Tag Archives: Hall Marie

Song of the Lark 2011 Roundup

I’m always a sucker for a good end-of-year review. What went right, what went wrong. The highlights, the lowlights. So without further ado…

Best Decision: Starting this blog.

Best Readers: You, obviously. *obsequious smile*

Best Concert as Performer: Community Table, April 2011. It impressed upon me what’s really important about our art. It’s not about the repertoire or the competition or playing every note perfectly. It’s about passion and communication – saying things that can’t be said in words. Everything else is a bonus.

Worst Concert as Performer: Let’s just say I’m glad I was paid for playing this concert. Interpret that as you will…

Best Concert as Audience Member: This category was super-difficult. I had the immense honor of seeing the Minnesota Orchestra three times this year. Only two of the concerts got written up in reviews. But I think  my favorite was actually the one concert I never wrote about – the Ravel Inside the Classics concert in Minneapolis in March. First of all, it was repertoire I’ve loved forever, and second, it was a lot of fun to hear musicians talking about it. That weekend opened so many doors for me, intellectually, emotionally, professionally… It was everything a good concert should be, and more. Possible Honorable Mention – I have tickets to one of the music world’s most coveted concerts of 2011…the final Bon Iver homecoming concert in Eau Claire on December 13. I have a gut instinct it will be one of the musical highlights of not just the year, but my life.

Worst Concert as Audience Member: Once again, won’t say, but the problem wasn’t actually the music, it was the snotty people around me!

Biggest Musical Regret: Not being part of an orchestra. I’m in a string orchestra, and I love that, but there…are times…that…I miss the brass and woodwinds. Okay, I said it. I won’t say it again.

Favorite Repertoire: Bach g-minor adagio. I will work on that piece until the end of my days and still not get to the bottom of it. But it’s so satisfying to try.

Favorite Impromptu Concert: A friend played some solo Bach for me on a warm breezy August afternoon. We were in the parlor of an 1880 house and the porch door was open and the birds were chirruping out the bay window. Those few moments were perfect. For the rest of my life, whenever I hear that piece, I will remember that moment in the parlor, and how the tears started draining down my face.

Best Remix: The Oh Long Johnson cat remix. Obviously.

Best Comment by a Conductor: “Okay, guys, let’s get out our Jewish Christmas carols!”

Worst Comment by a Conductor: From a guest conductor, and inappropriate to reproduce here.

Best Non-Classical Group And Track: Bon Iver. I love just about every one of their songs, but… The one that was the gateway drug for me was Skinny Love. Yeah, I’m a few years behind the times. Sue me.

Best Musical Movie Scene: Actually, make that seventy years behind the times. This year I discovered Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and in particular, their dance to Night and Day. I covet Ginger’s dress, which is the single most beautiful gown I’ve ever seen.

Favorite Soundtrack: The Fountain.

Favorite SotL Blog Entry, Tagged “My Writing”: Out of the fifty I’ve posted this year, this one.

Favorite SotL Blog Entry, Tagged “Not My Writing”: This one with Marie Hall. Her personality just shines through the pages. She was fearless.

Best Lyrics: From Bon Iver’s Holocene – And at once I knew I was not magnificent / strayed above the highway aisle / jagged vacance, thick with ice / I could see for miles, miles, miles. Those words say it all, really. They celebrate the significance of insignificance. If that makes any sense. It’s my Song of the Year already.

Most Encouraging Hometown-Related Epiphany: You can be based in Eau Claire and still take on the biggest names in music.

Best Music Blog: Inside the Classics. If I can be half as entertaining and informative as the folks over there, I’ll be a very happy blogger. Honorable mention, Emily Grossman’s thirty-day blogging project at violinist.com.

Best Music Website: Violinist.com, always.

Best Music Book: I’m not exactly in the center of the music book biz (/understatement); everything I read is courtesy of the Internet or the library. But the best book of the year that I did get my hands on was Alex Ross’s collection of essays, Listen to This.

Most Blatantly Obvious String Instrument Dub: The violinist on Celtic Woman.

Cruellest Violin-Related Tweet: Sherlock co-creator, writer, and deity Mark Gatiss, tweeting an image of Sherlock’s violin from the filming of season 2, with a quote from Doyle about Sarasate. New season of the show starts January first! (Forgive my enthusiasm, but when you’re 22, and you’ve been a Holmesian for over half your life, this show becomes a pretty big deal.)

Favorite Single Line I Wrote This Year, Taken Completely Out of Context: Everything about her was predictable: her eagerness, her enthusiasm, her obsequiousness, her obsessive thirstiness for knowledge, her conviction that classical music is a sacred art and every semi-talented practitioner of it a kind of high priest.

Best Colbert Report Duet: Technically not on the Colbert Report, but Stephen’s rendition of the modern-day classic “Friday” on Jimmy Fallon’s show. It was done to raise money for arts education in public schools, which is a cause I think anyone reading this blog can get behind.

Weirdest Google Books Find: This was a very strong category; I am a magnet for vintage Google Book crazy. In the end, I can’t decide between the article about brass players going bald from 1896 or or the crazy hilarious sexuality of musical instruments article from 1921.

Favorite Bit of SotL Spam: You guys miss so much spam on my blog. So much of it is so entertaining that I almost feel like starting a separate blog for hilarious spam. But the best one came about a week or so ago, when I had one from a diarrhea prevention website that quoted Mark Twain. Not even kidding.

Favorite Tumblr: Aside from mine, of course? Cough. Actually, Facepalmmozart. About half of the entries I reblog on my Tumblr come from there.

Favorite Tumblr Post from the Song of the Lark Tumblr

I can’t choose just one, so here are five.

1) Violinist, poet, salon leader, and outspoken lesbian Natalie Clifford Barney

2) Marie Hall anticipating the rise of female conductors in 1905.

3) Portrait of Marion Osgood, writer, violinist, teacher, conductor…the list goes on and on.

4) Portrait of Leonora Jackson in a lovely Victorian room.

5) A picture of Irma Saenger-Sethe and a quotation from the Bach d-minor partita.

Best Lesson I’ve Learned: Do what you want to do as an artist. Trust your gut. If you’re good at what you do, and you have potential, then seize that potential, and don’t make excuses. Don’t let anyone keep you from doing what you want to do. If  people keeping you hostage emotionally, and you decide to keep quiet about it to not upset them… You’ve lost. You’re either going to do what you want to do and have them be angry with you, or you’re not going to do what you want to do, and then you’ll get angry with them, and then they’ll get angry back. Both alternatives are painful. Incredibly painful. But the first one less so.

Thinking toward 2012…

Best Bet for Best Concert of 2012: Minnesota Orchestra and Ehnes in Brahms concerto in January 2012. Or the premiere of Judd Greenstein’s new Microcommission work for the Orchestra in March. But who knows…it may turn out that the best concert will actually be the one I have no idea is happening yet. Now that is an exciting thought.

Crazy Musical Goal That I Feel Insecure About And Will Continue To Waffle About Over The Next Several Months: Auditioning for a local orchestra.

Secret Musical Goal That I Feel More Confident About: To become semi-fluent in alto clef. Yes, I’ll admit it: I’m seventy-five percent sure I’m going to rent a viola next year. Edith Lynwood Winn said every violinist should be able to play viola, and I definitely think there’s some truth to that. I can’t imagine it will ever become my first instrument, though. I enjoy viola jokes too much. (And more seriously, I’m a very high-strung tension-prone double-jointed small person, and it remains to be seen how well I’ll take to a bigger instrument.) But in any case, I do hope to do this, and blog about the experience.

What You Can Expect From This Blog In 2012: I don’t even know what to expect on this blog in 2012! But safe to say it’ll probably include a lot more discussion about female violinists and, more broadly, the history of women in classical music, period. Because there just is not enough information out there about the wonderful women who made it possible for me and all the other ladies out there to partake in this beautiful art form.

I love this blog and I love my readers. Really and truly. Thank you for coming back again and again, and as always, if you have any questions or comments, please let me know. A happy holiday season to you and yours.

