Trude Rittmann

Long-serving arranger of Broadway musicals
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Trude Rittmann, music and dance arranger: born Mannheim, Germany 1908; died Lexington, Massachusetts 22 February 2005.

Trude Rittmann was a major figure in American musical theatre for over 40 years, arranging dance and choral music for such landmark shows as Carousel, South Pacific, My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music. Often billed as Trude Rittman, she was particularly noted for such arrangements as the elaborate ballet sequences in The King and I and The Girl in Pink Tights, and her ravishing choral work in Fanny and Camelot.

Born in Mannheim, Germany, in 1908, she began piano lessons at the age of eight, and graduated from the Hochschule für Musik in Cologne in 1932. In the same year she was described by the prolific British symphonist Havergal Brian as "Germany's most brilliant woman composer". In 1933, she left Germany, later explaining to Douglas Durant, a music-teacher friend,

I was furious because you had to show your programmes so they could see if there were any Jewish composers in them. I was not going to do that.

After working in France, Belgium and England, she arrived in the United States in 1937. Her mother followed shortly afterwards, but her father was arrested by Nazis and died in prison. Rittmann's impressive credentials immediately gained her work when Lincoln Kirstein hired her as a concert accompanist and pianist for George Balanchine's American Ballet Caravan (precursor to the New York City Ballet). She graduated to musical director for the troupe, working and touring with them for four years, collaborating with such composers as Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Virgil Thompson and Marc Blitzstein.

In 1941, when the Caravan disbanded, she and her fellow German expatriate Stefan Wolpe composed the music for Palestine at War, a film made by the Palestine Labour Commission. Later the same year, she began a long association with the choreographer Agnes de Mille, as friend and concert accompanist, and in 1943 de Mille asked her to do the dance arrangements for the Kurt Weill/Ogden Nash musical One Touch of Venus, which de Mille choreographed.

It was the start of an illustrious Broadway career, her subsequent shows including Finian's Rainbow (1947, dance arrangements), South Pacific (1949, assistant to Richard Rodgers), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1949, dance arrangements), Paint Your Wagon (1951, dance arrangements), Fanny (1954, musical continuity) and Camelot (1960, dance and choral arrangements).

Carousel (1945), for which her work included arranging the music for the elaborate ballet in the second act, started a long association with the show's composer, Richard Rodgers. The King and I (1951) and The Sound of Music (1959) followed. The dancer Gemze de Lappe, who first met Rittmann when hired by de Mille to dance in Paint Your Wagon, described Rittmann as "a very simple, easy-to-know person", while other friends noted that her slender stature and sweet smile belied an iron will.

For the show Peter Pan (1954), starring Mary Martin, Rittmann not only provided (with Elmer Bernstein) some incidental music, but collaborated with Carolyn Leigh on two of the musical numbers, "Hook's Tango" and the spirited "Tarantella", both performed by Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook.

In 1959 she fashioned a two-piano arrangement of My Fair Lady which has recently entered the repertoire for small-scale or concert performances of the show.

Rittmann retired in 1976, though her work continued to be heard in such anthologies as Jerome Robbins' Broadway (1989) and revivals of her classic musicals.

Tom Vallance