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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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10 Things That Make Me Feel Really British

  1. TEA
    At all hours, day and night.
    Must be just the right shade of light brown.

  2. Calling “Cheers Mate” to the bus driver as you alight from the bus
    You met them once, they delivered you home, they are definitely your mate.  Also, yes, we say “alight”.

  3. Rainy Walks
    The British countryside offers some absolutely gorgeous walks.  Unfortunately, a walk that doesn’t involve some amount of rain is very rare.  It’s just part of the whole experience.

  4. A pint at the local pub
    My favourite pub in England is Dad’s local; ‘The Eddie’.  It is beautifully old-fashioned, with delicious beer on tap and good old board games on offer.

     

  5. A Sunday roast
    For some reason, Sunday’s are always incomplete without a tender piece of roast meat, little roast potatoes, veggies and, of course, a Yorkshire Pud.

  6. Hearing a wonderful melting pot of accents
    Wherever you go in the UK, you will hear a vast array of different accents and dialects of the English language, from the Geordies to the Scouse, the Welsh and Scottish, the West Country and the Cockney… And when a few of them come together in one conversation, it sounds like a marvellous, albeit slightly comical, musical symphony of language.
  7. MARMITE
    I love it.  You probably hate it.
  8. The feeling of pursing one’s lips, holding in your feelings, all to avoid an argument and keep the peace
    The British are experts at bottling up their emotions to avoid any embarrassing conflicts or public displays of emotions.  The neighbours are always watching, and what will they think?!

  9. “I’m desperate for the loo”
    Some of our shortened words and phrases are just brilliant, especially those used in connection to the bathroom: loo, bog, privy, spend a penny…

  10. Monster Munch
    My personal favourite.  These pickled onion flavoured crisps are mouth-wateringly good.

     

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Favourite Podcasts #2

Over the past couple of years, I have become something of a podcast ADDICT.  Podcasts are such a great source of entertainment – what could be better than listening to interesting people talk about interesting things?!  One thing I have noticed though, is that this is a platform that has grown massively and become quite saturated; there are SO MANY great podcasts out there, that it can be difficult to find ones that are most suited to you, or to even know what to search for.  I have definitely come to rely on other blog posts and articles with recommendations for podcasts to listen to, so I thought I would pass the favour on and write one of my own!  I did write an initial ‘Podcasts I’m Enjoying’ post a couple of years ago, which you can read here, but I figured it was definitely time for an update.  So, hope you enjoy and happy listening!

 

Secret Feminist Agenda

Comprised of two seasons so far, this is a podcast hosted by Canadian scholar, cat-lover and general bad-ass feminist, Hannah McGregor.  About a year ago, I started to get really interested in the hot topic of feminism, but couldn’t find a ‘way in’.  I was looking for someone who could talk about this issue in an articulate, balanced and inspiring way, while sparking an interest in me personally, and for some reason, I just couldn’t find this.  Everything I had read or heard I found stale, serious in a way that made me feel bad or helpless, or not representative of my own experiences and perspectives. Until I discovered the Secret Feminist Agenda podcast.  Hannah is funny and exciting, she has wonderful and interesting guests and listening to her podcast feels like I am listening to a thrilling conversation that I want to be part of.  Incidentally,  Hannah is also the co-host of the podcast ‘Oh Witch, Please‘, which is a podcast that I mentioned in my first post on this subject and is still one of my FAVOURITE podcasts!!

S-Town

If you are into real-life crime drama, this is a podcast for you.  Think ‘Making a Murderer’ and ‘Serial’ (also a fabulous podcast by the same producers).  Divided into a season of episodes, this podcast uncovers the story of a man from a tiny town in the deep south of Alabama.  The podcast involves a mysterious murder, lots of secrets and a few surprises too.  Full of suspense and made even more hyper-dramatic because it’s completely REAL and all of the people in it are REAL, I guarantee you will be hanging on the end of every episode of this podcast.

Ctrl Alt Delete

For me, this podcast provides the simple joy of listening to an interesting conversation.  Hosted by Emma Gannon – intellectual internet chick, influencer and writer – each episode comprises an interview with a different guest, from someone like movie director Greta Gerwig, to director of GIRLBOSS Jerico Mandybur.  The interviews generally turn into lively discussions about current events and issues faced by today’s typical ‘millennial’, and I find them to be intelligent and relevant.  Emma also co-hosts the podcast, ‘Get It Off Your Br**sts’, a podcast where women talk about things that annoy them in a humourous yet meaningful and honest way, and I can also highly recommend giving this podcast a listen!

