Monthly Archives: October 2018

The 10 Caprices For Solo Violin by Sonia Eckhardt-Gramatté

Now that my new album of this gorgeous music is finally out in the world, available on Spotify (and most other online music-sharing platforms too!), as well as on that old-fashioned thing called a CD, I thought I would write a bit about the music itself, so that you may know about what you are hearing! I have talked a lot about the composer, Sonia Eckhardt-Gramatté, both in a blog post and in my video diaries (where I video-documented my whole project surrounding Sonia and her music and which I shared on YouTube and on this website!), but haven’t yet really gone into detail about the actual music that she wrote.  I believe that once you know the stories behind her violin Caprices, you can truly get to know Sonia as a person and then her music may have a beautiful impact on you, as it did on me!

Before I delve into the world of Sonia’s 10 Solo Violin Caprices, I think it would be best to explain a little more about her and what her life looked like when she composed this music.  Right from a very young age, Sonia was formidable!  Even in today’s culture of empowering women, female bosses and girl power, Sonia would have ruled over all.  At the age of 15, when she and her mother and sister faced homelessness in Berlin at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Sonia took her violin, marched into all the bierkellers who would have her and earned enough money to get her family off the streets.  She was known throughout her life as a ‘no-nonsense’, ‘tough’ and ‘stern’ character, but if we imagine how difficult it must have been to be a female composer living throughout the first half of the 20th century in Europe, particularly in Nazi-occupied Vienna during the Second World War , and making her name as an artist in her own right and as a woman who chose not to have children or live as a housewife as were the pressures of that society at that time, then perhaps we might listen to her music with a different kind of respect!

 

Sonia often wore men’s clothing, perhaps to assert her authority

 

One of the most important relationships in Sonia’s life, was that with her first husband, Walter Gramatté.  The two artists met in Berlin in 1919, at a private literary evening of young poets, when Sonia was just 20 years old, and they were married the following year, in 1920.  Until Walter’s tragic death from TB in 1929, the couple led an adventurous life together, living and working in Berlin, Spain and France.  Walter painted several wonderful images of Sonia, some of which I will include here, and it was during these years, from 1924 to 1934, that Sonia composed the 10 Caprices for Solo Violin.  So much of this music and the ideas found within it reflect the life that Sonia shared with Walter and her own often powerful and tragic feelings related to losing her first love.  After Walter died, Sonia met an art critic named Ferdinand Eckhardt in 1930, who was researching Walter’s work at the time.  The two connected through their love and respect for Walter, and Ferdinand eventually became Sonia’s second husband in 1934.  I think her emotions of loyalty to Walter while choosing to go with another man and the complexity of these personal feelings is also something that can be heard most poignantly in Sonia’s later Caprices.

 

Sonia and Walter

 

Sonia and Ferdinand

 

So, now to the Caprices themselves.  They are quite unique pieces of music in Sonia’s body of work, in that she wrote each one quickly, kind of ‘off the cuff’, where her other works were more carefully thought out and composed more slowly.  She would observe a fleeting moment or experience something in her daily life that would capture her attention and then immediately sketch out a musical idea on the violin to portray her feelings about it.  Each Caprice was also written in a different place, reflecting where Sonia was living at that particular time.  Some Caprices were composed in Berlin, some in Spain, some in France, and the last one in Vienna, and Sonia sticks to the language, as in the musical language and also the actual spoken language, of each place accordingly.  Therefore, we have 10 Caprices that are each completely individual and very imaginative, telling their own personal story.

Caprice No. 1 is called ‘Die Kranke und die Uhr’ – ‘The Sick and the Clock’.  Sonia wrote this Caprice as she sat at the bedside of her sick friend, while a clock ticked ominously in the background.  In this short Caprice, there are two main sections; the rhythmic chime of the clock, and the emotive cry from Sonia, representing her feelings about losing her sick friend.  The clock motif returns at the end of the Caprice, but this time Sonia asks for it to be played as quietly as possible; perhaps there is a connection between the incredibly quiet, fading rhythm of the clock on the wall and the fading rhythm of breathing life in the bed before her…

Following this, we have Caprice No. 2, ‘Sherz’, or ‘Joke/Prank.  It’s only about 2 and a half minutes, but it’s probably the trickiest little bugger of the set (is that the prank?!).  It’s full of little funny, sparkly moments and plenty of tricks!

