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Article: How To Play the Violin, Girl’s Own Indoor Book, 1880s

Here is a chapter from The Girl’s Own Indoor Book. There is no date, but it appears to date from the 1880s, possibly 1883 or 1888. It is indicative of the popularity of the violin amongst girls in this decade that an essay on how to play the violin was nestled between such uncontroversial chapters as “How to Paint on China”, “Bridal Etiquette”, and “Salads in French Cookery.”

Aside from the fascinating glimpse of how Victorians viewed women violinists, this article is also interesting for the many wise tips the author shares, most of which are still relevant today. This piece was written by a woman named Caroline Blanche Elizabeth FitzRoy, who, after her marriage, became Lady Lindsay of Balcarres. I can’t seem to find much biographical information about her, save that she was a patroness of the arts, a painter, a writer, and a violinist. She eventually separated from her husband and moved between London and Venice. Here is a beautiful 1874 portrait of her, courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

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I have been asked to write upon the art of violin playing, but, whilst doing so, I am well aware that it is far easier to say how the violin should be played than to play it, and many a girl who reads this chapter, and who has grown discouraged and despondent over the manifold difficulties of her favourite instrument, will doubtless agree with such a statement. Still, there are some beginners and students who, though persevering and conscientious, are uncertain whether they are really following the wisest course of study; to them much conflicting advice is usually given, until they scarcely know what they should do or leave undone, and to them, perhaps, a few words of explanation and encouragement from a fellow-worker may not come amiss.

First of all, there is no doubt that the violin, whilst it is perhaps the most beautiful and fascinating musical instrument we possess, is difficult in absolute proportion to its beauty. No one should attempt to learn the violin who is not prepared to give up much time to it, to make many sacrifices for it, and to serve, like Jacob, many years for his beloved object. Very much work is required for the smallest result. The beginning is possibly not so difficult as might be fancied; our friends and we ourselves are surprised to find that we can pick out a popular tune on four strings. We are delighted; but, as time goes on, and we leave the comfortable harbour of the 1st position and the safe anchorage of open strings, and sail out amongst the stormy seas of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th positions, grappling with double stopping, arpeggios, and passages, the intricacies of which are felt much more keenly by performers than listeners, we begin to know something of the hard work and toil that lies before us, growing seemingly ever harder and more uncompromising.

Yet such work is not without its reward. The greater the struggle the greater the reward, and it sometimes happens that, as it is darkest before dawn, when we are most out of heart we are making the most progress. It is best to place our standard of excellence high from the very first, however far off and unattainable it may appear. After all, it is like climbing a hill to see a fine view. Though it be a steep hill, we may get a good deal of pleasure during the ascent; it is not all fatigue. Nor is the view, when we at last come within sight of it, the only gratification we shall have gained. Surely a walk on a summer’s day, as we go cheerfully up the hillside, is worth something; there are many lovely sights and glimpses of pretty country on the way, and, above all, we have pleasant companionship. For, as we toil up the side of the steep and rugged hill of musical knowledge, it is not necessary to wait until we become first-rate performers to spend many a happy afternoon or evening of music, to grow keenly interested in our own practising, and glean much delight from the playing of others, nor, more than all, to enjoy the companionship of the great composers who have written so much for our benefit, and whose works no one can thoroughly know or appreciate without learning to play them.

Perhaps of all instruments, the violin is the one to which the performer – and, therefore, as a rule, the owner – becomes the most attached. Its great advantages over other instruments are: -

1. Its extreme portability. You need never part from your instrument, need entrust it to no one, and, carrying it about with you, can always play on the same violin, and are not therefore puzzled or dispirited, like many unfortunate pianists or organists, by the complications of a strange or inferior instrument.

2. The violin greatly resembles the human voice in its tone, and whilst possessing a far wider range of compass than the voice, has a similar capability of creating a responsive vibration in the hearts of its hearers, together with the same power of portamento, that is, of blending or carrying one note into another.

3. The notes are not ready-made, but have to be created by the player. Every player brings out a different quality of tone to that of other players, even when using the self-same instrument, and this adds much to the charm and personality of the music.

4. The violin is tuned in perfect and natural tune, and not according to the tempered scale, as are of necessity all ordinary keyed instruments (where the notes are divided), such as the piano, for example. Its vibrations are, therefore, infinitely more pleasing to the ear than the sound of any instrument tuned according to the tempered scale.

5. The violin is less monotonous for practising than many other instruments: it is more interesting to train the ear, together with the hand, in seeking after beauty and quality of tone, and not mere manual dexterity. Also, music written for violin is often simple, and so easily learned by heart that much practising may be gone through by moderately-advanced students whilst walking about the room, thus gaining a pleasant change and rest, though such a method is scarcely to be recommended for careless players.

6. Lastly, and not least, the violin is the leader in an orchestra, as in a quartet; and, even among its own family of beautiful stringed instruments, it is more brilliant and more capable of variety of tone than the viola or the violoncello.

It is not very long since the violin was considered an ‘unladylike’ instrument, ungraceful and impossible for women. I remember, as a child, reading in a story-book of a little girl who had surreptitiously bought a red fiddle, and who delighted her schoolfellows by playing to them in secret. This unfortunate girl was not allowed to become a great violinist, but was, on the contrary, reprimanded by the schoolmistress, who advised her to choose a more ladylike occupation for the future. I have also in former days known girls of whom it was darkly hinted that they played the violin, as it might be said that they smoked big cigars, or enjoyed the sport of rat-catching. But now all this has changed; there is scarcely a family of girls where there is not at least one who plays the fiddle. (I heard lately of a lady whose six daughters are all violinists!) Classes are held for female violinists, who likewise play in the orchestra of the Royal Academy of Music, and in that of the Royal College of Music, and it is no uncommon sight in our streets to see a girl carrying her fiddle in its black case. Besides this, in almost every programme of a concert we find the name of some lady violinist, who probably plays with fine tone and execution, for there are many good artists among us now.

For this change we are indebted to Madame Norman-Neruda (now Lady Hallé). She, by uniting with the firmness and vigour of a man’s playing the purity of style and intonation of a great artist, as well as her own perfect grace and delicate manipulation, has proved to the public at large what a woman can do in this field. Madame Neruda’s masterly playing is not to be surpassed by any one, whilst her feminine ease and elegance add an unusual charm to violin-playing.

Even in former years there were some notable exceptions to the universal custom which precluded women from such performances, viz.: the sisters Ferny, the sisters Milanollo, and others; but these ladies, while achieving much reputation, seem to have had but small influence on others. It was reserved to Madame Norman-Neruda to head the great revolution, and to enlist an enormous train of followers. And yet it is difficult to say why a prophet should have been so sorely needed, for in the Middle Ages, and later even, women and girls were taught to play on viols and similar stringed instruments, held sometimes downwards like violoncellos, but also often beneath the chin as we hold our violins, whilst in the old Italian pictures, in the works of Fra Angelico, Bellini, Raphael, and many others, angels and feminine figures are constantly depicted playing on the violins of the period, so that we may assume that, in the eyes of the great painters, such doings were by no means unwomanly or ungraceful. Be this as it may, the question need no longer arise, the crusade need not be fought anew; Madame Neruda, like a musical St. George, has gone forth, violin and bow in hand, to fight the dragon of prejudice, or rather, like a female Orpheus, has made captive all the wild beasts about her by the sweet sounds she has evoked. Certainly, no one requires now-a-days to be encouraged to learn the violin, but rather the contrary. Nay, sometimes, I am haunted by the fear that all ‘girls of the period’ of the next generation will scrape unmercifully on their fiddles, with much complacency, perhaps, but with little time or tune. There will be no one left who does not play the fiddle, and with our modern system of mental cramming, patience and leisure will alike be wanting for necessary practising; consequently, but few will play well, and, alas! the pianoforte, the harp, the organ, the guitar, the zither, and many other beautiful instruments will be altogether laid aside, or left to the sterner sex.

The best axiom, therefore, for our present times seems to me: Let no one learn the violin who has not a distinct and earnest vocation thereunto; and let whoever is determined to learn, learn well and thoroughly. Or, as Mr. Haweis wisely says: ‘Do not take up the violin unless you mean to work hard at it; any other instrument may be more safely trifled with.’

To those who work, and want to work, I would venture to give a few practical hints.

Use every endeavour to learn from a really good master at the very outset, and to have as many lessons from him as possible. Later on it will be easier for you to practise alone. At first, by working alone (however carefully, even with the help of books written for students), many bad habits are engendered that are afterwards hard to cure: the violin is held wrongly, or is imperfectly tuned; the bow is not drawn straight, nor is the whole length of the bow used; the wrist of the left hand is allowed to support the instrument for the comfort of the player.

When you have advanced sufficiently to play fluently you can get on tolerably alone, though by no means so quickly as under the guidance of a master. But, having a naturally correct ear, you can make progress, using a metronome, a practical school of violin-playing, and, occasionally, a looking-glass.

Remember that each hand has its special work to do; each different, yet very necessary to supplement the work of the other. Your right hand represents tone, your left hand tune. Your right hand gives expression, your left hand correctness. Most people think that the left hand does all the work – that bowing consists of sawing the bow up and down across the strings. Yet the right hand has perhaps the harder task of the two, as its duties are manifold, pure intonation and careful fingering, though important, being the sole occupations of the left.

It is very difficult to bow well; to hold the bow aright, lightly, and in what seems a constrained attitude; to keep the thumb steady, and the four fingers straight (not curved outwards), the tips resting firmly on the bow. It is very difficult in slow passages to bring out a full and mellow tone, to give fine expression, to draw the bow to its utmost limit (for there must be no tell-tale greyish mark on the horsehair near the nut to prove that the whole length has not been in constant use), also, to learn the different short, quick styles of bowing, staccato, saltando, etc., to mark a crescendo or diminuendo by more or less pressure, to prevent the bow from squeaking or slipping on the strings, or from giving a little grunt of disapprobation whenever you come to the end of an up or down bow, and proceed to draw it in the opposite direction. All these difficulties and technicalities can scarcely be overcome without the help and counsel of a master, whose patience and endurance must equal the docility of the pupil. But these are the difficulties of all beginners – nay, or all students, and many a moderately good artist has by no means conquered them.

It is absolutely necessary to stand well in a steady, upright, yet graceful attitude. Many girls, whose movements are natural and positively pretty before playing, undergo an extraordinary transformation the moment they take a violin in hand; they contort their features, turn their heads overmuch round, place their elbows and wrists at fearful angles, and look as though they were enduring frightful torture. Believe me, if from time to time you attempt a few bars before the looking-glass, it will by no means feed your vanity, but rather prove a wholesome lesson of humility.

It is very ugly to see a girl place a pad like a large pincushion on her left shoulder before playing, or to see her use a piece of wood like a patch of black sticking-plaister on the violin itself. All that is required to prevent the violin from slipping under the chin (thus causing premature double chins and all manner of wry faces) is, to raise the shoulder very slightly, keeping the elbow well forward and a little turned inwards. Hold the violin high, that is to say, quite horizontally, and you will soon forget that it was ever disposed to slip away. Habit will become second nature; even in changing the positions the attitude that at first was so trying will grow perfectly easy; you must, however, remember that in the lower positions the wrist must never be allowed to touch the violin, but your hand must slide comfortably up and down, the neck of the violin merely resting between the thumb and first finger.

In all this, I fear, my hints are chiefly negative. It is easier to point out probable faults than to give instruction on violin-playing merely by writing. As I said before, the practical teaching of a master is absolutely necessary to all beginners.

I will, however, now suppose that you have mastered the first difficulties, that you have had a certain number of lessons, and have profited by them sufficiently to play little pieces and moderately difficult exercises fairly well. I will suppose that you are in the country, unable for some time to come to obtain any further instruction, yet anxious to ‘get on.’

I should recommend you, above all, to practise regularly – that is, every day at stated times, one, two, three hours, as the case may be. Practise regularly, even though you are disinclined; unless you are really ill, a little weariness or fatigue soon goes off, and after playing for ten minutes you will probably feel fresher than before you began. Play good music, but do not disgust yourself with well-known beautiful things by playing them badly. Preserve them rather for by-and-by; pull them out of the drawer every few months, and play them through once or twice; then you will see how much progress you have made.

It is a good thing when you are working alone to vary your form of practice on alternate days. Let one day be devoted to difficult exercises, and to studying hard whatever pieces are to be studied. The following day, go through only a certain number of finger exercises, and then read at sight some easy sonatas, with or without pianoforte accompaniment, according to your opportunities.

In practising pieces that you have learned, but cannot quite conquer, do not play them all through, or you will tire of them quickly, but pick out the difficult passages, and leave the easy ones to take care of themselves.

Invent small exercises and new combinations for yourself; try to add thirds and sixths to notes in different positions, thus accustoming yourself to play chords; learn by heart as much as possible, for two reasons, viz., that you should not always have the trouble of preparing a music-stand, candles, &c., also because you will never play any piece really well that you do not know by heart, even though you play it from the book before your friends.

Whenever you are studying any new music, play it through once or twice with a metronome. Even though no metronome time be marked, the indications of allegro, andante, or adagio, will give you an idea of how to adjust the pendulum.

It seems to me more difficult to play in time on the violin than on the piano, because there is no bass for a foundation. The bass in pianoforte music is almost to the eye what a metronome is to the ear, and is a natural guide. In violin music you have but one stave; you cannot see what is going on below, and cannot, therefore, grasp the true nature of the composition.

A correct appreciation of time is very requisite. We often hear of amateurs who play charmingly, with wonderful genius and expression, but without any sense of time. That is very dreadful. Never allow your love of sentiment to put more rallentando passages into the music than are absolutely marked by the composer or dictated by your master.

