Luise’s legacy: German composer’s descendant brings music to Whidbey Island

Elizabeth Derrig

A German woman’s compositions will be played in full on Whidbey Island with the first Luise Greger International Music Festival this month.

Luise Greger, a German composer whose works from the early 1900s were discovered only recently in the past two decades, will receive a new life. She is featured in Brigham Young University’s list, The Sophie Project, of German-speaking women’s works. Deer Lagoon-area resident Elizabeth Derrig, Greger’s great-great granddaughter, organized the Aug. 14-15 festival in honor of her ancestor.

“She’s such an inspiration to me,” Derrig said.

“It’s pretty amazing what she was able to do at that time,” she later added while sifting through several books that feature Greger and some copies of her sheet music.

Derrig, who was a career attorney, said she received little of her ancestor’s gift of music and never learned to play an instrument. It wasn’t even until recently that Derrig got interested in compositions such as those her forebear created.

“I’m not a musician,” Derrig said, flashing a wide smile. “I didn’t get any of her talent.”

Greger was a woman ahead of her time. She was considered a child prodigy, learning piano as a 5-year-old girl and performing before the Russian empress in St. Petersburg by age 9. Her first composed piece was finished by the time she was 11, and she was anointed as a professional composer by the famed Berlin composer Richard Strauss.

But the World Wars that ravaged Europe also took their toll on Greger. Derrig said her ancestor was “euthanized” as an elderly woman by the Nazis. Greger’s possible Jewish ancestry is a bit of a mystery, even to Derrig and her kin in Germany who have done much of the family tree research.

About 10 years before her death, Greger received great acclaim for her fairy-tale operatic Christmas play, “Gaenseliesel” (German for goose girl). After that, her work was lost to the war and time.

Derrig’s relatives in Germany discovered some of her pieces and notes in an heirloom iron chest, believed to have been built in the late 1600s. That sparked a bit of digging into the family tree and the eventual republishing of Greger’s music.

“She wasn’t popular from World War II until the 2000s,” Derrig said.

Much of Greger’s compositions are considered to belong to the lieder family of music. Lieders are typically performed by a singer and a piano, and for the festival Derrig brought in several acclaimed musicians to bring Greger’s work to life.

What Greger accomplished resonated with one local career musician. Cynthia Morrow, one of the musicians who will perform during the Aug. 15 event, praised Greger’s work. Morrow, who is also the conductor of the Whidbey Island Community Orchestra, said Greger’s accomplishments would still be remarkable because women are not well regarded as composers.

Holding several sheets of music, all copied from Greger’s originals, Morrow highlighted one piece in particular. In it the music is the story of hunting, but Morrow said where a traditional opera would be from the conquerer’s point of view, Greger’s lieder is from the perspective of the hunted.

“It’s allegro and it’s lively, but it’s from a place of compassion,” Morrow said.

Derrig, working with Northwest Language Academy and Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, was able to bring Eleni Matos to sing during the main performance Aug. 15 at WICA. Other musicians signed on to help revive Greger’s talents, with performances scheduled the evening of Aug. 14 as well.

“It’s going to be a fun, entertaining, musical show,” Derrig said.



Luise Greger Festival

The first celebration of German composer Luise Greger from the late-1800s to early 1900s will take place with three events over two days on South Whidbey.

The first events are Friday, Aug. 14 at Northwest Language Academy. A presentation about Greger, a composer who wrote dozens of pieces and achieved acclaim before being “euthanized” under the Nazis, will open the festival. A soiree of music, treats and wine will follow as performed by mezzo soprano Theresa Sauvage of Seattle and 14-year-old Russian native soprano Maria Victoria Kovalsky, accompanied by Whidbey-based musicians Cynthia Morrow and Sheila Weidendorf as Deux Femmes Musique. A $15 donation to the academy is recommended.

The second and centerpiece event is the main performance, “The Lost Art Songs of Luise Greger,” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 15. Mezzo soprano Eleni Matos will sing accompanied by piano. Tickets cost $25 and are available online at or by calling 360-221-8268 or 1-800-638-7631.