Tag Archives: Speyer Leonora

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: Short Leonora von Stosch biography

Here is a short article on Leonora von Stosch (later Lady Speyer) from The Illustrated American, 13 February 1892. This dates from early in her career, when she was 20 years old. In a field full of fascinating women, Leonora is one of the most interesting: she was not only an internationally renowned violinist, but also a Pulitzer-Prize winning poet.

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Miss Leonora von Stosch. – The admired young artist whose portrait is here presented is a native of those country, and was born in Washington in 1872. Her mother is a New Englander, a successful contributor to various magazines, and a natural musician whose vocal and instrumental talents were sacrificed to the advancement of a literary career.

The father of the young violinist, Count von Stosch, a German gentleman of noble birth, came to America some twenty-five years ago, and was naturalized soon after his marriage. He died, and his wife became Mrs. Schayer, the name she now bears.

When not more than eleven years old, little Miss Von Stosch attracted attention by her skill in playing the violin. At a much earlier age she had given evidence of her ability both as pianist and composer. As a sort of youthful prodigy she appeared in concerts at Washington and Baltimore, studying all the while under Prof. Jos. Kaspar, of Washington, who strongly advised her going abroad for the advantage to be gained in foreign schools.

Following his advice, Miss Von Stosch and her mother went to Brussels when the former was in her sixteenth year. She was a diligent student at the Conservatory of Music in that city for twenty-four months. At the end of the first half of the course she was awarded second prize, with distinction, and the next year she carried off first honors.

It was shortly after her graduation that the young American played before Joachim in Berlin, also appearing in a great concert at the Monnaie Theatre, in which many distinguished professionals took part.

January, 1891, found Miss Von Stosch in Paris, ardent as ever in pursuing her course, and studying under Marsick. Circumstances at this time interfered, necessitating a trip home, where success and honor awaited the pretty, gifted girl. She realized, in spite of these triumphs, that her student’s life had not been fully rounded out, and feels it is only a question of time when she returns to the French capital, and enters again in earnest pursuit of the high mark her ambition has sent for attainment.

Her first professional appearance in this country was made with the Seidel’s Orchestra in New York, since when, she has, with profit and honor, assisted at many fashionable muscales in the drawing-rooms of the Four Hundred.

Tall and symmetrical, having a charming face lit by vivacious intelligence, of graceful presence, and with manners a happy mixture of dignity and warmth, few young women have been so graciously endowed by nature as this youthful artist, of whom New York audiences heartily approve.

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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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Indulgent Claptrap; or how this blog came to be

I have always wanted to be a writer. My earliest memory is of seeing a no-smoking sign and being incensed that I couldn’t read it. I had a gut instinct that if I could learn how to read, I would gain a thrillingly mysterious capability to open doors I didn’t even know existed – and I was right. Thankfully my mom took pity on my frustration and became my own private tutor, teaching me phonics, letting me live at the library, and reading and occasionally editing my incomprehensible marker-squiggle stories. In first grade I wrote in my school journal that “I can’t wait untill I can have a puplished Book.” Writing was everything. When I was nine, I decided I was old enough to start working on that goal of getting puplished, and a few years of effort and ten rejections later came a cover story for the thirtieth anniversary issue of the children’s magazine Stone Soup. After that came a spate of ambitious novels, none of which were ever finished.

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I have always wanted to be a musician. My mother is a composer and has taught piano, and so I can’t imagine a house without music. She played Mozart recordings for me way back before all that Mozart Effect sh*t became fashionable, and I loved it. It got to the point where she wrote in a note to my kindergarten teacher that one of my strengths was my “ability to identify Mozart.” I started playing piano at five. Unfortunately, I was bad at it. I had a sad tendency to gravitate toward the treble clef and to ignore the bass entirely. (Foreshadowing, anyone?)

When I was about nine, my mom gave me a book for young musicians. It was split into quarters: trumpet, flute, piano, and violin. I’m nearly certain she meant for me to read the piano part, but I found myself lingering in the violin section instead. Something about the instrument fascinated me. Violins were small and portable – had strings you actually touched – were beautiful, and so much more unique than pianos – could be played in so many different contexts – and you only had to read one clef. I was sold.