It is a good thing to play often with pianoforte accompaniment, so as to learn the piece as a whole, to grow accustomed to the sound of the piano, and also to learn to play in time. But if you have no accompanyist, play the violin part once or twice from the book in which both violin and piano parts are written. Or, if you are a sufficiently good theoretical musician, look at it well and study it, and hear the whole composition, as it were, in your mind. But the best plan of all is to play the accompaniment yourself on the piano, for, indeed, every violinists should be somewhat of a pianist also. In most conservatoires a slight knowledge of the piano is obligatory. The pianoforte is, in our drawing-rooms, the nearest approach to an orchestra; on this instrument alone can you get any orchestral or complete effects; and, as a musician, if you do not study it at least a little, you will debar yourself from much musical knowledge and advantage.

In playing before an audience, however limited, however friendly, you will probably be nervous, more or less nervous according to your nature. Some people unfortunately never quite get over nervousness; but it is best to do our utmost from the very first to struggle against it. Do not begin to play without careful consideration; see that your bow has a sufficient amount of rosin; tune your violin steadily; try to avoid being flurried. Practise the art of beginning well, not with a scrape nor out of time, so that the accompanyist must needs begin again.

Wash your hands always before playing (as, indeed, before practising), and keep your violin nice and clean, carefully wiped before putting it away within its case under a silk handkerchief and flannel coat, the strings always in good order.

If you know that you are to play to an audience, try the strings a little beforehand. If you put on a new E-string, play on it for an hour or two in your own room before using it in public. Play enough beforehand to be in good practice, and to feel your fingers comfortably supple. Avoid if possible practising at the very last the piece you have to perform. Chopin, who usually performed his own pianoforte compositions, used immediately before his concerts to practise Bach’s fugues.

As you progress in your art, you cannot fail to grow more and more devoted to it; violinists are, as a rule, as enthusiastic and ‘shoppy’ in their talk as the keenest sportsmen, racing or hunting men, golfs, &c. To play or even to practise will be your greatest delight; you will lament the very shortest separation from your dear violin.

Do you remember the old rhyme? -

“Jacky, come give me thy fiddle,

If ever though hope to thrive.”

“Nay, I’ll not give my fiddle

To any man alive.

Were I to give my fiddle,

The folks would think me mad;

For many a joyful day

My fiddle and I have had.”

If possible, go often to good concerts, and hear good music, which, like good pictures, and indeed all good art, is thoroughly inspiring. We may be depressed by hearing a moderate player, but we become ardently anxious to work as we listen to something really great and fine. Such a performance incites our best efforts at imitation; we feel that it is worth while to work. You will learn a great deal by going to the Saturday or Monday Popular Concerts, by hearing and seeing Madame Norman-Neruda, the queen, and Herr Joachim, the king of violinists; or Signor Piatti, to whom his mighty violin of larger growth is a true slave of the ring, a potentate that conquers us but obeys him. You will learn more of bowing, phrasing, more of attitude, more of style, tone, or tune, than can be taught by a mountain of books or essays. You will learn, in fact, if not how to play the violin, at least how the violin should be played.

I have said nothing about books, violin-methods, or schools, as they are called. Any master you learn from will probably prefer one or another. To me, the elementary or first part of De Bériot’s violin-school seems the best and easiest for beginners. Berthold Tours’ Violin Primer (Novello) is also useful for beginners, and very cheap. At the commencement of De Bériot’s and many other schools, you will find drawings of mild young gentlemen, in different attitudes, that will show you clearly how both the violin and the bow should be held. As you progress, you will probably learn to play the exercises of Kayser, Dont, Kreutzer, Dancla, Léonard, Ries, and others. As for drawing-room pieces, there are a great many, more or less pretty. You must choose these for yourself. Messrs. Stanley Lucas, New Bond Street, can provide you with as many as you wish, especially those published in cheap German editions. As you gain mastery over your instrument, you will love more and more the Mozart and Beethoven sonatas, the old music reprinted in the Hohe Schule; by-and-by, trios, and quartets.

We have no space, unfortunately, for the history of the violin. It is an interesting history through these last three centuries, during which time the instrument itself has been scarcely altered in any way. ‘What a little thing to make so much noise!’ says the ignorant observer. ‘What a little thing to have so stirred the hearts of men!’ responds the philosopher. And, as we hold the treasure in our hands, reverently and affectionately contemplating the delicate work of Stradivarius, Guarnerius, or Amati, we wonder through whose hands before ours our fiddle has passed, whose magic touch, long since silent and dead, evoked sweet melodies resonant from the brown wood that still shines with its fair coating of varnish almost as of yore. We seem to hear divine and strange harmonies; we can almost see the shades of Corelli, Tartini, Haydn, Spohr, or Paganini, beckoning us to follow their example, leading us on in the path of music, and teaching us in truth, by those traditions that are our tangible heirlooms, how to play the violin.

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Filed under Not My Writing, Women Violinists

Article: Addendum on Female Violinists by George Dubourg, 1852

Here is a fascinating chapter on female violinists from the book (take a deep breath!) The Violin: Some Account of That Leading Instrument, And Its Most Eminent Professors, From Its Earliest Date to the Present Time; With Hints to Amateurs, Anecdotes, Etc., by music writer George Dubourg (1799-1882). It was published in London in 1852 and, considering the era in which it was written, is a surprisingly liberal text. Dubourg had a prophetic viewpoint that women were just as capable of becoming great violinists as men were, and his spunky, spirited defense of his opinion makes for a highly enjoyable read. Wilma Norman-Neruda and Camilla Urso were both about twelve years old when this edition of The Violin was published, and they were just on the verge of proving Dubourg’s thesis right. No doubt in his later years he regarded their careers with satisfaction.

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ADDENDUM

FEMALE VIOLINISTS.

“Place aux dames!”

[This section of the Work, which should have formed Chapter VIII, having been accidentally omitted in the printing [(Emily: *eyebrow raise*)], there remained no other course than, either to insert it here (as is actually done), or, by a dismissal utterly at variance with the laws of gallantry and of justice, to exclude it altogether, and so to debar the fairer portion of the community from all participation in the honours connected with the “King of Instruments” – an idea not to be for a moment entertained. If, in this volume, as in a campaigning army, the ladies find themselves placed altogether in the rear – let them attribute the position, in this case as in that, to any-thing but disrespect.]

Instead of a bow-arm, must ladies be allowed only the arm of a beau? Why should not a lady play on the Violin? The common objection is, that it is ungraceful. The ladies in Boccaccio’s Decameron, however – and who shall charge them with want of grace? – played on the viol, a bowed instrument requiring from the performer a similar position and handling to those exacted by the violin. If this latter instrument, considered in relation to a lady, should be admitted to be somewhat deficient in grace, – has not the lady, out of the overflowing abundance of this quality, which is her sex’s characteristic, some of it to spare for communication to the instrument? Can she not impart some of it to whatsoever object she chooses to associate with herself? Surely, she who can transform the rudest of beings from a bear to a man, and from a man to a gentleman, can lend a few spare charms to so grateful a receiver as the fiddle, which is found to repay in so eloquent a manner the attentions bestowed on it. But if the doubters continue to shake their heads at this, I would ask them whether, after all, we are to expect grace in every act and habit of a lady’s life, and call on her to reject every thing that may be thought inconsistent with it? Our modern respected fair one may, like Eve, have “heaven in her eye;” but really, looking at some of the offices which we are content to thrust upon her, it seems rather too much to insist that she shall also, like our original mother, have “grace in all her movements.” Is there grace in making a pie, or cutting bread and butter, or darning a stocking? If we have grace in the effect, shall we be rigid to require it in the means also? Now, the grace which belongs to violin-playing is audible rather than visible, residing in the effect more than in the means: nor ought we to be such cormorants of pleasure, as to demand that the person who is filling our ears with rapture, shall, at the same time, be enchanting to the utmost our eyes. If, then, a lady, full of soul and intelligence, is capable of expressing these through the fine medium which this instrument offers, should she be debarred from it, and restricted perhaps to the harp, because, forsooth, the grace that is merely external is found most in association with the latter? Let us only be reasonable enough to be satisfied, on principle, with the delicious effect that visits us through the ears, and we shall then give no hyper-critical heed to the rapid action of a lady’s arm in a presto movement, or to the depression of her head in holding the instrument; nor shall we continue to demand, with a pertinacity more nice than wise, that a feminine fiddler be

“Graceful as Dian when she draws her bow.”

That exquisite sensibility which is one distinguishing charm of the female character, has its fittest musical exponent in the powers of the violin, which, therefore, in this particular sense, might even be styled the women’s own instrument: but, without going so far as this, there seems no sufficient reason why it should not, occasionally, be honored by figuring in the hands of the fair. Should these defensive remarks, however, be found unsatisfactory by your anti-women’s-playing-the-violin-at-all sort of people, I have nothing farther to say to them, but leave them to quote, undisturbed, their “quae sunt virorum, mascula dicas,” &c. For my own part, I think so highly both of the ladies and the violin, that I rejoice at every opportunity of their being introduced to each other, and am delighted to know that, from time to time, certain clever and spirited women have been found ready to overcome the prejudices that have so long kept them asunder. Let us by all means enquire who these are.

A very high name meets us at the outset of our investigation – no less a one than that of QUEEN ELIZABETH. This exalted personage, who is recorded to have been musical “so far forth as might become a princess,” appears to have amused herself not only with the lute, the virginals, and her own voice, but with the violin. An instrument of this denomination, of the old and imperfect fashion, but splendidly “got up,” has been traced to her possession. If any particulars of Her Majesty’s style of performance could now be obtained, it would doubtless be found that she displayed, in no common degree, what is called “a powerful bow-arm”, but that she neglected the “sweet little touches” that give delicacy to execution.

To arrive at instances nearer to our own time, let us go at once from the Queen of England to Madame MARA, the Queen of Song. Her first musical studies were directed to the violin. When yet an infant, the little Gertrude Elizabeth Smaling (such was her name) discovered so strong an inclination for the violin, that her father was induced to give her a few lessons on that instrument. Her progress was so rapid, that, as early as her tenth year, she excited the public surprise. It is certain that the development of her vocal powers was not a little aided by this cultivation of an instrument that may be called the friendly rival of the human voice. She herself was known to declare, that, if she had a daughter, she should learn the fiddle before she sang a note; for (as she remarked) how can you convey a just notion of minute variations in the pitch of a note? By a fixed instrument? No! By the voice? No! but, by sliding the fingers upon a string, you instantly make the slightest variations visibly, as well as audibly, perceptible. It was by her early practice of the violin, that this celebrated woman had acquired her wonderful facility of dashing at all musical intervals, however unusual and difficult. She married a violoncellist, of no great capacity, except for drinking.

MADDALENA LOMBARDINI SIRMEN, who united to high accomplishment as a singer such an eminence in violin-playing, as enabled her, in some degree, to rival Nardini, had an almost European reputation towards the end of the last century. She received her first musical instructions at the Conservatory of the Mendicanti at Venice, and then took lessons on the violin from Tartini. About the year 1780, she visited France and England. This feminine artist composed a considerable quantity of violin music, a great part of which was published at Amsterdam. A curious document is extant as a relic of the correspondence between this lady and Tartini. It consists of a preceptive letter from the great master, the original of which, along with a translation by Dr. Burney, was published in London in 1771. From this pamphlet, which is now among the rarities of musical literature, I shall here give the Doctor’s English version of the letter:

“My very much esteemed

“SIGNORA MADDALENA,

“Finding myself at length disengaged from the weighty business which has so long prevented me from performing my promise to you, I shall begin the instructions you wish from me, by letter; and if I should not explain myself with sufficient clearness, I entreat you to tell me your doubts and difficulties, in writing, which I shall not fail to remove in a future letter.

“Your principal practice and study should, at present, be confined to the use and power of the bow, in order to make yourself entirely mistress in the execution and expression of whatever can be played or sung, within the compass and ability of your instrument. Your first study, therefore, should be the true manner of holding, balancing, and pressing the bow lightly, but steadily, upon the strings, in such manner as that it shall seem to breathe the first tone it gives, which must proceed from the friction of the string, and not from percussion, as by a blow given with a hammer upon it. This depends on laying the bow lightly upon the strings, at the first contact, and on gently pressing it afterwards; which, if done gradually, can scarce have too much force given to it – because, if the tone is begun with delicacy, there is little danger of rendering it afterwards either coarse or harsh.

“Of this first contact, and delicate manner of beginning a tone, you should make yourself a perfect mistress, in every situation and part of the bow, as well in the middle as at the extremities; and in moving it up, as well as in drawing it down. To unite all these laborious particulars into one lesson, my advice is, that you first exercise yourself in a swell upon an open string – for example, upon the second, or la: that you begin pianissimo, and increase the tone by slow degrees to its fortissimo; and this study should be equally made, with the motion of the bow up, and down; in which exercise you should spend at least an hour every day, though at different times, a little in the morning, and a little in the evening; having constantly in mind that this practice is, of all others, the most difficult, and the most essential to playing well on the Violin. When you are a perfect mistress of this part of a good performer, a swell will be very easy to you – beginning with the most minute softness, increasing the tone to its loudest degree, and diminishing it to the same point of softness with which you began; and all this in the same stroke of the bow. Every degree of pressure upon the string, which the expression of a note or passage shall require, will, by this means, be easy and certain; and you will be able to execute with your bow whatever you please. After this, in order to acquire that light pulsation and play of the wrist from whence velocity in bowing arises, it will be best for you to practise, every day, one of the allegros, of which there are three, Corelli’s solos, which entirely move in semiquavers. The first is in D, in playing which you should accelerate the motion a little each time, till you arrive at the greatest degree of swiftness possible. But two precautions are necessary in this exercise. The first is, that you play the notes staccato, that is, separate and detached, with a little space between every two, as if there was a rest after each note. The second precaution is, that you first play with the point of the bow and, when that becomes easy to you, that you use that part of it which is between the point and the middle and, when you are likewise mistress of this part of the bow, that you practise in the same manner with the middle of the bow. And, above all, you must remember in these studies, to begin the allegros or flights sometimes with an up-bow, and sometimes with a down-bow, carefully avoiding the habit of constantly practising one way.

