Eckhardt-Gramatté, S.C. (1899–1974)

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Eckhardt-Gramatté, S.C. (1899–1974)

Russian-born Canadian composer and violinist. Name variations: Sophie or Sophie-Carmen; Sonia Friedman-Gramatté or Gramatte; Sonia de Friedman-Kochevskoy. Born Sophie-Carmen de Friedman on January 6, 1899, probably in Moscow; died in Stuttgart, Germany, on December 2, 1974; daughter of Catherina de Kochevskaya (a music instructor) and Nicolas de Friedman; studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Alfred Brun, Guillaume Rémy, Vincent d'Indy, Camille Chevillard, and Bronislav Huberman; married Walter Gramatté, on December 13, 1920 (died of tuberculosis in 1929); married Ferdinand Eckhardt (an art historian), in 1934.

Won the Composition Prize of the Musikverein for her Piano Concerto No. 2 (1948) and the Austrian State Prize for her Triple Concerto (1950); won first prize in the International Competition for Women Composers (1961). The S.C. Eckhardt-Gramatté Competition was named for her.

Sophie-Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatté, later known as Sonia, was born in Russia in 1899 and had an eventful childhood. Her mother Catherina de Kochevskaya separated from her husband Nicholas de Friedman before Sophie was born. Fearing de Friedman would kidnap her little girl, Catherina sent Sophie-Carmen from Moscow to England where the child spent four years with foster parents in a Tolstoian colony located in the Cotswold Hills, Gloucestershire. From England, Sophie moved to Paris with her mother and began to take piano instruction. Between 1905 and 1909, Sophie-Carmen, not yet a teenager, wrote Alphabet Pieces and Little Pieces. Although she did not play the violin, she was accepted at the Paris Conservatoire as a violin student where her teachers were Alfred Brun, Guillaume Rémy, Vincent d'Indy, and Camille Chevillard. By the age 11, Sophie was concertizing throughout Europe alternately as a pianist and a violinist. She left the conservatory in 1913.

Eckhardt-Gramatté moved to Berlin with her mother and sister in 1914. For a time, she earned a living for the family by playing in cafes. Suzanne Joachim-Chaigneau , the daughter-in-law of the great Joseph Joachim, gave the young musician one of Joachim's violins and arranged a scholarship sponsored by Franz von Mendelssohn, a descendent of the composer. For six years, Eckhardt-Gramatté appeared in a number of recitals. Though her patrons wanted her to continue as a concert artist, she preferred to devote her time and energy to composing, and by 1920 she was immersed in composing large works. That same year, she married the German expressionist painter Walter Gramatté and was known as Sonia Friedman-Gramatté.

The couple moved to Barcelona in 1924, where Pablo Casals became Eckhardt-Gramatté's mentor. She performed frequently in Spain. In 1927, Leopold Stokowski heard of Eckhardt-Gramatté and asked to audition her. She was engaged to perform with the Philadelphia Orchestra, an appearance that was postponed when her husband died of tuberculosis in 1929. When she finally came to America in 1930, she received rave reviews. Deciding, nonetheless, to devote her time to composing rather than concertizing, Eckhardt-Gramatté returned to Berlin and enrolled as a pupil of Max Trapp at the Prussian Academy of Music. In 1934, she married Ferdinand Eckhardt, an Austrian art historian. Five years later, the couple moved to Vienna following the completion of her studies. In Vienna, she began to sign her name as S.C. Eckhardt-Gramatté. After the war, she was commissioned to write a piece for the Salzburg Festival and the Violin Concerto No. 2 published in 1952 was the result. When Eckhardt-Gramatté's husband became director of the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 1953, she moved with him despite her career. Her home in Winnipeg soon became a gathering place for musicians. In 1959, she wrote a Duo Concertante for cello and piano for the University Music Festival in Saskatoon, and other commissions followed.

Eckhardt-Gramatté wrote highly individualized music. With the exception of three years' study with Max Trapp, she developed her skills almost completely on her own. Her style is very distinctive and listeners tend to either love or disdain her music. As she moved from the restrictive and competitive European milieu to the open frontier in Canada, her abilities grew. In addition to her talent as a composer, Eckhardt-Gramatté was an excellent violinist and teacher. Her approach to teaching violin was innovative, and she developed a technique for piano called the Natural Piano Technique.


Cohen, Aaron I. International Encyclopedia of Women Composers. 2 vols. NY: Books and Music (USA), 1987.

Sadie, Stanley, ed. New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. 20 vols. NY: Macmillan, 1980.

"Sophie Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatte: A Portrait," in Musicanada. October 1969, pp. 8–9

John Haag , Assistant Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia

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Eckhardt-Gramatté, S.C. (1899–1974)

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