Kraus, Greta

Greta Kraus. Harpsichordist, pianist, accompanist, teacher, b Vienna 3 Aug 1907, naturalized Canadian 1944, d Toronto, 30 Mar 1998. She entered the Vienna Academy of Music in 1923 and received a Music Teacher's Diploma in 1930. Her principal teachers were Hans Weisse 1924-31 (analysis, history, piano) and Heinrich Schenker 1931-4 (analysis). While still a student, she contributed the analysis of the Chopin Etude in F Major, Opus 10, No. 8 to Schenker's Five Graphic Music Analyses. First a pianist, she made her debut as a harpsichord soloist in 1935 in a lecture-recital for the Bach Society of Vienna and as an ensemble player in 1936 in a version for eight instruments of Bach's Musical Offering conducted by Hermann Scherchen. In 1937 she appeared in London with the Boyd Neel Orchestra and performed over the BBC. The following year Kraus moved to Hawkesbury, Ont, and after receiving an offer to teach music at Toronto's Havergal College (a high school), settled in Toronto in 1939. She quickly made a name as a harpsichordist, appearing as soloist, duo-harpsichordist (with Arnold Walter), chamber musician, and accompanist in concert and over the CBC. From 1942 until 1956 she played the continuo for the Messiah, St Matthew Passion, St John Passion and Mass in B Minor performances under Sir Ernest MacMillan at Toronto's Massey Hall. She joined the violinists David and Igor Oistrakh on their Canadian visits in 1964. An authority on the music of Bach, she also performed 20th-century harpsichord music, such as concertos by Poulenc and Frank Martin.

Kraus founded the Toronto Baroque Ensemble (1958-63), whose members were Elizabeth Benson Guy, soprano, Nicholas Fiore, flute, Donald Whitton, cello, and Corol McCartney, violin. In 1965 with the flutist Robert Aitken she formed the Aitken-Kraus Duo, which was active until 1986. After a concert by Kraus and Aitken at the St Lawrence Centre, Toronto, the critic John Kraglund wrote: 'She is still Canada's outstanding harpsichordist ... Anyone accustomed to most of today's harpsichordists, in or out of Canada, is likely to wonder what could be special about a particular one, as most of them sound exceedingly sober, lacking in imagination and equipped with tin instruments. That, essentially, is where Miss Kraus differs. The tin has apparently been omitted from her harpsichord, which projects a resonant warmth and tone ... not associated with harpsichords. No less important, when she is performing, all Baroque compositions do not sound as if they came out of the same school' (Toronto Globe and Mail, 11 Dec 1976). Kraus appeared as a pianist as well, performing with many distinguished musicians. In 1979 she was the partner of the soprano Lois Marshall in a memorable performance of Schubert's song cycle Die schöne Müllerin at Hart House, Toronto, and two years later joined her in a Hugo Wolf recital.

Kraus began to teach piano privately in 1939, coached lieder and chamber music and taught harpsichord, accompanying, and Baroque performance practice at the RCMT 1943-69 and at the University of Toronto 1963-76 and part time after 1976. Among her pupils were Douglas Bodle, Austin Clarkson, Elizabeth Keenan, R. Murray Schafer, Patrick Wedd, and Valerie Weeks. Singers she coached include Russell Braun, Elizabeth Benson Guy, Ingemar Korjus, Andrew MacMillan, Mary Morrison, Gary Relyea, Roxolana Roslak, and Teresa Stratas.

She succeeded Ernesto Barbini as director, 1963-76, of the Collegium Musicum (Toronto) for the schooling of advanced faculty students in the performance style of the Baroque. She was also a master class teacher at the Banff CA, at the Shawnigan Summer School of the Arts, and at several universities. She received a citation from the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations for 'an outstanding contribution to university teaching' in 1973, was named an 'Outstanding Woman of the Province of Ontario' in 1975, and received a Toronto Arts Award in 1990 and the Order of Ontario in 1991. She was appointed a member of the Order of Canada in 1992, and continued to teach and coach until a few months before her death. Kraus' work combined to a rare degree qualities of scholarship, lively interpretation, technical skill, and teaching ability. Her harpsichord is at Library and Archives Canada. Kraus was married to the chemist Erwin Dentay.

Discography

Bach Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue; Aria variata. 1954. Hallmark RS-5

- Partita in B Minor. Ca 1960. RCI 210

Mozart Variations in D - Scarlatti Four Sonatas. 1952. Hallmark RS-2

Schubert Die schöne Müllerin. Marshall, sop. 1996 [1979]. CBC Records, PSCD 2010

J.S. Bach. Greta Kraus Plays Bach. 1998 [1954-1969]. CBC Records, PSCD

See also Discographies for Aitken; Guy; Marshall; Toronto Mendelssohn Choir.