“In order to acquire a greater facility of executing swift passages in a light and neat manner, it will be of great use if you accustom yourself to skip over a string between two quick notes in divisions. Of such divisions you may play extempore as many as you please, and in every key, which will be both useful and necessary.

“With regard to the finger-board, or carriage of the left hand, I have one thing strongly to recommend to you, which will suffice for all, and that is the taking a violin part – either the first or second of a concerto, sonata, or song (any thing will serve the purpose) – and playing it upon the half-shift; that is, with the first finger upon G on the first string, and constantly keeping upon this shift, playing the whole piece without moving the hand from this situation, unless A on the fourth string be wanted, or D upon the first; but, in that case, you should afterwards return again to the half-shift, without ever moving the hand down to the natural position. This practise should be continued till you can execute with facility upon the half-shift any violin part, not intended as a solo, at sight. After this, advance the hand on the finger-board to the whole-shift, with the first finger upon A on the first string, and accustom yourself to this position, till you can execute every thing upon the whole shift with as much ease as when the hand is in its natural situation; and when certain of this, advance to the double-shift, with the first finger upon B on the first string. When sure of that likewise, pass to the fourth position of the hand, making C with the first finger, upon the first string: and, indeed, this is a scale in which, when you are firm, you may be said to be mistress of the finger-board. This study is so necessary, that I most earnestly recommend it to your attention.

“I now pass to the third essential part of a good performer on the Violin, which is the making a good shake; and I would have you practise it slowly, moderately fast, and quickly; that is, with the two notes succeeding each other in these three degrees of adagio, andante, and presto; and, in practice, you have great occasion for these different kinds of shakes; for the same shake will not serve with equal propriety for a slow movement as for a quick one. To acquire both at once with the same trouble, begin with an open string – either the first or second, it will be equally useful: sustain the note in a swell, and begin the shake very slowly, increasing in quickness by insensible degrees, till it becomes rapid. You must not rigorously move immediately from semiquavers to demisemiquavers, or from these to the next in degree; that would be doubling the velocity of the shake all at once, which would be a skip, not a gradation; but you can imagine, between a semiquaver and demisemiquaver, intermediate degrees of rapidity, quicker than the one, and slower than the other of these characters. You are, therefore, to increase in velocity, by the same degrees, in practising the shake, as in loudness, when you make a swell.

“You must attentively and assiduously persevere in the practice of this embellishment, and begin at first with an open string, upon which, if you are once able to make a good shake with the first finger, you will, with the greater facility, acquire one with the second, the third, and the fourth or little finger, with which you must practise in a particular manner, as more feeble than the rest of its brethren.

“I shall at present propose no other studies to your application: what I have already said is more than sufficient, if your zeal is equal to my wishes for your improvement. I hope you will sincerely inform me whether I have explained clearly thus far; that you will accept of my respects, which I likewise beg of you to present to the Princess, to Signora Teresa, and to Signora Clara, for all whom I have a sincere regard and believe me to be, with great affection,

“Your obedient and most humble servant,

“GIUSEPPE TARTINI.”

REGINA SCHLICK, wife of a noted German Violoncellist and Composer, was celebrated under her maiden name of Sacchi, as well as afterwards, for her performance on the violin. She was born at Mantua in 1764, and received her musical education at the Conservatorio Pietà, at Venice. She afterwards passed some years at Paris. This lady was a particular friend of Mozart’s, and, being in Vienna, about the year 1786 solicited the great composer to write something for their joint performance at her concert. With his usual kindness, Mozart promised to comply with her request, and accordingly, composed and arranged in his mind the beautiful Sonata for the piano and violin, in B flat minor with its solemn adagio introduction. But it was necessary to go from mind to matter – that is, to put the combined ideas into visible form, in the usual way. The destined day appeared, and not a note was committed to paper! The anxiety of Madame Schlick became excessive, and at length the earnestness of her entreaties was such, that Mozart could no longer procrastinate. But his favorite and seductive game of billiards came in the way; and it was only the very evening before the concert, that he sent her the manuscript, in order that she might study it by the following afternoon. Happy to obtain the treasure, though so late, she scarcely quitted it for a moment’s repose. The concert commenced: the Court was present, and the rooms were crowded with the rank and fashion of Vienna. The sonata began; the composition was beautiful, and the execution of the two artists perfect in every respect. The audience was all rapture – the applause enthusiastic: but there was one distinguished personage in the room, whose enjoyment exceeded that of a ll the other auditors – the Emperor Joseph II, who, in his box, just over the heads of the performers, using his opera-glass to look at Mozart, perceived that there was nothing upon his music-desk but a sheet of white paper! At the conclusion of the concert, the Emperor beckoned Mozart to his box, and said to him, in a half-whisper, “So, Mozart, you have once again trusted to chance!” – “Yes, your Majesty,” replied the composer, with a smile that was half triumph and half confusion. Had Mozart – not studied – but merely played over, this music once with the lady, it would not have been so wonderful: but he had never even heard the Sonata with the violin*.

* Anecdotes of Mozart, by Frederic Rochlitz.

LOUISE GAUTHEROT, a Frenchwoman, was also distinguished on this instrument. In 1789 and 1790, she performed concertos at the London Oratorios, making great impression by the fine ability she manifested. In referring to this lady’s professional achievements, one of those who refuse to consider violin-playing as “an excellent thing in woman,” has indulged in the following remarks: “It is said, by fabulous writers, that Minerva, happening to look into a stream whilst playing her favorite instrument, the flute, and perceiving the distortion of countenance it occasioned, was so much disgusted, that she cast it away, and dashed it to pieces! Although I would not recommend, to any lady playing on a valuable Cremona fiddle, to follow the example of the goddess, yet it strikes me that, if she is desirous of enrapturing her audience, she should display her talent in a situation where there is only just light enough to make darkness visible.” – Shall we reply, ladies, to a detractor who is forced to seek support for his opinions in “fabulous writers,” and, even then, drags forward that which is no parallel case? Nay, nay, let him pass! Let him retire into the darkness which he so unwarrantably recommends to others!

LUIGIA GERBINI, who ranks among the pupils of Viotti, attained considerable credit as a performer. In 1799, her execution of some violin concertos, between the acts, at the Italian Theatre in Lisbon, was attended with marked success; as were afterwards her vocal exertions at the same Theatre. This lady visited Madrid in 1801; and, some years later, gave evidence of her instrumental talent at some public concerts in London.

SIGNORA PARAVICINI, another pupil of Viotti’s, earned a widely spread fame as a violinist. At Milan, where various fêtes were given in celebration of the battle of Lodi, the wife of Bonaparte was very favorably impressed, during one of these, by the taletns of Madame Paravicini. Josephine, a woman of generosity as well as taste, became the patroness of this lady, engaged her to instruct her son, Eugéne Beauharnois, and afterwards took her to Paris. However, for some reason not publicly known, Madame Paravicini was, after a time, neglected by Josephine; in consequence of which, and of other misfortunes, as to be compelled to live on the money produced by the sale of her wearing-apparel. Driven at last to the utmost exigence, she had no remaining resource, except that of applying to the benevolence of the Italisn then in Paris, who enabled her to redeem her clothes, and return to Milan. There, her abilities again procured her competence and credit. Her performance was much admired also at Vienna, where, in 1827, she

“Flourished her bow, and showed how fame was won.”

According to the report which travelled in her favour from thence, she evinced a full and pure tone – a touch posessing the solidity and decision of the excellent school in which were formed a Kreutzer and a Lafont – and a mode of bowing so graceful, as to triumph over all preconceived ideas of the awkwardness of the instrument in a female hand. Madame Paracivini, in the course of her professional migrations, was performing at Bologna in the year 1832.

CATARINA CALCAGNO, born at Genoa in 1797, received, as a child, some instructions from the potential Paganini; and, at the age of fifteen, astonished Italy by the fearless freedom of her play – but seems to have left no traces of her career, beyond the year 1816.

Madame KRAHMEN, in 1824, executed a violin concerto of Viotti’s, with great spirit and effect, at a concert in Vienna. At Prague, in the same year, a young lady named SCHULZ gave public delight as a violin performer. Mademoiselle ELEANORA NEUMANN, of Moscow, pupil of Professor Morandi, also astonished the public in like manner at Prague, and at Vienna, when she had scarcely reached her tenth year! She is said to have treated the instrument with great effect, and with a precision and purity of tone not always to be found in those “children of larger growth” who are content to substitute feats of skill, in place of these essential requisites.

Madame FILIPOWICZ, of Polish derivation, has given us evidence, in London, not many years since, of the success with which feminine sway may be exercised over the most difficult of instruments.

The instances I have thus brought forward will probably be deemed sufficient – else were it easy to go backward again in date, and to mention Horace Walpole’s visit to St. Cyr, in one of the apartments of which serious establishment, he behold the young ladies dancing minuets and country-dances, while a nun, albeit “not quite so able as St. Cecilia,” played on the violin! – Or, I might allude to the threefold musical genius of Mrs. Sarah Ottey, who, in 1721-22, frequently performed solos at concerts, on the harpsichord, violin, and base-viol! Enough, however, has been produced, to shew “quid femina possit” – what the fair sex can achieve, upon the first and most fascinating of instruments.

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Article: Female Violinists from The Contemporary Review, 1872

Here’s an article about female violinists from The Contemporary Review, dating from 1872. There were clearly some lazy writers in the Victorian era, because this is basically just a less-characterful compression of an article on the same subject by George Dubourg from 1852.

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A great deal has lately been said about the propriety of ladies playing the violin. Some people seem to think it quite a novelty, but the practice in England at least is old enough.

On the painted roof of Peterborough Cathedral, said to be not later than 1194, is depicted a female figure seated and holding on her lap a sort of viol with four strings and four sound-holes: her left hand grasps the head, whilst she draws a bow across the strings with her right. Amongst the royal accounts, November 2, 1495, we  read, “To a woman who singeth with a fidell, 2s.; the queen’s male ‘fideler’ of the period, Feb. 17, 1497, was paid ‘in rewarde,’ £1 6s. 8d.”

Poor Anne of Cleves, after her divorce from Henry VIII, amused herself sometimes by playing on a sort of viol with six strings and frets, but no distinct finger-board. From a ballad in Charles I’s reign, we find that the art of viol playing was not uncommon amongst ladies; and amongst the accomplishments of a lady, we read that -

“She sings and she plays

And she knows all the keys

Of the viol de Gamba and lute.”

In more modern times ladies have excelled on the violin. Mozart wrote a sonata for Regina Schlick, born at Mantua, 1764. Louise Gautherot, a Frenchwoman, was also distinguished for her concertos played at the London Oratorio Concerts, 1789-90. Luiga Gerbini, a pupil of the celebrated Viotti, played solos at Lisbon in 1799, and afterwards visited London in 1801.

Signora Paravicini, another of Viotti’s pupils, was a favourite of Josephine, the wife of Buonaparte. She afterwards grew so poor as to be obliged to part with most of her wardrobe, but was charitably helped by some generous Italians at Milan. In 1827 she was much admired, and in the words of a poet -

“Flourished her bow and showed how fame was won.”

She played at Bologna as late as 1832.

The names of Mesdames Krahmen, Schultz, Eleonora Neumann, and Filipowicz, will be familiar to some of our readers, whilst few living musicians will need to be reminded of Mdlle. Sophie Humler, Mdlle. Vittoria de Bono, and Madame Norman-Neruda.

It may once have been maintained that the arm of a beau was more fit for a lady than a bow arm; but that prejudice has now happily vanished. Indeed nothing can be more appropriate in a lady’s hands than a violin properly held and properly played. If she have a good arm it is shown to the best advantage; if she have a pretty hand a tapering fingers, and a slender wrist, all these are thrown into the most graceful positions by the action of bowing and fingering.

Her arms, shoulders, and hands, her head and neck, and indeed her whole body have but to follow sympathetically the undulating and delicate curves of the violin itself. A beautiful woman holding a beautiful violin, is one of the most beautiful sights in the world. There are refinements of sentiment and of execution, which a woman’s sensitive hand is peculiarly fitted to render; in delicacy of touch and finely gradated effects she is unsurpassed, and although usually deficient in roundness of tone, yet both in rapidity of execution and melting pathos, have we not lately seen in the case of Madame Norman-Neruda “quid faemina possit!”‘

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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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Article: Women Violinists of the Victorian Era, 1899

Here is a long article entitled “Women Violinists of the Victorian Era” from the February or March 1899 edition of The Lady’s Realm, a British magazine. The author is unknown. Original here.

***

Before the days of Paganini, and even as far back as the middle of the last century, a girl-violinist appeared now and then upon the concert platforms of Europe. Yet it may be asserted, without misgiving, that all celebrated lady-violinists are of the Victorian Era.

The first women who attained enduring fame as violinists were the sisters Milanollo, the outlines of whose artistic careers have often enough been sketched, though unfortunately not always with accuracy. But the ever-gracious Teresa Milanollo (now Madame Parmentier) has kindly placed at my disposal the fullest details concerning her public life, and has courteously permitted the readers of THE LADY’S REALM to be told more than is usually known of her personal history.

Born at Savigliano (Piedmont), August 28th, 1827, Madame Parmentier is now in her seventy-first year. But the disposition of Teresa Milanollo is still young and fresh, her interest in things musical, and zeal for philanthropic service, as keen as ever.

The vocation of this great artist manifested itself in very early days. At four years of age she was taken to a funeral ceremony in honour of King Charles Félix of Sardinia, and upon leaving the church her father put to her the question: “Did you pray to God, little one?” “No, papa,” was the reply, “I did nothing but listen to the violin.” After this she was persistent in her demands for a violin of her own. Her father instructed her in the elements of solfeggi, and then made for her a little violin in white wood, and put her, for a year, under the tuition of Ferrero at Savigliano. Later on she had lessons at Turin from Caldera and from Morra, but not of Gebhard, as has been often stated.

