Sontraud Speidel is Professor of Music and Head of the Piano Department at the distinguished state conservatory of music in Karlsruhe, Germany. She has been hailed by music critic Wolf-Eberhard von Lewinski as "one of the most inspiring, gripping and convincing pianists of today." A world class artist with over thirty commercial recordings to her credit, she has thrilled audiences around the world in hundreds of recitals and solos with performances noted for their breathtaking detail, subtle nuance, and exciting musical spontaneity.
Born in Germany as World War II was ending, Speidel was raised in a family that valued music. She began her first lessons at age five on accordion, an instrument both parents played. After just a few months of study she was encouraged by her teacher to study piano because the accordion was too limiting for her talent. She would study both, as well as violin.
Her family, like many others in post-war Germany, was poor. Even so, Speidel recalls, they never went without food. While her parents could not afford music lessons for her, teachers, impressed by her talent and promise, helped by obtaining scholarships for her at the nearby music school.
At age eleven, Speidel was selected to study piano at the music conservatory in her home city of Karlsruhe. Five years later she won first prize in a national competition with contestants from all of the schools in West Germany. This success would be the first of several in Germany and in other international competitions that would include the Bach Prize in Washington, D.C., the Boston Symphony Jackson Prize at Tanglewood, and Italy's Ettore Pozzoli Prize.
She graduated with honors from the conservatory at age twenty-one, earning both a teacher's degree and Concert Diploma. She then continued studies with several prominent teachers in Frankfurt, Brussels, and Switzerland. In her late twenties, she started teaching part-time at her alma mater, giving lessons to the music minors.
A number of successful performances as recitalist and soloist with numerous orchestras in the next decade, including an invitational concert at the request of German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt at the Palais Schaumburg in Bonn in 1979, led to recognition and an appointment at the conservatory in Trossinger in 1980.
Two years later Speidel was offered a professorship at the conservatory in Karlsruhe. She was appointed head of the keyboard, guitar, and lute areas in 1991.
A warm and affirming person by nature, Speidel is a natural teacher who inspires students to reach for and achieve ultimate musical results. Her master classes in the United States and her master courses in Germany, Israel, and Vienna, are regarded as insightful and inspiring by the students and their teachers.
She is in demand as an adjudicator for international competitions and is a regular jury member of national piano competitions on the regional, state, and federal level including the Robert Schumann Competition in Zwickau, Germany; Johann Sebastian Bach competition in Koethen, Germany; and others. She is also a frequent judge in international piano competitions such as the Bach Competition in Leipzig, Callas Competition in Athens, and Senigallia in Vienna, as well as others in Dublin, Rome, Washington D.C., Israel, Morocco, Minnesota, and Cleveland.
Speidel particularly enjoys giving music lessons. She recently observed, "I especially love teaching on a one-to-one basis. It is such a personal thing. Once a year I take an excursion with my students. When I see them all together, I get frightened. I know each of their stories and feel so much responsibility for each one. But usually I see them one at a time and am able to deal with it on that basis." Her students have won numerous prizes in national and international competitions.
Speidel met her husband, Alfred Csammer, a professional violinist, while in her teens. He had been raised an Adventist and introduced her to the church. An active performer, he played for years as a member of the famous Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra until his death in 2009. He also served as an assistant professor at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz for many years. While he had to wrestle with problems associated with making music and keeping the Sabbath, her career as a piano performer has been relatively free of this problem. Even so, she has had to make some difficult decisions in this area.
Although her repertoire includes the usual works performed by concert pianists, Speidel particularly enjoys performing nineteenth-century compositions written by Fanny Hensel, sister of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, and also less frequently played works by Wagner, Hummel, and others. This music is typically presented within the context of more familiar works in solo and chamber music recitals.
Despite her frequent concertizing and teaching and administrative duties at the conservatory, Speidel finds time to practice regularly. Additionally, she was elected in 1994 to serve as president of the Piano-Gruppe Karlsruhe, a performance study group which also sponsors promising young pianists in concerts. She greatly expanded the scope of this group's work in her first year of leadership, increasing its membership from around 80 to 200.