Love, Emily

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Filed under Lists, My Writing

Article: Miss Marie Hall, The Girl Violinist, A Romance of Real Life, June 1903

Forgive the Marie Hall kick, dear friends, but here’s another fantastic interview with her. As if Hall wasn’t spunky and amazing enough already, she says in this article that she wishes she could be a conductor! Even today, a hundred years later, it is relatively rare to see a woman taking on that job.

This piece is by M. Dinorben Griffith; it appeared in the Strand Magazine in June 1903.

***

“Marie is always, for ever and ever, plactising, plactising,” was the irate comment of two little boys when they failed to induce their but little older favourite sister to play with them.

It is this “always, for ever and ever, plactising,” or, in other words, that infinite capacity for taking pains which is the sign-manual of genius, that has brought Miss Marie Hall, the girl violinist, to the front of her profession before she has reached her nineteenth birthday.

Hers is no history of that forced and most miserable of spectacles – the child prodigy, often of ephemeral life and fame. A child prodigy she undoubtedly was, but of natural growth. Her talent was discovered and fostered by strangers, and it speaks well for her bodily and mental vitality that hard work, poverty, and even sorrow have only given strength to her personality and a finished maturity to her art.

She loves her fiddle, and even when idly handling it a beautiful tenderness comes into her face, which is generally sad and grave almost to sternness. With her bow she shows her inner self to the world, at least to as much of the world as can understand its language; her clever fingers not only interpret the masterpieces of the great composers, but the longings and aspirations of a young life striving for the perfection which alone can satisfy it; and for fame, not for fame’s sake, but because it will enable her to carry out a noble, unselfish purpose.

Like all highly-strung natures her personality is complex, oftenest grave, impulsive, yet sometimes as merry and gay as a little child.

To interview her is as difficult as to follow a will-o’-the-wisp.

“Where was I born? Oh, dear, must I go back as far as that? It was ages ago! In Newcastle, on April 8th, 1884, and I was called the ‘Opera Baby.'”

“Why?”

“Because my father, Mr. Edmund Felix Hall, was harpist in the Carl Rosa English Opera Company, which toured all over England. My mother always accompanied him, and while at Newcastle I was born; the company took a great interest in this important event, and called me the ‘Opera Baby.’ I may as well go a little farther back and tell you that my grandfather was a landscape painter and a harpist; my father, his brother, my mother, and sister are all harpists, and I ought to have been one too, I suppose. I did start; but I hated it, and used to hide when my father wanted to give me a lesson. I wanted to learn the fiddle. My father had his own ideas on the subject; I had mine, and I stuck to them.”

The little lady, I noted, had more than one side to her character. Into the grave face as she spoke came a mutinous, mischievous look reminiscent of an enfant terrible. It was also easy to infer that her early childhood held no pleasant memories for her. She was one of a family of four sisters (two of whom died) and two quite young brothers, one of whom – Teddy – is the stimulus to hard work and the making and saving of money on her part. He shares his sister’s love of the fiddle, and, although not yet nine, according to Miss Hall is “much cleverer” than she.

“Teddy is a genius,” she says, enthusiastically, “but, oh, so delicate. I want to have him with me always; to get him the best advice, to care for him, educate him, and love him. That is what I have been working for, that is what success means to me.”

She started learning the harp when only five, and the violin at the age of eight and a half, her father being her first teacher. Those lessons were not shirked, they were her only pleasure. More may be learned of Miss Hall’s early days from what she leaves unsaid than what she says, but there is no doubt that when Mr. Hall left the opera company, that meant to him a regular weekly income of twelve pounds, and more especially on the termination of a short engagement at the Empire Theatre, Newcastle, the family were in dire straits. From the orchestra Mr. Hall had to come down to playing in the streets, his wife and children in turns assisting him in earning a precarious livelihood.

The struggles of those days are written on Miss Hall’s face, but the fragile little figure is linked with an indomitable will. She is of the stuff that heroes are made of, withal a very girl, with a keen sense of humour and a pretty wit of her own.

The day of her first violin lesson was an era in her baby life, for the little maid had planted her foot firmly on the first rung of the ladder of fame. She had no thought of what was to follow; she had gained her point, and it behoved her to prove that the violin was her special métier.

“One day,” she said, “I played Raff’s ‘Cavatina’ to my father. I had been practising it hard as a surprise for him.” A surprise indeed it was, for it convinced him of her ability, and she was sent to Miss Hildegarde Werner, of Newcastle-on-Tyne, for lessons. She made remarkable progress, and her teacher was so proud of her precocious little pupil that she introduced her to M. Sauret, who predicted great things of her in the near future.

“After I had been learning the violin for a year I made my first appearance on the concert platform,” said Miss Hall. “I was then about nine and a half. After the concert was over I got several offers of engagements at music-halls.”

“Did you then play in the streets?”

“Yes, we all did; I hated it.”

“What were your usual takings?”

“Oh, a penny, and up to six-pence.”

“And is it indeed indiscreet to ask what you make now?”

“I will tell you with pleasure. My first concert in London, at the St. James’s Hall, brought me in five hundred pounds.”

Four hundred people were on that occasion – her second appearance in London – turned away from the doors. A guinea was cheerfully paid for standing room, and two guineas for a seat.

Before little Marie reached her eleventh year her parents moved to Malvern, when, she pathetically remarked, “times were very bad. My sister and I had to do all the housework, as we could not afford to keep a servant, and to help by playing in the streets and in the vestibules of hotels. I used sometimes to go inside the little gardens and begin playing, and was often then called into the houses.”

“Did you dislike it?”

“I hated collecting money,” was the reply, with a flash of her eyes. “Sometimes mother went out with father and she did the collecting, while my sister and I stayed at home.”

One can easily picture that untidy ménage, with the little drudges turning out in the evenings to play for money when tired out with the hopeless task of keeping things straight at home.

“Things might have been worse, you know,” she remarked, “for several people got to know me and were very kind. Fifteen pounds was subscribed among friends to buy me a violin, but my father thought the money would be more wisely spent in taking me to London, so that Wilhelmj could hear me.”

“With what results?”

“I stayed in his house for several months, he giving me free lessons as well as keeping me. I then returned to Malvern and took up my old life; not from choice, but from necessity. I played in the streets and in hotels until I was thirteen. Herr Max Mossel heard me play and offered me free lessons, so I went to Birmingham, living with some rich friends, who paid my parents a pound a week for letting me stay during the three years I worked under Mossel.”

Herr Mossel was charmed with his pupil; he recommended her so highly to the Birmingham School of Music Committee that she received a free studentship, which she held for two sessions.

When fifteen years old she competed for the first Wessely Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Music and won it, but was unable to take it up, as she had no means to live on while in London.”

“It was such a disappointment,” said Miss Hall, “and things were worse than ever at home. We moved to Clifton, and there met with friends who were most kind to us all. They were Mr. and Mrs. Roeckel, of musical fame. We got to know them through a strange incident.

“As I told you, my uncle was a very clever harpist; he used to go about the country playing. Mr. and Mrs. Roeckel were spending a short holiday at Llandrindod Wells, in Wales. My uncle was there too, and they were delighted with his playing and spoke to him frequently, and learnt that his name was Hall.

“The Roeckels, on their return to their home at Clifton, heard one evening a harpist playing outside their door who reminded them, both in appearance and superior skill in playing, of the harpist they had met in Wales. It was his brother – my father.”

From this time their kindness was unceasing to the family, who owe much to their frequent and timely help. They took a practical interest in the clever girl violinist, and enlisted Canon Fellowes’s sympathy for their young protégée.

By Mr. Roeckel’s advice Marie got up a subscription concert, Canon Fellowes promising to bring Mr. Napier Miles, the Squire of Kings Weston, near Bristol, to hear her play. The concert was a grand success, the playing of the delicate, frail, little fifteen-year-old débutante astonishing all present.

“Wonderful! delightful!” said Mr. Napier Miles. He asked if she had ever played with an orchestra. “No,” was the reply. “Then you must come to Kings Weston for that purpose.” Her future tuition and expenses were practically assured from that day.