She was only in her ninth year when she made her début and appeared at several concerts in the vicinity of her native town. In the year 1836 she was taken to France, to play at the Musard Concerts at Marseilles. There she had an immediate success, and went on to Paris, where she had some lessons from Lafont and played once or twice at the Opéra Comique. The same year she went with Lafont for a tour in Belgium and Holland, and in 1837 played at Amsterdam and the Hague. In this year too – the year of the Queen’s accession – she came to London, and was heard at Covent Garden.

In London she took some lessons with Mori and Tolbecque, and was engaged by the harpist Bochsa to make a three months’ tour in Wales.

It was upon her return to France, in 1838, that her little sister Maria, then six years old, was first presented to the public. Soon after this, Teresa put herself under the musical direction of Hebeneck, who made her play his Grand Polonaise in C, at one of the celebrated Conservatoire concerts, April 18th, 1841. In the opinion of all the critics of that time, and notably of Berlioz, her success was immense, and it was this appearance that definitely crowned her reputation.

The same year, the sisters Milanollo played before Louis-Philippe at Neuilly, and from this period, they were inseparable until the death of Maria. The younger sister never received any lessons except those given her by Teresa. About this time the sisters met de Beriot, who communicated to Teresa the masterly bowing of the school of Viotti and de Baillot, and the faultless intonation which so many, even illustrious, performers lack. To de Beriot Madame Parmentier accords the distinction of having “completed her artistic education.”

From this time (1842) forward until 1848, when the melancholy event of Maria’s death from rapid consumption occurred, the sisters were continuously journeying through Europe. In every capital, and in most towns of importance, they appeared at series of concerts; their reputation increasing each year. In Vienna, particularly, the honours of public favour were heaped upon them. They appeared with Liszt at the Castle at Brühl before the King of Prussia, and in Berlin the furore they created had, according to the cirtic Kellstab, been equalled only three times in the century. The three performers whose successes he ranked with theirs were Catalini (the prima donna), Paganini, and Liszt. While in Berlin the sisters twice played before the Court, accompanied by the composer Meyerbeer.

In 1845 they paid their second and last visit to London, where they gave several concerts, and played before Her Majesty at Court.

It is a strange thing that at a time when the music-lovers of the Continent were all wildly enthusiastic for the sisters Milanollo, and their popularity abroad supreme, the English public gave them a comparatively lukewarm reception. But in 1845 England had scarcely earned the reputation of a music-, or rather virtuosi-loving nation. The days of Sarasate- and Paderewski fever had not yet dawned in Britain, and the really musical among us could be counted only by hundreds, instead of, as now, by many thousands.

The terrible sorrow into which Teresa fell, upon the loss in 1848 of her much-cherished sister and pupil, was stupefying in its intensity. But her father, who had recently bought a country estate at Malzéville, near Nancy, urged upon her the wisdom of reappearing in public.  She played, therefore, at a concert in aid of the Association des Artistes Musiciens, gave two quartet concerts in Paris, and subsequently toured in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.

Her last professional concert was given on April 6th, 1857, at Nancy, and on the 15th of the same month she married General (then Captain) Théodore Parmentier. At the time of their marriage, General Parmentier was aide-de-camp to General Niel, with whom he took part in the siege of Sebastopol. Since her marriage, Teresa Milanollo’s appearances in public have been comparatively few, and all have been at the call of charity.

Many are the charming stories told of the ceaseless benevolence of Teresa Milanollo. During the lifetime of Maria, the sisters had already put themselves into direct personal relations with the poor of Lyons; but it was after Teresa had roused herself from her mourning that she invented the system of “Concerts aux Pauvres,” which she carried out in nearly all the chief towns of France. At these concerts she reserved part of her receipts for the benefit of the poor. Then in each town she appeared again before an audience composed exclusively of the children of the public schools and their parents. To these she played in a manner which strangely silenced and moved her hearers, and at the conclusion of her performances, money, food, and clothes, the products of her self-charged receipts from the previous concerts, were distributed.

From 1857 to 1878 she, a soldier’s wife, followed the fortunes of her husband, and one of her later appearances was at a concert at Constantine, Algiers. Since 1878 the gallant General who is “Grand Officier de la Légion d’Honneur,” and his gifted and famous wife, have resided quietly in Paris; but, generous and accessible as ever, Madame Parmentier is still to be met by a fortunate few in select musical and social circles of the French capital.

Teresa Milanollo is not alone distinguished as the first really famous lady-violinist, she is also remembered for being the most pathetic and soul-moving performer of modern times. All her effects were obtained by legitimate means. Maria’s distinction rested on other grounds. Without pretending to the grand style and electric emotion of Teresa, she had remarkable vigour and boldness of execution, and her staccato was so perfect that she received, in Germany, the nickname of Madamoiselle Staccato, in opposition to her sister, who was dubbed Mademoiselle Adagio.

To Brussels, the cradle, then and now, of so much musical talent, belongs the honour of having given to the world, in the early ‘fifties, some excellent lady-performers on the violin. Among them was a Mademoiselle Fréry, a favourite pupil of Charles de Beriot. Dr. T. L. Philson, who was present in the great concert-hall of the Grande Harmonic when Mademoiselle Fréry competed for the first violin-prize of the Brussels Conservatoire, states that she was not only a fine player, whose performance on that, as on subsequent occasions, was greeted with storms of applause, but a very beautiful girl. He recalls her, with black, flashing eyes and dark hair, sitting behind the stage with her mother, fingering her violin in an agony of nervousness, though apparently calm, until it should be her turn to appear before the judges. When the moment came, to the surprise of every one, her courage failed her. She refused to go forward. Nor could her bashfulness be overcome until de Beriot himself, leaving the conductor’s desk, went to her and led her in her little white frock and pink sash, blushing and trembling, before the audience. The chief merits of this player were her “full, luscious tone,” and refined expression. Like many another talented beauty she was married early (to a pianist, with whom she went to the United States), and disappeared from European musical circles.

Not long after her successes, Brussels – in 1853-4 – hailed with the enthusiasm the début, at the Opera House, of the Demoiselles Ferny, who were pupils of Artot. These two sisters speedily became popular favourites; and the similitude of their name – Ferny – with Fréry, undoubtedly completed the extinction of the earlier star, who deserved to shine a little longer in the recollection of music-lovers.

After Teresa Milanollo, the next name to stamp itself indelibly upon the public consciousness is that of “Norman-Neruda.” Other women-violinists, notwithstanding great talents and sensational successes, scarcely attained to the true immortality of fame. But the position of Neruda, in the hierarchy of musicians, is one that cannot easily be overthrown.

Wilhelmina Neruda, born in 1840 at Brünn in Moravia, began to play the violin almost as soon as she could walk, and appeared in public at Vienna in 1846. Her master was Jansa. At nine years old she played a concerto of de Beriot’s at the London Philharmonic Concert, and was enthusiastically received. In 1865 she married Ludwig Norman, a Swedish musician, and five years afterwards played again at the Philharmonic, and was induced by Vieuxtemps to remain in London until the winter, when she accepted the post of leader of the quartet at the Popular Concerts. From that time it has been the good fortune of Londoners to hear her every winter at St. James’s Hall.

Of her perfect education, refined and intelligent phrasing, and depth of feeling, it is unnecessary to speak. The violin she uses is the “Strad” that belonged to Ernst; it was presented to her by the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and a few other distinguished amateurs.

Upon the death of Ludwig Norman, Madame Neruda married Sir Charles Hallé, with whom she made a most successful tour in Australia. In 1895, as none of us have forgotten, Sir Charles Hallé died, and, upon the suggestion of the Princess of Wales (of whom “Neruda” has long been a personal as well as a musical favourite), a subscription was raised for his widow. In 1896 Lady Hallé was presented by many admirers with the title-deeds of an estate and villa in Italy, and a purse of £500.

For so long now Lady Hallé has been a favourite of the British Public, for so long she has resided in our midst, that it is difficult to think of her as other than an Englishwoman. Yet neither her birth nor her parentage gives us the right to claim her as our own. But there is something in the repose and “at-homeness” of Lady Hallé’s bearing, both in public and private, and much in her devotion and loyalty to the British audiences who have delighted to applaud her through nearly half a century, that warrants the pride we all feel in our lion’s share of possession of her personality and talents. More than any other of the great violinists of the Victorian Era, she belongs to us. England may be proud of being the country of this great artist’s adoption. Her Majesty’s recognition of her husband, and the English title which, through him, “Norman-Neruda” bears, only serve to emphasize our claim to count her one of us.

Gabrielle Wietrowetz was born at Graz in Styria, in 1866. She is the daughter of an orchestral musician, who taught her all he could until she was placed in the Styrian Musical Society’s School under Caspar. Aided by the Styrian Government, Fräulein Wietrowetz entered the far-famed Hochschule in Berlin, where she worked under Joachim. Twice she won the Mendelssohn prize, and, at eighteen years of age, appeared at the Berlin Philharmonic Concert, when she played Max Bruch’s second concerto.

After playing in Bremen and other German towns, she came to London, and, among other engagements, has been heard several times as leader of the “Pop” Quartet. The breadth of her tone and beauty of her phrasing are remarkable; her interpretation of the music of Brahms being particularly striking. A woman of great strength and determination, she puts it all into her playing, adding much charm and tenderness.

Teresina Tua was born in 1867, and first appeared as a prodigy in Nice when seven years old. After a successful concert, she attracted the notice of a wealthy Russian, Madame Rosen, through whose interest she became pupil of Massart at the Paris Conservatoire. Queen Isabella of Spain, and Madame MacMahon (wife of the Field-Marshal) were also among those whose early notice contributed to the fostering of “La Tua’s” remarkable gifts. She appeared for the first time in England in 1883, when she created much sensation at the Crystal Palace Concerts, and played with success at the Philharmonic. She has visited America, and appeared in most of the chief cities of Europe. Upon her marriage with the Comte de Franchi Verney della Valetta, she retired for a time from public life, but re-appeared in Italy in 1891. In the January of last year she was heard once more in England, and gave a well-attended recital at St. James’s Hall. It is generally agreed that her style is now more matured; some earlier eccentricities having quite disappeared. Her tone is small, but the refinement of her expression and phrasing are delightful. She is, in every sense of the word, a charming player.

Irma Sethe, one of the most remarkable of living violinists, was born at Brussels in 1876. When only five years old she showed exceptional talent, and her mother persuaded the celebrated violinist, Jokisch, to give the little one lessons on the violin. After three months’ study she was able to play a sonata of Mozart’s, and at ten years of age she played a concerto by de Beriot, and a rondo capriccioso by Saint-Saëns, at a charity concert, when she was received with much applause.

The following year she made a still greater success at Aix-la-Chapelle, with the result that many engagements poured in upon her. But her mother wisely refused to allow her to begin her public career so early. She continued under the tuition of Jokisch until her fourteenth year, but spent her holidays in Germany, where she had lessons from Wilhelmj, who gave her a violin. She studied subsequently under Ysaye, who, surprised at her talent, advised her to enter the Brussels Conservatoire. After studying there eight months, she won the first prize. She was then only fifteen. In 1896 she appeared in London, and, during the Jubilee season, gave an orchestral concert at the Queen’s Hall.

Her playing is remarkable for great breadth of town, for refinement, combined with almost masculine power and intellect, and for an absolutely perfect intonation. In the opinion of many musicians, she is the finest lady-violinist who has yet appeared.

It is fortunate for the music-loving public that Irma Sethe’s marriage, which took place in Brussels last August, has not withdrawn her from the concert-room. With her husband, Dr. Saenger (littérateur and Professor of Philosophy at Berlin) Madame Sethe-Saenger has made her home in a charming modern flat in the Prussian capital. And as much as she delights in her Art, there is ever a wrench when she tears herself away from the calm and luxury of home, to fulfil the numerous engagements which are made for her by her agent Cavour in different parts of the Continent and British Isles. Her recent autumn visit to this country, when she played in the more important of our provincial towns, re-visited Scotland, and made her first appearance in Ireland, proved to her numerous admirers that hand and soul have not lost their cunning, nor wifehood staled the marvellous artistic power of Irma Sethe-Saenger.

Of English lady-violinists of the present reign, the earliest perhaps to commend herself to critical favour was Miss Browning (now Mrs. Osborne Ince) whose name is almost forgotten, though she is still living in our midst, and in touch with London musical life. This player had a breadth of tone which, in days of too exclusive devotion to technique, is refreshing to recall.

It was in 1874, in her very youthful days, that Miss Emily Shinner went to Berlin to study the violin. At that time – it is hardly credible in our more enlightened days – female violinists were not admitted to the Hochschule, so Miss Shinner had to content herself with taking private lessons from Herr Jacobsen. But one morning she was suddenly made aware of the fact that a lady-student who, in ignorance of the rules, had travelled all the way from Silesia, was, through the kindness of Professor Jachim, about to be examined for admission to the Hochschule. The English student lost no time in presenting herself as a second candidate. The result of the examination of both ladies was their acceptance of probationers, and they became thus the first two lady-students for the violin admitted to the famous Berlin Academy. At the end of six months, Joachim heard Miss Shinner play, and decided to take her as a pupil, whereby she gained the further distinction of being the first girl-violinist to study for the profession under the great master of our day.

About fifteen years ago, Miss Shinner was called upon, at short notice, to take Madame Neruda’s place as leader of the “Pop” Quartet. It appears to have been Miss Shinner’s destiny to break new ground, for she was the first lady to receive the honour of appearing in Neruda’s accustomed seat at the Popular Concerts. The middle movement of the quartet was encored; but so inexperienced was the young leader that it was only upon the hint of Mr. Ries that she accepted the encore and began it again. Since that time, Miss Shinner has always been more or less before the English public, and has devoted herself particularly to chamber music and quartet playing. Only two years ago she played Bach’s double concerto in conjunction with Joachim at the Crystal Palace. Her marriage, with Captain A. F. Liddell, took place in 1889.

Miss Ethel Barns is known both as a performer and as the composer of some charming violin solos. If there be anything in graphology, one ought to read some exceptional characteristics – an infinite power of taking pains, a precision, a force – in her musical hand-writing, characteristics which are all invaluable to a violin-player.

