Who was Yvonne LaMothe Schwager?

By Dominique Piana

Earlier this year, our local harp chapter became the recipient of a bequest from the Schwager Estate, upon the death of Yvonne’s husband Martin Schwager, who had outlived her by a year.

Very devoted to one another, they lived quietly in Berkeley for all their married life. Going through their papers, a few things stand out.

Yvonne was raised in New York and was a favorite pupil of Inez Carusi, the harpist-composer, who indulged her with dozens of arrangements that seem to have been handwritten on the spot for her enjoyment.

She studied at Juilliard, graduated from the Chigiana Conservatory in Siena, Italy, and served briefly as harpist with the El Paso Symphony in Texas.

Yvonne and her husband were close friends of Nicanor Zabaleta, who stayed at their house whenever he came to the Bay Area on his concert tours.

Yvonne was listed as a member of the editorial board from the first (Spring 1950) to the last issue (Fall 1966) of the Harp News (of the West). A bi-annual bulletin originally generated by a group of forward thinking Bay Area harpists to spread information on their competition award, it became the primary vehicle for harp news in the country, and was taken over by the newly formed American Harp Society.

All along, Yvonne served as the Northern California Harpists’ Association Award Chairman. The aim of the competition award was “to enlarge the harp literature and familiarize composers with how to write for the harp”.

Over the years, the NCHA gave awards for or commissioned the following works:

  • Legend of the Redwoods: Grace Becker Vamos. Pub. Wesley Webster, San Francisco, Calif.
  • Concerto da Camera: for flute, violin, harp and orchestra – James Adair.
  • Harp Quintet for harp and string quartet – George Berres.
  • Apunte Betico: for harp solo – Gerardo Gombau. Pub. the NCHA and available through Yvonne LaMothe
  • Sonata da Camera: for flute and harp – Marius Flothuis.
    Pub. Donemus, Amsterdam, Holland (C.F. Peters Corp.)
  • Concerto: for harp and orchestra – Lex van Delden. Pub. Donemus, Amsterdam, Holland (C.F. Peters Corp.)
  • Arabesque: for harp and orchestra – Arthur Lange
  • Poeme: for harp and violoncello – Arkadie Kouguell. Pub. Barger and Barclay
  • Impromptu: for harp solo – Lex van Delden. Pub. Donemus, Amsterdam, Holland (C.F. Peters Corp.)
  • Suite: for harp and flute – George Frederick McKay
  • Suite Breve II: for harp solo – Ruggero Maghini. Pub. Edizioni Suvini Zerboni, Milan, Italy (Assoc. Music Pub.)
  • Intrada: for harp solo – Josef Tal, Pub. Israeli Music Publications, Tel Aviv, Israel (Southern Music Pub. Co.)
  • Petite Suite: for harp solo – David Watkins. Pub. United Music Publishers. (Elkan-Vogel)
  • Concertino: for harp and orchestra – Joseph Wagner. Pub. Lyra Music Co (International Music Service)
  • Autumn Suite: for harp, strings, and percussion – Virgil Thomson. (Commissioned). Available on rental from G. Schirmer.

Their last commission was to be announced in the first AHS publication.