All The Books

I had to include one podcast in this post that was book-related and for now, this one wins this category!  If you are looking for a podcast to garner some new book recommendations and reading inspo, this is IT.  New episodes of this podcast come out once per week, in which co-hosts Liberty Hardy and Rebecca Schinsky of ‘Book Riot’ discuss that particular week’s new book releases.  It is a conversation about books and the love of books, and I can attest that these women have very good literary taste!

Homecoming

I thought I would include one fiction podcast in this list as, sometimes, when I am looking out of train windows or walking to the supermarket, I just don’t want to think, and prefer to have entertainment put directly into my ears for me.  This podcast is reminiscent of a radio play; its a thriller, it has a wonderful cast and a good dramatic storyline.  It also takes the clever form of overheard snippets of conversations and phone calls – something that I find really effective and captivating.  It’s difficult to ‘put this one down’!

 

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6 Reasons Why I Loved ‘Atomic Blonde’, And Why I think You Should See It

It’s not often that I recommend new movie releases, either here on my blog or to people in real life, because, well, to be completely honest, I find most of what I see at the cinema to be pretty mediocre at best.  I absolutely love seeing movies in theatres – I probably go to the cinema about once a week – but I have to admit that it’s never really because of a movie itself that I enjoy this hobby; like many other people, the reasons that I love going to the movies so much are because of the fun experience, the social aspect of watching films with other people and, my huge weakness, the buttery salty popcorn 🙂  It is extremely rare that a movie ever makes a real impact on me or truly captures my attention.  BUT, just every now and then, I am totally caught off-guard by something fantastic.

The other day, I saw one such movie, ‘Atomic Blonde’, and… I LOVED IT.  After thinking it over, I decided that when such a movie comes into my life, one that I think about long after the showing, that I want to go back and see again immediately, that I play the soundtrack to over and over again at home, then I really have a personal duty to inform others about it!  I have ordered my thoughts about Atomic Blonde into 6 concise points or reasons why I particularly loved it and why I think you should go and see it right now.  Enjoy!

  1. Strong Female Lead.
    A while ago I started to notice a trend in my decisions when it came to choosing books/TV shows/movies etc.  I discovered that I am highly partial to anything with a strong female lead, and this is totally fine by me!  I love a girl boss, a top-notch heroine, a fierce femme, and I’m not ashamed to admit that such a character as this can either make or break a storyline for me.   The lead role in Atomic Blonde, played by the goddess that is Charlize Theron, embodies all of the above.  She is a bad-ass spy, she’s dangerous, smart, intense, sexy and generally all-round awesome.
  2. Set in Berlin.
    When a movie is set in one of my favourite cities in the world, how could I help but love it!  Maybe I felt a personal connection to the movie because I have been to so many of the places that were featured in it, or maybe it’s just because I KNOW how cool and hip Berlin is and this gave the film an extra depth for me.   The city of Berlin would be, in my opinion, a brilliant backdrop to any movie, but gave particular significance to this one because of the era in which it was set.  This brings be to my next point…
  3. Berlin in the late 80s.
    So, the plot of the movie is centered around the rise of the people in Berlin in the late 1980s , which led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  In Atomic Blonde, we got such a feel for the atmosphere in this city at that time, and it was incredible!  It was an era of punk/grunge/rock, underground parties, drugs, living for the NOW because you didn’t know if you would be alive tomorrow, power to the people…  Seeing this story unfold in the movie made me WISH I could have been there to experience it all.  One line in the film really stuck with me; ‘What a time to be in Berlin’.
  4. Music.
    I absolutely had to feature the movie soundtrack in this list because it is a complete winner.  The lineup includes music by David Bowie, REM, Eurythmics and German/Austrian Artists Falco and Nena among others.  The music captures the energy of the 80s, it drives the storyline of the movie, it brings the characters to life.  I wasn’t such a fan of 80s music before seeing Atomic Blonde, but it’s pretty much been on it our house every day since and it just makes me want to DANCE all the time!
  5. Fashion.
    Atomic Blonde is dripping with sex and sensuality, and I am pretty convinced that the sizzling, smoking, fashion in the movie plays a large role in that.  Long trench coats with sunglasses, racey metallic dresses, lace stockings and hold-ups and patent black high-heeled boots star throughout and I love it all!
  6. Twisty-turny plot.
    OK, so, I wouldn’t put the plot itself at the top of my list of reasons to go and see this movie.  We have all heard of the undercover spy agent completing a complex mission in a foreign country before.  However, I will say that there are a few surprises in this movie and, without spoiling anything, the twists and turns that we are taken on make for quite a ride – don’t write the movie off as just another average spy thriller.
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June: Freya Chooses…

Over past the few weeks I have made many wonderful discoveries that have given me real joy and added value to my life.  I know that these ‘Freya Chooses…’ posts are largely personal to me, but I so enjoy reading similar kinds of blog posts, where bloggers write about what they have been loving recently, or about small ways in which they have been able to improve the quality of their lives; I love taking inspiration from other people and am just a bit nosy about the kinds of things that make others happy!  So, here are just a few of the things that I have LOVED throughout the past month!

