Tag Archives: Powell Maud

Symphony Orchestras of Women, 1913

Here is a passionate plea by music writer and founder of Musical America John C. Freund to allow women jobs in symphony orchestras. Unfortunately, nearly half a century would pass before women were consistently seen in orchestral positions. By that time, Freund was long dead.

This article appeared in The Violinist in September 1913.

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Nearly six hundred million dollars, or almost seven dollars per head for every man, woman and child of the population, spent in the United States for music in every form! That is, for the purchase of musical instruments, from the mouth harmonica and the talking-machine to the concert grand, for music teachers, for concerts and recitals, for church music, for bands, for opera, and let us not forget the music in the theaters, the vaudeville shows and the “movies.” Of these $600,000,000 you may safely estimate that at least eighty-five per cent are spent by the women. And yet, with this vast expenditure, at least six to eight thousand young women, graduating with honors from our leading music conservatories as instrumentalists, have no hope of being able to learn a living at their chosen profession, except they, in turn, become teachers, descend to a cabaret show, or play slumber songs to their babies.

The great feminist movement which is taking place all over the world, in Islam, in Europe, and more particularly in the United States, where it is finding its highest and its noblest form of expression, as we saw in the suffragette parade this Spring, is in my judgment, the great reform movement of the hour, because it is going to make the world better, for it will make it sweeter and cleaner.

In this uplift music, literature and the arts will play their part with our ninety millions, just as surely as all the various movements for betterment will play their part.

Already there are not only popular but municipal and even State movements for the recognition of music, not only as a necessary and integral part of education but as a necessary integral part of that recreation which is as much a duty in human life as the providing of food, drink, clothes, sleep and sanitation.

What we need right here in New York is a symphonic orchestra composed of women and led by a woman. In the first place, as we have the material, why would we not have the orchestra?

Such an orchestra will be supported by liberal-minded people, perhaps, first, for its novelty, but afterwards for its value and its excellence.

It will not provide positions for the thousands of competent women musicians, but it will act as an example, and other orchestras composed of women will be formed all over the country.

The question as to whether woman is musical or not is so easily answered that one need only mention the names of the great singers, pianists and violinists of world renown. As to whether women has creative ability as a composer has nothing to do with the question, though Musical America, two years ago, found there were in this country no less than sixty women composers whose work had merit sufficient, at least, to be printed and be profitable to the publishers.

But why should not woman prove to have creative ability in music, as she has shown she has in literature, as she has shown she has in art, as she has shown she has in science? – for it was Mme. Curie who discovered radium.

An orchestra of women would not be a fad. Indeed, it is not any new thing. There is the well-known Fadettes Orchestra of Boston; there is a fine women’s symphony orchestra in Los Angeles, with Cora Foy in the concertmaster’s chair; there is the noted Aeolian Ladies’ Orchestra in London, England, now over twenty years old, with a woman conductor; there is the Olive Mead Quartet, the American String Quartet, there are women who play in the Hartford Symphony Orchestra; not long ago, in Detroit, Mich., the ladies of the Fine Arts Society organized a string quartet, for which Elsa Ruegger was solo ‘cellist. The Soldat String Quartet is known throughout Germany, and the Nora Clench Quartet holds its own against many masculine rivals. So, you see, it is already in the working; it needs only expansion and encouragement – the encouragement given by publicity to the movement to break down the ridiculous prejudice that a great musical composition cannot be interpreted by humanity except it be dressed in evening clothes, white ties and patent leather boots.

“It may be objected that the attitude of the Musical Mutual Protective Union is opposed to having women in the orchestras. I understand that they do take women members, though this applies only to women playing in orchestras with men. My proposition is for the formation of high class orchestras of women, to give opportunity to the women who can perform the music.”

If you say, “We have already too many orchestras,” I reply, “Possibly too many in New York; possibly in one place; but we have over ninety million people who are showing every day a greater appreciation for music.”

