discovered the world of glass music at the beginning of the 1990s. Viennese-born, she had trained as professional violinist and had already begun orchestral career when a music riddle in the newspaper attracted her attention to a very special instrument: the Glass Armonica.
This was to have a determining impact on her further professional life and led to the founding of the Vienna Glass Armonica Duo, together with her husband Gerald, also a violinist.
Thus she rediscovered and revived an instrument which, after enjoying a sensational wave of popularity in the 18th century, had been virtually forgotten for almost two hundred years.
Today Christa Schönfeldinger is one of the world's leading performers on the glass armonica. She has succeeded in bringing historic playing techniques to a new level of perfection and has also expanded the scope of performance on the glass armonica by adding new techniques and contemporary music aesthetics.
Numerous CD recordings by the Vienna Glass Armonica Duo are offering the public a sensitive symbiosis of poetic chamber music and sound experiences of extraordinary intensity far from the beaten path of the concert world.
Her repertoire ranges from the traditional standard works for glass armonica (W. Mozart, J. Reichardt, C. Röllig, A. Schulz) to orchestral and opera literature (G. Donizetti, C. Saint-Saëns, R. Strauss) as well as numerous arrangements ( W. Mozart, J. Haydn, E. Grieg, E. Satie, E. Morricone) and avant-garde works (A. Pärt, Ph.Glass). Her playing on the glass armonica inspired composer for new Compositions. e.g. Jörg Widmann ("Armonica" world premiere: Salzburg Mozart Festival/Vienna Philharmonics/Boulez), Pascal Dusapin (Münchner Kammerorchester, Rias Kammerchor/ A. Liebreich) a.o.
Christa Schönfeldinger performed with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, Dresden Philharmonic, NDR and SWR Orchestra, New Tokio Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra Washington. She was invited to PROMS 2016 at the Royal Albert Hall ("Armonica" BBC Orchester London/John Storgårds). Also she worked together with Daniel Barenoim, Pierre Boulez, Kent Nagano, Christian Thielemann, Christoph Eschenbach, Franz Welser-Möst, Fabio Luisi, Sylvain Camberling, John Axelrod a.o.
As a soloist and with the Vienna Glass Armonica Duo she has given concerts all over Europe, United States, Canada and Japan.
PROMS Q&A ... Christa Schonfeldinger
I studied violin in Vienna and I’d been playing in Viennese orchestras. One day my husband Gerald (also a violinist) saw the glass harmonica mentioned in a newspaper puzzle, where it explained that it was invented by Benjamin Franklin and that Mozart had composed his final chamber work for it. The description electrified us both.
We heard a short sound sample of the instrument in a museum and we've devoted our musical lives to it ever since.
What first attracted you to the instrument?
Nobody who hears the sound of the glass harmonica can ever forget it. It's hard to describe, but you sink completely inside the sound, We founded the Vienna Glass Harmonica Duo about 25 years ago and over that time we've been exploring new facets of this extraordinary instrument. I didn't have to decide to make the glass harmonica the centre of my musical life, in fact. Instead, the glass harmonica found me and I had no choice but to take on the exciting challenge of becoming a glass harmonica virtuoso.
What are the challenges of playing the glass harmonica?
They’re actually the same as with any other instrument. To interpret music well you have to have a perfect mastery of the instrument.
The hardest thing on a glass harmonica is to play fast passages, because glass doesn't produce sound as quickly as a violin string, for example. But, with practice, even that’s possible.
How important is it to you to establish a glass harmonica repertoire of our own time?
Very important. It's always been our goal that the glass harmonica should become a concert instrument, and that means being able to play pieces by contemporary composers. Jorg Widmann’s Armonica is a really wonderful work in that respect. The challenge for composers is that they're not familiar with the glass harmonica's playing techniques, but I always work closely with them when they begin composing.
How did you work with Jorg Widmann on Armonica?
I first played him Mozart's Adagio K6l7a for glass harmonica and that's what gave Jorg the inspiration for Armonica, The basic idea is that the glass harmonica sound seems to come from nothing and from il comes the sound of the whole orchestra. At the end the glass harmonica takes over again. I’ve played the piece about 35 times now, but I’m still surprised by the incredibly elegant, hidden details in Armonica and by the way Jorg gets new sounds from the orchestral instrumcnls too.
How would you describe your relationship in the piece with accordionist Teodoro Anzellotti?
It's always a pleasure to work with Teodoro on Armonica. But, in fact, the instrumental dialogue in the piece isn’t primarily between the two solo instruments - instead it’s between the whole orchestra and the glass harmonica and accordion as a duo.
Interview by David Kettle