Another English violinist, just now coming to the front, is Miss Jessie Grimson. She was trained by her father, Mr. S. Dean Grimson, until 1889, when she won a scholarship at the Royal College.

Among a crowd of stars, whose persistent shining reveals them at last to sight, one appears sometimes with sudden meteor-flash. Miss Leonora Jackson is one of these.

Madame Soldat is a French player of exceptional ability, and the leader of the Viennese Ladies’ Quartet.

Among other lady-violinists who have become known to English audiences during the Victorian Era are Bertha Brousil, who now devotes herself to teaching; Terese Liebe, once resident in London, but at present living abroad; Marrie Motto; Nettie Carpenter; Anna Lang; Frida Scotta, who has appeared in most of the continent capitals, including Moscow in 1896; Marianne Eissler; Beatrice Langley; Louise Nanney; Camilla Urso; Edith Robinson.

We, of this time, have outlived the dark ages when the violin was looked upon as an exclusively manly instrument. It is one of the surest marks of progress in the Victorian Era that those days are passed. The fame of a Paganini, of an Ernst, of a Joachim, of a Sarasate, is a fame which women have proved themselves full worthy to share.

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Article: Woman’s Position in the Violin World, 1901

Every once and a while I come across historic articles that speak about the trend of women playing the violin in general. At least in my online research, they’re not as common as you might think. I just came across a fantastic website of digitized Etude magazines. Particularly awesome is a women’s issue from September 1901. I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but I just had to share this article, entitled “Woman’s Position in the Violin World”…which includes a much-coveted discussion about women playing the violin. Hurrah! Speaking from a modern perspective, it’s interesting to see how male violinists were perceived. This is a bit scandalous to say, but more than once the thought has crossed my mind that Victorians were often sexist…against men. In this article alone they are assumed to lack tenaciousness, steadfastness, and morality, among other things. Is it fair to say the sexism sometimes went both ways? … I think it is.

As an aside, it’s interesting to go through the covers, keeping an eye out for what roles women are playing. In the early years, they start out solely as passive listeners listening to men performing, or as accompanists for men, or as pianists in a domestic setting. Then in August 1910 Maud Powell and Cecile Chaminade and some other women are on the cover…with men. Jenny Lind makes an appearance in December 1913. In February 1920 a woman finally appears with a violin in a full-cover image (and it’s about time). In March 1921, a professional piano student appears in “the Master’s Studio.” In December 1922, there’s a really striking image of a woman in a fancy gown playing a violin concerto; it’s captioned “Her Hour of Triumph.” (You go, girl!) A liberated flapper who is terrorizing her old teacher with jazz makes an appearance in August 1926 in a cover entitled “The Jazzo-Maniac And Her Victim.” Because that jazz is seriously frightening stuff. Have you heard what Gershwin’s writing nowadays? … And then there’s October 1931‘s cover, which consists of a man and a woman, he playing piano and she playing violin. Apparently it is set in a fantasy decade in which women wore dresses from the Civil War and wore flapper bobs, and men wore outfits from the Regency period (and lipstick, apparently). But the sentiment of the image is nice, leastways; it’s captioned “Perfect Harmony.” It’s a pretty shocking transition to see in the space of twenty years, to say the least. (For additional images of women on the cover of Etude, check out November 1932, October 1933, September 1936, August 1939, January 1940, January 1946, September 1948, and August 1954.)

Anyway, here’s the article I was talking about. Expect to see more Etude articles as I get the chance to scout around the website more.

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About sixty years ago two young Italian girls, Teresa and Maria Milanolla, astounded European audiences with their beautiful violin-playing. They had been trained by the best virtuosi of their day, and their instrumental abilities, coupled with their youth and their charming personality, easily won the hearts of all music-lovers who had the privilege of hearing them play. Teresa, the elder of the gifted sisters, was born August 18, 1827; Maria was born June 18, 1832, and received her earliest instruction from her sister. Marvelous as it may seem to those who, in mature years, are still struggling with comparatively simple problems of violin-playing, these two Italian children were, in 1840, so far advanced in their art that they were enabled to appear with uncommon success on the concert-platforms of Germany, England, Belgium, Holland, and France. Maria’s untimely death (at Paris, October 21, 1848) greatly affected her sister’s artistic career; and though, after a long period of retirement, Teresa resumed her work as a concert-violinist, she was not heard in public later than 1857.

It may come as a surprise to those who associate woman and the violin with the “innovations” of quite recent years, that two young girls should have achieved success as violinists so long ago as did the Milanolla sisters, for it is hardly more than thirty years ago that the girl, more especially the American girl, who appeared in the street with a violin under her arm was generally regarded as a new, if not ridiculous, species of feminity. Little more than a quarter of a century ago violin-playing was hardly considered an “elegant” accomplishment for any young lady. Indeed, most parents had very decided views on this question, and they did everything in their power to discourage, rather than encourage, their daughters in a field of art which seemed to them to promise only social degradation. The ignominy attached to the ancient usuage of “fiddler” had not yet entirely lost its force. It was surely bad enough for a man to be a fiddler; but the mere thought of a refined young gentlewoman playing the violin, either in private or in public, was, indeed, intolerable.

Nowadays all this is changed. Narrow prejudices of earlier days have given place to common-sense appreciation. Ignorance of art-matters in general (in this country), and of the high position in musical art occupied by violin-playing, is wholly a condition of the past. Musical knowledge and a wider general culture have superseded ignorance and the most puerile conceptions of feminine refinement and social dignity. Briefly, society’s attitude toward the woman violinist is so completely metamorphosed that a young girl, possessed of neither wealth nor great physical or mental charms, but capable of playing the violin tolerably well, is strongly fortified for social and even material success. And for the young violiniste who is possessed of marked artistic ability in conjunction with pleasing personal attributes, there are absolutely no limitations to social conquest. For her the fiddle opens many a door which remains obdurately closed even to the wealthy. Her fiddle does not plead for her; it commands.

But, it will be asked, what is the woman violinist’s true position in the world of musical art? Ah, that is an entirely different question. Many stern, unyielding critics of to-day refuse to believe that a woman is capable of achieving greatness as a player of the violin. These critics, both professional and amateur, concede woman’s fitness to accomplish agreeable things as players of the king of instruments, but they are unwilling to believe that she possesses either the mental qualifications or the physical strength and endurance to enable her successfully to compete with man in the mastery of violin-technics. Time alone will decide whether these critics are right. But something may be said, even now, both for and against their opinion.

Experience has taught us that woman is, at least in many respects, peculiarly fitted to play the violin, and to play it exceedingly well. The gifted girl has infinitely more tenacity than the average gifted boy. When she is in earnest, her art is an all-governing passion. She applies herself to study with the devotion that characterizes her sex. Her zeal and ambition are steadfast: no petty pleasures could make her unfaithful to her work and her art.

But what shall we say of the average gifted young man? His progress is impeded, his development endangered by a thousand and one unprofitable divertisements. He is not blessed with a fine moral sense of his obligations to himself and his art. Harsh or unjust as such an accusation may seem, a glimpse into the lives of the talented young men who either are studying or have studied at the various European music-schools more than verifies such an unflattering estimate. The whole manner of life and thought of the gifted young woman, her sense of responsibility, her firm purpose and her nobility of character,—all are in fine agreement with an art which demands from its devotees what is good and true and beautiful.

On the other hand, it cannot be denied that, where the higher art of violin-playing is concerned, the average gifted woman labors under certain great disadvantages which too often prove fatal, insurmountable barriers to success. How many are blessed with the physical strength which is necessary to carry them through the long hard years of musical servitude? The limit of their physical endurance is not often commensurate with the demands of their art; and just when the greatest effort is required of them—when their highest musical and instrumental possibilities are dependent upon a continuance, if not an increase, of energy and vitality—they fail to put forth the requisite strength, and stop far short of their aspirations.

Then, again (and here we touch on delicate and dangerous ground), in the art of violin-playing, as in all the other arts, woman is, according to her critics, deficient in originality, and weak in her intellectual grasp of the greater compositions. Whatever there may be of truth or injustice in such an estimate of woman, this is assuredly not the place to attempt to verify or disprove our critics’ conclusion. It is true that many women violinists now before the public prove themselves to be clever imitators rather than original players. They shun all compositions which make serious demands on the intellect, and their repertoire may be said to consist of superficial nothings. But it is equally true that we have had, and still have, violinistes who play such concertos as the Beethoven and the Brahms with as little hesitancy as could be expected of any man. How well or ill they succeed in such bold attempts, however, is a question which elsewhere may be discussed with greater profit than here. Let us rather view the work and personality of a few of the best women violinists of the present day and the latter half of the nineteenth century.

Lady Halle.

Few violinists have had a more brilliant career than Lady Hallé, better known in the musical world as Wilhelmina Normann-Neruda. Few have better merited success than this distinguished artiste; few have retained their powers as concert-players throughout so great a number of years. Born at Brünn, March 21, 1839, Lady Hallé must look backward fully half a century to recall her earliest triumphs. Hardly more than two years have elapsed, however, since she visited the United States and demonstrated to thousands of intelligent admirers how well deserved was her European reputation. The freshness and purity of her style were as delightful as of yore, her technical equipment was most admirable and never betrayed her years. Indeed, her listeners found it no easy matter to believe that she was not in the first flush of womanhood and artistic strength.

It is more than twenty years ago since I first had the pleasure of hearing Lady Hallé play. Though possessed of only a boy’s imperfect musical judgment, I remember well how deeply her beautiful qualities impressed me. More especially do I remember her staccato work in the last movement of Vieuxtemps’s E-major concerto. Its wonderful crispness and rapidity were a revelation to me.

Lady Hallé is a highly-polished, exceedingly brilliant player, thoroughly at ease in all compositions of the virtuoso school; but to designate her as a virtuoso, implying thereby that her gifts and attainments are of an instrumental rather than musical order, would be a serious belittlement of her knowledge and her art. She has always been an earnest player, fortunate in her ability to play bravura pieces and compositions which demand intellectuality equally well. Her teacher, Leopold Jansa, who was far greater skilled as a quartet player than a soloist, early inspired in her a love for chamber-music, with the result that Lady Halle’s musical development kept pace with her budding virtuosity. Though the reputation she has earned is that of soloist, she has frequently appeared in public in London in conjunction with the quartet concerts given in that city for many years by Joachim.

Lady Hallé’s career as a soloist is necessarily approaching its termination; but that her musical and instrumental vitality have not yet departed, and that her abilities justify a continuance of her public work, her comparatively recent visit to the United States proved beyond a doubt. When Lady Hallé returned to Europe from this trip, she took up her residence in Berlin, where she has since been engaged in teaching the art she so nobly represents.

Camilla Urso.

In what may be termed New York’s premusical days, when Alboni and Sontag thrilled American audiences with their vocal art, there appeared in New York a young girl, a mere child of ten, who astounded musicians and music-lovers with her remarkable violin-playing. That Camilla Urso, the prodigy, gradually developed into the serious-minded and highly-accomplished artiste is a fact of which no one familiar with our musical history of the past forty years requires reminder, for since those early days, when the little wonder-girl achieved her first American triumphs at the concerts of Alboni and Sontag, her name has been closely associated with many of our most noteworthy musical ventures.

Camilla Urso was born at Nantes, France, in 1842. She had the good fortune to receive her instrumental training under Massart, that wonderful pedagogue to whom so many brilliant violinists are indebted for their artistry. As early as 1852 she came to the United States, accompanied by her father, practically making in this country the beginning of her artistic career. Shortly after this first successful trip she returned with her father to Europe, and devoted the next ten years or more to conscientious study and the achievement of a European reputation. Then she revisited the United States, and finally concluded to make this country her future home.

It is a much-to-be-regretted fact that the work of so accomplished an artiste as Camilla Urso has not had commensurate material reward. In this respect, at least, the gods have certainly been less kind to her than she deserved, and when, but a few years since, an enterprizing proprietor of vaudeville theaters made to her what seemed a brilliant offer, she was severely criticised in many quarters for accepting this opportunity of redeeming her broken fortunes. Without attempting to set up a logical defense of the position which she took in this unfortunate affair, it should be said, in all fairness, that she deserved the widest sympathy rather than the condemnation of her thoughtless critics.

Camilla Urso’s playing has always been characterized by uncommon digital ability, an exceedingly dexterous wrist, and that fine finish which is almost invariably the product of the school in which she was trained. About ten years ago she met with a mishap in New York, and for a time it seemed as though she would not recover sufficiently to resume professional work. As it was, her wrist remained affected, and certain bowings, particularly staccato, remain constant reminders of her accident.

 Teresina Tua.

It would be difficult to imagine a more charming and captivating violiniste than was Teresina Tua in the early eighties. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that both her personality and her art entranced all Europe. Her exceeding loveliness of face and form bewitched her audiences before they heard her play, and it was not long before she was known throughout Europe as “Die Geigenfee” (the violin fairy).

Surely it will always be deplored by all who heard her play in those days—myself among the number—that Teresina Tua’s career was so metorically brief. Comparatively few people are familiar with the unfortunate circumstances which, in reality, had the effect of abruptly terminating her public work. Her sudden retirement from public life, at a time when she gave such splendid promise of future greatness, will always remain an enigma to the majority of her admirers.

Teresina Tua was born in Turin, Italy, May 22, 1867. When only thirteen years of age she received the first prize at the Paris Conservatory. Like so many other players, she owed the development of her remarkable gifts to the genius and faithful guidance of Massart. Under this master her talents ripened so rapidly that, in 1880, she played an ample repertoire of concertos and solo pieces with an artistic perfection which almost defied criticism. Everywhere she played she was the idol of the day. In 1882 she made her first concert-trip through Germany; and in orthodox old Leipzig, as well as in the home of Joseph Joachim, the beautiful Italian girl’s playing created nothing less than a sensation.