And the women are working. There are already in this country several hundred musical clubs, composed of women, with a membership of nearly 100,000, who are the greatest factor in the encouragement of artists of the highest rank. They are the backbone of our festivals. They are, indeed, the backbone of our best orchestras, for the Philharmonic, it is a well-known fact, would have gone to pieces not so long ago but for the public spirit of the late Mrs. George R. Sheldon.

Why, at this very moment, with preparations for the great exhibition going on in California, to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal, who is working for music? Who is doing something? The women! Only recently two women of high social standing came here from California to make the conditions under which the sum of $10,000 is offered by the city of Los Angeles for a prize opera, which is backed by $70,000 more for the production of that opera by an American composer on an American subject.

Someone may say, “Yes, you may be able to get together fifty or sixty women of superior ability to perform the finest works; but who, pray, will conduct them?”

Well, we have, to begin with, Maud Powell, a master mind, as well as a great musician with an international reputation. Here is a telegram from her, which reads:

“Of course women should play in symphony and other orchestras, if they want the work. Wanting the work implies measuring up to the standards of musical technical efficiency, with strength to endure well hours of rehearsing and often the strain of travel, broken habits and poor food. Many women are amply fitted for the work; such women should be employed on an equal footing with men. I fail to see that any argument to the contrary is valid. But if they accept the work they should be prepared to expect no privileges because of their sex. They must dress quietly and as fine American women they must uphold high standards of conduct.”

You see how sensibly she talks. She claims for woman no privileges whatever on account of her sex, and there she takes ground that is unassailable. Capacity has no sex. A person can do a thing or not, whether he or she wears pants or petticoats.

If it be said that should women invade the orchestra and concert field or the theaters, they will take the bread from the mouths of some of the men, I reply, “They will not do it where the men are competent, and if they do it where the men are not competent the public and my ears will benefit.”

When the ancients desired to represent, to typify the spirit of music, of art, of literature, did they do it in masculine terms? Did they do it with male forms? In every case the very words were feminine, as were the forms that represented the spirit of men’s nobler attributes. Why? Because they realized that in the stress and strain and struggle for existence the nobler qualities will always be submerged, and therefore it would be left to the women ultimately to put humanity on a higher plane, not only of civilization, but of aspiration and accomplishment.

This does not mean that every woman is fitted to be a musician, or that every woman who is a musician is fit to play in a symphony orchestra. But it does mean that when a woman is fit to play in an orchestra and wants to do so, that she shall have an opportunity – that is the crux of my whole position.

If women have inspired the poets, the writers, the thinkers, the statesmen, the scientists, the musicians of the world, do you not think that some of them, at least, are capable of interpreting the very works to which they have given inspiration?

One thing is certain: while a woman in an orchestra may carry, surreptitiously, chewing gum and a powder puff, she won’t have to go out in between times for beer and a cigarette.

Now, let me tell you a little story to illustrate my position: Many years ago, at a time when even a woman pianist was almost unknown here, and a woman violinist would have been almost hooted in the streets if she carried her violin case, I became acquainted with a little Russian, or Polish, Jewess who had extraordinary musical talent. Her parents were, as most of her class are, extremely poor. A German musician of great talent, but himself poor, recognized the child’s ability and gave her lessons for nothing, for years. She tried to get engagements, without success; and finally she went to the conductor of a well-known orchestra and applied for a position. He heard her play, and said: “My dear young lady, you have so much ability and talent that you would put to shame some members of my orchestra. I could use you as my first violin, but if I were to put you in that position there would be not only a riot on the stage, but one in the audience.”

For a time, her parents having died, the young girl endeavored to maintain herself, playing around in little restaurants on the East Side, till the usual love tragedy happened, with a handsome but unscrupulous young Italian singer. She had a child, which, from lack of proper nourishment, died.

In her despair she took to drink and sank and sank – till she sank out of sight.

Here was a genius, a great talent, who was told that she had no show, no opportunity – because she was a woman. And we boast of our civilization and we call ourselves a Christian people!

