Elfriede Kolbe-Dobrowolny was a Swedish-Austrian pianist and piano-teacher.
Elfriede Kolbe-Dobrowolny was born in Graz in imperial Austria in 1902. She received her musical education in Klagenfurt, where her father, Leo Dobrowolny, served as headmaster and as her first piano-teacher. Elfriede Kolbe-Dobrowolny’s father, a former student of Emile Jacques-Dalcroze, was quick to introduce the Jacques-Dalcroze rhythmics in his daughter’s lessons. Initially Elfriede Kolbe-Dobrowolny had thought she might become an actor, appearing, for example, in a silent movie with the famous Alexander Moissi. However, she subsequently decided to make a career out of playing the piano.
Instead of tying herself to a particular school of piano-playing she opted to further her skills at piano schools where, whether with or without intermediaries, the traditions of the great composers were followed. For example, she studied with Emil von Sauer, a student of Liszt, at the Vienna Academy of Music as well as with H. Andrassy. She learned the art of the finger legato — or the correct way to phrase and use pedals in Brahms’ and Schumann’s piano music — with Carl Friedberg first in Baden-Baden and later on in New York. In Berlin she studied with Frieda Kwast-Hodapp, a former student of Busoni and to whom Max Reger had dedicated his piano concerto, and with Conrad Hansen, a former student of Ernst Fischer. She sought out Isidor Philipp in Paris as a living exponent of the Chopin tradition. In the Hague she took lessons with H. Goemans and after a concert in the USA she interviewed the Spanish pianist José Iturbi in depth. Nevertheless, the piano-teacher that she most would have wanted to meet was the legendary Tobias Matthay, who had taught Myra Hess, Clifford Curzon, Moura Lympany, and Eileen Joyce amongst others. She never did get to study with Matthay but his writings became exceedingly important to her.
In 1930 Elfriede Kolbe-Dobrowolny married the Russian-born PhD Robert Johan Wilhelm (William) Kolbe. Before the Second World War she had given concerts in Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Britain, and of course in Berlin, where she and her husband were long-time residents and where she had been playing with the philharmonic orchestra for three years since her debut as a soloist in 1930. The couple moved to Sweden in 1946. The following year she made her debut at Lilla Konserthussalen playing Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, and Debussy. After her husband’s death she worked as a producer for the foundation Rikskonserter from 1963 onwards. During the 1960s she did some tours, including with the composer Laci Boldemann.
Elfriede Kolbe-Dobrowolny was already receiving her pension when she, with her customary energy, took on Tobias Matthay’s challenging theoretical works on piano-playing. She threw herself into a deeper reading and understanding of the Englishman’s very obtuse writings. During the 1980s she set up an international lecture enterprise on subjects such as the visible and invisible aspects of piano-playing and its secrets.
In 1981 Svenska Pianopedagogförbundet appointed Elfriede Kolbe-Dobrowolny as honorary chair in recognition of the fact that, immediately after obtaining her Swedish citizenship in 1951, she had dedicated all her energy towards the federation. Initially she joined the so-called probationary committee, before being elected as its secretary in 1968, and finally serving as its chair from 1976 to 1979. Her former students include several now well-established pianists: Dag Achatz, Julius Jacobsen, Käbi Laretei, and Eva Pataki, amongst others, all of whom found assistance to resolve problems that had ensued from using the wrong piano-playing techniques.
Elfriede Kolbe-Dobrowolny’s contribution as a piano-teacher never received formal recognition, despite the fact that she taught for over sixty years. One of the reasons for this oversight was — in her opinion — that there were no extant stipends which her students could apply for, unlike those who studied at the Royal College of Music. Typically enough Elfriede Kolbe-Dobrowolny is not mentioned in Tore Uppström’s 1973 work Pianister i Sverige.
Elfriede Kolby-Dobrowolny lived on the fourth floor at Vattugatan 10 until the newspaper Aftonbladet left the building in the late 1990s. For over thirty years her penthouse apartment with two grand pianos served as an unofficial cultural centre catering for a cohort of lost, newly-arrived musicians. She would perform highly sought after chamber concerts at regularly held meetings, primarily with her trio, which consisted of the cellist Karl-Göran Bergström and the violinist Edith Wohl — whom Raoul Wallenberg had saved from war-torn Budapest. Here, too, the cellist Rainer Miedel from Germany would perform, accompanied by another Holocaust survivor, the Hungarian pianist Janos Solyom.
Elfriede Kolbe-Dobrowolny died, aged 94, in Stockholm in 1997. She is buried at Lidingö Cemetery.