Caprice No. 3, ‘Chant triste-chant gai’, ‘Sad song-happy song’, is probably the first of the Caprices where we really feel Sonia’s love for Walter soaring through it.  It goes wayyyy high up on the G and D strings in the sad song bit, which often sounds overwhelming and makes me feel like Sonia almost couldn’t express enough how much she loved Walter, and then becomes more bouncy and bright in the happy song.  This Caprice constantly switches between the two songs, but with which one will Sonia leave us?

Sonia, by Walter Gramatté

The following two Caprices were composed during Sonia’s time living in Spain, and they very much portray this new culture that she was experiencing for the first time.  First, we have Caprice No. 4,La isla de oro‘, ‘The golden island’, which Sonia composed on the island of Mallorca.  The Caprice opens with strummed pizzicato chords that sound like a guitar, and then she writes a kind of flamenco melody, very dark, mysterious and mesmerisingly beautiful.  I especially love how Sonia ends the Caprice with the same chords she opened with, but this time she writes ‘aspirando’ above them;  I thought this might indicate something like we must breathe in the last smells of Mallorca, faint now and fading away as the music also fades! What do you think?

Sonia dedicated Caprice No. 5, ‘Danse Marocaine’ or Marocain Dance, to Fatima, a dancer whom Sonia observed performing – an impression that would last a lifetime on her.  This music is rhythmic and exciting, capturing the essence of the Spanish dancers, the sights of the gypsies, the markets and the camels who all shared the experience of seeing this dance with Sonia. The middle section is also quite remarkable; Sonia writes for it to be played like a ‘Moorish flue‘.  It took me a while to come up with a sound that I thought could match this instruction, to make my violin sound like a traditional Spanish flute.  With the help of a wonderful flautist at The Banff Centre, I think I created an unusual pipe-like sound.  See how you think I did!

Caprice No. 6, ‘El pajarito’, ‘The little bird, is probably my favourite of the set.  Sonia wrote it after observing a little bird trapped in his cage, and the whole Caprice follows his struggle in trying to escape to freedom.  The ending is strange and open – I think Sonia leaves it to us to decide if the little bird won in his plight, found his freedom or succumbed to a life of imprisonment inside the cage.  I thought I would share too, that at the end of this Caprice Sonia has left this note: ‘Music is a language; let’s describe here the soul of this tiny bird: describing what he went through after being aware where he was: gentle first, desperate and resigning, because hopeless, helpless!’  Could there be a personal message from Sonia behind these words and this music?  Did she feel trapped in the cage of a society that didn’t accept her as a woman and a composer?

Caprice No. 7, ‘Le départ d’un train’, ‘The departure of the train’, portrays the moment in 1928 when, as Sonia’s career was just beginning to take off, she said goodbye to her sick husband on the platform of a train station in France.  Sonia was off on a concert tour in America, leaving her beloved Walter behind to battle his illness alone.  It was unimaginably difficult for both of them, and this is the mood that comes across in this Caprice.  It has some beautifully sad melodies combined with train noises, speeding up and slowing down, winding it’s way to its own end.  The music almost matches an inner struggle that perhaps Sonia was feeling; the painful emotions of saying goodbye to Walter mixed with her exciting train journey, taking her to places she had only dreamt of.

Müdes Blumenmädchen, by Walter Gramatté

In Caprice No. 8, ‘Elegie’, we say a last farewell to Walter.  It was composed during winter, an image of falling snow beautifully reflecting the tragic mood of the music.  Even as Sonia remembers their happy times together, captured in the sprightly middle section, the pain and emotion of losing him is ever prevalent here.

Something completely different in Caprice No. 9, ‘Chestnut Hill at Night’.  This one was composed in Philadelphia, during Sonia’s big concert tour in the States (which had been organised and promoted by Leopold Stokowski).   This Caprice is full of the new and exciting sounds and sights that Sonia experiences for the first time in this new part of the world.  It was really fun to come up with ideas for what was happening in each moment of this music while I was working on it; what exactly did Sonia see here, on Chestnut Hill!?  Philadelphia is so often associated with the righteous traditions and philosophies upheld by America’s forefathers, but, paradoxically, this Caprice sounds sometimes exotic, sometimes risky, even sometimes quite dangerous!

Finally, Caprice No. 10, ‘Klage’, ‘Complaint’.  By this point, in 1934, Sonia had found peace and contentment with her second husband, Ferdinand.  Did she feel guilty for her so-called ‘betrayal’ of Walter?  Is this Caprice perhaps a lament on losing her real love?  This music is slow and sad, not in the tragic sense, as in Caprices 7 and 8, but in a humble and soft way.  Sonia would never let go of Walter, he certainly always lived on as a central part of her life and Ferdinand’s too.

