Building bridges from Baroque to modernity

Moritz von Bredow: Rebellische Pianistin. ISBN 978-3-7957-0800-9 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Grete Sultan is a pianist that I had to discover by chance. And how lucky I was! Grete Sultan had embarked on a promising career in Germany as a pianist and teacher in the 20s and 30s. The audience loved her for her sensitive, unadorned style, for her thoroughly intellectual approach to works from the Baroque and the Vienna classic era. It all came to a provisional halt with the rise of the Nazis in Germany and the persecution of Germany’s Jewish citizens. For Grete Sultan was a German and a Jew. She stayed in Berlin until 1941, allowed to perform only in front of a Jewish audience and witnessing the expropriation and looting, the deportation and murder of friends. She escaped to the United States on the last ship with Jewish refugees from Germany.

In New York she started to rebuilt her career and she benefited from a wise and courageous decision she had made decades earlier in Berlin. While she excelled in the performance of works by Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert, she was interested in contemporary works right from the beginning of her career. She had compositions by Arnold Schönberg and Aaron Copland in her repertoire, and this made it possible to connect to the New York network of avant-garde US composers. John Cage became a lifelong friend (and chess partner), she became his muse. While works from the Baroque – Bach’s Goldberg Variations – and Grete Sultan’s acclaimed  performance of these were the entry ticket to the US concert business, the study of contemporary classical music rewarded her with a social environment that gave her the strenght to take up a female pianist’s career against all odds.

Von Bredow retraces in this thrilling biography the life of an exceptional woman whose one and only raison d’être was the piano. If German and US composers figured prominently on her concert programs, Frédéric Chopin’s Ballade No. 2 in F major, one of my favourites, propably is the piece she has played most, chiefly during her Berlin years:

Time to say good-bye with Chopin