These are the first two things we learn about Franz Liszt:
- He was one of the most influential musicians of the nineteenth century.
- He was a babe magnet.
Historians (the vast majority of them male) revel in describing Liszt’s fangirls, marveling at every detail of their insanity. These women were hysterical, petty, irrational. They fought over his handkerchiefs, fashioned piano strings into bracelets, and even tucked his discarded cigar butts between their boobs. Their intense reaction to his performances even inspired a new noun – Lisztomania – coined by Heinrich Heine in the 1840s. Heine asked “a physician, whose speciality is female diseases” to explain why Liszt held audiences so spellbound. Predictably, the physician declared the phenomenon to be pathological, offering as explanation self-assured mumbo-jumbo about magnetism, electricity, and even musical cantharidin, I sh*t you not.
But let’s be real: Liszt’s female fans weren’t brainless bimbos. Contrary to the stereotype, many brilliant women fell into Liszt’s orbit for intellectual, emotional, or even spiritual reasons. We’ve read about a few of his protégés already, including virtuosas Amy Fay, Adele aus der Ohe, and Sophie Menter. But one of the most important Liszt fangirls was not a professional musician at all. She was a self-taught writer and historian who made important contributions to the nascent field of musicology, and her groundbreaking work still raises timely questions even today. Her name was Marie Lipsius, pseudonym La Mara.
Sophie Menter was a world-renowned pianist who lived in a castle and constructed chicken wire fences around her property to keep her many cats from escaping. If that sentence doesn’t intrigue you, then you’re on the wrong blog.
Sophie Menter, seen here not having time for your bull****.
Sophie Menter was born on July 29, 1846 in Munich. Her father was a cellist named Josef and her mom was a singer named Wilhelmine Diepold, who was so musically talented that the local prince offered to pay for her education (she declined, apparently because she wasn’t interested in pursuing a career).
Josef and Wilhelmine’s life together was a string of tragedies. They had nine kids, and most of them died young, but not before the older sisters had a chance to start teaching little Sophie piano. Sophie in turn taught her younger sibling, Eugenie. Eugenie became an accomplished pianist, as well; sometimes historians don’t know which fabulous Menter sister various old reviews are referring to.
It quickly became obvious that Sophie was incredibly talented, but her musical education was put on the back burner. Josef didn’t want his young daughter studying at a conservatory, and, more pressingly, he was terminally ill. He passed away in April of 1856 at the age of 48, when Sophie was nine. According to legend, he told his wife, “Mind, wife, you look to Sophie. There’s something in that child!” So, y’know, no pressure.
Maestro Leonard Slatkin of the Detroit Symphony has just come out with a new book called Leading Tones, and bizarrely, a chapter of it is devoted to the Minnesota Orchestra lockout.
Pop some corn, kids. This is a long entry and you’ll need a snack.
On February 11, 1861, one of the great pianists of her era was born in Hanover. Because sexism exists, you probably don’t know who she is. This despite the fact that she toured the world, opening fricking Carnegie Hall and giving important early performances in Minnesota, Chicago, San Francisco, and other cities. If you’re looking at the history of classical music in America, you have to look at the career of Adele aus der Ohe.
Adelheit Johanne Auguste Hermine aus der Ohe was very much a bonus baby. Her dad was 55 when she was born; her mom was 44; and she was nine years younger than her next-youngest sibling. This family dynamic would have repercussions for Adele’s life and even her career.
Adele was unnervingly precocious. She was identifying notes on a piano before she could even pronounce the notes’ names. In 1869, her father took a position in Berlin so that his daughter could learn from the best teachers in Germany. Adele enrolled in Theodor Kullak’s massive Neue Akademie der Tonkunst (the New Academy of Musical Art), which employed a hundred teachers and taught over a thousand students. (You know a bit about Kullak if you read Amy Fay’s book.) Despite her young age, the demanding Theodor Kullak accepted Adele as one of his own personal students.
Adele’s greatest influence and inspiration, however, was Franz Liszt. She began studying with him in the summer of 1873 at the age of fricking twelve, and continued studying with him over the next decade. By the time she was sixteen, she was playing an eight-hand piano arrangement with Liszt of the brand-spanking-new Funeral March from Götterdämmerung.
In 1884, she stopped attending Liszt’s classes after her mother died. Her death came as a heavy blow to their closeknit family. Interestingly, none of the aus der Ohe siblings ever married. Adele herself opted to hire Mathilde as her lifelong cheerleader and traveling companion. In 1886, the two sisters took a risk and left Europe for America, arriving in New York just days after the dedication of the Statue of Liberty.
Friend and student of Liszt’s? Check.
Bestselling author? Check.
Inventor of new educational concert formats? Check.