Mr. Miles and a few other friends combined in sending her to study under Johann Kruse, and she stayed with him a year, or until, in her own words, “I had got all he could give me.”

It was while she was in London with Kruse that she first heard Kubelik. He had shortly before been playing Bristol, and Marie had urged her father to see him and beg of him to hear her play.

“I saw,” said Miss Hall, “an announcement that he would give a recital in London on the 19th of June, 1900. I went. It was a red-letter day in my life. I went mad over his technique. As soon as the concert was over I went behind and waited outside his door, determined to see him if I had to wait until two o’ clock in the morning. After what seemed to me a long time he came out, followed by his accompanist. I rushed forward and said, ‘Oh, will you hear me play?’ He seemed very startled, drew back a little, and stammered, ‘I don’t know you, do I?’ Breathlessly I explained that my father had seen him at Bristol, and finally I left him with an appointment for ten o’ clock the next morning. I practised nearly all night, for to sleep was impossible.

“I found Kubelik and his accompanist at breakfast. I do not think they expected me; they seemed to think I was amusing, especially when I asked Kubelik to accompany me.”

With the sublime audacity of youth she had elected to play one of the very pieces she had heard Kubelik play the previous evening, the “D Minor Concerto” of Wieniawski, which was the success of the evening.

Kubelik was enthusiastic. “You must go at once,” he said, “to Prague to my old master, Sevcik.”

“But what do you think?” said Miss Hall, with a burst of merry laughter at the recollection. “Kubelik and the accompanist were so polite to me they both rushed to place a chair for me at the table, so that I could write my name and address, and I sat down – not on the chair, but on the floor,  with my feet in the air and my hat – well, I don’t know where it was. I felt so small and so humiliated, and they – I do not know how they managed it – never even smiled – at least, for me to see.”

It is difficult to get Miss Hall to talk about herself. She acknowledges being a “creature of moods,” very full of spirits one moment, correspondingly despondent the next; gave, sympathetic, sedate, or a real little hoyden, full of fun and laughter.

Asked if she had received any offers of marriage since she had come out, “Two only,” was the reply – “one from a Greek, a literary man, and one from a Bohemian musician.”

“Were they nice?”

“Well,” with comically raised eyebrows, “one was old and silly, the other very young and impressionable.”

“No millionaire offers?”

“Sorry to disappoint you – no, not one.

“When did I go to Prague? Oh, very soon after my interview with Kubelik. My kind friend, Mr. Napier Miles, made all necessary arrangements. I went first to Dresden to learn a little German, which I managed to pick up without a master – Sevcik does not speak a word of English – and also to practise for my entrance examination for the Conservatoire.”

She was the great Sevcik’s only English girl pupil, and he says, “She is the most gifted pupil I have ever had.” In addition to lessons at the Conservatoire, she had private lessons as well, working often fourteen hours a day and getting up at four in the morning.

“Had you no recreation at all?”

“Oh, yes; while I was at Prague I read all Dickens’s and Thackeray’s works – to broaden my mind,” she said, with a smile. “Do you know, I am very fond of shocking people?” she added. “In Prague it is considered very improper for girls to go out alone, especially to any public place. Several girl students lived together at a pensionnat, and we English ones used to love to dress up and go and dine sometimes at an hotel; people used to look at us, shrug their shoulders, and say, ‘Es sind Englanderinen.’ I was also very fond of dancing, and learned all the Bohemian national dances, which are very pretty.”

“How long were you in Bohemia?”

“Eighteen months. A concert is given at the Conservatoire every year, in which all the students that have won their diplomas take part, and I played and was recalled twenty-five times.”

Miss Hall during her holidays once went to Marienbad, where Kubelik was also staying, and he gave her a few lessons. He has always taken a  great interest in her and considers her playing marvellous. She had a grand reception at Vienna, where she gave a recital before returning to England, being recalled no fewer than five times after each piece, a great compliment from so critical an audience.

“What is your fiddle?”

“An Amati. It was lent me by my master – Sevcik – and is the one used by Kubelik when he made his début. I have no violin of my own yet, but have three bows. I think I must learn to play on them.

“A pretty incident,” Miss Hall went on to say, “occurred when I appeared for the first time after my return, at Newcastle-on-Tyne. A workman stood up and said, ‘Miss Hall ought to have a new violin. I have just made one and would like to give it to her.’ He evidently did not think much of this Amati, did he?”

“Is it not true that a violin worth two thousand guineas is being purchased by public subscription as a presentation to you?”

“Yes, it is so, but it will be some time yet before such a sum can be collected.”

I was shown a letter from Sevcik; curious – as it showed his manner of giving his pupil violin lessons by post.

“He is coming back here with me in the autumn, and I hope he will settle in London.”

“What are your plans when the season is over?”

“After my two recitals here on the 30th of May and 23rd of June, I am going back to Bohemia. I shall take a little cottage in the country there where I can have perfect quietude and devote myself to practising, for I play with Richter in Manchester next season. I have a lot to do before I can rest, though. I am booked up for a tour in the provinces.”

In March last Miss Hall was made a ward in Chancery, which, on account of family differences, her friends considered a wise measure.

“You do not know,” she said, “how I want to help my family. I have offered my parents a regular income if they will only let me have my little brother Teddy.We are so fond of each other, and I want him to get strong and well. I have offered also to have my sister in London. She is fourteen, and her great wish is to have lessons with Mr. Thomas, the Welsh harpist.”

Miss Hall has very artistic tastes, is fond of pictures, and has the usual feminine love of pretty clothes. She always designs her own gowns. In a literary way her favourite books are the biographies of great musicians.

In reply to a query as to her favourite composers she said, “The three great B’s – “Bach, Brahms, Beethoven; and last, but not least, Paganini. I do not really care for anything but classical music, but the public taste must be studied too.”

She recently played for the first time before the Prince and Princess of Wales, and met with great appreciation. She is in much demand at smart “At-homes.” I heard an amusing story about a very smart society function at which she was asked to play. Her first piece was Bach’s famous “Chaconne.” When she had finished, and received the usual applause, a lady came up to her and said, “You played it divinely. It is my favourite piece. Do you play his ‘Chaconne’ also?” Miss Hall, when she had recovered a little, simply answered “Yes.”

“I forgot to tell you one thing that is important,” said Miss Marie, with a laugh. “I am immoderately fond of oranges, and eat I do not know how many a day; they taste better if I am reading a novel at the same time; that is what I was doing when you came in,” pointed to “Temporal Power” and a plate of orange peel lying side by side.

“You are a second Kubelik, people say, I hear.”

“I am not a second anybody or anything,” she quickly retorted, with a proud little gesture. “I want to be myself, with a method and style of my own. If I were a man I should like to be the conductor of an orchestra. I should love it. That is not impossible, is it? although you are unfortunate enough to be a girl.”

“Perhaps not impossible, but it would be a startling innovation, would it not?”

Miss Hall is fortunate in having as an accompanist a charming Bohemian lady, who was introduced to her by Sevcik himself. Miss Vojácek has travelled with, and accompanied, all the Sevcik girl pupils in England and on the Continent.

“Do not forget to mention,” said Miss Vojácek, smilingly, “that Marie always sits on the table when she is practising with me; it is so characteristic of her.”

There seems – if she does not overtax her delicate frame – to be no limit to the possibilities that the near future holds for this youthful and gifted violinist. Her short public life has been, and continues to be, a series of triumphs that might spoil a less modest and natural person.

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Filed under Not My Writing, Women Violinists

Article: She Began As A Street Musician (Interview with Marie Hall, 1906)

Here is a surprisingly frank interview with violinist Marie Hall (1884-1956). She obviously had a dizzying drive and spunk to spare. She saw what she wanted and she went for it, other people’s opinions be damned. I wonder if all of these astonishing stories are true…

This article originally appeared in Success Magazine in March 1906.

***

She Began As A Street Musician:

Marie Hall, the Greatest Woman Violinist, Tells the Story of Her Hard Struggle to Win

by Ernest R. Holmes

“I was always determined to be at the top, and I’ve always had plenty of energy and perseverance.”

