Ruth Schonthal - A Composer's Musical Development in Exile

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This is the first monograph about Ruth Schonthal, the internationally renowned composer whose works are performed worldwide. Parts of the work are based on conversations that the author conducted with Ms. Schonthal over the past 20 years. The book is also the first contribution to exile research that is concerned with artists that fled from Nazi Germany in their childhood. This is the English translation and updated version of Dr. Martina Helmig’s musicological book, which gained much attention in the German-speaking countries.

Ruth Schonthal’s unique and dramatic biography encompassed three continents and now spans eight decades. She was a composing and piano-playing “Wunderkind” in the twenties and thirties in Europe. At age five, she was the youngest student ever accepted at the famous “Stern'sches Konservatorium” in Berlin. As Jews, she and her family were forced to flee the country in 1938. Their odyssey led first to Sweden, then to Mexico, where she studied with Manuel Ponce. Paul Hindemith discovered her there and brought her to Yale University as his student. Since 1976, Ms. Schonthal has been Professor of Composition at the New York University and living in the Greater New York City area.

This book presents a case study in the area of research dealing with a specific exiled generation: those who were forced to flee from Nazi Germany before finishing their professional education. This is a field that has been almost completely neglected over the years. The book contains Ruth Schonthal’s biography, analyses of some of her outstanding compositions, and an examination of the ways in which the cruelties of the Nazi regime and condition of exile affected this younger group of artists. It also describes the cultural perspective they gained from living in various countries. Both the places of exile and the necessity of living, studying, and working in the midst of so many different cultures have had, and still have, many implications for the compositional process that go far beyond mere folkloristic influences. According to Lion Feuchtwanger, exile is no coincidental and peripheral circumstance, but the motivating force behind all work undertaken once in exile. This also applies to the younger generation of exiled artists.


“ ... This study provides the first in-depth look at this composer and her opus. The musicologist and musical journalist, Dr. Martina Helmig, was accorded the rare privilege of Ms. Schonthal’s confidence. The relationship between author and subject was close enough to permit even the most personal questions, yet remained professional, allowing answers to be viewed from the necessary critical distance. Thus, this book offers a rare portrait of the artist – not only as an older woman – beginning with a biography of the composer and followed by an in-depth analysis of selected musical examples chosen from over six decades of Ms. Schonthal’s creative output ...” (from the Preface) Prof. Dr. Adina Mornell, University of Music and the Dramatic Arts, Graz, Austria

“Ruth Schonthal is first and foremost a composer of note. Her works stand on their own as independent accomplishments. The dramatic circumstances of her life combined with her music result in a portrait of Ruth Schonthal that enhances understanding of this creative artist and her work. It is this gripping interaction that is found in this biography by Dr. Helmig ...” – Professor Vivian Perlis, Yale University

“Now in my ninth decade, I have been fortunate enough to have had a new, revelatory experience – hearing and exploring the music of Ruth Schonthal. My interest has been piqued by this book and my-too-long-delayed study of Ruth Schonthal’s music – she sounds like no one else.” – Joseph Bloch, Professor Emeritus, The Julliard School

“This book is an important contribution to the study of young composers forced to leave their countries of origin for political reasons, a subject that has received far too little critical attention. Ruth Schonthal’s is a remarkable story about artistic perseverance despite the dislocation, alienation, and discrimination she experienced as a Jewish adolescent driven from Nazi Germany ... This book will assure a wider audience for this remarkably gifted composer, whose compositions, which confronts the major issues of the twentieth century head on, deserve a far wider audience.” – Leon Botstein, President, Bard College

Table of Contents

Preface by Adina Mornell
1. Ruth Schonthal’s Compositional Development
2. The Younger Generation of Composers in Exile
Catalogue of Works

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