This whole question, wherever we touch it, wherever we tackle it, is not a question of sex at all. It presents to the thinking mind no problems. It is a matter of elemental truth, of basic, elemental justice. - Musical America.

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Interview with Maud Powell, Violin Mastery, 1919

Here is an interview with Maud Powell from the 1919 book Violin Mastery by Frederick Herman Martens. Powell is one of the more inspirational women in a field chockablock with inspirational women. She was born in a tiny town in the Midwest; became an internationally renowned performer with one of the biggest repertoires around; premiered the Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, and Sibelius concertos in this country; and championed the work of black, female, and American composers. Sadly, there are twenty-four violinists interviewed in this book, and Powell is the only woman. On the bright side, it’s a fantastic interview that touches on violin technique, Powell’s struggles with prejudice, and her championing of American composers.

For more information on Maud Powell and her legacy, head on over to the Maud Powell Society website. If you want to hear a lovely collection of late Victorian and Edwardian violin pieces with connections to Powell, take a listen to Rachel Barton Pine’s Tribute to Maud Powell.

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Powell is often alluded to as our representative “American woman violinist” which, while true in a narrower sense, is not altogether just in a broader way. It would be decidedly more fair to consider her a representative American violinist, without stressing the term “woman”; for as regards Art in its higher sense, the artist comes first, sex being incidental, and Maud Powell is first and foremost – an artist. And her infinite capacity for taking pains, her willingness to work hard have had no small part in the position she has made for herself, and the success she has achieved.

THE DEVELOPMENT OF A CONCERT VIOLINIST

“Too many Americans who take up the violin professionally,” Maud Powell told the writer, “do not realize that the mastery of the instrument is a life study, that without hard, concentrated work they cannot reach the higher levels of their art. Then, too, they are too often inclined to think that if they have a good tone and technic that this is all they need. They forget that the musical instinct must be cultivated; they do not attach enough importance to musical surroundings: to hearing and understanding music of every kind, not only that written for the violin. They do not realize the value of ensemble work and its influence as an educational factor of the greatest artistic value. I remember when I was a girl of eight, my mother used to play the Mozart violin sonatas with me; I heard all the music I possibly could hear; I was taught harmony and musical form in direct connection with my practical work, so that theory was a living thing to me and no abstraction. In my home town I played in an orchestra of twenty pieces – Oh, no, not a ‘ladies orchestra’ – the other members were men grown! I played chamber music as well as solos whenever the opportunity offered, at home and in public. In fact music was part of my life.

“No student who looks on music primarily as a thing apart in his existence, as a bread-winning tool, as a craft rather than an art, can ever mount to the high places. So often girls [who sometimes lack the practical vision of boys], although having studied but a few years, come to me and say: ‘My one ambition is to become a great virtuoso on the violin! I want to begin to study the great concertos!” And I have to tell them that their first ambition should be to become musicians – to study, to know, to understand music before they venture on its interpretation. Virtuosity without musicianship will not carry one far these days. In many cases these students come from small inland towns, far from any music center, and have a wrong attitude of mind. They crave the glamor of footlights, flowers and applause, not realizing that music is a speech, an idiom, which they must master in order to interpret the works of the great composers.