It was a very slight girl who said this, a girl with a thin, pale face, very serious brown eyes, and a mass of most rebellious dark hair, neither long nor short, just “coming in,” after an attack of typhoid fever. An utter stranger might well have questioned what it could be that such a frail person could lead the world in. Yet that girl of twenty-one can almost lay unquestioned claim to be the greatest woman violinist, and she is compared with Kubelik, her friend and benefactor, pupil of the same master.

But as I talked with Miss Marie Hall, the day after her second New York concert, her pale face grew animated, her eyes opened wide and flashed, and her words came with a decision that revealed a soul on fire with her art, and a determined will to great for her slight frame. One felt almost a pitying fear that her efforts would over-tax her strength.

As Miss Hall talks, one forgets her frailty, so sure of herself is she, and so full of her music. And the impression of an iron will and a dogged determination keeps recurring as she tells incident after incident of her rise from street and music-hall playing to a place among masters of the most human of instruments.

“Yes,” she said, “even when eight years old, I was determined to be a great violinist. My father was a harpist. He was with the orchestra of the Carl Rosa Opera Company and another, and he tried to teach me the harp. But I wanted the violin. He taught me a little on this, but still discouraged my continuing. I heard a lady play a concerto of Paganini, and I was bound I would play it too. With only a little help from my mother, I learned it in a few hours, and then played it for my father. He was astonished, and gave up to me. I had my beloved violin lessons.”

She had won by the weapon she has used ever since – winning prizes, tuition, instruction by the best masters, and now financial and artistic success.

“I have been lucky,” she went on. “I have always found friends to help me, I don’t know why. And if people won’t do what I want, I play for them, and generally then they do what I want,” and she gave a roguish smile as she thought of the magic power she keeps in little, slender, white fingers.

It was thus she won Kubelik, and through him his master, Sevcik, with an audacity that surprises when one thinks what she must have been at sixteen. Kubelik was taking London by storm.

“I went to hear him,” related Miss Hall. “I saw immediately that he had something I never had been taught, and I felt sure that it was from his teacher. I heard all his concerts, and I resolved that I, too, would learn that wonderful technique. I waylaid Kubelik – I was only sixteen, and my long hair was hanging loose. I told him I wanted him to hear me play. He smiled, and seemed amused, but consented. I went next day. His accompanist met me, and, seeing my violin, said, “But are you really going to play to him?” “Of course I am,” I answered, “that’s what I came for.” Kubelik came. He was very kind, but still seemed amused. I told him I wanted to know who his master was, who had taught him to play so, for I wanted to go and learn to do so too. He said, “I’ll hear you play first. I suppose you play from memory?” “Of course I do,” I replied with spirit, and then I played him two concertos that he had played the day before. He said it was wonderful, that I must go to his master, Sevcik, at Prague.

“I went to Professor Kruse, my teacher, and said, ‘I have found something that you can’t teach me. I must go to Sevcik to learn it.'”

The girl’s audacious proposal met with strong opposition from her master and her benefactors, who were supporting her in London. When there was no other way to gain her point, Miss Hall declared that if she could not go to Prague, she would quit studying and go home. She had her way, and it proved for the best, just as her decision for the violin and against the harp was for the best.

The ten years between her first public appearance at a little hall in her birthplace, Newcastle, and her triumphant debut at Prague, in 1903, were full of ups and downs, but that childish determination to be “at the top” shines through it all, and illumines seeming wilfulness that somehow always led to better things. One can gather, too, for Miss Hall is very frank, that her parents, musicians though they were, hindered rather than helped her high ambitions, though willing enough that she should help the family purse by playing in the way they always had. When enthusiastic Newcastle gentlemen wished to educate her, her nomad father took the family across England to Malvern, near Worcester. Her next benefactor, Max Mossel, violin professor at Birmingham, gave her a year’s instruction, and secured her a free scholarship at the Birmingham School of Music. Friends, won by her playing, aided her father to take her to London to Wilhelmj, who was so delighted that he wanted to adopt her, and he did keep her and teach her several months. But, as she told me, “I did not stay long. I was afraid of him, and of the bulldogs he kept in the room next to where I practiced.”

Then the ambitious girl tried for a Royal Academy scholarship, and won in the competition, only to find that it meant merely tuition, and there was no money to pay her board in London. She had to give it up, and go back to playing for her father in concert halls, and even on the street, for the family was then desperately poor. They wandered to Bristol, and there something in the little minstrel’s playing appealed to a musical clergyman, now Canon Fellowes, of Windsor. He asked her to his house, found out her poverty, her genius, and her ambition, and interested wealthy friends in her. Here again her unambitious father was an obstacle. He did not want to sign an agreement to give her to others’ care for a three years’ systemic course. When provision was made for the family, to compensate for the loss of her now valuable earning capacity, he consented, and the way was clear to accomplish all that the girl’s genius was capable of doing.

Then came Kubelik. When she had won consent to go to Prague, Kubelik aided her in every way, even to securing an apartment for her, and won over his old master, Sevcik, and Dvorák, director of the Conservatorium, to a lively interest in the little English girl.

“And there I worked,” said Miss Hall, reminiscently, “ten hours a day, but it was pleasure.”

When Miss Hall talks of Sevcik and his method, she grows enthusiastic. She says no one else on earth teaches such technique, and in such a systemic way. To that method she ascribes her sureness, and the confidence with which she attacks the most difficult concertos. On entering the Conservatorium, her attainments were recognized, so that she was admitted to the sixth year work, and in one year she had completed the whole course. Then for five months Sevcik gave her private lessons, – his “little concerts” he called them, so delighted was he with her playing.

When she gave her “coming out” concert  in Prague, to invited guests, they recalled her over a score of times after her rendering of Ernst’s concerto in F sharp minor. Two gold caskets and a laurel wreath were hers before she left Prague for other triumphs at Vienna, and then her appearance at St. James Hall, London, where the enthusiasm is said to have been unequaled since Rubinstein took London by storm. The long years of patience practicing (four thousand bowing exercises, she told me,) the alternate hope and despair, and the struggle with unappreciative parents and dire poverty had borne fruit – she was a great concert performer.

When I asked Miss Hall how much of a great artist’s success is from genius and how much from hard work, she looked puzzled for a moment, and then said: -

“Well, you must have the mind, the feeling to know what is right. You do feel, you don’t know how,” and she put her hand to her breast in an effort to express intuition. “You must be able to grasp the principles of art. If a person does not admire beauty in whatever form, if he is satisfied with the course and vulgar things, he can never become a great artist. Hard work will not make him one.”

“But in your struggles did you not get discouraged?”

“Yes, indeed I did, and I do yet. I just give up, and think I will not try any more. Then I conclude it is worth while, and I go at it again.”

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Interview with Marie Hall, 1913

Here is a chapter from the 1913 book Modern Musicians: A Book for Players, Singers, & Listeners, by J. Cuthbert Hadden on violinist Marie Hall (1884-1956). I feel badly that I missed the 55th anniversary of her passing by a week. Marie Hall was an extraordinary women who apparently overcame extraordinary obstacles.

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CHAPTER XXIX. MARIE HALL

Soft as the rain that falls on April night,

Light as the falling petals of a flower,

Dim as a misty landscape seen at night,

Low as the murmuring waves at twilight hour,

Your music held me with its strangely subtle power.

It rose and fell in lingering melody,

It held the speechless yearning of a soul,

Struggling for freedom – some great threnody

Woven in song, poured forth, a perfect whole

From those impassioned strings in mystic harmony.

Thus a rhymster in a Montreal paper in 1906. In England there was long a deep-rooted prejudice against lady violinists. It continued far into the nineteenth century. A musical journal of 1819 wrote: “We are tempted to ask why should not the prejudice against ladies playing the violin be overcome? It seems to us to be an instrument peculiarly adapted to their industry, delicacy, and precision; while what we have seen and heard of female violin-playing fully bears out the recommendation we feel disposed to give to its adoption.”