Teresina Tua’s visit to the United States, in 1887, proved the first in a series of misfortunes which resulted in her retirement to private life. Feeble health, combined with wretched mismanagement, destroyed all possibilities of success in the United States. What should have been a most brilliant and profitable season proved only a dismal fiasco. She appeared at few concerts, and the critics, as well as the public, withheld from her the homage to which she had grown accustomed. She returned to Europe quite disheartened, if not embittered, with her experience in America, and not long after she decided to abandon the concert-stage altogether. Leaving the scenes of her many triumphs, she returned to Italy, where, several years later, she married an Italian nobleman. Several times it has been rumored that she would re-enter public life, but she has doubtless preferred domestic peace and happiness to the trials and tribulations incident to a public career.

 Maud Powell.

It seems as though it were but yesterday that a little American girl came soberly walking toward the old conservatory, a fiddle tucked under her arm, and resolution plainly written on her comely face. Yet twenty years and more have passed away since then, and the little girl has grown to womanhood and accomplished laudable things. She has more than fulfilled the promise of her childhood, for she has outstripped all her American sisters in the art of violin-playing, and stands to-day the representative woman violinist of the United States.

Miss Powell’s success was not so easily won as that of many of our gifted players. Her career is a striking illustration of the possibilities of earnest endeavor and unfaltering resolution. When she returned to the United States, in 1885, she did not meet with that immediate success which sets all doubts aside; but step by step, year after year, she has risen in the public’s esteem, till her position is at last firmly established and her future success assured.

After a year or more of study at the Leipzig Conservatory Miss Powell decided to go to Paris, feeling that the training of the purely French school was best suited to her needs. But the experiment proved less satisfactory than she had hoped it would; and, after lingering in the French capital for a period of about two years, she betook herself to Berlin, hoping to find in Joachim her ideal of a great pedagogue. But there, too, she was doomed to disappointment. The methods of training pursued at the Berlin Hochschule failed to enlist her sympathies. She did not find at the Hochschule what she had long sought in vain. Nevertheless she decided to remain in Berlin, and during her comparatively brief stay she remained true to her purpose to succeed, and continued her work under Joachim as a painstaking and industrious student.

It must be confessed that when Miss Powell left the Hochschule her playing was crude and immature, revealing none of the admirable qualities which now strongly characterize her work. She had, it is true, a certain degree of technical ability which enabled her to play important compositions with reasonable accuracy; but beyond this there was little in her performances that was truly interesting to the intelligent and exacting musician. In those days, however, girl violinists were not as numerous in the United States as they are to-day, and Miss Powell experienced little or no difficulty in obtaining lucrative engagements.

It was just at this period of her career, during the first few years of success in her native land, that Miss Powell began to reveal those qualities which have since elevated her art. Not content with financial reward and meaningless successes, she applied herself each year more seriously and vigorously to study. The results which she has achieved prove not only a justification of her early self-confidence, but they prove also how important a factor in success is dogged perseverance.

Miss Powell’s abilities are sure to command respect wherever she may play. Her reappearance in the United States last season, after an absence in Europe of several years, materially assisted in strengthening her position both at home and abroad. She has again returned to Europe, where, it is hoped, she will repeat her successes of recent years.

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Works Associated With Female Violinists

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

***

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

***

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)

***

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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A (Transcribed) Chat With Lady Hallé, 1894

Here’s a great interview with Wilma Norman-Neruda (also known as Lady Hallé) from Cassel’s Magazine in 1894. Link to the Google scan here.

***

A Chat With Lady Hallé

By the Baroness Von Zedlitz

Violin playing has, during the last century, attained a high degree of real excellence in England, although, we regret to say, not particularly through the instrumentality of English executants. On the contrary, England has produced but few solo violin players of eminence, and violin virtuosity has, as a rule, been most ably represented in this country by foreigners.

Although we may not claim her as our own, by reason of her alien birth and extraction, we are proud to know that the subject of this word-sketch, Lady Hallé, has settled down on British soil, and has chosen her home in our very midst.

Her inherent genius, coupled with early and strict training, undoubtedly has contributed much to the shining success with which, since the date of her earliest musical reminiscences, she has displayed and perfected the brilliant gifts bestowed upon her by Queen Nature.

The power of really pure interpretation on the violin has not been bestowed upon many women, and Lady Hallé may be said with truth to have been the first girl-artist who had the pluck to stand by her inclinations, and who refused to allow herself to be disheartened by outward considerations not consistent with her inborn principles and predilections with regard to her executive art.

At the tender age of seven her wonderful powers began to assert themselves, but – she tells me – they had to be exercised almost by strategem.

When I had the pleasure of a chat with Lady Hallé some days ago at her charming home, she was kind enough to give me some interesting details concerning her eventful career.

“My parents didn’t want me to play the violin,” said Lady Hallé, after we had fallen out of the ordinary routine of small talk, “but my brother Victor, who was then preparing to study with my father, inspired me with the notion that there was more to be got out of his child-violin – a mere toy, without much feeling or tone – then he seemed able to draw forth with his bow.

“It absolutely fascinated me so that I had no rest until I had handled it myself.

“In those days there was rather a strong prejudice against violin-playing among our sex; it was not considered a graceful accomplishment nor a womanly one, but I found it impossible to crush the desire within me to draw the bow across the strings of my brother’s violin; so I lay in watch for the moment when he would go out, and then stole to his room in order to shut myself up and indulge in the sweet notes of the instrument.

“Forbidden fruit, indeed, and therefore all the more luscious to taste!

“To begin quite at the commencement of my career, however, I should tell you that I was born in Brunn, Moravia, my birthday being the 21st of March, 1840. My father held the position of organist and Capellmeister at the Cathedral of that town, and the Neruda family dates back, musically, to the seventeenth century. The earliest musician of our name was Jakob Neruda, who died in 1732.

“His sons were also musicians, and when they died the sons of the younger offspring of Jakob Neruda, called Baptiste Georg, left two sons behind him, both of whom became chamber-musicians at the Court of Dresden. The elder of these brothers was the grandfather of my father.

“It was necessary to go back a little in the history of our family in order to show you that there was a very excellent raison d’étre for my early musical proclivities.

“It became evident to my parents that a career lay before me, although they were quite averse to my taking to the violin. They wanted me to play the piano; but as a child I hated the idea. Matters continued in this wise [sic?] for some time, I always secretly increasing my power over the instrument, without informing my parents of the progress I had made, until one day by accident my father heard the strains of music emerging from my brother’s room, and, overjoyed at the progress he believed his little son to have made, he rushed upstairs and discovered his mistake!”

“What happened then, Lady Halle?” I asked, becoming keenly interested in the turn of events.

“Well,” she replied, after a pause, “my father was very much disappointed and pleased at the same time. I feared that the discovery would lead to a strict prohibition on the part of my parents of my ever touching a violin again.

“But I was overjoyed when my father took me in his arms, his eyes moist with tears, showing me that his artistic nature (for he was every inch a musician) had experienced pleasurable appreciation at the surprise that came upon him, in spite of my brother’s backwardness; and from that day forth my father devoted his spare time to the development of my talent.

[Victor Neruda later became a cellist, so apparently he eventually caught on!]

“Yes, my first laurels were earned at an absurdly early age, and this circumstance, like the origination of my career, occurred, so to speak, by accident. I was practicing one day with my father as usual, for we were very industrious and ardent in our devotions to music, when Professor Jansa rushed in unexpectedly to see my father on some matter concerning a concert which he was arranging. This incident occurred in Vienna. On hearing me play Jansa – I can see his face before me now – appeared to be electrified, and almost beside himself with joy. Nothing would do but I must play at his concert, which suggestion was at first pooh-poohed by my father, but then taken seriously into consideration after the continuously urgent entreaties pressed upon him by Jansa.

“I think I was the least preoccupied member of the trio, for the importance of facing an audience at that age was a thing unknown to me.

“I played at Jansa’s concert and achieved a phenomenal success at my first appearance on the platform; I believe that, entre autres, I ventured upon a sonata of Bach, which elicited a veritable deluge of applause. After that Jansa became my master.”

“Who were your subsequent teachers, Lady Hallé?”

“I have never studied under any others than my father and Jansa.

“I thoroughly disapprove of the system of changing schools so prevalent just now. One master only should develop and train the flexible, impressionable growth of interpretation, so that the young shoots in the form of impressions may not wander adrift and lose themselves in the ocean of infinity. Is it not better to adopt one particular manner of expression and express one’s self well than to try several methods and interpret these indifferently?

“We each have sympathies and special affinities which we should endeavour to portray with our own individuality.

“It is a thousand pities that beginners are sometimes placed under the direction of mediocre teachers. It is suggested that they will not require a good master until their talent is more advanced, and then, when they have wasted years of fruitless labour, and have acquired much that is deteriorating to their technique and style, they find themselves placed under a first-class tutor, who will not tolerate their faults – by this time deeply rooted – and who, in dealing peremptorily with badly-acquired habits, often crushes an intelligence which might have blossomed into something better than good.

“Genius should be dexterously trained from youth upwards, or it loses much of its inborn strength.

“The violin is, next to the voice, the most powerful exponent of musical feeling, and requires to be dealt with poetically, simply, and yet characteristically.

“The player during his period of experiment should try to adopt a style in unison with the nature and idealism of his instrument if he desires to obtain brilliant and beautiful effects. These last named can only be ensured by entirely abandoning one’s self to the devotional study of one’s art, for nothing is more painful than a crude, erring technique or a want of feeling and refinement in the production of musical sounds on this particularly subtle instrument.

“On the other hand, there is nothing more divine, nay heavenly, than the nobility and grandeur of a perfect interpreter of the literature of the violin – heavenly indeed, for we can trace its religious influence back to the year 1650, in which we find that the clergy, once having discovered the artistic capabilities of the violin, were not slow to introduce it to the services of the Church.

“The violin,” continued my hostess, “is generally acknowledged to be the most popular and useful of all portable musical instruments; besides, is it not the principal one in figuring in a stringed orchestra?”

“On question, Lady Hallé. Do you consider violin playing a facile accomplishment?”

“Yes; certainly. There is none that can be so easily mastered, if the learner sets about his task in the right way; for the fiddle exercises a subtle charm over the mind – a charm which furnishes much good suggesting for conceiving and executing the ideal of the composer.”

“Do you agree with the theory of an old fiddle being better than a new one?”

“A violin can only be well made to begin with, and one must not always judge the instrument by its outward appearance. Some of the old Cremona violins have been overrated by reason of the beauty of their ornate designs; but there is every reason to believe that the more modern master-makers have produced, and do produce, as beautiful tones in their violins as those emitted by the ancient ones.

“There is a peculiar fascination, I am told, in putting an old, disused violin through a course of rehabilitation, and in reawakening its old musical capacities. Thus the violin enjoys a sort of mysterious immortality, the effect of which is augmented by the often erroneous theory that no good makers of violins have existed since the Cremona days. The main excellences of a violin are purely mechanical; therefore let it not be judged by its outward appearance any more than a singing-bird be praised for its fine feathers. [In another book I read, her husband, pianist and conductor Charles Hallé wrote in August 1890, "On Monday morning our beautiful goldfinch died in Wilma's hand, to our great grief. The last two days it had been ailing, but we hoped it would get better again; we were very sorry indeed. If, according to Hector Malot, great affection for animals is a sign of insanity, then Wilma and I are a very insane couple. " Later in the same book he makes the satisfied observation that "We travel now with no less than sixteen birds." In light of this, I found her analogy to birds to be rather endearing!]

“Remember the violin is quite three centuries old, and is practically the only instrument that has not undergone any radical change. Many futile attempts have been made to improve it, but all experiments have failed, and the violin will ever maintain its sway over all other musical instruments.”

“Do you know to whom is attributed the invention of the violin in the first instance?” I inquired later.

“It is commonly supposed,” said Lady Hallé, “that a man of the name of Diuffoprugcar, born at Bologna, was the originator, and I am told that there exist three genuine violins of his making, dating back as far as 1520; but I believe that the authenticity of any date in a violin before 1520 is questionable.”

“Which of the ancient makers, in your opinion, are most productive of perfection in tone qualities?”

“There you ask me a difficult question. I love my Stradivarius, and for me there exists not a violin to surpass it in the exquisite delicacy of its intonation. But we have it on the best authorities – to whose superior power I bow in submission – that for sweetness of tone and beauty of design the brothers Antonius and Hieronymus Amati are even now hard to beat.”

After the Jansa concert Lady Hallé’s (then Wilhelmine Neruda) career formed itself, and the little artist threw her heart and soul into her studies. We hear that in 1849 the gifted child made her first appearance in London on the 11th of June at the Philharmonic Concert, where she made her debut before our warm-hearted English public, which has never forgotten her effective rendering of one of De Bériot’s concertos, and ever since has recognized in her one of the most accomplished musicians of the century.

“By this time,” continued Lady Hallé, while alluding to her subsequent studies, “I had traveled a great deal, having visited Leipzig, Berlin, Berslau, Hamburg, and other German cities, where I am bound to say I met with friends who have remained so all my life, and advisers and just critics at whose hearts lay the interest of my future, and who counseled me for the best in all my undertakings.”

“In what year did you first visit Paris?” I asked then.

“In 1864,” was Lady Hallé’s answer, “where I played at the Pasdeloup concerts, at the Conservatoire, and elsewhere. Here, too, I met with remarkable ovations and enthusiasm from the music-loving French, who have ever since accorded me a welcome which could hardly fail to surpass the expectations of even the most fastidious of artists.”

“Did you ever compose any music for the violin, Lady Hallé?”

“No, at least nothing worth speaking of. As a girl I may have indulged in one or two musical fancies, but as a rule I preferred other compositions to my own.”

“And who are your favorite composers?”

“What a question to ask!” exclaimed Lady Hallé with warmth. “For an empire I could not specify any special favourites. I love all music. From Bach and Mozart to Chaminade [interestingly, Lady Hallé is referring to Cécile Chaminade, arguably the most famous and highly regarded female composer around the turn of the century] there is such a wealth of great and noble works, each is so beautiful of its kind, that is would be difficult to specify anything individually.