Bonjour Tristesse & A Certain Smile, by Françoise Sagan

I actually had this book of two short novellas by Sagan sitting on my bookshelf for a few years without realising it!  A moment came about recently when I had finished my current book and was waiting for the new one to arrive.  At a loss, with nothing to read, I turned to my bookshelf and found this absolute gem!  I really didn’t know anything about Sagan and her writing, but I fell in love with these stories, which were published when she was only nineteen!!

The first, Bonjour Tristesse, is probably her most famous work.  It is about the relationship between a daughter and her father, who live a carefree and somewhat hedonistic lifestyle, full of love, sexuality, passion, and contemporary political attitudes. This all gets sharply interrupted when the girl’s father suddenly decides to remarry, creating huge conflicts that result in some shocking consequences for both characters.  Although I adored this novel, it was the second one in the book, A Certain Smile, which I totally devoured.  In many ways it is a quieter, slower, more intense story and for me, this is what drew me in and got me immediately hooked.  It is about a young French girl, living and studying in Paris, full of her own ideas about life and love, although a little bored with her own lover and situation.  An older, married man comes into her life and shows her emotions and feelings which dramatically change the direction of her life, in many complicated ways.

These stories are simply beautiful, witty in that charming French way and very, very emotional.  They are so sweet, yet they have a way of tugging on your heart.  I’m so glad I found this book on my shelf, and I definitely recommend getting a copy!

Seattle

I recently got the chance to visit Seattle for the first time, and I just loved the city!  I wanted to write about it here as, for me, I never really considered Seattle as serious contender for one of the cities at the top of my list of places to travel in the U.S. – those spots are always filled by cities like New York or San Francisco.  But I have to say that this is SUCH a fantastic city, and if you have the opportunity to visit the States, definitely consider taking a trip there!

Seattle is a very vibrant city that has a drive; it’s busy, it has a hustle and bustle, everybody is out there, doing their own stuff.  There is a lot going on, in its business as well as culturally, but it doesn’t have the chaotic, stressed feeling of New York!  Seattle has all the ‘busy-ness’ but still with that wonderful, relaxed, west-coast vibe, and it’s just great.  There are so many cool little corners in the city too; great markets, coffee shops, bookstores, cool little international shops, and many, many, fantastic micro-breweries (if you are a beer fan, this city will be your heaven).  And all of this is set in an incredibly beautiful part of the world; the mountainous backdrop and ocean views follow you all around the city.

Dvořák Cypresses, Performed by Miró Quartet

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to hear a performance given by some of my current FAVOURITE musicians, the Miró Quartet, of a piece I had never heard of: a set of songs called ‘Cypresses’, arranged for string quartet, by czech composer, Antonin Dvořák.  This was originally a song cycle for voice and piano, set to poems by Czech poet, Gustav Pfleger-Moravsky,  that Dvořák composed when he was just 24 years old and later transcribed for string quartet.  At this time in Dvořák’s life, he had fallen deeply in love with one of his students – a love which, unfortunately, was not returned.  Although I have not heard entire work in its original form, I found the string quartet arrangement to be incredibly beautiful and totally capturing of Dvořák’s sad and passionate feelings of unrequited love.  There were so many truly special moments in the music, moments of darkness and light, intimate melodies, sounds coming from within the heart of the quartet – this was truly spellbinding.  It seems weird to me that this is a work that is not performed more often… but I am so glad that I got the chance to hear it and I really recommend looking it up if you don’t know it!  My particular favourite was song/poem number 9:

‘Thou Only, Dear One’

Oh, you my soul’s only dear one,

Who will live in my heart forever:

My thoughts circle around you,

Even though cruel fate separates us.

Oh, If I were a singing swan,

I would fly to you, and with my last breath,

Sing my heart out to you,

Ah, with my last breath.

What beautiful words, and music!  On that note, I have to also say that the Miró Quartet are absolutely wonderful, as people and as musicians.  They live and breathe the music in a way that make it come alive and I found this very inspiring.  This is a quartet of big personalities which shine through in their playing; their audiences love them and it’s easy to see why.  I can’t wait to work with them again in a couple of weeks time!

Catch my last Freya Chooses… post here!

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