The Spectator in 1860 said: “Female violinists are rare, the violin being, we do not know why, deemed an unfeminine instrument.” In 1869 The Athenæum, noticing the performance of some lady violinists, said: “The fair sex are gradually encroaching on all man’s privileges!” Man’s privileges! What would that critic say now? Violin-playing by ladies made slow progress in England, even after the wonderful achievements of Mme. Neruda (later Lady Hallé) gave it such a splendid impetus. For instance, the first lady student of the instrument entered at the R.A.M. in 1872. Now the lady violinists at the Academy must be nearly a hundred.

And why not? Sevcik, the famous violin teacher, was asked recently whether in his experience men or women made the best pupils. And this was his answer:

“Girls don’t drink too much or smoke inordinately, therefore they keep their bodies in better condition. Besides, look what patience women have compared to men! Perhaps at first a woman does not put as much expression and feeling into her playing as a man, but wait till she falls in love! Then the soul comes. However, some remain as cold as ice for ever. Men, too, have often no idea of feeling, and imagine that if they put on a tremolo that they have done all that is necessary. Kubelik lacked expression at first, but it came to him as he grew older.”

It may be added that some leading lady singers, notably Christine Nilsson and Marcella Sembrich, have been good fiddlers.

Among living lady violinists, Marie Hall takes the first place. Her history has been quite romantic. She said once: “I am really sick to death of all that has been written about my youth and its vicissitudes.” But the way in which she triumphed over these vicissitudes is entirely honourable, and ought to be recorded for the encouragement of others.

Born at Newcastle-on-Tyne in 1884, she received her first lessons from her father, a harpist in the orchestra of the Carl Rosa Company. When she was ten she had a year’s tuition from Sir Edward Elgar – a very interesting connection, surely! Subsequently she studied for three years with Max Mossel at Birmingham, making several appearances meanwhile as an infant prodigy. The struggle was severe at this time owing to her father’s lack of means; and she was reduced to playing ephemeral music in saloons and sometimes on the pavement’s edge.

In 1899 she gained one of the recently-instituted Wessely Exhibitions at the R.A.M., but was unable, through poverty, to take it up. The story goes that a little later a clergyman, an enthusiastic lover of music, found her in a half-starved condition playing for composers in the streets of Bristol. Recognising a talent beyond the ordinary, he took her to London, and with the assistance of some friends – among them the late Mr. Hill of Bond Street – placed her in a position to continue her studies with Professor Johann Kruse. After she had made steady progress with him for a year and more, her friends again came forward, and sent her, armed with a letter of introduction from Kubelik, to Professor Sevcik at Prague. The rule at the Prague Conservatoire is that every pupil who enters must take the entire six years’ course before leaving; but Anton Dvorák, at that time chief director of studies, was so impressed with her playing that for the first and last time he allowed the regulation to be broken, and the first five years to be taken as fiddled. Hard work is the initial demand that Sevcik makes on his pupils, and it was a demand which Marie Hall was fully prepared to meet. During her year at the conservatoire, and her extra five months of private study with him, she practised eight hours a day at least, and oftener ten.

And yet Joachim had refused her because, as he alleged, she played out of tune!

Sevcik was so delighted with his pupil that he lent her his own Amati violin for her début. This was made at Prague in 1902. The lady’s success was enormous and instantaneous. When she appeared in London in 1903 she created a great sensation, and since then her brilliant career has proceeded on the usual virtuoso lines.

Marie Hall has been everywhere in the course of her tours. Her account of the Americans is very complimentary, but she has an amusing word to add about the New Yorkers. “The 1812 Overture of Tschaikovsky appeals to them,” she says. “They like something big, with plenty of sound. It seems more for their money.” At private parties in the States she has had sometimes to shake hands with 500 people. In Australia she was literally smothered with flowers. Harps and lyres, shepherds’ crooks, and bouquets were showered on her after her concerts.

An interviewer said to her once: “Will you tell me the most extraordinary experience you have had?” And this was her reply:

“I think the one that appealed to me most was a concert I gave at Suva, the capital of the Fiji Islands. Our boat put in there for a few days to take in some cargo, and a concert was hastily arranged. There are about 1100 white people there, and I think they all went – in fact, it was a sort of universal holiday. I went to the only draper’s shop there to see if I could get a cotton dress, as mine were packed away, and they explained to me that they could not let me have one that day as they were all going to a concert, and expressed much astonishment that I was apparently not going too. When I explained that I was going, and wanted a dress for that reason, that changed matters entirely, and they all set to work and fitted me out with something which answered the purpose. Suva does not boast a concert hall, so the concert was held in a sort of large tent, and the heat was something terrific; I had to have a man to keep an electric fan moving right over my hands, or I could not have played at all. The piano was a very old one and fearfully out of tune, but at last we found an old sailor from a warship who volunteered to tune it. He was very deaf, and had his own ideas about tuning, and he informed me with great pride that as a piano always sounded more brilliant if the upper notes were a little sharp he had tuned up the treble. He had really done so, with the result that for about an octave and a half in the treble the notes ascended in varying degrees of sharpness. The Governor and his wife were to be present, and someone was wanted to play “God Save the King” at the beginning, so the small daughter of one of the residents was pressed into service. She not only played “God Save the King,” but about twenty variations as well, during which the audience had to stand. I am pleased to say the concert was a great success, and we wound up the festivities by a dinner at the Governor’s house. I also played at Honolulu, in the Hawaiian Islands, and Miss Alice Roosevelt, or rather Mrs. Longworth, was staying there with her husband, and very kindly came to hear me. Another concert I gave was at Vancouver, but as we were only to be there for a few hours I had to go straight off the boat, and was on the platform within ten minutes of our landing. When I got back to England – after being away eight months – I was booked to play at a concert at New Brighton the day after my arrival, and had to be up early the morning after we landed to attend a rehearsal with the orchestra.”

Marie Hall, like all other artists of fine expression, is nervous when playing in public. “I have been very nervous on many occasions,” she said a year or two ago. And then she continued:

“I remember when Sevcik sent me to play in Vienna while I was still at Prague, how miserable I felt. It was only the fact that I felt I simply must do my best to prove my appreciation of all my master’s trouble that made me able to get through it all. Again at my début in London in February 1903 I felt so much alone and quite wretched. Mr. Henry J. Wood was a tower of strength and so kind to me, and all through that evening I felt as though Sevcik were present in the hall, and I forgot all about my fears and the audience, and just played to him. I may say that never in all my career have I enjoyed a concert as much as that (to me) memorable one. The only remedy I know for nervousness is to be able to concentrate one’s attention wholly on the music. By so doing all thoughts of self vanish, and one becomes lost to everything but the beauty of the music.”

She has interesting ideas about her profession, this fiddler of the frail physique. She thinks nineteen quite young enough for a violinist to “come out.” She says it is much better to wait until one’s education is finished, though finished is merely a convenient term, for “there is always something more to learn.” But certainly, she adds, “one is more fitted to appear before the public at nineteen than at twelve. I believe in gaining a certain amount of experience before playing in London or any other big town, and a hint that may be worth having is to try always to play before the concert in the hall in which you are to perform so that you may get some idea of its acoustic properties. Another thing I should like to say is that violinists should not neglect any opportunity of hearing the best music, and not only other violinists, but music of every kind, pianists, singers, orchestral, and chamber music.”

She says that violin-playing of the virtuoso sort is hard work, but she does not find it trying, because she loves it so much. She enjoys practising, and never allows anything to interfere with it. “I have practised,” she says, “in the train, on the steamer, and in all sorts of odd places when travelling, and I am not happy if I cannot get in about six hours a day. During my spare time at home (when I have any) I love to play chamber music, and have been revelling lately in quartets. I think every violinist ought to acquire a knowledge of chamber music, for, besides being most enjoyable, it affords such a splendid training.”

She plays on the famous “Viotti” Stradivarius. “It is a great treasure,” she says, “and it seems so wonderful to think that is over 200 years old, and is yet as beautiful as ever.” In 1911 Miss Hall was married to Mr. Edward Baring, of the firm of concert-directors, Messrs. Baring Brothers, of Cheltenham. Mr. Baring had been her business manager.

