February 1, 2016

The Great Schoen-René

Exposition Hall in Minneapolis where Schoen-René presented concerts with leading artists  

AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY, there lived an extraordinary woman in Minneapolis. She wore a mannish jacket always, while her hair was cut short. Wherever she went she was accompanied by a great Dane, Thieras, a dog which had been sired by Prince Bismarck's great Dane, also named Thieras. She was authoritative in manner, brooked no contradiction, and spoke English with a decided accent. You suspected she was German, which was, indeed, the case. If you talked to her for five minutes, the conversation would almost inevitably run to music, and you would wonder how under the sun any woman living in 1900 Minneapolis could possibly know so much about music and musicians. 

For she knew all the great musicians of the day—the De Reszkes, Calvé, Nordica, Gadski, Melba, Sembrich, Lilli Lehmann, Pauline Viardot-García, Campanari, and countless others. In fact, she had entertained most of them at her home, a brown-stone affair on the island. You could see at a glance that she had been superlatively well educated in music. She was decidedly Old World, and her brilliant eyes would flash as she would tell you of her "mission" to bring some real understanding of music to the pioneer city which had grown up around St. Anthony Falls. 

Everyone in Minneapolis knew her. She was the great Schoen-René, impresario, vocal teacher, commanding personality, musical evangelist, civic institution. She had come to Minneapolis only a few years before, and her coming had been quite accidental. Having been brought over to America to sing with the Metropolitan Opera in New York, her health had been broken down, and her vocal career had been cut short. So she had come out to the (to her) strange and far-away city of Minneapolis, where a sister of hers was teaching German at the University of Minnesota. Getting a fresh grip on life out here, she entered vigorously into the musical life of the city and was shortly dominating it. With Schoen-René to participate was to dominate. For a time she had a studio on the site of the present Leader store, then moved to the Metropolitan Music Building next door to the present Dyckman—or, perhaps, about where Pete Juster now flourishes. 

It was difficult for Schoen-René to tolerate rivals in the musical field, but there was one musician here, also German-born, whose education was fully as comprehensive as hers . . . in fact, indeed, more comprehensive. His name was Emil Oberhoffer. Rivalry between the two soon took the form of an epic feud. Minneapolis was still in its age of innocence, and the town was divided into two camps. If you were in the Schoen-René camp, you were practically supposed to shoot anybody in the Oberhoffer camp at sight. And if you were in the Oberhoffer camp, you were practically supposed to shoot anybody in the Schoen-René camp at sight. What was had in Minneapolis of the day was a Montague-Capulet musical world. The two camps warred over choral societies, university activities, operatic festivities, and what have you . . . in fact, anything that musicians could war over. 

The orchestra was just in the offing, and both wanted it, but Oberhoffer got it. Schoen-René's disgust knew no bounds. Up and down Minneapolis she proclaimed her opinion that Oberhoffer was a lout and a musical illiterate who didn't know a rondo from a hydrant. Oberhoffer's opinion of Schoen-René was equally low and he doubted if Schoen-René had ever heard of Wagner. It was a wonderful war while it lasted, but along about 1907 Schoen-Rene returned to Germany, and hostilities gradually died away, Oberhoffer being left in possession of the field. 

Last week Schoen-René, still a nightly force in the musical world, died in New York. Minneapolitans with long memories will inevitably go back to the early days when the doughty, powerful, militant personality was impressing itself so strongly on the life of the city. Unquestionably here was one of the really great characters of Minneapolis. 

—William J. McNally. "The Great Schoen-René." Minneapolis Tribune, November 21, 1942: 4.


ANNA E. SCHOEN-RENÉ (1864-1942), known as the "Prussian General" to her students, became a student of Pauline Viardot-García in Paris after first studying with Francesco Lamperti in Milan. Having been prepared for an operatic career by Viardot-García, Schoen-René traveled to New York City in 1893 in order to make her debut at the Metropolitan Opera, but became seriously ill during the crossing. She spent the next three years recovering at her sister’s house in Minneapolis, where she began teaching voice. Viardot-García subsequently sent Schoen-René to her brother Manuel in London for a special course in teaching men which resulted in Schoen-René becoming the García's leading exponent. Schoen-René became an American citizen in 1906, taught in Berlin until the end of the First World War, then returned to New York City where she joined the Juilliard School faculty in 1925. Her memoir America's Musical Inheritance: Memories and Reminiscences was published in 1941. Considered the leading voice teacher of her time, Schoen-René's students included Lucie Manén, Florenzio Constantino, Risé Stevens, Mack Harrell, Kitty Carlisle Hart, Judith Doniger, Lanny Ross, Ludwig Wüllner, Putman Griswold, Ruth Berg, Elizabeth Delius, Mady Christians, Richard Malkin, Viola Philo, Robert Geis, Robert Parker, Arthur de Voss, Marshall Bartholomew, Ruth Schaffner, Alice Howland, Eleanor Steele, Hall Clovis, Hallie Stiles, Arturo di Fillipi, Celius Dougherty, Alice Sjoselius, Lillian Flickinger, George Meader, Jane Pickens, Sonia Essen, Paul Robeson, Anny Konetzni, Thelma Votipka, Lillian Blauvelt, Lanny Ross, Florence Easton, Karin Branzell, Florence Austral, Charles Kullman, Marie Tiffany, Maria von Maximovitch, Julius Huehn, Eva Gauthier, George Britton and Margaret Harshaw. 

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