Monthly Archives: May 2011

ISGOT: The Kubelík Girls

I was reading the Wikipedia entry on Jan Kubelík and came upon this peculiar sentence…

In his personal life, in 1903 he married Countess Marianne Czáky-Szell, with whom he had eight children, five violinist daughters and three sons

Bold mine.

Really? Five violinist daughters?

Additional Googling has yet to uncover any more details.

(By the way, not trying to start a competition here, but I found I prefer Marie Hall’s recording of the Ries Perpetuum Mobile to Kubelik’s. What do you think?)


Filed under Not My Writing, Women Violinists

Images: Lillian Shattuck’s Scrapbook

The first professional string quartet made up of women was called the Eichberg String Quartet; it was based in Boston and active in the late Victorian era. One of the ladies in the group was a woman named Lillian Shattuck. Someone at Harvard scanned her scrapbook and it is now being hosted at the Harvard University Library website. Take a look if you’re interested in seeing some beautiful portraits of women violinists from the turn of the century.

Here’s a link.

Edit (27 May): The link doesn’t work. It worked yesterday. It’s as if the Harvard University Library website doesn’t want anyone to see their collection. Well…try googling “Lillian Shattuck” Harvard. And a big thumbs down to the Harvard University Library website. I applaud your digitization of this important collection, but next time it would be nice if you’d include, you know, a link so that people, you know, can go visit it.

Edit (30 May): Try the comment section for a working link.


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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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ISGOT: Maya Stuart-King

If you’re a violin nerd, you’re probably familiar with the name of Baron Johann Knoop, who was very possibly the greatest violin collector the world has ever seen. But I’d wager you know nothing about his wife, the mysterious Maya Stuart-King.

From a great article on – (forgive any funky formatting) –

This new focus on literary guests was due to the influence of Johann’s second wife, whom he married in 1899. Maya Stuart-King (1875-1945) was a young violinist who had run away from home at the age of 18 to search for her godmother, a German princess. She never did find her godmother, but she did find a Baron. She met Baron Knoop while playing at a salon in Vienna. The Baron fell in love with her and eventually convinced her to marry him, despite the fact that he was 30 years her senior.

There are a couple different versions to how this marriage came about. According to Mike Ashley, the author of a biography about the writer Algernon Blackwood, Knoop first hired Maya as a governess for his son and only married her some years later when Ludwig turned 18. On the other hand, the author Stephen Graham, who knew both Maya and Algernon quite well, remembered Maya relating events differently:

‘It was in Vienna. I was a violinist and I lived for music. I had my own Stradivarius and was one of a string quartet enjoying high social patronage. One evening a guest at a musical entertainment saw me. It was the Baron and he became infatuated. At first he tried to make me his mistress, but I was elusive and drove him to what was an unwise decision. I was a poor girl of no family; he was a nobleman of great wealth and he was sixty. But he made me a formal proposal of marriage. For me that made his courtship serious. I consulted my friends. They all said it was a golden opportunity for me because the man was fabulously rich. So I accepted him. The wedding itself, in the Russian Orthodox Church with crowns on our heads, was most impressive, and I felt at the time we were achieving something magnificent.

Whatever the case, the marriage was not a happy one for Maya. As Graham recalled, Maya continued with the story as follows:

But once married I soon realized I had lost my freedom. Courtship ceased and the Baron showed himself fanatically possessive. He stopped my playing and deposited my Stradivarius in a bank. It is still there for all I know. He cut me off from my acquaintances and friends and the patrons of my music. I was switched away to Russia, to Paris, to Egypt, and finally to England, and all the while I was his private – almost his secret – personal property. He affected to despise music and would never go to a concert. When he came to live here he had no guests beyond a few members of his family.’

At first Maya obeyed the Baron and did completely as he wished. But eventually, according to Graham’s account, she broke free, thanks in part to a certain German philosopher:

‘He stinted me for money and I was dressed always in black, like one of his German maids. Whatever he told me to do I did. I had no resistance. But one day I discovered Nietzsche and his philosophy was an inspiration. The sloppy faith I had been brought up in was no good; turning the other cheek had made me a slave. The German philosopher said, “Be hard as a diamond”. I could not get as hard as that, but hard enough to begin to live my own life and defy the restrictions which my husband put upon it. Then his power over me dissolved as if I had wrought a spell.”

Once Maya gained some independence from the Baron, she quickly became a favorite in literary circles and befriended many authors, including Graham and Ranier Rilke. But her closest friend – in fact they were almost inseparable from about 1911-1918 – was Algernon Blackwood, a journalist and novelist whom Maya met on a Nile steamer which belonged to the Baron. Blackwood specialized in books about the supernatural and occult. As Graham describes the relationship, Blackwood became her “Slave of the Ring.”  “A love affair began,” writes Graham, “and lasted the rest of his life, though without physical expression. For him Maya became a wonder-child, and then a mystical being with an awareness of invisible things.” Blackwood dedicated virtually all of his books to Maya. 

What the Baron thought of this relationship is not recorded but if he objected to it he was also resigned to the fact that there was little he could do about it, short of divorcing Maya. It seems that the couple had a devil’s pact. The broody Baron needed Maya’s presence – her lightness and gaiety. For her part, Maya enjoyed the Baron’s money and the freedom of being married in letter only. Though undoubtedly not the ideal union that each wished, the marriage nevertheless survived 19 years, and ended only with the Baron’s death.

