Playing the piano
Playing the violin
Alma Elizabeth Deutscher is an English child prodigy, composer, pianist and violinist.
At age five, she composed her first piano sonata. At age seven, she completed a short opera The Sweeper of Dreams. Aged nine, she wrote a concerto for violin and orchestra. At the age of ten she wrote her first full-length opera, Cinderella, which had its European premiere in Vienna in 2016 under the patronage of conductor Zubin Mehta. The U.S. premiere a year later at Opera San Jose was released on DVD by Sony Classical. At the age of twelve, Deutscher premiered her first piano concerto. She gave her debut at Carnegie Hall in December 2019.
Deutscher was born in Basingstoke in 2005, the daughter of literature professor Janie Deutscher (née Steen) and Israeli linguist Guy Deutscher. Both are amateur musicians.
She began playing piano at the age of two, followed by violin at three. At four she was composing and improvising on the piano, and by five, had begun writing down her compositions. These first written notations were unclear, but by six, she could write clear compositions and had composed her first piano sonata. At seven, she composed her first short opera, at nine, a violin concerto, and her first full-length opera at age ten. According to her father, she could name the notes on a piano when she was two. "For her third birthday I bought her a little violin as a toy. She was so excited by it and tried playing on it for days on end, so we decided to try to find her a teacher. Within less than a year she was playing Handel sonatas." In a 2017 interview with the Financial Times, Deutscher said: "I remember when I was three and I was listening to a lullaby by Richard Strauss, I loved it! I especially loved the harmony; I always call it the Strauss harmony now. And after it finished I asked my parents 'How could music be so beautiful?'"
Deutscher's initial media exposure may be traced to writer and comedian Stephen Fry publicising her YouTube channel when she was seven, by writing: "Simply mind-blowing: Alma Deutscher playing her own compositions. A new Mozart?", with a link to one of Deutscher's videos. Television crews arrived at her family home the next day. Guy Deutscher spoke of his concerns surrounding Alma's initial press coverage. He explained that the family had been unprepared for the intense exposure, and that they view as their most important tasks protecting her and ensuring that she has a happy childhood. In September 2014, a viral YouTube mashup video released by Israeli musician Kutiman ("Give It Up") featured a 4-second ostinato assembled from pieces of one of Deutscher's early videos.
By 2020, Deutscher's official YouTube channel has gathered more than ten million views and 118,000 subscribers.
Her melodies themselves often arrive unbidden, including in her dreams.
Much of the critical response to Deutscher's compositions in the first years of her public exposure centered on her young age and status as a child prodigy. Commenting on the public perception of child prodigies and their musical output, Deutscher told the newspaper Die Zeit when she was 10: "I want my music to be taken seriously ... and sometimes it's a little bit difficult for people to take me seriously because I'm just a little girl."
In January 2017, following the premiere of Deutscher's opera, Cinderella, in Vienna, an article entitled "Alma and the dangerous love of melody" appeared in the Viennese newspaper Der Standard, which expressed the hope that Deutscher's melodious music may help to change the prevailing attitudes in contemporary classical music and inject a new life into the world of opera, by steering it back towards melody. The author, Robert Schediwy [de], notes the storm of enthusiasm with which Deutscher's Cinderella was received by the public, because it is full of beautiful melodies. He expresses the hope that Deutscher's love of melody might help opera reconnect with the wider public and inject new life into the world of opera, which is so often pronounced dead nowadays. However, he also expresses the fear that (what he terms) 'advanced culture-theorists' would regard Deutscher's love of melody as a threat, and accuse it of 'anachronism', 'cultural populism'.
In February 2017, Deutscher made a public statement about her style, her love of melody, and her musical aesthetics, in a message to a press conference of the Carinthian Summer Music Festival in Austria. She explained that some people have told her that she should not compose beautiful melodies in the twenty-first century, because music must reflect the complexity and ugliness of the modern world. "But I think that these people just got a little bit confused. If the world is so ugly, then what's the point of making it even uglier with ugly music?". She then cited the lullaby by Richard Strauss mentioned above as her early inspiration to write music that is beautiful. In July 2017, Deutscher further elaborated this point in an interview with the newspaper Der Standard. Asked about her dreams for the next ten years, she said: "...but the best thing would be if people stopped telling me how it is allowed or not allowed to compose in the twenty-first century. I hope they will have stopped counting my dissonances." In 2019, Deutscher explained to The New York Times: "Lots of people have been telling me that if I want to grow up, I have to compose music that will reflect the ugliness of the modern world. I don’t want to do this. I want to compose music that I find beautiful."
The Sweeper of Dreams (2012)
Deutscher's first completed opera, from age seven, is a short work inspired by Neil Gaiman's story, "The Sweeper of Dreams", with the text adapted from a libretto by Elizabeth Adlington. Parts of the score came to Deutscher in a dream. The first performance of the opera was in Israel in 2013. In the story, a job is advertised for a Sweeper of Dreams, who is to help people forget their nightmares. The three middle-aged men on the committee are shocked to discover that the only candidate, Alex, is a sixteen-year-old girl. Her interviewers mock her, because she "committed two terrible crimes: the first was being a child, the second was being female." But through her talent and determination, Alex proves her suitability and is hired.
The theme of female empowerment is recurrent in Deutscher's operas, and also dominates her full length opera, Cinderella. She told The New York Times in 2019: "I'm a very strong feminist and I'm really happy that I was born now, when girls are allowed to develop their talents.". She said she is particularly attracted to stories of women overcoming adversity.
