What happened to Alice, Susanne, and Tina?

Of the 117 different pianists I’ve counted who gave concerts in Berlin in 1907, there are of course many more obscure names than stars. A large group of them can be accounted for as teachers or students at one of the local Berlin conservatories. Some of the other names are of virtuosos who were famous in their day, but have since been forgotten. Three female pianists who were celebrated at this time were Alice Ripper, Susanne Morvay, and Tina Lerner. Despite their successes, they seemed to have disappeared during the 1920s, so that there is no death date for Susanne or Tina. Alice and Susanne were Hungarian and Tina was Russian, which very likely is a factor in the scarcity of information.

Hopefully this post will be updated as additional information comes in. The most helpful resources for learning about these musicians have been the 1912 book by the music critic R.M. Breithaupt, who had his own method and piano school. His book Die natürliche Klaviertechnik includes information about leading piano teachers and performers. The racially-obsessed pianist and musicologist Walter Niemann produced two detailed reference works for this time: Klavier-Lexikon and Meister des Klaviers.

Alice Ripper (1883-1961)

In 1907, the pianist Alice Ripper played one concert in Berlin, on 30 October. Her program included Beethoven and Schumann, and a review described her as the “confident master of all conceivable technical difficulties.”1“…souveräne Beherrscherin aller nur erdenklichen technischen Schwierigkeiten.” Neue Musik-Zeitung (1907): 309.

She was born on 23 March, 1883 in Budapest, and died on 19 January 1961 in Salzburg.2W. Altmann, Kurzgefasstes Tonkünstler-Lexikon, 15th ed. Walter Niemann’s 1919 book called her a great Liszt specialist. The first mention I have found of her is in Leipzig in 1903, as a soloist at the Gewandhaus. She is described as a pupil of Sophie Menter, who was a Liszt student. Her debut in Breslau in 1906 was greeted with a rave review of her “exorbitant technical art” and her “wildly passionate” performance of Liszt’s “Mazeppa.”3“den sie in erster Reihe ihrer blendenden, phänomenalen Technik, wie sich sich in Liszt mit wilder Leidenschaft genial gespielten Mazeppa-Etude offenbarte…” Unzweifelhaft wird Alice Ripper zu der Höhe des Parnasses emporsteigen, wenn sich ihrer exorbitanten technischen Kunst eine innere musikalische Abklärung beigesellt haben wird.” Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (1906) May: 424. There are similar reviews in other European cities over the next several years. During the War she continued to concertize in Europe. The portrait featured above was painted by Albert von Keller (1844-1920) in 1919. In 1920 the Musical Courier reported that in Paris “Alice Ripper, the celebrated Hungarian pianist, gave another recital, and raised a large audience to the highest possible pitch of enthusiasm.”4Musical Courier June 10th issue, 1920: 23. The next mention comes from a 1925 review of the concert season in Nürnberg: 

Among the soloists was the Hungarian pianist Alice Ripper, who emerged from the Liszt school. She gave a sample of her art with works of Bach, Schumann and Liszt: greetings from a not-that-distant glorious musical art epoch.5“Von Solisten brachte die aus der Liszt-Schule hervorgegangene ungarische Pianistin Alice Ripper, die mit Werken von Bach, Schumann und Liszt Proben ihrer virtuosen Kunst gab, Grüße aus einer nicht allzu fernen glanzvollen musikalischen Kunstepoche.” Neue Musik-Zeitung 50. 2 (1925).

This critic indicates that after the War, pianists in the Liszt tradition were considered part of a bygone era. Alice kept playing, apparently, through World War Two and beyond. According to Brigitte Hamann’s biography, Winifred Wagner was able to help Alice Ripper, a “non-Aryan,” “go underground” in Vienna during “the Hitler period.”6Brigitte Hamann, Winifred Wagner: A Life at the Heart of Hitler’s Bayreuth, trans. Alan Bance (London: Granta Books, 2005), 358, 421. In the Army, Navy, Air Force Journal of 1953, there is a report of “an interlude of musical entertainment which included selections from Chopin was presented Madame Alice Ripper, pianist, a native of Budapest.”

Susanne Morvay (1896-after 1926)

In 1907, the eleven-year old Susanne performed three times in Berlin. The first was on 18 October, where she played three piano concertos (Liszt, E-flat, Mozart, C minor, Tchaikovsky, B minor) with Weingartner conducting. On 25 October she appeared with the assisting artists Valerie Thóman, voice and Stefan Thóman, piano; and on 2 November, with Valerie Thóman. Stefan Thóman was a piano virtuoso who was teaching at the Budapest Conservatory, so presumably he was Susanne’s teacher. 

After that, I have found her listed sporadically on concerts in England, including a Stephenson Subscription concert in Chesterfield, England, where “the brilliant Hungarian pianist” played on 24 February 1925.  The last item I have located is a recital of Bach, Beethoven, and Chopin at London’s Aeolian Hall in February 1926. The reviewer for the Musical Times noted that “Miss Morvay has developed mannerisms, and indulges in too much rubato.” Further, “her loud playing is too violent; indeed at times one wondered whether her instrument was a pianoforte or an anvil.” Even though she was only thirty years old, this is the last public notice of her playing that I have located. There are no encyclopedia or dictionary entries on Google–but perhaps there are Hungarian sources.

Tina Lerner 

Tina Lerner, Russian Pianist, before 1920

Tina Lerner was born in Odessa, Ukraine, on 5 June 1890. Her death date is unknown, and generally given as after 1946. She was the daughter of an industrialist who studied with Godowsky for two years. Her debut in Berlin in January was described by the Musical Courier as having an audience composed largely of Russians, including Koussevitsky.7The Musical Courier January 26, 1907, p. 5. Advertisements in the Courier announced a tour of the United States with the violinist and fellow Russian teenager Efrem Zimbalist in 1908-09, which at one point was to include Koussevitzsky:

Lerner married the pianist Louis J. Bachner in 1909 in Manhattan; in 1915 they divorced and she married fellow Russian child prodigy pianist Vladimir Shaevitch. Their daughter Dollina Shavitch was born in 1916. With the simplified name of Shavitch he had a successful career as a conductor. They lived in San Francisco until about 1922. Both he and Tina were on the faculty of Syracuse University in 1926. The trail then peters out with just a few mentions of performances in the 1920s. One of these appears in the book Famous Musicians of a Wandering Race by Gdal Saleski (New York: Bloch, 1927), who recounted: “It was during the season of 1923-24, when the writer of this book was leading ‘cellist in the Rochester Eastman Theater and the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, that Shavitch…revealed himself during that period a conductor of great temperament and an energetic leader.” He added that “Like his wife, he is a charming and highly intelligent personality.”

Tina Lerner was featured in the popular book of interviews by Harriet Brower, Piano Mastery from 1915. 

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3 thoughts on “What happened to Alice, Susanne, and Tina?

  1. That’s really haunting to think that Alice was born the year Wagner died and only a couple of years before I was born. And amazing that you found a reference to her in Hamann’s book.

  2. You can hear the play of the pianist Alice Ripper today, by playing one of 13 piano rolls, she recorded in 1905 for the Welte-Mignon reproducing piano.

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