On February 11, 1861, one of the great pianists of her era was born in Hanover. Because sexism exists, you probably don’t know who she is. This despite the fact that she toured the world, opening fricking Carnegie Hall and giving important early performances in Minnesota, Chicago, San Francisco, and other cities. If you’re looking at the history of classical music in America, you have to look at the career of Adele aus der Ohe.
Adelheit Johanne Auguste Hermine aus der Ohe was very much a bonus baby. Her dad was 55 when she was born; her mom was 44; and she was nine years younger than her next-youngest sibling. This family dynamic would have repercussions for Adele’s life and even her career.
Adele was unnervingly precocious. She was identifying notes on a piano before she could even pronounce the notes’ names. In 1869, her father took a position in Berlin so that his daughter could learn from the best teachers in Germany. Adele enrolled in Theodor Kullak’s massive Neue Akademie der Tonkunst (the New Academy of Musical Art), which employed a hundred teachers and taught over a thousand students. (You know a bit about Kullak if you read Amy Fay’s book.) Despite her young age, the demanding Theodor Kullak accepted Adele as one of his own personal students.
Adele’s greatest influence and inspiration, however, was Franz Liszt. She began studying with him in the summer of 1873 at the age of fricking twelve, and continued studying with him over the next decade. By the time she was sixteen, she was playing an eight-hand piano arrangement with Liszt of the brand-spanking-new Funeral March from Götterdämmerung.
In 1884, she stopped attending Liszt’s classes after her mother died. Her death came as a heavy blow to their closeknit family. Interestingly, none of the aus der Ohe siblings ever married. Adele herself opted to hire Mathilde as her lifelong cheerleader and traveling companion. In 1886, the two sisters took a risk and left Europe for America, arriving in New York just days after the dedication of the Statue of Liberty.