A violin legend vanishes without trace

A violin legend vanishes without trace


norman lebrecht

May 23, 2023

There was a time when eminent conductors queued up to engage Edith Peinemann. William Steinberg booked her for Pittsburg, George Szell for Cleveland and Berlin.

A student of Max Rostal, she was recognised by Yehudi Menuhin as one of the leading talents of her generation. Steinberg called her ‘Milstein in skirts’.

Edith went on to become professor of music at Frankfurt University of Music and Performing Arts.

We have just learned that she died on February 24 this year, a few days short of her 86th birthday.

There has not been a single notice in the German press or in the music world. How did she fall out of sight?

Whatever became of Edith Peinemann?

UPDATE: Ole Bohn writes: Edith Peinemann was a great violinist. Unfortunately her career diminished by the emerging of Anne Sophie Mutter and the passing of the important conductors who were her mentors. I heard her live with the concertos of Beethoven, Brahms, Berg, Sibelius and Berg and also in recital, where her interpretation of the Bach C major solo sonata was stunning. Her recording of the Dvorak concerto and Tzigane is really superb. I had the fortune of playing the Bach double concerto with her and the Oslo Philharmonic in the beginning 1970s.


  • Someone who knew him says:

    The passing of Dwight Oltman, the legendary American conductor, is also a blow that hasn’t received the attention it so richly deserves. This maestro, whose career spanned an extraordinary 50 years, studied under Pierre Monteux and the eminent pedagogue Max Rudolf, Nadia Boulanger, and Aaron Copland at Tanglewood.

    Besides conducting major orchestras across the US and Europe and being among the first American conductors to conduct performances in both the Soviet Union and China he also played a vital role in cultivating the landscape of chamber orchestras in the United States by founding the Ohio Chamber Orchestra which no longer exists but lasted for 25 years. At its peak in the 80s and 90s, this prestigious ensemble boasted a budget exceeding 10 million dollars (which is a lot of money now but was more back then!) and was favorably compared to the esteemed Cleveland Orchestra.

    Maestro Oltman also was a leading ballet conductor as the Music Director to the Cleveland Ballet and San Jose Ballet orchestras for 25 years, back when they still maintained their own orchestras. His dedication to the growth of music saw him premiere countless works, ensuring that new compositions were given the attention they deserved.

    Even beyond his own performances, Oltman’s legacy lives on in the countless musicians he mentored, many of whom now hold prestigious positions in orchestras such as the Cleveland Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony, New York Philharmonic, and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

    The loss of Dwight Oltman is deeply felt by his students and the musicians who played under him. His passing should be acknowledged and mourned; he will undoubtedly be missed.

    • Ludwig's Van says:

      The recent premature death of prominent American violinist James Buswell was also inexplicably ignored – by Slippedisc and the Press in general.

      • ShksprTH says:

        Buswell was an outstanding teacher.

      • Joel Kemelhor says:

        James Oliver Buswell IV was the first classical violinist I ever heard. It was in Washington at a “Young People’s Concert” with the National Symphony in the 1960’s — when Mr. Buswell was himself no more than college age.

        One of his recordings was the Vaughn Williams concerto for violin and strings (originally titled “Concerto Accademico”). That was with the London Symphony and Andre Previn, for RCA.

    • Hercule says:

      Off topic, don’t you think? But since you brought him up. If ever a person deserved to be forgotten it’s Dwight Oltman. As you claim to have known him, you clearly suffer from Stockholm Syndrome. Seek help! But I knew him too. Dwight Oltman was a mediocre conductor at best, stiff, parochial and unimaginative. But moreover, he was a despicable teacher who played favorites and “taught” through intimidation, embarrassment, and condescension. He was an egotist and a control freak whose artistic aims were merely imitations of others.

      • GCMP says:

        Were you never taught not to speak ill of the dead?

        • Tim says:

          People speak ill of the dead all the time – Hitler, Stalin, Manson, Epstein, etc., etc., etc. – and often with good reason. Hercule likely wouldn’t have spoken at all in the absence of the original fawning eulogy, which reads like something written by the dead man’s publicist. Hercule’s response was a much more entertaining read.

          As for the original subject, I’ve actually never heard of the “legendary” Dwight Oltman, so calling him legendary seems like a stretch. But whatever.

        • Piano Lover says:

          Being dead does not mean he-she cannot be talked about.

    • GFL says:

      I played under him for several years while a student at BW. He was a demanding conductor while at rehearsal but quick to praise students after a performance. He was a unique personality and a kind spirit. I remained friends with him for years. May his memory be a blessing always.