THE INFLUENCE OF THE TEACHER

“Of course, all artistic playing represents essentially the mental control of technical means. But to acquire the latter in the right way, while at the same time developing the former, calls for the best of teachers. The problem of the teacher is to prevent his pupils from being too imitative – all students are natural imitators – and furthering the quality of musical imagination in them. Pupils generally have something of the teacher’s tone – Auer pupils have the Auer tone, Joachim pupils have a Joachim tone, an excellent thing. But as each pupil has an individuality of his own, he should never sink it altogether in that of his teacher. It is this imitative trend which often makes it hard to judge a young player’s work. I was very fortunate in my teachers. William Lewis of Chicago gave me a splendid start. Then I studied in turn with Schradieck in Leipsic – Schradieck himself was a pupil of Ferdinand David and of Léonard – Joachim in Berlin, and Charles Dancla in Paris. I might say that I owe most, in a way, to William Lewis, a born fiddler. Of my three European masters Dancla was unquestionably the greatest as a teacher – of course I am speaking for myself. It was no doubt an advantage, a decided advantage for me in my artistic development, which was slow – a family trait – to enjoy the broadening experience of three entirely different styles of teaching, and to be able to assimilate the best of each. Yet Joachim was a far greater violinist than teacher. His method was a cramping one, owing to his insistence on pouring all his pupils into the same mold, so to speak, of forming them all on the Joachim lathe. But Dancla was inspiring. He taught me De Bériot‘s wonderful method of attack; he showed me how to develop purity of style. Dancla’s method of teaching gave his pupils a technical equipment which carried bowing right along, ‘neck and neck’ with the finger work of the left hand, while the Germans are apt to stress finger development at the expense of the bow. And without ever neglecting technical means, Dancla always put the purely musical before the purely virtuoso side of playing. And this is always a sign of a good teacher. He was unsparing in taking pains and very fair.

“I remember that I was passed first in a class of eighty-four at an examination, after only three private lessons in which to prepare the concerto movement to be played. I was surprised and asked him while Mlle. — who, it seemed to me, had played better than I, had not passed. ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘Mlle. — studied that movement for six months; and in comparison, you, with only three lessons, play it better!’ Dancla switched me right over in his teaching from German to French methods, and taught me how to become an artist, just as I had learned in Germany to become a musician. The French school has taste, elegance, imagination; the German is more conservative, serious, and has, perhaps, more depth.

TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES

“Perhaps it is because I belong to an older school, or it may be because I laid stress on techic because of its necessity as a means of expression – at any rate I worked hard at it. Naturally, one should never practice any technical difficulty too long at a stretch. Young players sometimes forget this. I know that staccato playing was not easy for me at one time. I believe a real staccato is inborn; a knack. I used to grumble about it to Joachim and he told me once that musically staccato did not have much value. His own, by the way, was very labored and heavy. He admitted that he had none. Wieniawski had such a wonderful staccato that one finds much of it in his music. When I first began to play his D minor concerto I simply made up my mind to get a staccato. It came in time, by sheer force of will. After that I had no trouble. An artistic staccato should, like the trill, be plastic and under control; for different schools of composition demand different styles of treatment of such details.

“Octaves – the unison, not broken – I did not find difficult; but though they are supposed to add volume of tone they sound hideous to me. I have used them in certain passages of my arrangement of ‘Deep River,’ but when I heard them played, promised myself I would never repeat the experiment. Wilhelmj has committed even a worse crime in taste by putting six long bars of Schubert’s lovely Ave Maria in octaves. Of course they represent skill; but I think they are only justified in show pieces. Harmonics I always found easy; though whether they ring out as they should always depends more or less on atmospheric conditions, the strings and the amount of rosin on the bow. On the concert stage if the player stands in a draught the harmonics are sometimes husky.

THE AMERICAN WOMAN VIOLINIST AND AMERICAN MUSIC

“The old days of virtuoso ‘tricks’ have passed – I should like to hope forever. Not that some of the old type virtuosos were not fine players. Remenyi played beautifully. So did Ole Bull. I remember one favorite trick of the latter’s, for instance, which would hardly pass muster to-day. I have seen him draw out a long pp, the audience listening breathlessly, while he drew his bow way beyond the string, and then looked innocently at the point of the bow, as though wondering where the tone had vanished. It invariably brought down the house.

“Yet an artist must be a virtuoso in the modern sense to do his full duty. And here in America that duty is to help those who are groping for something higher and better musically; to help without rebuffing them. When I first began my career as a concert violinist I did pioneer work for the cause of the American woman violinist, going on with the work begun by Mme. Camilla Urso. A strong prejudice then existed against women fiddlers, which even yet has not altogether been overcome. The very fact that a Western manager recently told Mr. Turner with surprise that he ‘had made a success of a woman artist’ proves it. When I first began to play here in concert this prejudice was much stronger. Yet I kept on and secured engagements to play with orchestra at a time when they were difficult to obtain. Theodore Thomas liked my playing (he said I had brains), and it was with his orchestra that I introduced the concertos of Saint-Saëns (C min.), Lalo (F min.), and others, to American audiences.