Speidel's concerts and recordings have been hailed as exciting and memorable performances which set the standard. As von Lewinski recently observed " ... she is able to recognize the wealth of ideas in pieces, then present such riches with precise tonal balance, unusual spontaneity of breathing and impulse, deep sensitivity and her own individual - but never arbitrary - shaping. There is always excitement in her playing.”
In 2005 Speidel was awarded the Bundesverdienstkreuz der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, the National Award of Germany. She is listed as a “Steinway Pianist” and is an honorary member of the Werner-Trenkner Society.
While she thoroughly enjoys performing on the piano, Speidel's love of music is inclusive: "I love all good music experiences. While I enjoy playing and hearing piano, I also love to hear and play with other instruments and attend symphony concerts. Good music can be beautiful and uplifting. It is an ultimate human experience."
This biography was originally an article by Dan Shultz, printed in the Winter 1995 issue of IAMA Notes, 1, 3-9. It was based on an interview with Sontraud Speidel by the writer in 1994 and was edited and updated in 2013. Information about her husband, Alfred Csammer, was provided by Sontraud Spiedel in April 2010. See his biography.
An Interview with Sontraud Speidel
Following a concert at Southern College [now Southern Adventist University] on October 13, 1985, Sontraud Speidel was interviewed by Music Department Chairman, Marvin Robertson. The following is a transcript of the interview.
You are well known for your concerts; I am sure people would like to know where you teach.
I teach at the Hochschule for Music in Karlsruhe, West Germany.
What is your position?
I am Professor of Music in charge of piano.
What is your teaching load at the hochschule?
We are required to teach twenty hours per week, plus committee meetings and examinations. Most of my students take a one-hour lesson per week, although several take two-hour lessons.
It seems we all have committee meetings, but what is the nature of the examinations you mentioned?
Well, we have performance examinations for entrance and to meet performance requirements once a student is accepted. For instance, I just finished sitting on one of the two examination committees for entrance into our piano program.
How many students who take the entrance exams are accepted for study?
Oh, it is very difficult and competitive. Only five to ten percent pass the piano examination and are accepted for study. For instance, I will have only two new students this year.
Let's talk about concertizing. Do you have a manager?
Yes, in Germany.
How many concerts do you perform each year?
At least thirty, which includes solo recitals, appearances with orchestras, and chamber music. My husband, Fredy Csammer, a violinist, and I perform together. I also perform with a very fine cellist.
What about German public radio?
Oh yes, I perform frequently on radio - particularly 20th century music and seldom -played music.
How many records have you made?
Let's see, three chamber music and seven solo piano albums. The seventh album is just coming out--it is music of Fanny Hensel, the sister of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. About half of the music on this recording is unpublished.
How did you decide to do Fanny Hensel's music?
Well, a very famous German musicologist who lives in Karlsruhe asked me to perform some of Hensel's music at our Mendelssohn Festival. Some of it was very difficult to obtain from the library in Berlin. I was also asked to perform a previously unpublished "Song Without Words" which was discovered in 1982 in an old guest book.
I enjoyed the music of Fanny Hensel which you performed this evening. Tell me more about her music.
First of all, most of her music is worth playing. For instance, she has a Seasons Cycle which consists of twelve pieces--one for each month. Most are a melody with accompaniment, but there is a typical Romantic fugue and there is a chorale at the end of December.
She and Felix sound quite a bit alike; in fact, he published two or three of her works as his. He was very jealous of her compositional ability and told her not to publish, but later encouraged and helped her.
Some people have suggested that I am interested in Fanny Hensel from a feminist point of view. I am not. I am interested in her music because it is worthy--not because she is a woman. I am, however, sure her music would have been published sooner if she had been a man.
Over the many years we have been friends, i have observed you have somewhat specialized in piano music not in the standard repertoire - piano music of Wagner, Hummel, Hensel for example. Why?
