Marianne Kroemer, “Permanent Learning”

Fifty years of ESTA

By: Mart Roegholt, ESTA Netherlands

Marianne Kroemer, a violinist from Austria, founded ESTA in Graz in 1972. Fifty years later, during de ESTA conference in Graz in 2022, she was honoured for it; she received the medal of honour of the town of Graz and a national award. She is now a lady of 93 years old, frail and deaf, with weak legs, but still very bright and alert. And she is apparently enjoying all the attention. As an ESTA member I managed to get invited in her apartment for an interview. Her house is a 5 minute walk from the KUG (University of Graz of Music and Drama), where she used to be a violin teacher and methodologist, and where the conference is being held.

Founding an organisation

Feeling a bit doubtful as I ring the doorbell, I wonder: ‘Would she have forgotten the appointment? Would she be able to hear and understand me? How is her memory of those early days?’ But all the worry is needless. On the table in her living room she has laid out all the material: ESTA conference programmes, a memorial book with photos, her KUG register with musical and pedagogical titles. She installs a special hearing system, an amplifier connected to her headset, which makes her hear better than with her usual hearing aid.

MK: “It started back then with three people. I needed two people for the legal arrangements. The gentlemen Polozoides and Zeitringer made themselves available for my sake, but they did not give it any value; ‘it would be a stillborn child’. Although this did not sound very encouraging, they could not put me off my aim. I was completely convinced of my own truth. Although I stood very much alone in my initiative, I had the luck that Vera Schwartz, cembalist at the KUG authentic performance department, had just organized a symposium about ‘the role of the violin in Baroque’ for about 30 people. Baroque performance would be discussed from different angles by musicians, scientists, pedagogues and medical doctors. I attended all the lectures. She had big names on her schedule, such as Max Rostal. The symposium was held in the beautiful Florentinersaal (where the conference takes place too). It was an enormous push in the right direction.”

She talked to Max Rostal and told him about her having founded ESTA. He became a bit pale around the nose, and replied slightly irritated that it was his own idea that he been carrying with him for years. He was to be the founder….. Shame on him, thought Marianne, and she made him the first ESTA President. That soothed him…

ASTA was a great example to a lot of people. “ASTA had been founded 10 years earlier. ‘ASTA celebrated its 10th anniversary, when we were born’, is Marianne’s poetic comment.”

Marianne’s core concept was the idea of permanent learning. In Austria the response to her ideas was lukewarm. Her colleagues reacted like ‘we know everything, we don’t need this’. But luckily she found soulmates abroad: the just named Max Rostal en Yehudi Menuhin, who contributed a lot (he became President of the UK branch immediately after its founding).

How do you look back on the development of ETSA since its establishment in 1972?

MK: “There is a significant change between then and now. Far more aspects of string playing are now researched and discussed. It’s not just technique and repertoire. A lot of scientific knowledge has been gathered; the realm of the body, anatomy and pain problems has attracted attention; there’s more focus on the teaching of young children; there’s more knowledge about stage practice, business aspects and stage fright; and lots of new methods have been introduced, such as Suzuki. Every congress has been important, fascinating and inspiring.”

“Also the attitude towards teaching has changed a lot. In those days it was ‘Listen to me and copy’; nowadays the why question stands in the middle, and the students get challenged to find out their own way. That is a sheer advancement. So may new books have flooded the market, they bring new knowledge and inspiration. Marianne has them all listed in her register, meticulously typed out in the old-fashioned way. She shows a copy of the list from the library. Four hundred (!) titles Violin Schools, dating back to 1500; even works from the Asian School, where scales, intervals and melodies were totally different.

Regarding the question about whether she could teach her students a lot about methodology, comes an honest but rueful answer: ‘they were not that interested, they were dreaming about becoming a famous soloist’. But she can understand their position. Her own son Jürgen (he accompanied her on the celebration), a skilled cembalist, stopped playing when work dried out. He did not turn to becoming a teacher – as his mother suggested -, but he requalified to become a psychologist instead. ‘And that has made him very happy’.

She brings up the topic of money herself. Naturally the community needed a sound financial basis and it was necessary to ask for a contribution from all its members. She noticed that often a contribution kept people from attaching themselves to ESTA. She finds that barely understandable.

MK: “How much is 50 euro a year? That means you do not care enough for the value of your profession, that you ‘re not aware that professional skills need sustainment and renewing.

They did not open up to the idea of permanent learning. Fortunately, we had the benefits of donations and legacies, otherwise we would never have coped and survived.”

Is there a highlight in your ESTA history?

MK: “It’s mainly special people who inspired me. Yes, my top experience is Bruno Giuranna. He has always been such an inspiring teacher, such an enormously kind person, such a gentleman, and he has given so much to the next generation! Always when Bruno Giuranna came, everybody held their ears wide open…. ayay, Bruno comes! Apart from him I remember Elspeth Iliff well, who always came along with Yehudi Menuhin. And I have really nice memories of Sven Karpe, the (almost) blind violinist from Stockholm.

I worked actively with ESTA until 2009. Then I took a step back. Anke Schittenhelm became my successor at the KUG. She does the job with the utmost care and expertise.”

And what was it that ESTA contributed to your own life?

MK: “Everything! A great feeling of being united. ESTA is my baby, whom I have been loving ever since its birth. I feel to be its earth mother.”

At the end of the interview she walks away and comes back with a book that she finds really important. I don’t understand exactly why, but it’s interesting: it’s a book about Anna Nahowski, a married woman who became the lover of Emperor Franz Ferdinand of Austria. One of the three children who was the result of the relationship, was Helène. Later she married Alban Berg.

The strange ways of life and music?

Overview of ESTA Presidents

1972-1974 Marianne Kroemer

1974-1982 Max Rostal

1982-1982 observation through Marianne Kroemer

1984-1993 Yehudi Menuhin

1983-2002 Siegfried Palm

2002-2005 Igor Ozim

2005-2010 Edith Peinemann

2011-2021 Bruno Giuranna

2021- today Géza Silvay

Photo’s: Marianne in her room in Graz, with medal of honour and award