Ruth Schonthal was born in Hamburg of Viennese parents. At the age of five she began composing and became the youngest student ever accepted at the Stern'sches Konservatorium in Berlin . In 1935, Schonthal and her family were forced to leave Nazi Germany on account of her Jewish heritage. She later studied at the Royal Academy of Music (RAM) in Stockholm, where at the age of fourteen, she had her first Sonatina published. At the RAM she studied composition with Ingemar Liljefors and piano with Olaf Wibergh. Then, she was once again forced to flee as a result of the rising political tension, and eventually traveled to a variety of places: first the USSR, then Japan, and then Mexico City, where at the age of 19 she gave a very widely acclaimed piano performance of her own compositions, including her First Piano Concerto, at the Palacio de Bellas Artes. Among the audience members was the noted American composer Paul Hindemith, obtained a scholarship for her to study with him at Yale in 1946. She was one of the only students to graduate from the Conservatory with honors.
She married the painter Paul Seckel in 1950 and settled in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Ms. Schonthal has received commissions for chamber music, operas, symphonic compositions, as well as works for organ and piano. In 1994 she received the International Heidelberger Kunstlerinnen Preis and was honored with an exhibition of her life and works at the Museum in Heidelberg. She is also the recipient of many prizes in the US, among them ASCAP and Meet the Composer grants and awards. She has been a finalist in the NY City Opera competition and in the Kennedy-Friedheim Competition with her In Homage of…(24 Preludes). She also has received the Certificate of Merit for outstanding service to music from the Yale University School of Music Alumn Association and Outstanding Musician Award from New York University as well as of local New York chapters of the Council of the Arts.
Her works are widely performed in the US and abroad, but her music is perhaps most well known in her native land of Germany. Her music is published by Oxford University Press, Southern Music Co, Carl Fischer, G. E. Schirmer, Sisra Press, Fine Arts Music Co, Hildegard Music Publishing Co, nd Furore and recorded on LP on the Capriccio, Crystal, Leonarda, Opus One and Orion Labels, many of them reissued on CDs on the Leonarda and Cambria labels
A full length biography and analysis of her works by Dr. Martina Helmig, Ruth Schonthal: A Compositional Development in Exile, was published in 2007. Chapters about her life and works appear in many books on contemporary music and composers.
Schonthal used her music to support herself and her family throughout her life—she wrote for television and commercials, played the piano in various bars and clubs, and taught privately in New York.
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