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Gwendolyn Koldofsky, Accompanist, Dies at 92

by James Lytle

Gwendolyn Koldofsky receives accolades at a 1980 event.

PIANIST AND VOCAL ACCOMPANIST Gwendolyn Koldofsky, who raised the stature of accompanying to a recognized art, died Thursday, Nov. 12, at her home in Santa Barbara. She was 92.

Koldofsky, distinguished professor emerita at the USC School of Music, founded the school’s department of keyboard collaborative arts and both designed and established the world’s first degree-granting program in accompanying, first offered in 1947.

“Professor Koldofsky was a pioneer in the field of accompanying, and the status that field has attained is directly attributable to her efforts,” said Nancy Bricard, professor emerita of keyboard collaborative arts at the School of Music. “She devoted more than 40 years of academic and musical excellence to this university. I know of no professor who has ever served in a more dedicated fashion. She has been, and will always be, an inspiration to students and faculty throughout the field of music.”

Koldofsky taught accompanying, song literature and chamber music at USC from 1947 to 1988. She was also a longtime member of the faculty of the Santa Barbara Music Academy of the West, where she served as director of vocal accompanying from 1951 to 1989. She judged competitions, lectured and taught master classes for accompanists, singers and ensembles throughout the United States and Canada. Among her many students were mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne, pianist Martin Katz and soprano Carol Neblett.

“Few vocal coaches working today could match Gwendolyn Koldofsky,” said Larry J. Livingston, dean of the School of Music. “Her acquaintance with the accompanying repertoire – especially with piano-vocal music and the art song – was without equal. Our program in accompanying continues to be one of the finest programs in the world, due largely to her vision, influence and leadership. Her death is a painful loss to our school and to the world of music.”

Seattle voice teacher Roberta Manion, who worked with “Madame K” during summer sessions, called her very tough but very fair: “She is extremely meticulous in every detail,” Manion told the music critic of the Seattle Times in a May 1984 interview. “Nothing gets past her. Her comments are always very correct and polite; she also can pull off the velvet gloves and those eyes can flash. But I have never seen her be unkind. She is really beloved.”

For more than 40 years, Koldofsky appeared as an accompanist throughout the world, working with such distinguished artists as Rose Bampton, Suzanne Danco, Herta Glaz, Mack Harrell, Marilyn Horne (her former student), Jan Peerce, Hermann Prey, Peter Schreier, Martial Singher and Eleanor Steber. She accompanied the legendary soprano Lotte Lehmann for eight years, as well as her own husband, the British-Russian violinist Adolph Koldofsky, a student of Ysaye and Sevcik.

“I have seldom had violent disagreements with those I accompany,” Koldofsky told the music critic of the Seattle Times in 1984. “That’s because we both focus on the real nature and depth of the music. Certainly there are always differences of opinion about how fast or how loud a phrase ought to be. But part of the art of accompanying lies in finding how many beautiful, logical interpretations of the music there can be.”

GWENDOLYN WILLIAMS KOLDOFSKY was born Nov. 1, 1906, in Bowmanville, a small Ontario community near Toronto. She was from a musical family and grew up with a tremendous amount of live music in her home.

She received her early training at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto as a student of Viggo Kihl, the noted Danish piano teacher. When she was 17, she went to England to live for several years with an aunt, a concert singer, and there continued her studies in piano with Tobias Matthay. She pursued special studies in ensemble playing and accompanying with Harold Craxton, the eminent English accompanist and teacher. Later, she spent several months in Paris studying French repertoire with Marguerite Hesselmans, a disciple of Gabriel Fauré.

When she was 20, Koldofsky returned to Canada and “had the great good luck of being plunged into an accompanying career almost immediately when Jeanne Desseau, our greatest Canadian soprano, asked me to play for her,” Koldofsky related in a June 1993 interview with the Eugene (Ore.) Register-Guard.

One musical engagement led to another at an exhilarating pace. A year after her return to Canada, she met and soon married Adolph Koldofsky. For the next quarter century, she accompanied all of her husband’s solo recitals and played every form of chamber music with him on concert stages around the world.

Koldofsky received five of the highest honors given at the USC School of Music for excellence in performance and teaching, and received a certificate of honor from the International Congress of Women in Music.

After her husband died in 1951, she founded in his memory an annual scholarship, the Koldofsky Fellowship in Accompanying, at the USC music school.

Koldofsky is survived by her nephew, Dane Williams. There will be no funeral. Contributions can be made to the Gwendolyn and Adolph Koldofsky Memorial Scholarship Fund at USC or to the Music Academy of the West.

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