First of all, I am curious about music both known and unknown, and if it is good, I study it. Because I can learn quickly, I often get calls to learn works not in the standard repertoire of 20th century music. Next year, I am premiering a new work by a German composer. I only do 20th century music which is played on the keys with the fingers. Many of these performances are for German radio.
Does having this music in your repertoire give you additional performance opportunities?
Yes and No. Most concert presenters would not accept a whole evening of modern music and even if you do get one performance, it is hard to get second and third performances. Therefore, I use this music within recital programs which contain other styles of music.
What music do you like best to perform?
Oh, that is a difficult question. Bach, of course, but I like all music that is well-written and worthy of performance.
Has being a Seventh-day Adventist been a limiting factor on your performing career?
Absolutely no limitation. For the professional orchestral player, such as my husband, or for the professional choir singer there are more problems - but not for the solo pianist.
What do you consider the essentials to becoming a successful professional performer?
First, if you can do anything else and love it, do it. Concertizing is a hard life; it demands much and is highly competitive. Second, you must have good nerves and good health. Third, success as a professional performer depends on a combination of luck, being at the right place at the right time, and knowing the right people.
This interview was published in the Summer 1987 issue of IAMA Newsletters.
Klaviersuite (1956) Sonatine (1962) Nacht-Tagebuch (2003) Weiße Tasten, Schwarze Tasten (2003) Klangblumen (2003) Kontraste 2 (2011) Etüde 1 (2010)
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Piano Sonatas Vol. 1
Sonata G minor op. 105, Sonata E major op. 6, Sonata Bb major op. 106, Piano Piece "As time runs" G minor, without op. SST 31160 (1 CD)
Johann Sebastian Bach Die sechs Partiten
(Gesamtaufnahme) SST 31114 (2 CDs)
Johann Nepomuk Hummel/ Johann Ladislaus Dussek
Sonata F# minor, op. 81/Sonata Eb Major op. 44 "The Farewell" SST 31151
Fanny Hensel Née Mendelssohn-Bartholdy
Piano works (partly first recordings) SST 30179 (released in the USA by BRIOSO)
Piano Works From Female Composers From Three Centuries
Works by Margarethe Danzi, Maria Szymanowska, Fanny Hensel, Clara Schumann, Pauline Viardot, Marfa Sabinina, Anna Weiss, Ilse Fromm-Michaels, Germaine Tailleferre, and Marcelle Soulage. Mostly first recordings. organo phon CD 90113
Romantic Piano Music
Theodor Kirchner, Ten Piano Pieces, Opus 2, Carl Reinecke, Two Ballades, first recording SST30216
Rarities of Piano Music at Schloss vor Husum 1991
Werke von Eduard Erdmann DACOCD 389
Music From Baden-Wuerttemberg: Otto Dessoff
Piano Sonata op. 3 (Sontraud Speidel), String Quintet op. 10 (Stuttgarter Streichquintett) String Quartet op. 11 (Abert-Quartett Stuttgart), Fantasia Classics FCL 56801
Piano Music by Composers From Karlsruhe
Works from Schmittbaur, Danzi, Kalliwoda, Lachner, Dessoff, Faisst, Mottl, Cassimir, Schmid, Schweikert, Mantel, Kusterer, Apostel, Schelb, Grosse, Velte (first recordings) Antes Edition BM-CD 14.9001 (SDR) (2 CD's)
Piano Music No. 2, Fifteen small pieces for piano, Four Piano Pieces; Partita Ritmica for 2 pianos (with Ruben Meliksetian) Antes Edition BM-CD 31.9188
Piano with Orchestra