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Great Female Violinists: A List

The following is a list of professional women violinists who were born before 1920. It is by no means exhaustive, but as I get more and more information, expect more and more biographies. Let me know if your favorite isn’t on the list!

Remember, you can hear many of these women on my Youtube channel.

This list was last updated on 23 August 2011.

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Grażyna Bacewicz (1909-1969). Bacewicz was born in Poland and studied violin, piano, and composition at the Warsaw Conservatory. She studied under Carl Flesch in the 1930s. Later in life she shifted her professional focus away from performing and onto composition, a field in which she found great success. Her output includes seven violin concertos.

Grazyna Bacewicz

Ethel Barns (1874-1948). Barns was a British violinist, pianist, and composer. She and her husband, baritone Charles Phillips, established a concert series called (appropriately enough) the Barns-Phillips Chamber Concerts. She was passionate about furthering the cause of women in music, and she wrote at least two violin concertos.

Ethel Barns

Lady Ann Blunt (1837-1917). A granddaughter of Lord Byron, Lady Blunt was a polyglot, artist (she studied with John Ruskin), equestrian, and violinist. She and her husband, the adulterous Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, shared a mutual passion for Arabian horses. (In fact, according to Wikipedia, “the vast majority of purebred Arabian horses trace their lineage” to their stock.) She studied under violinist Leopold Jansa, who also taught Wilma Norman-Neruda. Her Stradivari, the 1721 Lady Blunt, was sold in 2011 for $15.9 million.

Lady Ann Blunt

Guila Bustabo (1916-2002). Bustabo was born in Manitowac, Wisconsin, and began to play the violin at the tender age of two. As a child she studied in Chicago and at the Juilliard School in New York. While living in Europe in the forties, Guila played under William Mengelberg, a conductor who came under criticism after the war for not doing more to resist the Nazis. General Patton actually arrested Guilia after hearing that she had worked with Mengelberg, although all charges against her were later dropped. According to Wikipedia, this incident limited her career opportunities in the United States; however, there are also indications that her bipolar disorder may also have contributed to her professional decline. Her recordings of the Sibelius, Bruch, and Wolf-Ferrari concertos (the latter of which was written for her) are landmarks in the discography. She later taught at the Innsbruck Conservatory and played in the Alabama Symphony.

Guila Bustabo

Lillian Shattuck (1857-1940). Shattuck studied under Julius Eichberg in Boston and around 1878 formed the first all-female string quartet in America, called, appropriately enough, the Eichberg Quartet. The members of the group traveled to Berlin to study under Joachim; reportedly he was so astonished to see an all-female group from America that he permitted them all entry to the Conservatory. Shattuck later became an important pedagogue in the Boston area.

Vivien Chartres (1893-1941). Chartres, the daughter of renowned author Annie Vivanti, was one of the foremost British prodigies of the late Victorian era. She was often compared in the press to Mischa Elman and Bronislaw Huberman, and she toured throughout Europe to great acclaim. Her mother wrote a fascinating novel loosely based on her life called The Devourers in 1910. In her later childhood, Chartres gave up touring, although she kept a violin for the rest of her life.

Vivien Chartres

Renée Chemet (c 1888-?). Chemet is somewhat of an enigma. She left us several lovely recordings, including one of the Japanese song Haru no umi (Sea in Springtime), but our knowledge of her career post-1930 is fuzzy. Some refer to her as “the French Kreisler.”

Renee Chemet

Jelly d’Aranyi (1893-1956). D’Aranyi was born in Budapest into a musical family (her great-uncle was Joseph Joachim, and her sister Adila was a famous violinist in her own right). She had fruitful creative relationships with many of the most important composers of the early twentieth century, including Ravel, Bartók, and Vaughan Williams. She was also a sensitive, and along with her sister Adila, she “uncovered” the Schumann violin concerto in a séance. (This is a rather long and interesting story.)

Jelly d'Aranyi

Santa della Pietà (early to mid-1700s). Santa della Pietà was a violinist, singer, and composer at the Ospedale della Pietà, a Venetian music school for female orphans. (Vivaldi famously taught at the Ospedale and wrote large amounts of repertoire for his female pupils.) She was only one of many talented women musicians (including women violinists) who worked at the Ospedale. See the documentary “Vivaldi’s Women” for more information.

Adila Fachiri (1886-1962). Fachiri was born in Budapest into a musical family (her great-uncle was Joseph Joachim and her sister Jelly d’Aranyi). She began to study violin when she was ten, but despite her relatively late start, she advanced extremely quickly. She married Alexander Fachiri in 1915. Several important composers dedicated works to her.

Adila Fachiri

Stefi Geyer (1888-1956). Geyer was born in Budapest, began playing the violin at the age of three, and proved to be a prodigy. She studied with Jenő Hubay in Budapest and toured throughout Europe as a child. When she was a teenager she met Béla Bartók, who promptly fell in love with her and wrote his first violin concerto for her. She never played the work…and never returned Bartók’s affections. Later in her life another composer Othmar Schoeck fell in love with her, and also wrote her a violin concerto. Geyer had a long successful career teaching and performing.

Stefi Geyer

Marie Hall (1884-1956). Hall was born to a poor family in northern England. She was a prodigy, but her family could not afford to send her to a prestigious institution to study. However, in 1901, upon the advice of Jan Kubelík, she made it into Ševčík’s studio in Prague. She had a fantastic debut in 1902 in that city and later became a sensation in London. Vaughan Williams wrote The Lark Ascending for her, and they consulted over revisions to the piece.

Marie Hall

May Harrison (1890-1959). May was one of four musical sisters (Beatrice was a cellist, Monica a singer, and Margaret a violinist). At eleven, May won a scholarship to attend the Royal College of Music. Later she studied in St. Petersburg with pedagogue Leopold Auer. She championed the Brahms double concerto (with Beatrice on cello) and the music of her fellow countryman Frederick Delius. Her quick-study skills were legendary: she learned the massively demanding Elgar concerto in two weeks.

May Harrison and her sister Beatrice

Leonora Jackson (1879-1969). Jackson was born in Boston and studied in Chicago, Paris, and Berlin. In Berlin she was a pupil of Joachim. Frances Cleveland, the former First Lady, provided Jackson with financial support for her studies. Jackson toured throughout the world, playing on a Stradivari from 1714. She retired upon her marriage at the age of 36.

Leonora Jackson

Hélène Jourdan-Morhange (1892-1961). Jourdan-Morhange was a close friend of Maurice Ravel’s (in fact, there is a rumor that he once proposed marriage to her). She met him after a performance in which she played his piano trio. Ravel dedicated his sonata for violin and piano to her, but arthritis kept her from ever performing it. He mused about writing a violin concerto for her, but unfortunately this project never materialized. She later wrote a book about her friendship entitled Ravel et nous.

Helene Jourdan-Morhange

Daisy Kennedy (1893-1981). Kennedy was born in south Australia. She began learning the piano at four and the violin at seven. When Jan Kubelík came to visit Australia, she secured a meeting with him, as well as a letter of recommendation to Kubelík’s teacher, Sevcik. She was a great musical success in both Europe and the United States. She is distantly related to violinist Nigel Kennedy.

Daisy Kennedy

Teresa Milanollo (1827-1904). Milanollo was one of the first great female violinists. Despite her being a girl, her father encouraged her studies and even relocated from Italy to Paris so that she might learn from the best teachers. She and her violinist sister Maria made an extraordinary impact on the European music scene in the 1840s, creating sensations akin to those that greeted Paganini and Liszt. One of her great passions was charity work. She largely retired from the concert stage after her marriage at the age of thirty. Despite her relatively short career, she opened many doors for the multitudes of female violinists who would follow in her footsteps.

Teresa Milanollo

Alma Moodie (1898-1943). Moodie was born in Australia. When she was nine, she won a scholarship to study at the Brussels Conservatory. As a teenager, she befriended famous composer Max Reger, who conducted and accompanied her at many of her concerts, and dedicated his Praludium und Fuge for solo violin to her. For a variety of reasons, she did not play much during World War I, and after the War, she studied under Carl Flesch to rehabilitate her playing (Flesch said that of all his students, she was the one he liked best). She had a brief affair with Gustav Mahler’s daughter’s ex, but eventually married a German lawyer named Alexander Spengler, who was not particularly supportive of her career. Details of her tragically young death, at the age of forty-five, are hazy. She never made a single recording.

