Stories of Sonia

On Being a Female Composer

Sonia Eckhardt-Gramatté faced many challenges throughout her daily life as a female composer and artist.  One very poignant example of this was when her first string quartet was premiered in Dusseldorf in 1939 by the Silesian Quartet.  Sonia had grown accustomed to signing her scores ‘S.C. Eckardt-Gramatté’, so that she would suffer as little discrimination by the fact that she was a woman as possible.  Therefore, the audience at this particular concert had no idea that the composer of this music was a woman, and naturally assumed it had been written by a man.  The quartet, both the music and its performers, was met with rapturous applause; it seemed that the audience had fallen in love with the music that they had heard.  However, when Sonia got up on stage to take her bow at the end, the hall fell completely silent.  The audience was so shocked that the composer was a woman that they even felt moved to stop clapping!  Imagine how awkward it must have been in that moment for Sonia, taking her bow to a silent hall and shocked audience!

 

Sonia’s Wedding Rings and the Russians

At the end of WWII, when Vienna was liberated by the Russians, Sonia and Ferdinand Eckhardt (Sonia’s second husband) waited with baited breath for the inevitable visit to their apartment from the Russian soldiers.  The Eckhardts knew what to expect; stories of robbery and plundering had not escaped them, and they very much feared the event.  When the time eventually came and the Russians came into their apartment in the middle of the night, the soldiers demanded a few valuable items; Ferdinand was ordered to hand over his gold watch and chain, which he did so immediately and with no objection.  They then asked Sonia for her two precious gold wedding rings. These had been a gift from Sonia’s first husband and love of her life, Walter Gramatté, and she wore them constantly.  Sonia plainly refused to hand the rings over, to which the Russians replied, ‘Fine, then we will just take off the finger’.  Ferdinand recounted Sonia’s response to this as a ‘blood-curdling scream’, which was enough to send the Russians away and leave the Eckhardt’s be, Sonia with all of her digits and rings in tact!

 

Sonia and Opera

Sonia was apparently never much of a fan of opera.  According to Ferdinand, she appreciated the music of Wagner for its complexity, construction and instrumentation, but she absolutely could not handle the style of typical Italian opera.   Once, in 1942, Sonia and Ferdinand decided to attend a production of Tosca in Dresden, conducted by Karl Böhm.  At the very climax of the opera, that fatal moment when Tosca watches her lover, Cavaradossi, be murdered, Sonia finally could not stand to watch it anymore and she ordered that they both leave immediately.  They scrambled over the legs of furious audience members in their same row, to the exclamations, ‘Stay at home then, if you are not musically inclined!’.

 

These anecdotes have been largely drawn from and are largely inspired by the biography of Sonia Eckhardt-Gramatté, ‘Music From Within’, wirtten by her second husband, Ferdinand Eckhardt.  It is a wonderful, personal and intimate retelling of her life and I really recommend giving it a read!