“When I play Brahms I am enraptured; then comes the passion and grandeur of Wagner; after that, I am bewitched by the beautiful simplicity of Bach or the wild impetuosity of Chopin; and thus each in his turn makes of me a most devoted slave.”

“Will you show me your violin?” I begged, ere I took my leave, and Lady Hallé then proceeded to display a very costly Stradivarius which, she informed me, was the joint gift of the Lord Dudley and the Duke of Edinburgh.

“How curious it is,” I remarked, while examining the deft mechanism, “that such a simple-looking instrument should possess such a wealth of melody and charm!”

“Yes, indeed,” was Lady Hallé’s reply; “but, as I said before, it is not so easy to make it sing. That which is worth speaking is worth repeating; but it is hard to give the violin sympathetic speech unless the words you wish it to utter are the echo of your heart’s own sentiments.

“How earnestly I would wish to impress upon all young girls that violin-playing is not an accomplishment quickly acquired; it demands a life of earnest study and undivided attention. I think I may say that, beautiful as this particular branch of music is, I would rather hear one who plays really well then ten who interpret indifferently.”

To revert to the continuance of her career Mademoiselle Neruda entered into matrimony with a Swedish musician, Ludwig Norman, while she was in Paris. Her husband, however, died shortly after their marriage, and the distinguished violinist has since then been known in musical circles under the name of Norman Neruda. [Actually, Ludwig Norman did not die; the two separated, and possibly even divorced. Whether the reporter heard faulty information or Wilma flat-out lied to her, we don't know!]

In 1869 Madame Neruda visited England again and played at the Philharmonic Society on the 17th of May. At this stage of her career she was no longer the infant prodigy who had promised to become “somebody”; she had outstripped the years of infantine celebrity, and appeared before a critical audience in the zenith of her musical powers.

The fragile-looking child-artist had developed into a handsome, well-built woman whose brilliancy of talent and charm of execution electrified all those who heard her.

Joachim’s opinion, expressed about her to Sir Charles Hallé, many years ago, was a very correct one, although (with his usual grace) he could not help praising a fellow artist without undervaluing his own unimpeachable talent.

This is what he said of her:-

“I recommend to your attention this young lady. Mark my word, when people shall have heard her play, they will not think so much of me.”

And the public did, and does think very much of her, although they do not think any the less of Joachim on that account; his name is encircled by an aureole of fame which no lapse of time can dim.

At the Philharmonic Society M. Vieuxtemps had occasion to hear Madame Neruda, and was so deeply interested by the perfection of maturity into which the promise of childhood’s genius had ripened that he endeavoured to persuade her to remain in London until the winter, and, in the end, she was induced to take the lead of the string quartet in the Monday Popular Concerts before Christmas, and at once assumed her proper place in the front rank of first-class violinists.

Here it is appropriate to mention that Sir C. Hallé obtained her services for his recitals in London and Manchester, and that she appeared in many provincial towns, where she met with equal and undaunted success, and that Sir Charles Hallé, having lost his first wife in the early days of wedlock, married Madame Neruda in 1888.

Lady Hallé has given concerts in Russia, Prussia, Denmark, Great Britain, etc., not forgetting Australia, and has received many testimonials and orders of distinction from crowned heads.

In her reception rooms I espied innumerable gifts and souvenirs, some photographic, others autographic, testifying to the esteem with which she is regarded by the Royal family, and especially by Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales, of whom she possesses many portraits, all of which are signed. One photograph struck me particularly as being an excellent likeness of His Royal Highness the late Duke of Clarence and Avondale, taken with his mother, under which are inscribed the simple but touching words, “Alexandra, and my first-born,” which seem to point to the burden of a distressing memory. Yet another interesting portrait is that of Her Royal Highness in her robes of Mus.Doc., also signed “Alexandra.” [Alexandra received a doctorate of music from Trinity College in Dublin in 1885.]

And now I would venture to speak of the personality of this brilliant artist, and to add a few words in humble criticism of her executive talent. Lady Hallé possesses an unerring sense of artistic propriety and technical perfection, therefore the strongest feelings of form and sound are displayed in her fine renderings of no matter what composer. Pathos, dignity, and gracefulness are her chief means of expressing herself, while often she displays a fire of passionate emotion which tells us that the artist’s heart and soul are devoted to her art. The left-hand technique shows how capable she is of executing all difficulties without displaying any symptom of labour, and that the systematic perseverance with which she has applied herself to her studies has borne good fruits, of which the universal public is the happy recipient.

Her manner, which is gentle and courteous, has much refinement about it, and when roused to speak upon matters that interest her she becomes eloquent, while her looks imply that she seriously means what she says.

Her house and surroundings show her artistic fondness for rich warm colours and harmonious decorations, and her desire to have around her the counterfeit presentments of all her confreres in the musical world.

In Australia, when Lady Hallé, accompanied by her husband, Sir C. Hallé, gave a brilliant series of concerts, she was received with much favour, and at the conclusion of their visit to Melbourne, which lasted six weeks, a huge floral lyre was presented to her by the members of the Victorian orchestra as a token of their esteem and admiration.

That Lady Hallé has studied hard and has won her laurels through legitimate diligence is a fact of world-wide renown, and that this constant mental application has not spoilt her youthful enjoyment both of life and natural beauty may be gathered by the extraordinary charm of her artistic capabilities, as well as her amiability and cordiality as a hostess and friend.

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Wilma Norman-Neruda And A Short History of Female Violinists

This is the first essay I wrote about female violinists, and the beginning of my addiction. It appeared here on violinist.com in June of 2010. I’ve edited it a bit and added some more stuff that’s popped up online in the last year or so.

***

Here’s a little quiz for those of you who consider yourself somewhat knowledgeable about the history of violin-playing.

Have you ever heard of Ysaÿe? Joachim? Tartini? Sarasate? Kreisler? Of course.

But how about Sacchi? Norman-Neruda? Urso? Hall? Parlow? Jackson? Soldat? Tua? Saenger-Sethe?

The first list contains the names of men; the second, of women. Due to a sad twist of fate, the manifold accomplishments of female violin virtuosas from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have largely slipped from our collective consciousness. In an era when an ever-increasing percentage of our great violinists are women, it is worth taking a step back and recognizing that just a few generations ago, violin-playing was considered to be not just unladylike, but indecent. This review of a concert by violinist Elise Mayer Filipowicz, dating from 1834, is a typical one: although her playing “[gave] our ears great pleasure,…our eyes told us that the instrument is not one for ladies to attempt.” Louis Spohr, according to Paula Gillett in her book Musical Women in England, 1870-1914, believed that women were guilty “of mishandling the violin and lowering performance standards.” A woman named Blanche Lindsay wrote in 1880 that she had “known girls of whom it was darkly hinted that they played the violin, as it might be said that they smoked big cigars, or enjoyed the sport of rat-catching.”

Why did women violinists excite such an acute antipathy? As with so many other deeply entrenched societal attitudes, it seems that there was not one simple explanation, but rather a series of interrelating ones. First and foremost, the violin did not have a particularly wholesome reputation in the early part of the nineteenth century. Although the violin has been associated with Satan for hundreds of years (a belief that first gained traction when portable stringed instruments were played during dances, gatherings which the Catholic Church looked down upon), the connection was solidified in the popular imagination by the performances of Nicolò Paganini (1782-1840), a violinist who looked so macabre and played so brilliantly he was widely assumed to be in league with the devil. Paradoxically, women in the Victorian era were considered to be both spiritually weaker and purer than men, and while it was believed that they needed to be protected from spiritually corrosive forces, they were also expected to set a spiritual and moral example to society as a whole. Playing an instrument so long and so closely associated with the devil was deemed to be incompatible with such a lofty goal.

Other more insidious reasons came into play. In the gender-obsessed Victorian era, men and women alike were all too aware of the aesthetic similarities between a violin and a woman’s body. As if to underscore these similarities, violins and human beings even share many of the names of their parts (the belly, the ribs, the neck, etc.). Not to mention that the range of the violin is almost identical to that of a soprano – a uniquely womanly range. Most people believed that such an obviously feminine instrument required a masculine player – a “master” – to play and dominate it, as they felt that women needed to be “played” and dominated by men. A woman playing the violin was faintly suggestive of lesbianism or self-love. Even Yehudi Menuhin, born in 1916, long after the Victorian era had come to a close, subscribed to a form of this view, writing:

I have often wondered whether psychologically there is a basic difference between the woman’s relationship to the violin and the man’s… Does the woman violinist consider the violin more as her own voice than the voice of one she loves? Is there an element of narcissism in the woman’s relation to the violin, and is she, in fact, in a curious way, better matched for the cello? The handling and playing of a violin is a process of caress and evocation, of drawing out a sound which awaits the hands of the master.

As if these reasons were not vague or bizarre enough, Victorian reviewers often even objected to the way that women looked when playing the violin. The standing, the clamping down of the chin, and quick energetic bowing in presto passages were all deemed to be aesthetically unpleasing and inherently unfeminine motions, verging on un-chaste. Ladies were encouraged to stick to instruments that were thought to be more passive and domestic, such as the piano or the harp, where the fingers moved more than the arms.

Whatever its precise causes, prejudice against female violinists was rampant throughout Europe until the mid-Victorian era. Despite this, a few exceptional female players still made their way into the music history books. Mozart wrote his b-flat minor violin sonata, K. 454, at the request of a female violinist named Regina Strinasacchi Schlick, about whom he declared, “No human being can play with more feeling.” Viotti taught at least two women, one of whom tutored Empress Josephine’s son. Paganini is reputed to have given lessons to a talented youngster from his hometown of Genoa, Italy, named Caterina Calgano. The “sisters Milanollo” – two sisters named Teresa (1827-1904) and Maria (1832-1848) – were prodigies who played the violin together all over Europe in the 1840s. When Maria died at the age of sixteen, the grief-stricken Teresa continued her career as a solo violinist. Still, despite these and other contributions by female string players, it was generally considered strange for a woman to play the violin, and there were no women virtuosos to speak of who could stand in comparison with the best of men.

Into this prejudiced musical climate, a little girl named Wilhelmine Maria Franziska Neruda was born in Brno, now in the Czech Republic, sometime between 1838 and 1840 (as with many prodigies, there are conflicting reports over the year of her birth). Music surrounded little Wilma from the beginning; her father Josef was the organist at the Brno cathedral, and her ancestors had a local reputation of being exceptionally musical. At least five of her siblings showed extraordinary musical promise from a very early age: all were prodigies, and all went on to become professional musicians – Olga and Amalie on the piano, Viktor and Franz on the cello, and Marie on the violin.

Shortly before her fourth birthday, Wilma began to show an interest in the violin. Her father, alarmed at her preference for such an unfeminine instrument, directed her to the piano instead. But, as one 1899 article in a Toronto newspaper delicately put it, “She had a most cordial dislike for the piano, regarding it as an instrument of limitations.” Josef had been teaching one of his sons to play the violin, and one day Wilma got a hold of it. She began playing in secret, resolving that if nobody was going to teach her how to play, she would just do it herself. When she was discovered, instead of disciplining her, Josef relented and began to give his persistent daughter lessons. Much to his astonishment, she caught on more quickly than her brother. By the time she was six, Josef sent Wilma to Vienna, where she studied under Leopold Jansa, a famous Bohemian violinist. Wilma Neruda proved to be one of his two most famous pupils; the other was the violinist and composer Karl Goldmark.

In 1846 Wilma Neruda made her public debut in Vienna, accompanied by her pianist sister Amalie. Shortly afterward their father took them on a concert tour across Europe, along with their cellist brother Viktor. Wilma quickly emerged as the star. In April of 1849 the family gave their London debut. Wilma playing Vieuxtemps’s Arpeggio and Ernst’s Carnival of Venice variations, with Amalie and Viktor accompanying. (Little did she know that when she grew up she would play Ernst’s Stradivari.) Their two concerts were so successful that the family was re-engaged for sixteen more. At these later concerts she played a de Bériot concerto and Vieuxtemps’s Yankee Doodle Variations, as well as a composition entitled “God Save the Queen” – as composed by herself! The critics raved over her intonation and bowing; her up and down bow staccato were said to be some of the cleanest the London critics had heard.

In June of that year she gave yet another concert in England, playing another de Bériot concerto. A Mr. Chorley, from the Athenaeum magazine, wrote in a lukewarm review:

Mdlle. Wilhlemine Neruda – whom we may name since there is small chance of our remarks reaching her painfully – has been capitally trained – and may, in time, emulate those more distinguished girl-violinists, the sisters Milanollo; but childish curiosity and indulgent applause – were they not destructive to their victim – are not the emotions to excite which the Philharmonic Concerts were founded.

Chorley ostensibly claimed to object to Wilma’s appearance because she was a flashy prodigy as opposed to than a full-fledged performing artist, but he was concealing the fact that he was one of the many people who were hostile to the idea of women performers. A few decades later, after Wilma had established a commanding international career, and other women were following suit, he famously complained in the press that “The fair sex are encroaching on all men’s privileges.” Thankfully, as Wilma grew up, such views slowly but surely became more and more unfashionable. Wilma Neruda – along with the Milanollo sisters and another female violinist named Camilla Urso (1842-1902) – were gradually helping to reshape ideas about the appropriateness of the violin for ladies. Although audiences were skeptical at the idea at first, the more they saw women violinists perform, the less threatening they became. It seemed to them that women who had devoted their lives to the violin were not any less feminine than those who hadn’t. It was an uphill struggle, but the battle against prejudice had begun.

In 1852 Wilma and her family arrived in Moscow to give a series of concerts. For one of them, she played in the same concert with the seventeen-year-old prodigy Henryk Wieniawski. After Wilma’s performance, Henri Vieuxtemps came onstage to present her with a bouquet of flowers while the enthusiastic audience gave her a standing ovation. Wieniawski became jealous of Wilma’s great triumph and elbowed his way back onstage, loudly insisting that he was the better violinist and offering to prove it. Outraged audience members clambered up onto the stage to quiet him, but this only angered him more. When a Russian general came to reason with him, Wieniawski prodded him with his bow and ordered him to be quiet. Harassing a member of the military in such a fashion was no small offense in Imperial Russia, and Wieniawski was ordered to leave Moscow within twenty-four hours. His punishment could easily have been much worse. It is strange to think that Wieniawski may have been injured or killed, and his subsequent contributions to violin music lost, over such a trivial scuffle. Despite the insult Wieniawski had paid her, Wilma played his compositions throughout her life. One wonders if every time she pulled out the sheet music she remembered the commotion she had set off in Moscow.