Co-founder of an important women’s musical organization? Check.
Largely forgotten today? A woman? *sigh* Check, check, yes, of course.
Amelia Muller Fay was born in 1844, the fifth of nine children. Her father was a Harvard-educated Episcopalian priest. Her mother was an artist, pianist, and singer who had been denied an education and encouraged to marry at sixteen. Not surprisingly, Mrs. Fay died young. Amy’s older sister Zina believed it was from overwork and thwarted ambition:
I saw her in her coffin…and I resolved to remember the woe and earthly wreck of her thwarted nature, and never to cease until I saw some better way for women than this which can so horribly waste and abuse their finest powers.
So that’s one way of dealing with grief.
Here’s are some bound 1966/67 Minneapolis Symphony programs, from the estate of dearly missed music director Stanisław Skrowaczewski.
You’d think that a female conductor who toured the world with her own orchestra in the 1870s would be well-known, but sexism.
I’ll start off by being blunt: there aren’t many English language articles about Josephine Amann Weinlich that are easily accessible online. Maybe I’d find more if I was associated with an institution, but I’m not. So I’m using a Google translation of a German webpage to scrape together some biographical factoids for my English-speaking readers. Take everything with a grain of salt until an actual scholar can pick up the baton. (Thrillingly, I’ve heard from some via Twitter, so it’s possible we’ll hear more about Josephine in future! Stay tuned!) In the meantime, here are what appear to be the broad strokes of her story, as best as I can ascertain:
Josephine Weinlich was born around 1840 in Vienna. Her dad was a merchant and amateur musician. (I’ve found nothing about her mom, but judging by most historical records, moms were invisible throughout the nineteenth century. /sarcasm) Josephine’s passion for music-making must have been encouraged, because she played both violin and piano, and her sister Elisa Weinlich was a cellist.
In light of recent events in America, here’s an unplanned entry on Nazi-fighting cellist Frieda Belinfante.
I’ve never mentioned her on the blog before; her story is so extraordinary that I wanted to save it for a big project. I still want to come back to it someday. But I thought her story – and more specifically, her own words – could bring some much-needed comfort, perspective, and inspiration in this particular moment.
Frieda Belinfante was a cellist and conductor who was born in Amsterdam on May 10, 1904. The Concertgebouw hired her to found the Het Klein Orkest in 1937, which, in the words of Wikipedia, “made her the first woman in Europe to be artistic director and conductor of an ongoing professional orchestral ensemble.” Frieda was a lesbian, and her father Jewish (although she insisted adamantly that neither her heritage nor her sexuality defined her). After barely escaping the Nazis, she emigrated to the United States in 1947 and founded the Orange County Philharmonic Orchestra. She died in the spring of 1995 in New Mexico.
The following excerpts are transcriptions from an oral history testimony she gave to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in May of 1994. You can read all 86 pages of it here, and I recommend that when you have time, you do.
Industrialist Joseph Heinrich Mayer met Seraphine Sebrechts when he hired her to be his invalid first wife’s musical companion. After the first Mrs. Mayer died, Seraphine became the second, and in 1903, the newlyweds had a daughter named Frédérique Mayer.
“Be glamorous AND trailblazing AND aristocratic AND badass? I believe I can do that.” – Frédérique Mayer Petrides, probably
Riki (as she was nicknamed) seized every privilege of her upbringing, throwing herself into her studies with aplomb and enrolling at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels. (She had seen how her pianist / composer / painter / photographer mother’s talents had been suppressed, and she was determined not to let her own go to waste.) In 1923 Frédérique emigrated to the United States, where she began pursuing her penchant for conducting at New York University.
A decade later, in 1933, she and her journalist husband Peter Petrides decided to found a women’s chamber orchestra: the Orchestrette Classique. Peter was named the Orchestrette’s manager and publicist, while Frédérique became its music director.
The most comprehensive article online about trailblazing conductor Antonia Brico is this one, and it makes her sound very scary.
“She had this stern look on her face that could have melted parts of Greenland.”
She was a “horrid prima donna.”
“She knew how to maneuver people.”
“I loved that lady tremendously, but sometimes I could have wrung her neck.”
So when I cued up Judy Collins’s Oscar-nominated 1974 documentary “Antonia: A Portrait of the Woman,” I sat back and waited for a monster to appear.
Instead, I saw a quietly self-possessed woman standing in front of a rehearsing orchestra. When she speaks, she says tyrannical things like “eight after B” and then “diminish the quarters, please.”
After watching the whole documentary, I don’t doubt the imperiousness is there. (You need imperiousness to be the first woman to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic.) But Antonia Brico was clearly more than just a frustrating (and frustrated) manipulative genius Greenland-melter. She could also be self-deprecating, brutally honest, and hilarious.