Rosa (Rosi) Grun­schlag

The Jewish Chronicle - - Obituaries - GI­U­LIANA CAR­BONARA-LEVY

WITH THE death of ac­claimed pi­anist Rosi Grun­schlag, it was the final cur­tain call for the tal­ented mu­si­cal duo – Rosi and pi­ano-part­ner and sis­ter Toni – who had been mak­ing mu­sic to­gether for 80 years.

Early this year Toni and Rosi, a doc­u­men­tary in which the sis­ters told their re­mark­able story, was shown to crit­i­cal ac­claim on BBC4. They spoke of hav­ing to flee their home town, Vi­enna, as the Nazis came to power, and re­mem­bered with af­fec­tion their brief stay in the UK be­fore fi­nally em­i­grat­ing to the US, where they en­joyed a suc­cess­ful 60-year ca­reer as an in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned pi­ano-duo. Toni died in 2007, but Rosi kept on play­ing.

Rosi Grun­schlag was the third child in a re­mark­ably mu­si­cal fam­ily; her el­der brother David stud­ied vi­o­lin with the great mae­stro Bro­nis­law Hu­ber­man (who went on to form the Pales­tine Sym­phony Or­ches­tra), while sis­ter Toni was taught by a pupil of Liszt. Rosi would fol­low her sib­lings to the State Mu­sic Academy.

A promis­ing ca­reer loomed for the teenage pi­anist but the 1938 An­schluss put paid to that. The tiny apart­ment where the Grun­schlags lived was con­fis­cated by a lo­cal Nazi but the whole fam­ily man­aged to flee thanks to Hu­ber­man, who se­cured visas for them to join their par­ents in the USA. But be­fore they could do that, they came to Bri­tain where the Jewish Agency placed them with the Ba­ge­nal fam­ily in Hert­ford­shire, Although Mrs Ba­ge­nal had of­fered to take one Jewish girl for two months, she re­alised that the sis­ters could not be sep­a­rated and they ended up stay­ing there for five bliss­ful months that did much to re­store their emo­tional sta­bil­ity.

But it was when Rosi and Toni fi­nally reached New York that their ca­reers took off. Their fa­ther, who had en­cour­aged his chil­dren to be­come mu­si­cians, worked nights to buy them a sec­ond-hand Stein­way. In 1940, given the op­por­tu­nity to play for Olin Downes, the cel­e­brated New York Times mu­sic critic, the sis­ters so en­tranced him that the 15 min­utes he had orig­i­nally al­lo­cated for them be­came an hour and a half. It was Downes who sug­gested the girls per­form as a two-pi­ano team.

They con­tin­ued to be a per­fect team, dif­fer­ent yet per­fectly com­ple­men­tary, for over 60 years, play­ing a wide range of styles from the clas­si­cal reper­toire to works by con­tem­po­rary com­posers, some writ­ten es­pe­cially for them. They prac­tised, per­formed, taught and lived to­gether in the apart­ment build­ing into which they had moved in 1943 and a sum­mer house in Cape Cod. Rosi, like her sis­ter, never mar­ried be­cause, as she pointed out – “ev­ery man wants his 6 o’clock din­ner and as a mu­si­cian you can’t pro­vide that.”

But the ex­tra­or­di­nary re­la­tion­ship she had with Toni – al­most like twins read­ing each other’s minds – and with mu­sic, en­sured that hers was a rich, ful­filled life. Af­ter her mother died in 1949 Rosi also started teach­ing at the Ethel Walker School and for more than 25 years she taught over 200 stu­dents with great pas­sion but also a great deal of pa­tience. “She be­lieved in each one of them and they felt that in­ten­sity and they grew ac­cord­ingly,” said a friend. All the peo­ple who knew her de­scribe her as a trail­blazer, full of de­ter­mi­na­tion, drive and am­bi­tion as well as hu­mour.

Rosi never for­got her strug­gle against ad­ver­sity and what had ul­ti­mately saved her. When ad­dress­ing a group of young Aus­tri­ans, she had this ad­vice for them: “If you have a tal­ent, work on it be­cause when you have to run for your life, you leave ev­ery­thing be­hind. You just take your­self, if you are lucky. But your ed­u­ca­tion is yours to keep. It is your trans­portable as­set.”

Rosi Grun­schlag: en­joy­ing the fruits of an 80 year mu­si­cal ex­pe­ri­ence

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