FYI (from MLA-L)
July 19, 2006
Ruth Schonthal, a Composer of Eclectic Vision, Dies at 82
By ALLAN KOZINN
Ruth Schonthal, an American composer and pianist of German
birth whose eclectic music brought together elements as diverse
as European Romanticism, Mexican folk song and Minimalism, died
on July 10 at her home in Scarsdale, N.Y. She was 82.
The cause was complications of a recent heart attack, her son
Al Seckel said.
Ms. Schonthal was born in Hamburg, Germany, on June 27, 1924,
and began her musical studies at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin
when she was 5. In 1935, she was expelled, along with other
Jewish students, at the insistence of the Nazis, and in 1938 she
emigrated with her family to Sweden, where she enrolled at the
Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm. In 1941, the family fled
Stockholm; unable to obtain a visa for the United States, they
went to Mexico City.
In Mexico, Ms. Schonthal studied composition with Rodolfo Halffter
and Manuel Ponce, and in 1946 she gave the premiere of her
Concerto Romantico for Piano and Orchestra. The composer Paul
Hindemith, who was in the audience, invited her to study with
him at Yale. She graduated from Yale in 1948, and at first earned
a living by writing advertising jingles and popular songs.
But she also performed as a concert pianist and was highly
regarded for her improvisatory skills. And she composed prolifically,
often drawn to social, historical and religious themes. Among
her chamber works, for example, are "The Wall Before and After"
(1994), about the reunification of Berlin; "Bells of Sarajevo,"
for clarinet and prepared piano (1997); and her Quartet No. 3,
"Holocaust in Memoriam" (also 1997).
She also wrote "Fantasy-Variations on a Jewish Liturgical Theme,"
for electric guitar (1994); a handful of orchestral scores,
including "The Beautiful Days of Aranjuez," for harp and strings
(1981); and three operas: "The Courtship of Camilla" (1979),
"Princess Maleen" (1989) and "Jocasta" (1997), which offers a
feminist view of the Oedipus story.
But her music found an audience in Germany, and in 1994 she
was awarded the Heidelberg International Composition Prize for
Women Composers. The same year, a biography, "Ruth Schonthal: A
Composer's Musical Development in Exile," by Martina Helmig, was
published in Germany, and later in an English translation.
Ms. Schonthal was also on the composition faculty at New York
University and the Westchester Conservatory of Music.
In addition to her son Al Seckel, of Malibu, Calif., Ms. Schonthal
is survived by her husband, Paul Seckel, an artist, of New
Rochelle, and two other sons, Bernhard and Ben, both of Scarsdale.
Before Ms. Schonthal returned to Germany for the first time, in
1983, she told The New York Times: "I have quite strong cultural
ties to Germany from before Hitler. I love to speak the language,
but I'm only going for professional reasons. I have no desire
to return there except for a visit like this."
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company