“The fact that I realized that my sex was against me in a way led me to be startlingly authoritative and convincing in the masculine manner when I first played. This is a mistake no woman violinist should make. And from the moment that James Huneker wrote that I ‘was not developing the feminine side of my work,’ I determined to be just myself, and play as the spirit moved me, with no further thought of sex or sex distinctions which, in Art, after all, are secondary. I never realized this more forcibly than once, when, sitting as a judge, I listened to the competitive playing of a number of young professional violinists and pianists. The individual performers, unseen by the judges, played in turn behind a screen. And in three cases my fellow judges and myself guessed wrongly with regard to the sex of the players. When we thought we had heard a young man play it happened to be a young woman, and vice versa.

“To return to the question of concert-work. You must not think that I have played only foreign music in public. I have always believed in American composers and in American composition, and as an American have tried to do justice as an interpreting artist to the music of my native land. Aside from the violin concertos by Harry Rowe Shelly and Henry Holden Huss, I have played any number of shorter original compositions by such representative American composers as Arthur Foote, Mrs. H.H.A. Beach, Victor Herbert, John Philip Sousa, Arthur Bird, Edwin Grasse, Marion Bauer, Cecil Burleigh, Harry Gilbert, A. Walter Kramer, Grace White, Charles Wakefield Cadman and others. Then, too, I have presented transcriptions by Arthur Hartmann, Francis Macmillan and Sol Marcosson, as well as some of my own. Transcriptions are wrong, theoretically; yet some songs, like Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Song of India’ and some piano pieces, like the Dvořák Humoresque, are so obviously effective on the violin that a transcription justifies itself. My latest temptative in that direction is my ‘Four American Folk Songs,’ a simple setting of four well-known airs with connecting cadenzas – no variations, no special development! I used them first as encores, but my audiences seemed to like them so well that I have played them on all my recent programs.

SOME HINTS FOR THE CONCERT PLAYER

“The very first thing in playing in public is to free oneself of all distrust in one’s own powers. To do this, nothing must be left to chance. One should not have to give a thought to strings, bow, etc. All should be in proper condition. Above all the violinist should play with an accompanist who is used to accompanying him. It seems superfluous to emphasize that one’s program numbers must have been mastered in every detail. Only then can one defy nervousness, turning excess of emotion into inspiration.

“Acoustics play a greater part in the success of a public concert than most people realize. In some halls they are very good, as in the case of the Cleveland Hippodrome, an enormous place which holds forty-three hundred people. Here the acoustics are perfect, and the artist has those wonderful silences through which his slightest tones carry clearly and sweetly. I have played not only solos, but chamber music in this hall, and was always sorry to stop playing. In most halls the acoustic conditions are best in the evening.

“Then there is the matter of the violin. I first used a Joseph Guarnerius, a deeper toned instrument than the Jean Baptista Guadagnini I have now played for a number of years. The Guarnerius has a tone that seems to come more from within the instrument; but all in all I have found my Guadagnini, with its glassy clearness, its brilliant and limpid tone-quality, better adapted to American concert halls. If I had a Strad in the same condition as my Guadagnini the instrument would be priceless. I regretted giving up my Guarnerius, but I could not play the two violins interchangeably; for they were absolutely different in size and tone-production, shape, etc. Then my hand is so small that I ought to use the instrument best adapted to it, and to use the same instrument always. Why do I use no chin-rest? I use no chin-rest on my Guadagnini simply because I cannot find one to fit my chin. One should use a chin-rest to prevent perspiration from marring the varnish. My Rocca violin is an interesting instance of wood worn in ridges by the stubble on a man’s chin.

