.
Reverberations, Works for Piano: Adina Mornell Plays Ruth Schonthal: “The Canticles of Hieronymus,” “Self-Portrait of the Artist as an Older Woman,” “Variations in Search of a Theme,” “Sonatina;” Koch USA. Keyboard Expressions: Works by Ruth Schonthal Performed by Gary Steigerwalt: “Variations in Search of a Theme,” “Sonata Breve,” “Sonatensatz,” “Reverberations,” “Fragments from a Woman’s Diary;” Cambria Master Recording, CD-1109. Songs by Women: “Early Songs” (texts by Rainer Maria Rilke); soprano Susan Gonzales, pianist Marcia Eckart; Leonarda Productions. Berühren: “Toccata and Arietta,” pianist Josef Mayr; Toccata,Vienna, Austria. Song Cycles by Ruth Schonthal: soprano Margaret Astrup accompanied by the composer; Albany label. Jewish String Quartets: “String Quartet No. 3, In Memoriam Holocaust;” Bingham Quartet; Milken Archive of American Jewish Music, Naxos 8.559451.