In 1859, at the age of twenty, Wilma became the first violinist in a group known as the Neruda Quartet, comprised of various Neruda children. While touring together, Wilma and her sister Maria met a wide variety of famous Europeans, including Hans Christian Andersen in Denmark in 1862. Sometime during her travels, Wilma met a Swede named Frederick Wilhlem Ludwig Norman. He was a conductor and composer, remembered today as one of the great Swedish symphonists of the late nineteenth century. He had known Robert Schumann during his student days in Leipzig and was now a teacher at the Royal Music Academy in Stockholm. Wilma and Ludwig fell in love and married in 1864. Their first child, Ludwig, was born in November 1864, and their second, Felix, was born in May of 1866.

Marriage and pregnancy almost always spelled an end to female musicians’ careers in the Victorian era. Wilma’s contemporary, the violinist Camilla Urso, counseled all serious female musicians to never get married because she felt they wouldn’t be able to balance their personal and professional lives. In an age before birth control, when it was common for women to bear over ten children, this was a legitimate concern. However, Clara Schumann, the remarkable concert pianist who had raised eight children while successfully concertizing throughout Europe, had proved to the world that marriage and a career were not necessarily incompatible. Wilma was intimately familiar with her example, as her pianist sister had studied with Clara. Not many women were willing to follow Clara’s lead, but Wilma was one of the few who did. Even after she had her two boys, she kept on playing and touring. The only difference was that now, instead of appearing as the diminutive “Wilma Neruda” she was the commanding “Madame Norman-Neruda.” Interestingly her sons also took her hyphenated name, so that they were known as Felix and Ludwig Norman-Neruda. Whether that was because of a quarrel with their father, to bask in their mother’s professional success, or for another reason altogether, is unknown.

Unfortunately Ludwig and Wilma’s marriage was not a happy one. Although they never divorced (Wilma was Catholic), they did eventually part ways. Wilma did not hide the fact that she was separated from her husband from the press; the fact was often mentioned in contemporary music biographies of her.

Wilma kept up her extraordinary work throughout the 1870s, playing concerti by Mendelssohn, Spohr, Wieniawski, Beethoven, and others, as well as various demanding sonatas and showpieces. She continued to gain the respect of her male colleagues; in the late 1870s, the great Spanish virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate dedicated his Romanza Andaluza and Jota Navarra to Wilma.

Playing the violin, however, was only a small part of her overall workload. It has to be remembered that in those days, there were no travel agents making arrangements for musicians. Virtuosos themselves often communicated directly with orchestras to arrange their programs. And not only did they have to determine their own programs, they also had to know who was playing what concerto in various cities across Europe, so that they would not play a piece that had just been performed. There is a fascinating letter in the UK National Archives written to a concert manager in Holland in which Wilma suggests a program for her upcoming tour there. She gave the manager two programs to choose from: first, the twenty-second concerto of Viotti or the eighth concerto of Spohr, paired with the second two movements of the first Vieuxtemps concerto; or second, the slow movement from Spohr’s ninth concerto or Beethoven’s Romance in F, paired with the Mendelssohn concerto – that is, unless Joachim has recently played the Mendelssohn in Amsterdam, as she knew he had recently visited there. It must have taken extraordinary energy to keep up that kind of correspondence with the concert managers of Europe, as well as keep in shape technically, all while raising her children.

During this busy time she often collaborated with her multiple musical siblings. In one concert program in London in 1875 she played first violin in a trio by Bargiel; two pieces by Schumann rearranged for two violins and cello (with Wilma and her sister Maria, now married and known as “Madame Arlberg-Neruda” on violin, and her brother Franz on cello); and finally, to wrap things up, the Schumann E-flat quintet, with Charles Hallé on the piano and Franz on cello.

Wilma Norman-Neruda with her male colleagues, leading the Monday Popular Concerts string quartet

Wilma was the first woman violinist to play chamber music professionally with men. Vieuxtemps – the same violinist who had given her the bouquet of flowers in Moscow, much to Wieniawski’s dismay – suggested in the early 1870s that she lead the fashionable Monday Popular Concerts quartet in London. She was hesitant to accept the offer, but, encouraged by Vieuxtemps, she finally consented. Her concerts there were great triumphs, at which she played everything from Beethoven to Mozart to Cherubini to the Dvorak Quintet. Elsewhere in London she performed Grieg’s violin sonatas with the composer himself at the piano, and in the 1890s she played the Bach double violin concerto with no less a partner than Joseph Joachim, possibly the greatest violinist of the era. It must have been a thrill for their listeners to see the two on the same stage, as Wilma was often compared to him in the press. He once said, “Mark this, when people have given her a fair hearing, they will think more of her and less of me.”

Hush! The Concert, by James Tissot, 1875. The woman in the picture is widely thought to be Wilma Norman-Neruda.

Throughout the 1870s and 1880s, the stigma attached to female violinists gradually began to fade. In fact, Wilma and Camilla Urso both inspired thousands of young girls to take up the instrument, to the point where it became downright fashionable for a girl to play the violin. The press likened her to a female St. George, slaying the dragon of prejudice. By 1890 she was able to reminisce to Oscar Wilde’s magazine The Woman’s World, “When I first came to London [in 1869], I was surprised to find that it was thought almost improper, certainly unladylike, for a woman to play on the violin. In Germany the thing was quite common and excited no comment. I could not understand – it seemed so absurd – why people thought so differently here. Whenever in society I hear a young lady tuning a violin I think of…the reproachful curiosity with which the people at first regarded my playing.” Male reporters at magazines and newspapers recorded their astonishment at just how many young girls were taking up stringed instruments. In the Contemporary Review, one writer named H.R. Hawes went so far as to say, “A beautiful girl playing on a beautiful violin is the most beautiful thing in the world” and “Surely the violin is made for woman, and woman is made for the violin.” He went on to say:

The barrier which for long, in spite of St. Cecilia and the angels, warned off women from violins, in the name of all that was feminine, no longer exists. Indeed, within the last twenty-five years, we have been afflicted with a girl-violin mania. School misses before they are in their teens clamour to learn the violin. It is a common sight in London to see maidens of all ages laden with fiddles of all sizes, their music rolls strapped tightly to the cases, hurrying to the underground railway, or hailing the omnibus or cab in Oxford Street, Regent Street, and Bond Street. Then the Royal Academy, Royal College, Guildhall class-rooms are choked with violin-girls, and no ladies’ seminary is now complete without the violin tutor. Women have already invaded orchestras, and at least one celebrated amateur society can boast of nothing but lady players, whilst the profession as regards soloists divides its honours pretty equally between male and female virtuosi.

There was also a more practical reason that Hawes never touched upon why the violin was becoming more and more popular among women. Since they were large and relatively expensive, and a family had to have a certain amount of space and money to own them, pianos and harps had become the hallmark of domesticity and the middle-class. But as the middle-class grew, and more and more women began to play the piano, its novelty factor began to wear thin. (In the 1890s the magazine Punch ran a satirical cartoon that depicts a newly hired maid directing movers where to put her piano, while her mistress looks on in dismay.) Thanks to the example of female performers like Wilma and Camilla Urso, and women’s desire to play an instrument that would make them stand out from the crowd, more and more ladies began taking the violin seriously. A sort of snowball effect began taking place, and scores of women became violinists. Wilma was the undisputed queen of them all.

Wilma grew so beloved in Britain that, in 1887, when Arthur Conan Doyle was writing his first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, Wilma’s name was the first violinist’s name to come to mind when he wanted to send Holmes to a violin recital during his investigation. Holmes – a talented violinist himself – came back from the concert and raved over her bow arm. Today, despite all of her other achievements, she is probably most famous for that singular fictional appearance!

In 1885 Ludwig Norman died, leaving his estranged wife a widow. Three years later Wilma married Charles Hallé, who had been widowed himself in 1866. Hallé was a formidable pianist (he was the first pianist to play a complete Beethoven sonata cycle in England) and conductor (he was the founder and first conductor of the famous Hallé Orchestra in Manchester; it is now the fourth oldest orchestra in the world). Wilma and Charles’s paths had crossed for the first time in May of 1849 when the Neruda children had performed at one of Charles Hallé’s Gentleman’s Society concerts; Wilma had been a ten-year-old prodigy and Charles a thirty-year-old conductor. Ever since that first performance they had kept in touch and had often performed with one another. A few months after they were married, Charles was knighted for his musical services to the Empire. Wilma accordingly became Lady Hallé, the name she is most often remembered by today. Together they gave a wide variety of concerts, ranging from chamber music to concerto work. A few years after their marriage, Charles established the Royal Manchester College of Music after decades of dreaming about the project. Although it is unclear if Wilma was on the faculty, her pianist sister Olga was invited to join the staff. Olga worked in Manchester, teaching and performing, until her retirement in 1908.

 Charles Hallé, Wilma’s second husband and lifelong musical partner

In 1890, Wilma and Charles embarked on a tour of Australia, then widely considered by the English to be a wild frontier land. In 1895 they toured South Africa. In his memoirs Charles Hallé recalled one concert where he and Wilma performed the Kreutzer sonata by Beethoven at a municipal concert. There were to be a few numbers both before and after Charles and Wilma took the stage. After they had finished and acknowledged the thunderous applause, a member of the audience came forward and suggested that the rest of the performances be canceled, saying that the Hallés had played so perfectly there was no point in continuing. The rest of the audience quickly acquiesced and the concert was finished. Later, a thousand South African natives assembled to dance war dances and sing in Wilma’s honor.

Tragically, a few weeks after they returned from their monumental South African tour, Charles Hallé died suddenly after an illness of only a few hours. Three years later, Wilma’s son, Ludwig Norman-Neruda, now a famous mountain-climber, died after a fall on a hike in the Alps. Never one to avoid work, even in times of personal turmoil, Wilma embarked on an ambitious tour of the United States and Canada the next year. She ascended each concert podium dressed entirely in black in memory of her son (and perhaps her husband, too).

A Toronto reviewer raved:

The programme she gave last night was an old-fashioned one, with the rarely seen names of Tartini and Spohr upon it; men who were at once brilliant composers, and, the former in the 18th century, the latter in the 19th, exponents of the classic school of violin playing. Lady Hallé, in these days of the strenuous emotionalists, stands almost alone as a representative of the serene and exquisite methods of the old school. Her hand, despite its sixty years, seems as pliant as a girl’s, and sure as clockwork. Her facility is amazing, and her technique beyond what is ordinarily assumed to be perfection. Withal she possesses extraordinary magnetism… Her final numbers were a berceuse of Slavic Colour, composed by her brother Franz, and played with the mute: and a florid number by Bazzini, “La Ronde des lutins.” Technically, this was her crowning number. Her harmonics were as sweet and liquid as a bird’s song: her rapid pizzicati work was amazing, and her staccato passages were marvelously clean. In short, Lady Hallé is an artiste who compels superlatives.

At the age of sixty, Wilma announced her retirement and intention to teach music in Berlin. Although the majority of her performing career was over, she was still greatly beloved by the public. In 1901, in recognition of her many achievements in music, Queen Alexandra bestowed upon her the honorary title of “Violinist to the Queen.” A coalition of royal families came together – among them the royal families of England, Sweden, and Denmark – and presented her with the keys to a palazzo outside of Venice. In 1907 she played at the memorial concert after the death of Joseph Joachim, the violinist to whom she had been so often compared throughout her lifetime.

Wilhelmina Norman-Neruda, later Lady Hallé

Wilma died of pneumonia in Berlin in 1911. She was seventy-two. Although musicians mourned her loss, they also celebrated her extraordinary life and achievements. Thanks in large part to her example, women across the world began to take up the violin in ever-increasing numbers. The next generation of violin virtuosos had a much higher percentage of women, all of whom accomplished amazing things in their own right: Marie Soldat (1863/4 – 1955), a protégé of Brahms and a fierce exponent of his violin concerto; Gabriele Wietrowitz (1866 – ?), one of Joachim’s most distinguished students and founder of a widely acclaimed ladies string quartet (few know that Brahms’s violin concerto came to prominence largely because of the championing Soldat and Wietrowitz did of it); Maud Powell (1867 – 1920), who was not just the first great female violinist from America, but the first great violinist from America, period; Teresina Tua (1867 – 1955/56), who drew audiences to concerts by wearing diamonds and jewels on her extravagant gowns; Irma Saenger-Sethe (1876 – 1958), a student of Ysaye’s who served as his substitute at the Brussels Conservatory when he was away traveling; Leonora Jackson (1879 – 1969), an American violinist whose patroness was First Lady Frances Cleveland; Marie Hall (1884 – 1956), the dedicatee of Vaughan Williams’s Lark Ascending and the first person to ever record the Elgar concerto; Kathleen Parlow (1890 – 1963), one of the first great instrumentalists from Canada and one of Auer’s first North American students; Jelly d’Aranyi (1895 – 1966), the dedicatee of Tzigane and the two sonatas of Bartók…

And the list goes on and on.

It’s tragic that historians have largely forgotten the tremendous contributions of Wilma Norman-Neruda and the women who followed in her footsteps. Without their hard work, we modern-day listeners would regard the playing of such phenomenally talented women like Hilary Hahn, Sarah Chang, and Julia Fischer in a very different way. Not to mention the many women – soloists, orchestral players, chamber players, and amateurs – who might not have taken up the violin if there had been an “unfeminine” stigma associated with it. Perhaps a day is coming when these extraordinary women who trail-blazed for the rest of us can be properly remembered, honored, and celebrated by a wider audience of music-lovers.

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