Wilhelmina Norman-Neruda, later Lady Hallé (c 1838-1911). Wilhelmina was born into a musical family of prodigies. During her childhood, the violin was not considered to be an appropriate instrument for a lady, so her father encouraged her to play the piano instead. But when he discovered playing her brother’s violin in secret, he relented. She made her first public appearance at seven. Her first marriage was to Swedish composer Ludwig Norman; after his death, she married pianist and conductor Charles Hallé. She was considered to be one of the great violinists of the age, especially in her adopted country of Britain. For a longer biography, click here.

Wilma Neruda

Ginette Neveu (1919-1949). Neveu was born in Paris into a musical family. (Her brother Jean-Paul became a professional pianist who often accompanied her.) She made her orchestral debut at the age of seven. When she was fifteen, she was the winner of the Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition, beating out a 29-year-old David Oistrakh. Neveu died in a plane crash at the age of thirty; her death is one of the great musical tragedies of the twentieth century.

Ginette Neveu

Kathleen Parlow (1890-1963). Parlow was born in Alberta and was one of the first great instrumentalists to come out of Canada. She and her mother moved to San Francisco in 1894, where she began to take violin lessons. She made astonishingly quick progress and by 1906 she had secured a coveted place in the legendary St. Petersburg studio of Leopold Auer. According to Wikipedia, “Kathleen Parlow…[was] the first foreigner to attend the St. Petersburg Conservatory. In her class of forty-five students, Parlow was the only female.” She had an international career as both a soloist and a quartet player, and later became a teacher at Juilliard and University of Western Ontario.

Kathleen Parlow

Maud Powell (1867-1920). Powell was born into a progressive family in Peru, Illinois. She studied in Chicago as a child, then later in Europe with Schradieck, Dancla, and Joachim. As a teenager, she secured her New York Philharmonic debut by walking into the hall and demanding the conductor listen to her play. She was hired on the spot. She was one of the most important American instrumentalists of her day, male or female, and was the first great American violinist who could stand comparison with the best of the European-born virtuosi. She premiered the Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, and Sibelius concertos in America; she was the first white musician to include the works of black composers in her programs; and she was one of the very first recording stars. She is one of the bright shining lights of American music history.

Maud Powell

Emily Shinner (1862-1901). We don’t know a tremendous amount about Shinner, but we do know that she was one of the first female students to study under Joachim in Berlin. Later in her career she became a specialist in chamber music, and the Shinner Quartet, which was made up of women, became internationally renowned. She died at the age of 39 after giving birth to a still-born son.

Maddelena Lombardini Sirmen (1745-1818). Sirmen was born in Venice and studied at one of the many music schools there. She studied under the legendary virtuoso Giuseppe Tartini, and he once wrote a letter to her about violin technique that has since become famous. When she was 22, she married a violinist named Ludovico Sirmen, and the two toured and composed together. Later in her career she began to perform as a singer, although she was not as successful a singer as she was a violinist.

Maddelena Lombardini Sirmen

Marie Soldat Roeger (1863-1955). Soldat was born in Graz, Austria, and began to study the violin in 1871. She was also a gifted pianist and vocalist, and it wasn’t until 1879 that she decided to focus on the violin. That same year she came to the attention of both Brahms and Joachim, both of whom aided her in her musical studies. She became closely associated with the Brahms violin concerto, and she – not Joachim – was the one who introduced it to many European cities. Rachel Barton Pine now plays her 1742 del Gesu, which Brahms arranged for Soldat to acquire.

Marie Soldat

Leonora von Stosch, later Lady Speyer (1872-1956). Von Stosch was born in Washington, D.C., the daughter of a professional writer mother and a Civil War veteran father. She studied in Brussels, Paris, and Leipzig. She first married Louis Meredith Howland, but that marriage ended in divorce; later, she married Sir Edgar Speyer. She was well-known in Edwardian music circles in Britain, and she was the one who premiered portions of the Elgar violin concerto in private performance. She suffered an injury that kept her from playing the violin professionally, and so she began to explore her interest in writing. Her book Fiddler’s Farewell won the 1927 Pulitzer Prize.

Leonora von Stosch

Regina Strinasacchi Schlick (c 1761-1839). Strinasacchi was born near Mantua, Italy, and studied at the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice. She toured Europe as a young woman, and while in Vienna in 1784, she met none other than Wolfgang Mozart. He was impressed by her talent, and composed a violin and piano sonata for the two of them to play together (K454). Mozart waited to compose the piece until the last minute. Strinsacchi had to learn the new piece very quickly, and Mozart himself played without sheet music. The next year she married a cellist named Johann Conrad Schlick. She also played guitar and composed.

Arma Senkrah (1864-1900). Senkrah’s real name was Anna Harkness; she arrived at her pseudonym by writing her real name backward. (Once, in sly homage, conductor Hans von Bülow signed an autograph to her as “Snah nov Wolub.”) She was an American, but came to study in Europe in 1873, and in 1881 she won the first prize at the Paris Conservatoire. Eventually came to the attention of none other than Franz Liszt, who worked with her a great deal and praised her talents highly. At her husband’s insistence, she gave up her career after her marriage. She committed suicide in 1900, supposedly after he fell in love with another woman.

Arma Senkrah

Teresina Tua (1866-1956). Tua was born in Turin, Italy, to a musical family. She began playing the violin when she was six, and it wasn’t long before she was touring through Europe. She studied with Joseph Lambert Massart (Kreisler’s teacher), but in 1880, she won a major prize at the Paris Conservatoire and left the school. As a beautiful young woman, she bewitched European audiences throughout the 1880s, although much to her disappointment she received lukewarm reviews in America. In 1890 she married, went into semi-retirement, and gave birth to a pair of twins (who later died young). She eventually returned to the concert platform, touring with no less a pianist than Rachmaninoff. Later in life she became a teacher. In 1940 she sold all of her possessions, gave the money to the poor, and entered a convent.

Teresina Tua

Camilla Urso (1842-1902). Urso was born in Nantes, France, the daughter of a flautist and a singer. As a six-year-old, she insisted upon learning to play the violin, despite the fact it was considered to be a masculine instrument. Thankfully, her father recognized talent when he saw it, and he championed his talented daughter, persuading the officials at the Paris Conservatoire to accept her. She had a professional career that spanned half a century and four continents, but she was especially beloved in her adopted homeland of America.

Camilla Urso

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Works Associated With Female Violinists

An ever-evolving list. Last updated 24 February 2012.

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PREMIERES & DEDICATIONS

Atterberg, Kurt – Violin Concerto – Premiere given by Alma Moodie (1919)

Barber – Violin Concerto – UK premiere given by Eda Kersey in 1943; revised version of the score that violinists use today premiered by Ruth Posselt in 1949

Bartók – Violin Concerto No. 1 – Written for his first love, virtuosa Stefi Geyer

Bartók – Violin Sonata No. 1 and No. 2 (Sz 75 and 76) – There is some question as to whether these works were dedicated to Adila Fachiri or Jelly d’Aranyi; the latter performed them with the composer in London in 1922 and 1923, respectively.

