(The first two paragraphs are electronic translations of the original Norwegian from the following source: Kari Michelsen: Musikkhandel i Norge (Music Publishers in Norway), Chapter10, pp 216-219. University of Oslo: 2010.)
Theodora Nicoline Meldal Cormontan was born June 9, 1840 in Beitstad in North Trøndelag, Norway, the daughter of pastor Even Meldal Schjelderup Cormontan (1798-1893). In 1847 the family moved to Arendal, and settled in the parsonage. [Her Confirmation Records from the Trinity Church in Arendal note that she was baptized on September 20, 1840 and confirmed on April 19, 1857.] In 1865 there were 15 people there, including the pastor, his son [Hans] Nicolai and three daughters, all unmarried, and all in their twenties. Theodora probably studied music with F.W. Thoschlag before she studied further in Copenhagen during the 1860s. As a singer she later appeared in several concerts. Presumably in 1879 Theodora became a music publisher, developing a significant music business and a fairly extensive music rental library in Arendal. Of the many ads from the music trade, we see that she was well up to date with inventory.
In February, 1886 the old rectory burned down, and the same year the bank collapsed in Arendal. The following year Theodora, her father, and one of the sisters immigrated to Illinois [Minnesota], USA. She supported herself as a music teacher and died in Decorah, Iowa in 1922.
[The following is based on research done by Michael Jorgensen. Valuable information was provided by Nancy Clasen, great-great granddaughter of Marie Cormontan Lyders]:
Theodora came from Norway to the United States with her father Even and older sister Eivinda, almost certainly to live with her older brother Gottfred Christian Vogelsang Cormontan (known as Gottfred, Christian, C. G., or C. G. V. Cormontan). C. G. V. received his druggist/pharmacist degree from the Norwegian University on December 10, 1868, and moved to the U. S. in 1873. He became a naturalized citizen on June 8, 1880 in Clayton Co., Iowa, where he was a school teacher. By 1881 he had moved to Sacred Heart in Renville County, Minnesota where his youngest sister Marie had lived since 1880 with her husband, Edvard Lyders, also a druggist. Around this time C. G. V. returned to Norway, perhaps to visit his father and sisters Eivinda and Theodora. He returned to Sacred Heart in 1884. Theodora, her father Even, and her sister Eivinda joined C. G. V. in Sacred Heart in 1887. His older brother Hans Nicolai Patroclus Cormontan, a carpenter, also came to Sacred Heart in 1887, probably from Illinois. None of the four siblings were married. Their mother, Louise Augusta Hirsch, died in 1865.
The front page of the Granite Falls Tribune reported on October 18, 1887 that "Miss Theodora Cormontan, of Sacred Heart, will give a concert at Winter's Hall Friday evening, Oct. 21st, consisting of vocal and instrumental music. Miss Cormontan studied music for 7 years in Germany and other countries in Europe; has given concerts at Copenhagen, Denmark and Arendahl and other cities in Norway. She will sing English, Norwegian, Swedish, German and Italian, some of the pieces being of her own compositions. The concert promises to be a rich treat and let all remember the day and place." In a review of the concert on October 25, 1887, the front page of the same paper read "The concert at the hall on Friday last was well patronized and we hear many flattering words of praise for the singer who entertained for nearly two hours. Her superior gift is plainly instrumental music and her admirers are numerous. We hope to hear her again." Cormontan advertised as a teacher of vocal and instrumental music in the Granite Falls paper that November and December.
On November 4, 1887, the Renville Weekly News reported “The concert given by Miss Theodora Cormanton [sic] with the assistance of Mrs. Lyders and Miss Louisa [Marie’s daughter—also known as Louise] was a great musical treat and a decided success. Miss Cormanton is a capital musician, a fine singer, and is highly spoken of in musical circles and those who did not attend missed a rare treat.” Pastor Cormontan, Theodora, and Eivinda all moved to Franklin, MN in 1888, where C. G. V. owned and operated the Franklin Drug Store. C. G. V. served several years as a town councilman.
Newspaper clippings from the St. Paul Daily Globe in October, 1889 report that Eivinda and Theodora Cormontan were in St. Paul attending court. Theodora brought suit against the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway Company for damages from injuries received in Granite Falls, MN in 1887. She was probably traveling to or from nearby Sacred Heart. The train lurched forward as Theodora was boarding, causing her to fall and resulting in a spinal injury that left her partially paralyzed. The jury found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded her $5,000 damages.
