In Canada, Greta Kraus is the uncontested doyenne of the early-music revival in general, and harpsichord playing in particular, but her accomplishments go far beyond the baroque repertoire. She has coached Canadian singers not only in baroque oratorios but in romantic German opera and lieder, and twentieth-century works. The composer R. Murray Schafer studied with her, and so did the keyboard artists Douglas Bodle, Elizabeth Keenan, Patrick Wedd, and Valerie Weeks and the singers Elizabeth Benson Guy, Mary Morrison, Gary Relyea, Roxolana Roslak, and Teresa Stratas. Countless other musicians have come to her for advice, and few if any of them would accept Kraus's theory that her value to Canadian music would have been slighter had the competition been stronger when she arrived on these shores.
"What attracts everyone is her complete immersion in the music; she finds things that others search for but can't find," says soprano Lois Marshall. "She certainly has more of that ability than anyone else in this city and, I would venture to say, than anyone else in this country or in North America. Even a pianist of the stature of Murray Perahia hangs on Greta's every word."
Kraus's contribution to Canadian music was recognized in October, 1990, when she was appointed to the Order of Canada. Among all the award's recipients, past and present, she is almost certainly the only one who can say that she sang for Sigmund Freud: when she was in her teens, she and her older sister were once invited by a Freud disciple to serenade the master on his birthday. "We sang and played and had great fun, and only many years later did I learn from Ernest Jones's biography of him that Freud was tone-deaf," she says with a laugh.
Vienna today is the capital of a small republic that tries to forget about its acts of political and cultural delinquency and to concentrate on its past political and cultural glories. The Vienna in which Greta Kraus was born, on August 3, 1907, was the centre of a large, multiethnic empire whose living cultural luminaries included not only Freud and his disciples but also the composers Gustav Mahler and Arnold Schoenberg and a slew of important painters, architects, and writers. The intelligentsia found a keen following among the educated middle class, and it was this class to which Kraus belonged. Her father, who was born in what is now the Czech Republic, was a lawyer, a judge, and, according to his daughter, an "amateur violinist, violist, and cellist who played chamber music four evenings a week and read scores the way other people read books." Kraus's mother, whose origins were Bavarian and Russian, had been one of the first women to attend the University of Vienna. Greta and her twin brother, Hans, were the youngest of four children. The family lived in a pleasant apartment not far from Schonbrunn Palace, though Greta remembers acute cash shortages during and after the First World War.
She began to take piano lessons at the age of...