Bax – Violin Concerto – Premiered by Eda Kersey in 1943

Beach, Amy – Romance – Written for and premiered by Maud Powell in 1895

Benjamin, Arthur – Romantic Fantasy for Violin, Viola, and Orchestra – Premiered by Eda Kersey in 1938

Coleridge-Taylor – Violin Concerto – Dedicated to and premiered by Maud Powell in 1912

Copland – Violin Sonata – Premiered by Ruth Posselt with Copland at the piano in 1944

Conus – Violin Concerto in e-minor – American premiere given by Maud Powell

Delius – Violin Sonata No 3 – Dedicated to May Harrison

Delius – Double Concerto (for violin and cello) – Premiered by sisters May and Beatrice Harrison in 1920

Dukelsky, Vladimir – Violin Concerto – Premiered by Ruth Posselt in 1943

Dvořák – Violin Concerto – American premiere given by Maud Powell in 1893

Eichberg, Julius – Dedicated six parlor pieces to six of his most famous female students – find them here

Elgar – Violin Concerto – First played through in private performance with Lady Leonora Speyer on violin; first recording made by Marie Hall in 1916

Erdmann, Eduard – Sonata for Solo Violin, op 12 – Dedicated to Alma Moodie

Gade, Niels – Violin Sonata No. 3 – Dedicated to Wilma Norman-Neruda in 1885

Hindemith – Violin Concerto – New York premiere made by Ruth Posselt in 1941

Hill, Edward Burlingame – Violin Concerto – premiered by Ruth Posselt in 1939

Holst – Concerto for Two Violins – Written for sisters Jelly d’Aranyi and Adila Fachiri in 1930

Hubay – Violin Concerto No. 4 – Dedicated to his student Stefi Geyer in 1908

Krenek, Ernst – Sonata for Solo Violin – Dedicated to Alma Moodie in 1924

Moeran, Ernest John – Violin Sonata – Premiered by Eda Kersey in 1923

Mozart – Sonata in B-flat, K 454 – Written for and premiered by Regina Strinasacchi Schlick in 1784

Pfitzner, Hans – Violin Concerto, op 34 – Dedicated to and premiered by Alma Moodie in 1923

Piston, Walter – Violin Concerto No. 1 – Written for and premiered by Ruth Posselt in 1940

Poulenc – Violin Sonata – Written for and premiered by Ginette Neveu in 1943

Prokofiev – Five Melodies; the third is dedicated to violinist Cecilia Hansen

Ravel – Violin Sonata – Dedicated to Hélène Jourdan-Morhange in 1922

Ravel – Sonata for Violin and Cello – Premiered by Hélène Jourdan-Morhange on violin in 1922

Ravel – Tzigane – Written for, dedicated to, and premiered by Jelly d’Aranyi in 1924

Saint-Saëns – Fantasie for violin and harp, op 124 – Dedicated to Clara and Marianne Eissler (Clara was a harpist; Marianne a violinist) in 1907

Sarasate – Romanza Andaluza; Jota Navarra – Dedicated to Wilma Norman-Neruda (later Lady Hallé) in 1878

Schoeck, Othmar – Violin Concerto – Written for Stefi Geyer in 1910-11

Schoeck, Othmar – Violin Sonata No. 1 – Written for Stefi Geyer in 1908-9

Schumann – Violin Concerto – Joachim’s grand-nieces, Jelly d’Aranyi and Adila Fachiri, received word of the manuscript in a séance with Joachim. d’Aranyi played the London premiere in late 1937 or early 1938.

Scott, Cyril – Danse from Deux preludes – Dedicated to Daisy Kennedy in 1912

Scott, Cyril – Violin Sonata No. 1 – Dedicated to and premiered by Ethel Barns in 1908

Sibelius – Violin Concerto – Maud Powell premiered this piece in America in 1906

Stravinsky – “Suite from themes, fragments, and pieces by Pergolesi” – Premiered by Alma Moodie (and Stravinsky) in 1925

Tchaikovsky – Violin Concerto – American premiere given by Maud Powell in 1889

Vaughan-Williams – The Lark Ascending – Written for Marie Hall in 1914

Vaughan-Williams – Concerto Academico – Dedicated to Jelly d’Aranyi in 1925

Vivaldi – His work was played by women performers at his school Ospedale della Pietà in the early 1700s

Vivaldi – Violin concertos RV 387, 343, 229, 349, 248, 366 – Vivaldi wrote these six violin concertos especially for his protege Anna Maria della Pietà (I don’t believe they are available in a modern edition, but I could be wrong on this; you can see the manuscripts for some of them on IMSLP). Apparently he wrote even more for her but I can’t figure out which ones they were. Research fail. But I’ll get on that, ASAP.

Wieniawski – Gigue, Op. 23 – Dedicated to Wilma Norman-Neruda (later Lady Hallé) in 1880

Wieniawski – Capriccio Valse, Op 7 – Dedicated to Adalbert Wilkoszerwski and Teresa Milanollo in 1854

Wilson, Stanley – Violin Concerto – Premiered by Eda Kersey in 1930

Wolf-Ferrari, Ermanno – Violin Concerto – Written for Guila Bustabo in 1946

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FAMOUS PERFORMANCES

Bach – Double Concerto for Two Violins – Wilma Norman-Neruda (later Lady Hallé) and Joseph Joachim performed this together in London

Beethoven – Kreutzer Sonata – played by Wilma Norman-Neruda (later Lady Hallé) and her husband Charles Hallé in South Africa; their performance was so successful that after it was over, the concert was adjourned

De Beriot – Airs Variée – (don’t know which one) – Performed by Camilla Urso as a child at her recital debut

Beethoven – Violin Concerto – Maud Powell played it with Gustav Mahler on the podium in 1909

Brahms – Violin Concerto – played by Marie Soldat, a friend of Brahms’s; Brahms helped her find her del Gesù violin, which is now being played by Rachel Barton Pine; Gabriele Wietrowitz also played it to great acclaim

Bruch – Violin Concerto No 1 – Maud Powell made her New York Philharmonic debut with it; Teresina Tua made her American debut with it

Elgar – Violin Concerto – First played through in private performance with Lady Leonora Speyer on violin; first recording made by Marie Hall

Elgar – Violin Sonata – After playing it through with his last love Vera Hockman, he referred to it as “our sonata”

Fauré – Violin Sonata in A-major – Lady Leonora Speyer played it with Fauré on the piano in 1909

Grieg – Violin Sonata in c-minor – Inspired by Teresina Tua; played by Wilma Norman-Neruda (later Lady Hallé) with the composer at the piano

Ives – Violin Sonata No. 2 – Patricia Travers made the first complete recording in 1951

Neruda, Franz – Berceuse Slave, op. 11 – Played by Franz’s sister, the famous virtuosa Wilma Norman-Neruda (later Lady Hallé)

Ravel – Piano Trio – Ravel met his friend and muse Hélène Jourdan-Morhange for the first time when he saw her in a performance of this work

Rode – Violin Concerto No. 4 – According to the Victorian book Camilla: A Tale of a Violin, Camilla Urso played the second and third movements of this piece as her audition for the Paris Conservatoire at the age of seven.

Strauss – Violin Sonata – Leonora von Stosch (later Lady Speyer) played this with Strauss at the piano in the summer of 1914, right on the eve of WWI

Vieuxtemps – Ballade and Polonaise – Teresina Tua often played this piece in concerts in Europe and America

Vieuxtemps – Yankee Doodle Variations – Played by Wilma Norman-Neruda (later Lady Hallé) as a child when she made her debut in England

Vieuxtemps – Fantasie-Caprice op 11 – Marie Soldat made her debut with this piece

 Wieniawski – Kujawiack (Mazurka) – to the best of our knowledge, the first piece a female violinist ever recorded (Dora Valesca Backer / Baker / Becker, 1898, available on Youtube)

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VIOLIN WORKS BY WOMEN

Barns, Ethel – Violin Concertos – Violinist, pianist, and composer Ethel Barns wrote at least two violin concertos and many other pieces. Unfortunately the scores are difficult to find today.

Amanda Maier (alternately, Amanda Röntgen-Maier) – Violin Sonata – Maier, a friend of Brahms and Grieg, wrote this lovely sonata in 1874.

Maddalena Laura Sirmen – Duo for 2 Violins in C-major – written by one of the first professional female violinists

Maddalena Laura Sirmen – wrote six violin concertos; one was praised by Leopold Mozart as being “beautifully written” in a letter to his son in 1778

*Note that Maud Powell arranged many pieces and had many more dedicated to her. Thanks to the work of the Maud Powell Society and Rachel Barton Pine, these pieces have been resurrected. If you are interested, visit the Maud Powell Society’s website for more information.

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