Deutscher's second opera is a full-length work based on the fairy tale of Cinderella, but with significant modifications of the plot, which revolves around music. It is set in an opera house run by the evil stepmother. The two step-sisters are portrayed as talentless would-be divas. Cinderella is a talented composer, with "beautiful melodies springing into her head", but she is not allowed to perform and is slaved-worked as a copyist. The prince is a Romantic poet, who is mocked at court for his artistic leanings. In the first act, Cinderella chances upon a captivating love poem, which unbeknownst to her, was written by the prince. She is inspired by the poem and sets it to her own music. Her melody is then stolen by her step-sisters and sung at a singing competition during the ball, but with the wrong words. Finally, Cinderella herself sings her melody to the prince, unaware that he wrote the words of the poem. After Cinderella flees from the ball at midnight, the prince searches for Cinderella, not using a glass slipper as in the traditional fairy tale, but using a melody. Eventually, the pair are united: "they find each other like lyrics find melody". Deutscher explained that her Cinderella "is not just a pretty girl who cleans the floor and keeps quiet, she’s clever and talented", and she wins the prince not through the size of her foot, but because of her talent as a composer.
Deutscher started working on the opera at age 8. An early chamber version of the opera was performed in Israel in 2015. Deutscher finished writing the overture to the opera "just a few days before the performance". In 2016, Deutscher expanded the opera considerably and orchestrated it for an ensemble of 20 musicians, and in December 2016, a longer version of the opera (in German) premiered in Vienna, with conductor Zubin Mehta as patron of the production. The premiere was received with a standing ovation and with jubilation by the Austrian and international press. In 2017, Deutscher re-orchestrated the opera for a full orchestra of 44 musicians, and considerably expanded the score from the Vienna version. The full version of Cinderella was premiered in December 2017 in San José, California. The production of Opera San Jose and the Packard Humanities Institute was sung in English and performed with a large orchestra, choir, and dancers, led by British conductor Jane Glover. Deutscher performed on both the violin and piano during the opera, as she did in earlier productions, and on this occasion, also performed on the organ. The five performances sold out within the hour following a feature on CBS Sixty Minutes and an additional two performances were arranged. The San Jose production was released on DVD by Sony Classical Records in 2018.
A new production has been commissioned by the Salzburger Landestheater for a run of eleven performances opening in December 2020.
Reviewer Heather Mac Donald called it an "opera of astounding wit, craft, and musical beauty... The sheer amount of orchestral and vocal invention is stunning", and predicted that Cinderella would find its way to Broadway. Opera Today described it as "a young talent’s sensational burst to prominence", and as "once-in-a-lifetime opera-going event that had audiences standing and cheering."
In January 2018, the Vienna State Opera premiered a short (75') adaptation for young children of Deutscher's opera, for a four-month run (January—May 2018) on its studio stage. All performances sold out. The production was revived in October 2019. In October 2018, a short ballet adaptation was put on in Berlin by the Kinder Ballett Kompanie.
Education and home life
Deutscher lives in Vienna, Austria with her parents and younger sister Helen. She is educated at home. She was registered for school in England at the age of five and attended an orientation day, but reported feeling bored, upset, and untutored. She told the BBC when she was ten: "I never want to go to school. I have to go outside and get fresh air, and read." Two years later she explained to the Financial Times: "I think that I learn at home in one hour what it would take at school five hours to learn". In 2010, her parents explained that they were led to choose home education by their belief that creativity requires both freedom and nurturing. They characterised Alma's musical creativity as a part of her wider creative imagination.
Deutscher's early musical education focused on creative improvisation, as described by Robert Gjerdingen's analysis of creative methods of teaching music to children in eighteenth-century Italy. Professor Gjerdingen sent exercises and commented on technical aspects of Deutscher's composition, while she had lessons in improvisation from the Swiss musician Tobias Cramm via Skype, with the pair using the pedagogical method of the eighteenth-century Italian partimenti, instructional bass lines used for the teaching of harmony, counterpoint, and improvisation. Alma initially became fluent in the musical grammar of eighteenth-century music. Her father has said that she doesn't have regular instruction in formal composition, rather that "...there are good-hearted experts who help her sporadically and there's a lot of self-teaching."
In her first years of life, Alma was the subject of her father's language experiments related to his professional research. As reported in The Nation, he made sure never to tell her the sky was "blue", for instance, in an effort to understand why ancient cultures never used this term for the sky. Her perceptions, especially calling the clear sky "white", were reported in Guy Deutscher's 2010 book, Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages.
Deutscher is trilingual in English, German and Hebrew.
Deutscher has played her own music as a soloist with orchestras around the world, including Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, the Oviedo Filarmonía, Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, the Welsh National Opera Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Vienna Chamber Orchestra. And in 2018, she made recital debuts in the Aix-en-Provence Festival and the Lucerne Festival.
She has said that she thrives on performing music, particularly before an audience. Her parents are reported to limit her performances, selecting opportunities to perform that they consider the most enjoyable and helpful for her. She has performed on television shows including NBC, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and CBS 60 Minutes. She has given recitals and public performances in multiple countries in Europe, the Americas, and Asia, including UK, Germany, Austria, France, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, Ireland, Japan, China, Israel, USA, Canada, and Uruguay. Some of her performances have been financially supported by the London-based entrepreneur David Giampaolo.
In May 2018, Deutscher was invited by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz to perform during a memorial service for the end of the war in Europe, where she played an adaptation of part of her piano concerto, and later accompanied the Vienna Boys' Choir. A few weeks later, she also played for the Austrian Chancellor and the Russian President Vladimir Putin during the latter's state visit to Austria.
In December 2019, in a concert dedicated to her own compositions, she gave her debut at the sold-out Carnegie Hall in New York to standing ovations.
My Book of Melodies, a piano album of compositions that she wrote between the ages of four and 14, appeared with Sony Classical Records in November 2019.