Johanna Margarete Sultan (Grete Sultan) was born in Berlin, Germany on June 21, 1906. Her musical family included two aunts who had studied with Clara Schumann, and important musicians such as Richard Strauss, Artur Schnabel and Ferruccio Busoni were regular visitors to her childhood home. Her piano studies were at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik with Leonid Kreutzer, and she later studied privately with Edwin Fischer.
Sultan's early concert career was greatly curtailed by Adolf Hitler's prohibitions against Jewish musicians. Through her childhood acquaintance Richard Buhlig, she was able to escape to the United States in 1941. Buhlig had also introduced her to the composer Henry Cowell, and Sultan was to continue to be an advocate of contemporary music throughout her life.
Sultan held teaching positions at Vassar College, the 92nd Street Y in New York, and at the Masters' School in Dobbs Ferry, NY.
Sultan was closely identified with
the composer John Cage, whom she also met through Richard Buhlig in 1945. Cage's
Etudes Australes were written for her, and she promoted music by other
contemporary such as Earle Brown, Stefan Wolpe, Alan Hovhaness, Ben Weber and
Christian Wolff. Sultan was also acclaimed as a Bach player, particularly in the
Goldberg Variations, which she performed throughout her life. Grete Sultan died
in New York on June 26, 2005.
IPAM's Sultan Collection contains various concert programs documenting her repertoire and performing activity, as well as materials relating to John Cage and his piano works.