 

Die Genesende, by Walter Gramatté

 

There is so much more that I could say about this remarkable composer and her music, far too much to be able to fit into this one post.  If you would be interested to read more snippets about Sonia and her life, or quotes from and about Sonia herself, I will be sure to add more to the Stories of Sonia and Quotes pages, which you can feel free to browse through – there are some real corkers in there!  If reading about the Caprices here has given you an appetite to know more about Sonia’s music, you can read my Masters Thesis, which studies the Caprices in a detailed and comprehensive way.

For now, though, I really hope you will feel inspired to give my album a listen, and perhaps to read along with this blog post, so that the music may make more sense as you listen.  I still have some CDs available, so if you would like to own your own copy of the Caprices, or you know of a library or education institution that would be interested in adding it to their archives, please contact me and I will send one over!

I hope you enjoy the album and Sonia’s music, and that we, together, can bring more public awareness to this extraordinary composer and beautiful music!

 

 

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My Favourite Things About Hannover

It has to be said, when one is planning a holiday to Germany, much less thinking of MOVING to Germany, Hannover really isn’t the first city to come to mind as a very exciting or attractive option.  In fact, it probably wouldn’t even make it into your top 10 list of possible German cities to visit, ever!  I first moved here 4 years ago and, to be honest, I often ask myself how I could have ended up in such a place as this.  Hannover is a typical regional German city; it’s pretty low-key and quiet, with not MUCH going on, and for most of the year we wake up to that characteristically dark, grey, northern German sky.  Hannover was also completely decimated during the allied bombing of World War II, so a lot of the city is made up of ugly, new infrastructure.  All in all, life can get kind of miserable here.

However, Hannover has been a city that I have made my home for the last 4 years, and this has forced me to seek out the great sides of the city that ARE there – they do exist!  Even when I am fed up of life here, there are things and aspects of this city that I really do appreciate, even more so when I visit other cities which lack them.  I have also found some special corners of Hannover that I know I am going to miss when I move away, so I thought, while I am still here, that I would write about them on my blog.  Perhaps this will be a post that I can look back on if I ever feel homesick for this place (doubtful).  And if, for whatever reason, you may find yourself with some time to spend in this city, maybe you can take me up on some of these suggestions!

The first thing that I particularly like about Hannover is how convenient it is to get around the city.  The main hub of the city is pretty small which means that I can pretty much get around everywhere fairly quickly by foot – for someone like me who doesn’t drive, this is wonderful.  It’s also a very bike-friendly city, with proper bike paths on basically every street. The street tram and bus transport system works really well too, if you do need to get to a more remote area, and the lines will even take you way out-of-town to neighbouring villages.  Local transport is also very cheap; a day ticket for zone 1 is only about €5.50 and for all 3 zones it still costs under €10.  Just knowing that transport is there for me if I need it is very freeing and I am thankful to have been able to make use of it.

 

Something that I have noticed about Hannover which I think makes it a really unique place, especially in comparison to other German cities, is that the culture and lifestyle of the people here is very normal and pretty low-stress.  Wealth is not at all displayed in this city; there are very few expensive or designer shops, there is no ‘super-rich area’, no pretentiousness and no feeling of disparity between the different classes of people.   It really doesn’t matter which neighbourhood you say you live in, in Hannover, and I appreciate that people across the whole city have a general feeling of community – everyone is just going about their normal day-to-day business, and that makes it an easy place to live.

The amount of green space that this city holds is wonderful.  There is a huge forest called the Eilenriede, or Alder Moor, right in the centre of the city, directly behind the Musik Hochschule actually, and Hannover is full of other smaller parks, trees and nice greenery.  The river that flows through Hannover, the Leine, also has lovely green parks running alongside it, which makes for some nice walks and is also a great place to drink a beer or cook up a barbeque on a warm summer evening.  One of my favourite spots to go for walks, especially as it is around the corner from where I live, is up around the Deister Berg.  You walk up a small hill and instantly feel like you are in the countryside.  The best time of year up there is in the spring, when the bluebells come out and are just gorgeous.

