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Eckhardt, Ferdinand.

Edited by Gerald Bowler. Winnipeg, University of Manitoba Press, c1985. 207pp, cloth, $20.00, ISBN 0-88755-136-X. CIP

Grade 11 and up
Reviewed by Thea Todd

Volume 14 Number 4
1986 July

This book tells of the life and career of Sophie-Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatte", the Russian-born composer who emigrated to Winnipeg in 1953 and spent the remaining twenty-one years of her life composing and teaching in that city. It is not a scholarly work, but rather a personal memoir, simply told by her second husband, Ferdinand Eckhardt. As such, it is full of anecdotes, accounts of conversations, and bits of letters and diaries, which together give us an impression of the subject, rather than a detailed biographical account. Considerable space is given to the reactions of performers, critics, and audiences to her music, and to her often heated responses to their criticisms. What emerges is the portrait of a highly talented, strong-willed woman, who had little patience with mediocrity and who, perhaps naively, expected her work to be accepted on the basis of its artistic merit. Only slowly did she gain the professional contacts necessary to a career as a composer.

Eckhardt began to work on a biography of his wife shortly after her death in 1974. That two-volume work, written in German and translated into English, provides the basis for this shorter account. (The longer work has been deposited in some Canadian and European libraries, but unfortunately their names are not listed). In a straightforward, simple manner, Eckhardt tells of Sophie-Carmen's birth, in 1899, to the musician Catherina Fridman-de-Kochevskaia, and of her childhood in England, Paris, and Berlin. There were early clashes with the music establishment because of her rather strident insistence upon her own virtuosity (she left the Paris Conservatoire de Musique in a fury over not receiving a first in a violin competition) and because she loved, above all, to compose. For much of her career it seems, she fought to be accepted as a composer. Her performing talents on both violin and piano were such that her composing talents were often purposely overlooked. In Berlin she met and married the expressionist painter, Walter Gramatté. Their nine-year marriage affected her deeply, and following his early death, she acted as curator of his paintings. As an art critic, Eckhardt, whom she married in 1934, assisted her in her self-appointed task of preserving and promoting Gramatte's work. At one point, this involved stealing one of Gramatte"s paintings, which was being shown in a Nazi travelling exhibition of "degenerate art." The last half of the book concerns the couple's life and work in Canada, where Ferdinand was for twenty years director of the Winnipeg Art Gallery, while Sophie-Carmen continued composing and established a teaching career.

There are some minor typographical errors in the text, and one major one on page 98, where the last part of a paragraph has been left out. The black-and-white photographs and reproductions from Gramatte's work span the composer's life from childhood to her deathbed and add a great deal of interest to the story. The book is indexed and has listings of Eckhardt-Gramatte's compositions and recordings of her work. Music from Within is recommended both for leisure reading and for supplementary reading in music history classes.

Thea Todd, Toronto, Ont.
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