Ignaz Strasfogel was born 17 July 1909 in Warsaw, Poland. He was the only child from his father’s second marriage. While his father was a salesman by trade, it is thought Strasfogel’s parents were also involved in the restaurant business in France, as this was the occupation of the majority of the extended family at the time. Ingaz’s father died in 1912 and the Strasfogel family, led by mother Tsiporah (née Goldberg), relocated to her native city of Berlin to be closer to their extended family.
Little is known of Strasfogel’s early life or his musical studies before his successful entrance into the Hochschule für Musik Berlin in 1922, aged thirteen. While enrolled, he pursued studies in piano performance with Richard Rossler and later with Leonid Kreutzer, and music theory with Samuel Lieberson, a former pupil of Rimski-Korsakov. Strasfogel continued under Lieberson’s tutelage for one year, at which time he was accepted, aged 14, into Franz Schreker’s composition class. Strasfogel’s tutelage under Schreker would come to define his compositional character and, unlike other pupils (such as Ernst Křenek, Alois Hába and Felix Petyrek) who came to reject their mentor’s teachings, Strasfogel maintained a strong connection with him, both in friendship and in his compositional style.
The musical bond between master and apprentice was solidified in 1925 when, as a surprise birthday gift, Strasfogel presented Schreker with his newest work: a solo piano transcription of Schreker’s Chamber Symphony Op.23. Schreker was impressed by the composition and recommended it for publication with his publisher, Universal Edition in Vienna. Strasfogel’s studies under Franz Schreker during the final years of Germany’s Weimar Republic had a lasting effect, not only on his compositional style but also on his career as a musician. Although Schreker’s compositions fell into obscurity with the rise of the 2nd Viennese School and Nazism, his influence as a teacher had a lasting ripple effect on 20th century music.
The piece was given its premiere with Strasfogel at the piano in May of that year. Other compositions from this period include two large piano works – The Callot Suite and his Piano Sonata No.2 – both premiered on 2 June 1926. Strasfogel won the Mendelssohn State Prize in Berlin the same year for his first two piano sonatas.
Strasfogel completed his studies with Schreker in 1927 and shortly thereafter put his excellent skills as a pianist to use, accompanying violinist Joseph Szigeti on a world tour until 1928. Other artists of this period with whom Strasfogel toured as accompanist include violinist Carl Flesch and cellist Gregor Piatigorsky. It was with Flesch that he also recorded several compositions in 1929 for the HMV label.
Upon his return to Berlin, Strasfogel undertook a year of conducting study at the Hochschule with Julius Prüwer. This was another valuable and complementary skillset that proved extremely useful in subsequent years. After completing his conducting studies at the Hochschule in 1929, Strasfogel gained employment as an accompanist for Düsseldorf Opera under fellow Schreker alumnus, conductor Jascha Horenstein. He maintained this position until 1931. Whilst with the company, Strasfogel met composer Alban Berg when the composer was present for the premiere of the company’s 1930 production of Wozzeck. Berg’s musical style is a dominant influence in many of Strasfogel’s compositions.
Strasfogel was seemingly on a clear path to success during this period. He had several original compositions published with reputable publishing houses and had steady work assisting the likes of Max Reinhardt. In 1932, he began work as assistant conductor to Leo Blech at the Berlin State Opera. However, this burgeoning career was forever altered when in 1933, the Nazi controlled government in Germany passed a succession of laws which effectively purged many jobs, particularly in the arts and civil service sectors, of individuals who identified as Jewish or had Jewish ancestry. Strasfogel, along with thousands of others, suddenly found themselves unemployed.
For a brief period, Strasfogel worked as a musician for the recently created Kulturbund Deutscher Juden (Culture League of German Jews). This organisation, created by Kurt Baumann and Dr. Kurt Singer, was formed to provide work and cultural activities for recently disenfranchised Jewish populations of Berlin. Strasfogel found the sudden changes too stressful and suffered a nervous breakdown. Fortunately, he was able to emigrate to the United States in late 1933 where he first lived in Indianapolis, followed by a brief period in Chicago and ultimately settled in New York City in late 1934/early 1935.
This period proved difficult financially as Strasfogel had yet to establish himself in American music circles. Work engagements were sparse but Strasfogel used the time to gain visas for various family members. He was successful in the case of his mother but others, such as his stepsister Gustava (to whom he had been very close), died during the Holocaust.
From 1935 until 1945, Strasfogel served as the official pianist of the New York Philharmonic and made solo appearances. Strasfogel’s highly developed musical skills were readily recognised and he was appointed as assistant conductor with the Philharmonic under Schreker alumnus, Arthur Rodzinski. He also continued to work as an accompanist for such eminent operatic singers as Wagnerian tenor Lauritz Melchior. This partnership also included commercial recordings.