Bluebells up on Deister Berg

An autumnal walk around the Deister

 

I couldn’t write about Hannover without mentioning beer – beer culture here is just as strong as it is anywhere in Germany.  There are two particular features of how the Hannoverians treat beer that I especially enjoy.  The first conveniently leads on from my previous point about the city’s green spaces and nice walks, and that is the wonderful beer gardens that Hannover boasts.  I know they exist elsewhere too, but I do love to spend evenings with friends at the beer gardens here; the atmosphere is always so friendly and jovial and it’s always a fun time!  My favourite beer gardens in Hannover are situated in the middle of nice walks around the city, which is why these two things go together no nicely!  There’s the one on top of Deister Berg, located in an old water tower called Lindener Turm, there’s one at Waterloo Platz, which is huge and great for watching big football matches, and there’s a smaller and more hippie one called Biergarten Gretchen which is very nice too!  The second way I like to enjoy beer in Hannover is by something called KioskKultur.  Hannover has the largest number of kiosks (like a newsagent or corner store) of any German city, and a very strong part of life here is to get together with friends, grab a beer from a kiosk and enjoy it outside together while wandering around or sitting somewhere in public.  On any normal Friday evening, or Feierabend as we call it, this is what you will see most people doing – the vibes are definitely very chilled and it’s a really nice way to unwind at the end of the week.

The beer garden at Lindener Turm, one fall Sunday

Delicious pumpkin cake also served at the turm!

 

Germany is so steeped in history, and although, as I mentioned earlier, Hannover was mostly destroyed during the Second World War, there are small souvenirs of history dotted around the city which are really interesting to see.  If you head into the Neues Rathaus, the new town hall – also quite a fine and impressive looking building with nice views from the top, you can look at the four miniature models of Hannover that have been set up.  There is one to represent what the city looked like during the Middle Ages, one at the outbreak of the war, another just after the war, and one showing what the city looks like now.  It’s remarkable to see all the different stages of development and destruction that Hannover has gone through.  Across from the Rathaus are the remains of an old bombed out church called the Aegidienkirche, originally built in the 1300s.  These remains have been left by the city as a war memorial and every day, four times per day, the restored bells ring out over the city.  There is also a ‘peace bell’ located in the bell tower – a gift to Hannover from its sister city of Hiroshima, Japan.  Every year, on 6th August, both cities ring their bells together as a tribute to their sad histories.  Another interesting sight to see in Hannover is the Maschsee, although it too has a dark story.  During the years of the Third Reich, Hitler ordered for this lake to be built out of slave labour by the persecuted Jews.  Today you can still see where the old Nazi monument stood, although the city parliament has done it’s best to deface it and now even holds food and music festivals around this lake!

Old Nazi monument at the Maschsee

View of the Rathaus over the Maschsee

 

Speaking of festivals, there are so many going on in Hannover, all year round.  The best one though, and the one that I truly will be missing, is the Weihnachtsmarkt, or Christmas market.  Of all the Christmas markets that I have been to all around Germany and Austria, Hannover’s is honestly the best one!  There are so many different sections to it, each with their own special delicacy; the cosy pine forest, the Scandinavian log fire-roasted salmon, the medieval street performers, the blacksmiths, the amazing sausages and spicy mustard, the mead, the little market stalls selling handmade decorations and textiles… And the Glühwein!!! Glühwein with rum, Glühwein with amaretto, Glühwein with brandy.  Oh, it is so delicious and so perfect for a cold winter night!

‘The Pyramid’ – The notorious meeting spot for Glühwein at Hannover’s Weihnachtsmarkt

 

Lastly, I thought I would just mention a few other things I like to do in my spare time in Hannover, and the places I like to go.  In Hannover’s most famous attraction, the Herrenhausen Palace, is a building called the Orangerie – a large room totally decked out with insanely beautiful (and original!) murals all over the walls.  Perhaps I am biased because I have seen only fabulous concerts here, including one by Isabelle Faust that I won’t ever forget, but it is such an amazing space to see a performance in, so I definitely recommend checking out what’s on there.

The beautiful interior of the Orangerie

We don’t get very many movies in their original languages here in Hannover, and most English films are unfortunately dubbed.  However, every now and then there are a couple of really cool cinemas that do show original movies and they are really fun to see.  The Astor is a bigger cinema, with lots of screens and the full popcorn-movie experience, although it’s not the cinema that the kids choose to go to which makes it a much more pleasant experience!  If you pay a few more €’s, you can also be served wine and beer at your comfortable reclining seat!  Another tiny independent cinema is called the Hochhaus Lichtspiele – they show only independent or foreign films in their original version, about once per month.  There is only one screen here and it’s a very casual atmosphere, with scattered comfy seating and simple cushions on the floor, if that’s what floats your boat.

The Altstadt flea market, which takes place every Saturday along the Leine, come rain or shine, is something in Hannover that is not to be missed.  It is Germany’s oldest flea market and it’s huge!  You can find lots of treasures here; from unique LP’s to bits of handcrafted furniture, jewellery and old china wares.  It’s also where I got my Zassenhaus coffee mill for 20 Euros!

Some scenes from the Altstadt Flea Market

 

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