Serenade in g minor for string orchestra op. 242, Concert Piece for piano and orchestra op. 33, Twelve Musical Pictures for String Orchestra, Sontraud Speidel, piano, und the Suedwestdeutsches Kammerorchester Pforzheim. Conductor: Vladislav Czarnecki ebs 6118
Piano Four-Hand Music and Two Pianos
Johann Sebastian Bach
Brandenburg Concertos 1-6 (complete recording). Transcription for four-hand piano by Max Reger. With Evelinde Trenkner (first recording) MDG 330 0653-2 (2 CDs)
Johann Sebastian Bach
Arrangements by Max Reger for piano duo:Orchestral Suites, Passacaglia in c minor, Toccata and Fugue in d minor, Prelude and Fugue in Eb major, With Evelinde Trenkner, Dabringhaus und Grimm MDG 330 1006-2 (Double CD) (FonoForum)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Piano Sonatas, with additional second piano part by Edvard Grieg, Edvard Grieg, Peer Gynt Suites No. 1+2, arranged for four-hand piano With Evelinde Trenkner Dabringhaus und Grimm MDG 930 1382-6 (Double CD)
Rosamunde D 797, transcription for four-hand piano by Arnold Schoenberg (first recording, Lebensstuerme D 947, With Evelinde Trenkner, MDG 330 0763-
Anton Bruckner, Symphony No. 3 in d minor
(Arrangement for four-hand piano by Gustav Mahler). With Evelinde Trenkner (first recording)MDG 330 0591-2
Works for Two Pianos (complete recording), Beethoven-Variations op. 86, Mozart-Variations op. 132a Introduction, Passacaglia, and Fugue op. 96, With Evelinde Trenkner. MDG 330 0765-2
Ouvertures and Variations for four-hand piano. With Evelinde Trenkner. Works by Mozart, Rossini, Lortzing, Nicolai, Pillney, Scharwenka, and Reger, MDG 330 1134-2
Eugen Werner Velte
Study I for 2 pianos (first recording). With Olga Rissin-Morenova, Antes Edition BM-CD 149002
Piano Music with Strings
Trio for piano, clarinet, and violoncello in a minor op. 114 (with Wolfhard Pencz and Peter Hoerr)Interchord 830.890 (SWF)
Johannes Brahms/Arnold Schoenberg
Johannes Brahms, Piano Trio B Major op. 8, Arnold Schoenberg, Verklaerte Nacht (transcription for piano, violin, and violoncello by Eduard Steuermann). With Josef Rissin and Martin Ostertag BM-CD 31.9127
Vinzenz Lachner Chamber Music and Piano Pieces
Sontraud Speidel plays the "Zwei Klavierstuecke" op. 52 (1874). Chamber music with Irene Guedel, violoncello); Jost Michaels, piano; Kolja Lessing, violin; Joachim Draheim, piano; Alfons Kade, piano; Heinrich Schiff, violoncello; and Christian Zacharias, piano. BM-CD 31.9130
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Rondo KV 269 and Violin Sonatas KV 301, 304, and 454
Maria-Elisabeth Lott plays the violin from Mozart's childhood (Andreas Ferdinand Mayr, Salzburg 1735). Sontraud Speidel, fortepiano (Anton Walter, Vienna 1790). Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg. Conductor: Markus Tomasi. EMI Classics 5 56872 2
Koh Gabriel Kameda: Romances
Koh Gabriel Kameda, violin. Sontraud Speidel, piano, kameda-music ABCC-1001
Richard Wagner Piano Sonatas
Sontraud Speidel plays two Sonatas by Richard Wagner, FSM-Corona
Dussek/Johann Hummel Piano Sonatas
Sontraud Speidel plays Sonatas by Dussek and Hummel, FSM-Corona
Johann Hummel Sonata +
Sontraud Speidel plays sonatas by Hummel and others, FSM-Corona
Anton Dvorak/ Bedrich Smetna
Alfred Csammer and Sontraud Speidel play music for violin and piano FSM-Corona
Felix Mendelssohn/ Richard Strauss
Alfred Csammer and Sontraud Speidel play sonatas for violin and piano FSM-Corona
Felix Mendelssohn/Anton Dvorak
Sontraud Speidel and Alfred Csammer play music for solo piano and violin and piano, Chapel/Bridge