After more than a decade of struggle, Strasfogel’s fortunes began to turn around. One such milestone took place on 8 May 1945 when he conducted the New York Philharmonic’s V-E Day Celebration Concert, held in New York City’s Central Park. The performance was attended by the city’s mayor, Fiorello La Guardia. In a radio broadcast the following week, La Guardia spoke at length about Strasfogel and held him up as an example of triumph over adversity and the strength immigrants bring to society.
Strasfogel continued working in various roles until 1951 when he joined the staff of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City as a repetiteur. He continued to work with the company in this capacity until 1957, when he was elevated to the role of conductor.
In 1956, Strasfogel had further success with the company when he partnered with conductor Jean Morel and yet another Schreker alumnus, Julius Burger, to create a new production of Offenbach’s operetta La Perichole. While Morel and Strasfogel formed the musical adaptation, Burger orchestrated, revised and adapted the music score. The production premiered in December 1956 to great acclaim. It was with production Strasfogel made his Metropolitan conducting debut on 6 May 1957 while the company was on national tour. He continued to be engaged as conductor in dozens of performances until leaving the company in 1974 when he left to become the conductor of Opera du Rhin in Strasbourg, Austria.
Strasfogel served as the conductor of Opera du Rhin until 1977 but did not return to New York City until 1979 when he joined the faculty at the New School for Social Research as a lecturer. The school boasted a large émigré faculty in the late 1930s and 1940s, including the composer Hanns Eisler and the conductors Otto Klemperer and Jascha Horenstein, to name only a few. Strasfogel’s profile had risen considerably since his relative obscurity upon his arrival in the US. The following years saw Strasfogel in further prestigious roles as Music Director of Mannes College Opera Project (1980-81) as well as the Director of Opera for the Curtis Institute of Philadelphia (1986-1988). His career as a composer was also revived after a 35 year hiatus with several German performances of his works for the Husum Festival-Germany in 1991.
Ignaz Strasfogel died on 6 February 1994, aged 84, due to complications associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
According to an article by Dr. Philipp Silver, Strasfogel’s compositional career can be categorised into 3 main periods: the Berlin Period (1922-1927), and two periods in New York City (I: 1940-1948; II: 1983-1993). Examples from his first period, while he was still a student at the Hochschule für Musik Berlin, show an individualised compositional voice, fusing together the bourgeoning styles of the 2nd Viennese School with more traditional influences. Two pieces which illuminate the strong influence of Franz Schreker’s composition style include the 1925 piano transcription of Schreker’s Chamber Symphony and his 1927 piece Six Schreker Transcriptions (which comprised operatic themes from his mentor’s operas.)
Strasfogel’s second period (the First New York Period) began after his emigration to the US. Examples of compositions from this time include the Prelude, Elegie and Rondo for Guitar (1940), noted by Silver as having echoes of Hindemith and Schnabel; Variations on a Well-Known Tune for Piano for Piano and Orchestra (1946), the well-known theme being Home on the Range; and The Children’s Room for Voice and Piano on 7 Poems by Alma Lubin (1948).
The final period, his 2nd New York Period, came after a 35-year hiatus from composing. These compositions were a break with the previous styles and subject matter. This period includes several works for voice and piano with poetry by American authors such as Millay (Four Millay Songs for Baritone and Piano, 1983), Emily Dickinson (3 Dickinson Songs for Soprano and Piano, 1984) as well as works for violin and piano, piano solos, his String Quartet No.2 and his final work for violin titled Die Einsame Geige (1992-93.)
Silver, Dr. Phillip. An Introduction to the Life and Music of an Unjustly Neglected Student of Franz Schreker. Jewish Music Insitute. Online Journal. 21 May 2006. Website: https://www.jmi.org.uk/archive/suppressedmusic/newsletter/articles/006.html
Lessing, Kolja. Ignace Strasfogel. From ‘Franz Schrekers Schuler in Berlin: Biographische Beitrage und Dokumente. By Schenk, Böggemann & Cadenbach. Universität der Künste Berlin, 2005. P. 118-122.
Lessing, Kolja. Schrekers Schaffen im Spiegel der Rezeption: Seiner Schüler Felix Petyrek und Ignace Strasfogel. From ‘Wohin geht der Flug? Zur Jugend’: Franz Schreker und seiner Schüler in Berlin. By Böggemann and Schenk. Georg Olms Verlag. New York. 2009. P.113-127.
Unknown. Ignace Strasfogel, 84, Pianist and Conductor. New York Times. Vol.143 (CXLIII), No. 49,603. Section B10. 10 February 1994. P.34
Ignace Strasfogel at Metropolitan Opera. Metropolitan Opera Archives. URL:
Hirsch, Lily E. The Berlin Jüdischer Kulturbund. Music and the Holocaust website. URL:
Unknown. Arthur Rodzinski. Biography. New York Philharmonic website. URL: