Music and Languages were her Love

The life and legacy of Renate Ronnefeld

By Aviva Ronnefeld


Renate Ronnefeld, née Renate Otto, was born on March 12, 1932 in Kiel, Germany.  An only child, she spent her early years in Munich and near Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Bavaria, but then settled with her mother and father in Salzburg, Austria.  They rented a large apartment on the first floor of a Baroque house, which – so the saga goes – was built by the Archbishop Markus Sittikus for his lady friend, while he resided in the castle above.  A secret path along the steep mountain connected the two residences.  

She was 6 years old when Hitler annexed Austria.  The war and post-war years were not easy ones, but she had her friends and loved music.  She began studying the violin at an early age, first privately and then at the Mozarteum.  She played chamber music and had jobs at the Salzburg Festival, including singing in the chorus for performances of Mozart’s “Idomeneo.”  


Music and languages were her love, and it was the study of languages that took her to Germersheim near Mainz, Germany, to study to be a translator.  She then spent a year in Paris and a year in Great Britain, living in the countryside, helping to take care of the sheep, whom she learned to love.  During these years, she also would work at the spa in Bad Pyrmont in Germany, helping to take care of the guests.  It was there that she met her husband, Peter Ronnefeld, who was from Dresden, but whose grandfather had a bookshop in the town.  The marriage did not last long, but did produce a daughter, Aviva.  

Finding a job in Austria was difficult for a woman at that time, but by chance, Renate heard that the Bavarian Radio in Munich was looking for someone to run the ARD International Music Competition.  She moved to Munich in 1958 and began her long tenure with the competition.  Organizing came natural to her and she made a point of making as positive an experience as possible for those taking part.  Meeting jury members, participants, piano accompanists, and other members of the music community from all over the world was wonderful for her and many lasting friendships were formed.  During the early years in Munich, she also worked as a television announcer for the Bavarian Television.  Later, while still directing the competition, she  was appointed Director of Program Exchange at the Bavarian Radio.

Her role administering the ARD International Music Competition in Munich put her in contact with the World Federation of International Music Competitions, of which she became the president for many years and then the secretary general.  She loved her work with the Federation and the many locations and people in the world these positions afforded her.  
Renate Ronnefeld passed away peacefully on November 17, 2023 at the age of 91.

For a collection of memories and notes of appreciation, please read the updated article “Heart and Face of the Federation”.


Renate Ronnefeld, on the 5 March 1957, Salzburg, Austria.


Renate Ronnefeld at her last working day at Bavarian Radio TV Broadcasting Corporation, 6 December 1977

Genova 2

At the General Assembly in Genova, 1992

with rona

From left to right: Irwin Gage, Rona Hokanson, Elena Cotrubas and Renate Ronnefeld. Munich, 1966.


In a Japanese music magazine, 1992