Memorable Manitobans: Sophie-Carmen “Sonia” Fridman Eckhardt-Gramatté (1899-1974)
She was born in Moscow to a musical mother, but there is some question of her paternity. She was sent as an infant to a Tolstoyan colony in the Cotswolds in England and was reunited with her mother in 1904 in Paris, where she proved a piano (and later violin) prodigy. She began a solo career at the age of 11. In 1914 she and her family moved to Berlin, where she gradually moved to composition.
In 1920 she married the German painter Walter Gramatté. After moving to Spain in 1924 she worked with Pablo Casals, but she postponed her own career because of the illness of her husband, who died in 1929 of tuberculosis. She resumed performing in 1929-30 but soon gave this up in favour of composition. She married the Austrian art historian Ferdinand Eckhardt in 1934 and moved to Vienna in 1939.
When her husband became director of the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 1953, she moved to Manitoba, where she received many commissions and wrote many compositions. A contemporary described her as “friendly, volatile, restless, quick-witted, quick-tempered and altogether alive.” Her compositions became simultaneously more abstract and more tempestuous over the decades. She developed her own methods for teaching and performing on both the piano and the violin. Others carried through with her plans for a competition for young artists playing contemporary composers, which was named after her. She died in Stuttgart after a fall.
She was easily the most important Canadian female composer, and arguably the most important Canadian composer, of her time. The vast bulk of her compositions were published as S. C. Eckhardt-Gramatté: Selected Works, 23 volumes (1980-84). She received an honorary degree from Brandon University in 1970.
Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 1 November 2012