  • KANANPOIKA says:

    Heard Edith Peinemann play Berg’s Concerto at Blossom
    with the Cleveland Orchestra, circa 1970. She was,
    appropriately, wearing a long white dress. It was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had as a concert-goer.

  • Emmanuele Baldini says:

    … and what about “Morgen” by R. Strauss that she recorded with E. Schwartzkopf? One of the most incredible violin solo (and one of the most beautiful recording of this piece). Thank you to point out the lack of memory about this genuine artist!

    • David K. Nelson says:

      I was going to mention that recording of “Morgen” but Emmanuele Baldini beat me to it. It was for sure what one could call a “star turn” (as I am sure the London Symphony’s concertmaster would have done a beautiful job with it) but it adds an extra quality of specialness to that recording. It certainly is a demonstration of the respect that Szell (and Schwartzkopf, and EMI) had for this artist and her reputation.

      Although she did appear with the Milwaukee Symphony I missed my chance to hear Edith Peinemann “live” (my loss — I seem to recall she programmed one of the Bach Concertos) but her recordings were broadcast on the local classical radio station, back when we had one (more than one actually). I cannot entirely agree with Ole Bohn that Peinemann’s career was shaded by the emerging of Anne Sophie Mutter. Her name became rather more distant well before that. It MIGHT be that Deutsche Grammophon lost interest in keeping her recordings in the active catalog once they had Mutter to promote. Actually from a purely American perspective, it seemed to me that not all record shops, even some good ones, kept much Deutsche Grammophon on the shelves back in LP days. And DG had the practice of deleting an older recording entirely whereas RCA Victor, Columbia, and EMI/Capitol had large and active budget reissue lines to keep older recordings, and the names of the artists, green. It took DG a while, perhaps even into the CD era, to follow suit. So while it could hardly be said that Edith Peinemann was cursed by her choice of record company, I think it could be said that record company circumstances might have played a role in how her fame gradually diminished.

      • microview says:

        It took DG a while, perhaps even into the CD era, to follow suit. The Heliodor label came well before the CD era surely?

        • David K. Nelson says:

          Heliodor was often harder to find than DG but yes it was a DG-related reissue label, although I recall some Heliodor that had not been previously imported into the US.

      • Stephan says:

        I totally & absolutely agree. Sadly stockholders command the decision making for marketability and the bottom line profits.

    • Robin Tunnah says:


    • Kenneth says:

      Schwarzkopf, not Schwartzkopf

    • Warrick Snowball says:

      A Desert Island disc for certain.

  • Simon Scott says:

    Maybe she asked that her passing to be kept quiet for a while. She probably didn’t want a lot of fuss.

  • At least she got to work.. says:

    She can talk to us still through her recordings. The work has been done!

  • Christopher Horner says:

    I first heard Edith Peinemann on the radio in my schooldays playing the Berg in a now much talked about performance with Kempe and BBCSO who were also incredible. That kind of artistry and musicianship were nothing less than mind blowing for me and it has remained a powerful and formative memory. Unfortunately,I never heard her live. I also remember a really distinguished performance of the Reger Violin Concerto with the BBC Phil, broadcast in the late 80s. An extraordinary artist. I’m sorry we didn’t hear much of her here.

  • Ich bin Ereignis says:

    Achieving — and retaining — visibility is a complex affair that is not always based on fairness. There are countless instrumentalists whose playing is world-class but who, for some reason, may never obtain the recognition they might deserve. Many factors are here involved beyond the level of one’s playing and artistry, and today the internet has added an extra layer of complexity to this. We now live a visual culture and have become obsessed with the way things appear, as opposed to what they actually are — or sound. I knew of Mrs. Peinemann’s playing as she is one of the few violinists who ever recorded the Reger Concerto, a fiercely difficult and very rarely played work.

    I’ve always felt some organization out there should begin a program offering major solo opportunities to players who haven’t been able to find the right channels and networks, in order to have a chance to bring their art to a wider audience. Not a competition — as these often do not necessarily reward the best players on an artistic level, but perhaps a selection made out of players who are already established professionally. The public would be shocked to see how many unknown artists — including orchestral players — can actually perform on a world-class level, sometimes even rivaling household names. In a similar vein, I also think major orchestras should start devoting part of their regular programming to neglected and unknown repertoire. Just as for instrumentalists, there are many composers whose masterpieces may never be unearthed, because for some reason we seem to have decided that rehashing the same repertoire over and over was the way to go.

  • Peter Schünemann says:

    I heard Edith Peinemann twice, both times playing Prokofiev I in Hamburg with NDR Symphony Orchestra under Günter Wand. If my memory is right, first time in the 60s, second time in the 80s in Wand’s first concert as Chief Conductor, succeeding Klaus Tennstedt.