My family had no money for a violin, and so to make my point, I took some cardboard, brandished a blunt tip scissor, and created this.

Emilia Hogstadus, fece in Wisconsin, ca 1998. A prime example from the height of the maker’s “cardboard period.”

I have no memory of this. But I do remember going to my first violin shop after my family relented, and having my breath taken away by the rows and rows of curvy golden brown fiddles. Something deep within me felt as if it was coming home. I took a rental home and began to play, convinced that my first note would be beautiful, thanks to all I had learned on my cardboard violin.

Naturally I made the most hideous screech imaginable.

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I have always loved antiques and history, especially anything and everything from the late nineteenth century. In fourth grade I decided that when I became an adult, I’d never drive a car; I’d use a horse and carriage instead. In fifth grade I read my first Sherlock Holmes story. It felt like I’d found a literary soul mate.

In 1999, while at a local antique shop, I bought several letters dating from the 1880s that were addressed to a Miss Nellie Pringle of Hastings, Minnesota. I obviously didn’t know it at the time, but finding those few dusty letters would turn into a truly massive research project that has lasted for twelve years. Over the course of it, I have made some of the greatest friends imaginable, both living and dead, and discovered how truly deep and nerdy a passion I have for research and primary sources. Few things are more thrilling to me than combing through brittle yellowed old letters that haven’t been opened for a hundred years. There are always surprising secrets waiting to be uncovered, and I know from experience that those secrets have the capability to change what you think about history, and in turn what you think about yourself.

***

I have a tendency to obsess.

***

I once had a teacher tell me, “You must be having difficulty deciding what you want to go into, since you have so many interests.” Until then, I hadn’t really thought of the decision in those terms, and the realization that there would ultimately have to be a decision paralyzed me. Which is it? What do you want to give up? The way time melts away when you’re writing something particularly absorbing? The comfort that comes from practicing a passage on the violin over and over and over again until the intonation rings perfectly true? The exhilaration of combing through old papers and finally latching upon something that sheds light on mysteries you’ve pondered for years? What will you give up? What will you choose?

In 2005, my AP US History exam fell on the same day as a solo ensemble audition. For a variety of reasons I ended up participating in neither. But beforehand I wrote in a journal entry about the dilemma:

I have to decide between my two passions – history and writing, or musical performance. Of course it’s silly to think about it. I don’t know if I’ll finish my course in time to take that silly test anyway, and who knows, maybe my wrist will flare up again in the spring, preventing my playing, but this conflict is symptomatic of a larger problem – sometimes you have to choose between things you love. And I don’t like that. At all.

I’ve only recently come to the realization that maybe I was wrong. Maybe I don’t need to choose. I’ve become more and more fascinated with writing musical non-fiction, and I’ve discovered a brand new passion (read: obsession) for researching female Victorian violinists, and those two things draw neatly on all three disciplines. Maybe – just maybe – the three can interlock with and inspire the others.

Lady Speyer, by John Singer Sargent, 1907

The first person to play the Elgar violin concerto was an extraordinary, now largely forgotten, woman named Leonora von Stosch (later Lady Speyer). She was a much more accomplished woman than I’ll ever be, but she too struggled with competing passions: she was an internationally renowned violin virtuosa who in 1927 won a Pulitzer Prize for her book Fiddler’s Farewell. In 1919 she remarked to an interviewer from the magazine The Bellman, “The bird, the wind, the sea, the heart of man, all sing: the musician writes down the melody, the poet the words; the song is God’s. If you have a message and can give it, and can reach another soul with your singing, then all is indeed right with the world.” The song is God’s… Her philosophy is heartening, especially since she obviously knew what she was talking about.

This blog is an attempt to chronicle my efforts to marry all three of my passions, and to live happily ever after with them in a blissful state of intellectual polygamy. The site will, in time, contain music reviews, essays on various historical musical pieces and personages, interviews…possibly even the occasional snippet of musical fiction. (Possibly.) It would be an honor and a privilege and a joy to have y’all along for the ride. And I promise things won’t be so egocentric from here on out.

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