“Strings? Well, I use a wire E string. I began to use it twelve years ago one humid, foggy summer in Connecticut. I had had such trouble with strings snapping that I cried: ‘Give me anything but a gut string.’ The climate practically makes metal strings a necessity, though some kind person once said that I bought wire strings because they were cheap! If wire strings had been thought of when Theodore Thomas began his career, he might never have been a conductor, for he told me he gave up the violin because of the E string. And most people will admit that hearing a wire E you cannot tell it from a gut E. Of course, it is unpleasant on the open strings, but then the open strings never do sound well. And in the highest registers the tone does not spin out long enough because of the tremendous tension: one has to use more bow. And it cuts the hairs: there is a little surface nap on the bow-hairs which a wire string wears right out. I had to have my four bows rehaired three times last season – an average of every three months. But all said and done it has been a God-send to the violinist who plays in public. On the wire A one cannot get the harmonics; and the aluminum D is objectionable in some violins, though in others not at all.

“The main thing – no matter what strings are used – is for the artist to get his audience into the concert hall, and give it a program which is properly balanced. Theodore Thomas first advised me to include in my programs short, simple things that my listeners could ‘get hold of’ – nothing inartistic, but something selected from their standpoint, not from mine, and played as artistically as possible. Yet there must also be something that is beyond them, collectively. Something that they may need to hear a number of times to appreciate. This enables the artist to maintain his dignity and has a certain psychological effect in that his audience holds him in greater respect. At big conservatories where music study is the most important thing, and in large cities, where the general level of music culture is high, a big solid program may be given, where it would be inappropriate in other places.

“Yet I remember having many recalls at El Paso, Texas, once, after playing the first movement of the Sibelius concerto. It is one of those compositions which if played too literally leaves an audience quite cold; it must be rendered temperamentally, the big climaxing effects built up, its Northern spirit brought out, though I admit that even then it is not altogether easy to grasp.

VIOLIN MASTERY

“Violin mastery or mastery of any instrument, for that matter, is the technical power to say exactly what you want to say in exactly the way you want to say it. It is technical equipment that stands are the service of your musical will – a faithful and competent servant that comes at your musical bidding. If your spirit soars ‘to parts unknown,’ your well trained servant ‘technic’ is ever at your elbow to prevent irksome details from hampering your progress. Mastery of your instrument makes mastery of your Art a joy instead of a burden. Technic should always be the handmaid of the spirit.

“And I believe that one result of the war will be to bring us a greater self-knowledge, to the violinist as well as to every other artist, a broader appreciation of what he can do to increase and elevate appreciation for music in general and his Art in particular. And with these I am sure a new impetus will be given to the development of a musical culture truly American in thought and expression.”

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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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New Youtube Channel

Sorry for my extended absence the last few weeks. Life has gotten away from me a bit…

In my absence from the blog, I made a Youtube channel devoted to female violinists. The username SongOfTheLark was taken (drat), so I made do with VictorianVirtuosas. I’m about to make a series of playlists that hopefully organizes the videos that are already on Youtube. And eventually I’ll probably upload some videos of my own; happily, I have an ever-growing collection of old recordings made by female violinists…

My first playlist is Maud Powell; click here to look at it. To the best of my knowledge, this includes all of the audio of Maud Powell’s performances on Youtube. Enjoy. I’ll be back with more playlists later.

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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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Audio: Maud Powell playing Vieuxtemps

This is a fantastic performance from one of the great Victorian violin virtuosas, American Maud Powell (1867-1920). I still haven’t bought Karen Shaffer’s biography on her…it’s on my (ever-expanding) wish-list, though! I love the verve that Powell brings to this performance! What a stylish player.

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Works Associated With Female Violinists

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

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PREMIERES & DEDICATIONS

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

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

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

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

Bax – Violin Concerto – Premiered by Eda Kersey in 1943

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

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

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

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

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

Delius – Violin Sonata No 3 – Dedicated to May Harrison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FAMOUS PERFORMANCES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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VIOLIN WORKS BY WOMEN

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

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

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

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

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

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