    • Heifetz 63 says:

      I heard her too in Hamburg with this concerto in the than called Musikhalle. There is a recording of Prokofiev I with her and Wand on Hänssler Profil, this time with the BR SO in Munich.

  • Tzctslip says:

    Sorry but that doesn’t make sense, while would the emergence of one talented player eclipse the career of another? That’s preposterously simplistic, there must be other reasons about her withdrawal from performing.

    • drummerman says:


    • Ludwig's Van says:

      No, not simplistic – the idiots who run the music world have buried many great artists in favor of the better-looking or “more generous” (use your imagination…).

      • IP says:

        Decca actually gave exclusive contracts to artists (at least one tenor for sure) to KEEP them from recording — lest they should make life difficult for their official stars.

    • Kevin says:

      I get Page Not Found on that link, but managed to access it on another browser, and nabbed a google translation, copy-pasted below. (Dunno why it reverted to French for one word, but “feuilleton” in this context appears to indicate periodicals, i.e. published media, the press.)

      On the death of violinist Edith Peinemann
      Although a world-class violinist in her heyday, Edith Peinemann, who was born in Mainz, fell into obscurity. The German feuilleton did not even take notice of her death.

      On February 24, the great German violinist Edith Peinemann died. But no one took notice of her death. Nowhere in the otherwise talkative feuilletons is there a retrospective appreciation of her art; even the all-knowing search engines report no hits. Even on Wikipedia, the musician is still doing well: “Edith Peinemann (born March 3, 1937 in Mainz) is a German violinist and music teacher.”

      Whence such disregard? Actually, the personnel would have been a treat for contemporary feuilletonists, since she had made an international career as a violinist at a time when this was by no means a matter of course for women. She also championed non-mainstream repertoire, such as Bela Bartok’s Second Violin Concerto, Max Reger’s “Concerto”, Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto “In Memory of an Angel” and Hans Pfitzner’s Violin Concerto, which Peinemann recorded with Hans Rosbaud. A recording that still has reference character today.

      “The conductor, avant-garde steel, puts the reins on the romantic fire spirit Pfitzner in his very last recording before his death on December 29, 1962, which is good for the fantastically extravagant piece,” writes the Austrian music critic Wilhelm Sinkovicz on a new edition published by SWR in 2019 of studio productions of the violinist. “In addition to this, Peinemann’s clear, always bombproof intonation tone, which of course also knows how to span soft, narrative-powerful melodic arcs – we hear the salvation of a criminally underestimated, original contribution to the subject of violin concertos from the 20th century.”

      • The View from America says:

        Her circa 1980 live performance of the Pfitzner Violin Concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was broadcast; amazing and unforgettable it was.

  • RichinCA says:

    Saw her in the late 60s performing the Beethoven concerto with Szell and Cleveland–fine performance with noticeable rapport between her and the demanding maestro–absolutely seamless.

  • Tim says:

    The update is a bit of a puzzler. Surely the world had more than enough space for two beautiful female German violinists…

  • Stephen De Pledge says:

    This is very sad – I gave a recital with her about ten years ago at Dartington, including a revelatory Kreutzer sonata – it changed how I viewed the piece forever. I asked her about the Morgen recording, as I had heard it so many times – she was delightfully down to earth about her stellar career. I just wanted to question her about everything, but she just wanted to rehearse!

  • Beth says:

    Surely we should be beyond the idea that there can only be one great woman violinist acknowledged au a time.

  • Teacher says:

    Vanished without a trace? That is a bit harsh. Judged by men by her ability to perform, as if her achievement as an educator counts for nil. You have missed the mark on someone great, who lives on in many wonderful violinists today. This is far more important than a big name. Kudos to Edith, a life well lived.

  • Save the MET says:

    Patricia Travers was another meteoric female prodigy violinist who one day in her early twenties just gave it up and went into her fathers real estate business in Clifton, NJ. She passed in 2010.

  • Laurie Cohen says:

    Pittsburgh has been spelled with an h at the end for over 100 years…

    • Dick Rubinstein says:

      Yes in PA but if you’re from CA There’s no H to wit:
      Pittsburg is a city in Contra Costa County, California, United States. It is an industrial suburb located on the southern shore of the Suisun Bay in the East Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area, and is part of the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta area, the Eastern Contra Costa County area, and the San Francisco Bay Area. The population was 76,416 at the 2020 United States Census.[9]

  • Had Enough says:

    Additionallt Re: Artists such as the late Camilla Wicks and Ingrid Haebler et al. Norman where are the write-ups from you?