My first piano teacher Gertrud Nettl.
Even though, in 1951, I was a naive nine-year-old boy who would rather shoot baskets than play Bach and practice scales, I have fond, vivid memories of those early piano lessons. One activity we did, which I still mention to my college pedagogy classes, was an exercise in ear training. We would line up throw rugs on the hardwood floor and assign a musical note name to each of them. I would then take melodic dictation by jumping to the rug that represented the pitch she played.
The story of Gertrud Nettl's journey to Bloomington, Indiana, and, ultimately, to our living room in 1951 for piano lessons, would be sufficient material for a novel or movie script. She was born Gertrud Hutter, in Prague, Czechoslovakia, and attended the Prague Musikhochschule, majoring in piano and minoring in dance. By age 19, she had begun concertizing in Prague, performing the standard repertoire, as well as Schoenberg and Busoni. In the late 1920s and 1930s, she played frequently in various Czechoslovakian towns, as well as in Vienna and Frankfurt, including concerti performances like Mozart's D Minor Concerto, K. 466. In 1928, she married the noted musicologist Paul Nettl, who was seventeen years her senior. Commuting monthly to Vienna, she continued her music studies with Conrad Ansorge and, particularly, with the great interpreter of new music Eduard Steuermann. She also studied the Jaques-Dalcroze method, which she pursued at the original Dalcroze School in Hellerau.
In 1939, after living for a half year under the Nazi occupation, the family was forced to immigrate to the U.S. because Paul Nettl's Jewish background placed him in mortal danger. Paul Nettl had taught in the German University of Prague until 1937; in 1939, he and his family were brought to America by means of a fund raised by the faculty and students of Westminster Choir College. After his arrival, Paul Nettl was given a special (non-permanent) appointment at the college, with a small salary. In reality, Gertrud Nettl was the principal breadwinner during this time with a large studio of private pupils and part-time positions at Westminster and the Philadelphia Music School Settlement. A letter from College President John Finley Williamson to the Indiana School of Music Dean Robert Sanders, explained why the college assisted Paul Nettl and his family. The letter states, "We assisted Professor Nettl because we considered him one of the five greatest musicologists in the world, and knew he would be killed if he stayed in Europe." My mother recalls Mrs. Nettl sadly telling about two wonderful grand pianos she was forced to leave behind in Czechoslovakia.
During the family's time in Princeton, Gertrud and her family became acquainted with distinguished scholars and scientists residing there, and she once famously accompanied Albert Einstein, a moderately distinguished amateur violinist, at a fundraiser. The references listed in the curriculum vitae that formed part of Paul Nettl's application to Indiana University included Albert Einstein, German physicist and Nobel prizewinner in 1921; Alfred Einstein, German musicologist; and Thomas Mann, German novelist, critic and Nobel prizewinner in 1929.
During their residence in Princeton, Gertrud and her husband gave a series of lecture-recitals introducing to American audiences piano music by Czech and Bohemian composers, including works by Smetana, Janacek, Novak, Vorisek, Dvorak, Martinu and Schoenberg's pupil Viktor Ullmann. Her repertoire also included Schoenberg, Berg and Bartok. She once performed for the American Society for Contemporary Music in New York.
In 1946, two immigrants were added to the faculty of the Indiana University School of Music. One was composer Bernhard Heiden, a German Jew who had studied with Paul Hindemith before coming to the U.S. in 1935 and who joined the school after wartime service in the U.S. Army. The other was the Czechoslovakian-born musicologist Paul Nettl, Gertrud's husband, who was a prolific scholar, probably best known for his book, Mozart and Masonry.
Gertrud Nettl taught piano at Indiana University as a temporary instructor for three years. She gave recitals that included Schumann's F-sharp Minor Sonata, Opus 17 Fantasia in C by Schumann, Beethoven's "Tempest" Sonata, works by Smetana and Jahacek and Bach's "Capriccio on the Departure of his Beloved Brother."
Gertrud Nettl did not drive, so her son, Bruno, an Indiana graduate student, would drive her to our house and return to pick her up at the end of the lessons. Nineteen years later, in 1970, Bruno Nettl confided to his colleague Howard Karp, my graduate piano professor at the University of Illinois, that those weekly trips to Ellettsville had been one of his least favorite things to do on Saturday mornings. Earning his Ph.D. at Indiana University, Bruno Nettl joined the music faculty at the University of Illinois in 1964 as an ethnomusicologist. In addition to writing several important books and articles, he has
served as president of the Society for Ethnomusicology and as editor of its journal, Ethnomusicology. Knowing I had started piano lessons with his mother, Professor Nettl attended my master's recital at the University of Illinois. I always will be sincerely appreciative of this warm gesture of support and interest. Bruno shared with me some of his mother's recital programs. It turns out that one of my master's recital selections, the Mozart Rondo in A Minor, was a work she frequently performed in concert.
Only after the passing of many years have I come to fully appreciate Gertrud Nettl's musical stature. She passed away September 16, 1952. Like the premature, untimely deaths of Mozart and Schubert, we are left with the question, "What might have been?" In spite of her relatively short life and personal tragedies caused by World War II, Gertrud Nettl left a rich legacy full of accomplishments as a concert performer, master teacher and devoted matriarch. I was truly privileged and fortunate to have taken my early instruction from such a talented and distinguished teacher.
Logan, George M. The Indiana University School of Music, A History. (Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis.) 2000.
Little did Paul Stewart realize that when he began piano lessons he would ultimately trade his basketball for board meetings. He is now MTNA president.
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|Title Annotation:||The Back Page|
|Publication:||American Music Teacher|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2005|
|Next Article:||Extraordinary music.|