Theodora was in St. Paul again in March of 1891, according to the composition date written on one of her manuscripts. Also by 1891 C. G. V. was advertising his business in newspapers published in the towns of Franklin and Morton in Renville County, Minnesota. By 1892 [in Franklin] Theodora played organ for at least two area churches, conducted choirs, and taught music lessons. The Morton Enterprise reported in April of that year “The lady [Theodora] is certainly an excellent teacher in vocal as well as instrumental music.” Also by 1892 she was traveling to nearby Morton, where she taught approximately fifty students. Around this time she saw several of her Norwegian language hymns published in a Norwegian magazine entitled Ugdommens Ven (The Youth's Friend) and subsequently in a Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran hymnal called the Frydetoner (Joyful Songs). Her father Even Cormontan died in Franklin in 1893. C. G V. and Hans were among a group of founders of the Concordia Evangelical Lutheran church in Franklin. Seven of Theodora’s manuscripts carry dates that indicate that they were composed or edited while she lived in Franklin. It is likely that a number of the undated works were also written there.
(above) The pump organ located in the Fort Ridgely and Dale Church between Franklin and Fairfax, Minnesota (photo taken in 2011). This is the organ procured by the Cormontan family in 1892.
Otto Schmidt (1873-1946) was a Lutheran pastor in Decorah and “the guiding spirit” in the erection of the Aase Haugen Home. In 1915 he resigned as pastor of the Decorah Lutheran Church to manage the home, continuing in that position until 1944. His wife Mollie played the piano for the people there, including Theodora, and that is how Theodora knew her and knew she was a pianist. According to oral tradition passed on by the Schmidt family, Mollie played some of Theodora’s music and, before she died, Theodora gave Mollie the manuscripts. Mollie's daughter, Carola M. Schmidt (1903-1975), trained as a nurse and took care of Mollie until Mollie died in 1933, and later took care of Otto and also worked at the Home. Carola received Theodora’s music from her mother Mollie. When Carola died, Barb Schmidt Nelson received the music and stored it at her home in St. Peter until 2011, when she gave the manuscripts along with other music to Bonnie and Michael Jorgensen of St. Peter.
Michael is a Professor of Music (voice) at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, while Bonnie is a professional pianist. Michael began to research Theodora and discovered that she is still remembered in Norway. The Jorgensens decided to promote the life and music of Theodora Cormontan through various outlets, including a website, newsletters, and lecture/recitals.
The Cormontan music that Bonnie and Michael rediscovered includes six piano solos published in the United States and approximately 150 manuscript scores (the exact number depends on how several incomplete works are counted). The vast majority of the manuscripts are piano solo, but there are a few hymns, works for the organ, vocal solos, and vocal duets as well. Almost all the manuscripts are in ink and stand as completed works. Theodora may have sent these copies to potential publishers and/or used them as performance copies. There are a few works in pencil that seem to be draft copies. It appears that about 25% of the compositions were written in Europe and 75% in the United States. Most have no markings to indicate when they were composed, so determining where her music was written is an educated guess based on some dates an opus numbers as well as titles written in English compared to titles written in Norwegian. Music written o paper with the marking "Made in Germany" appear to have been late compositions.
Theodora dated a few of her works. Of the music we found, the earliest dated manuscript is 1876 and the latest 1908, though cataloging numbers she assigned to most of her manuscripts seem to indicate she was still composing at least until 1913. Kari Michaelsen writes that Theodora's first published works date from 1875 (in Norway). The last published work in the Jorgensen collection dates from 1905 (in the United States), so it appears that Theodora's activity as a composer spanned from approximately 1970 (when she was 30) to 1915. A small percentage of Theodora's manuscripts have opus numbers. Many of these numbers seem to indicate compositions that were published. It appears that opus numbers through the 40s were assigned to works by Theodora that were published in Europe, mostly by her own publishing company in Arendal, Norway. Opus numbers in the 50s were published in the United States (including Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and Chicago). However, there are several unpublished manuscripts with much higher opus numbers, going as high as Op. 140. Theodora also assigned what might be described as a catalog number to approximately 3/4 of her compositions in manuscript. These numbers range from the 200s to the 900s. Works assigned lower numbers were written earlier than works with higher numbers. There are enough manuscripts with catalog numbers that appear with (and correlate with) dated manuscripts to permit a general dating of all of Cormontan's manuscripts with catalog numbers.