The story about Maya’s Strad being locked in a bank vault is one I have not been able to confirm. Indeed, it’s not clear which of the many Strads owned by Baron Knoop was actually Maya’s. Interestingly, the accounts of Graham and Ashley conflict with what Doring has written. According to Doring, Baron Knoop actually purchased a Strad as a gift for his wife.  This instrument was the de Barrou’ Strad, previously owned by C.G. Meier. “After Meier’s death,” writes Doring, “this violin of 1714 was acquired by Baron Knoop as a gift for his wife.” But as Meier was still alive at least as late as 1911, and the Baron and Maya married in 1899, this cannot be the same Strad to which Maya referred.

By the early 1900s, Knoop and Maya were more-or-less permanent residents of England, living first in a mansion in Tunbridge Wells. It was here that Graham had his first and only encounter with the Baron. Graham described the castle as “an immense structure, a castellated aggregation of brickwork.  . . The music room, in which no music was allowed, was as big as a church.”

Graham had travelled widely in Russia and had written many articles and books about Russia, including a biography of Alexander II, so one might have assumed that he and Baron Knoop would have much to discuss. But this was not the case. Graham and his wife were not invited to stay at the castle itself “because the Baron would not allow any guests to stay the night.” During the entire weekend they were there, Graham saw the Baron only once, for about 5 minutes.

The Baron had apparently been traumatized by the death of his first wife and child, and the near-death of his son. “He lived in a draught-proof little room,” wrote Graham,“where the temperature was not allowed to vary from 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The rest of his spacious domain he ignored.”

“The Baron was not stricken by disease,” continues Graham, “but was mortally afraid of ill-health. “

Graham summed up his opinion of the Baron thus:  Knoop was a “jealous and morose Russian baron. . . His idea when he saw anything beautiful was to take it for himself and hide it from the rest of the world.”

In 1903 Knoop purchased a large mansion in Wadhurst overlooking Kent and Sussex Weald, “with one of the most beautiful views in the south-east.” And although he himself remained in seclusion, he apparently allowed Maya to invite houseguests. Algernon stayed there frequently and even gave South Park as his forwarding address during the summer of 1911.

Algernon’s biographer, Mike Ashley, believes that Knoop and Maya were the models for characters in several of Algernon’s books and stories. In The Damned, for example, one of the main characters is Samuel Franklyn, a rich but gloomy man. But whereas the fictional Franklyn was grudgingly respected for his philanthropic works, the real-life Knoop seems to have kept his wealth mostly to himself. Aside from a Ruggeri violin that Knoop loaned to the Russian violinist, Carol Gregorowitch, in the 1880s, there is no evidence that he ever loaned any of his instruments to musicians, and the only record of philanthropy he left was a 75 pound scholarship at the Guildhall School of Music awarded each year, starting in 1899, to a promising violinist… [snip]

Meanwhile, the Knoops were being similarly persecuted in their Prussian homeland of Bremen. In 1915, the Prussian government took control of their Muhlenthal estate, justifying this seizure with the fact that one of the owners, namely Baron Johann Knoop, had permanent residence in England, and that his wife, “Baroness May Knoop,” was German-American by birth. By this time, the Baron had anyway abandoned the castle, with his last visit there believed to have been in 1910.

In 1916, probably to give their company a more Russian flavor, the Russian Knoops reorganized their enterprise and renamed the resulting company ‘Volokno’. But as Russia was increasingly hostile to any successful companies, and especially those with German roots, the Knoop family transferred as much of their assets as possible into the Manchester de Jersey company, whose chairman was Baron Johann Knoop.

After June, 1918, all of the Knoops’ Russian enterprises were nationalized (with the exception of the Kraenholm cotton mill in Estonia), and the Knoops – Johann’s two brothers and their families – were forced to flee Russia. 

A few months after the Knoop’s Russian empire was nationalized during the Russian revolution, Baron Johann Knoop died at his castle in Tunbridge Wells. The cause of death was not reported, but it was most likely the influenza pandemic, which killed an estimated 50 million people 1918. In his will he had left most of his estate to his son Ludwig, but Maya received a generous annual stipend, with the provision that she would lose the income should she re-marry. This may have put Maya in quite a quandary in relation to Algernon Blackwood. While she undoubtedly loved him as a friend, it’s not clear that their relationship was romantic, and she had become accustomed to a life that his book royalties could not support.  Graham writes that“Maya might have taken a chance and married him for love, but Blackwood would not.”

Graham continues that “Maya recovered her Stradivarius from the bank where the Baron had stored it, and organized a string quartet and gave music parties.” She belonged to a group called ‘Higher Thought’ which believed that thought more than actions worked miracles. Another member of this group was a coal magnate named Ralph Hilton Philipson, whose first wife had died in 1873. Once again, Maya was courted by a wealthy, elderly widower, and once again she accepted the marriage proposal. But where the Baron had been a dour, possessive personality, Philipson was his opposite – affable and generous, and a patron of many artists, authors and musicians. By all accounts, her marriage with Philipson was happier than her life with Baron Knoop, but the marriage was a short one. Philipson died of food poisoning in December, 1928. Maya herself continued to live in London until her death in 1945. What became of her Stradivari is not known.

Obviously I write non-fiction, and I absolutely love doing so, but fiction will always be the genre that I love the best and feel the most comfortable in. So as soon as I read this post on Cozio, I headed to the library to get a book by Algernon Blackwood in an attempt to discover more about Maya. His stories are spooky, unique, and ridiculously atmospheric; they’re highly recommended. The first one I read was Chinese Magic, which is the story of an older academic man who becomes entranced with a striking young woman. Turns out, there are shades of the Maya/Algernon relationship in just about every story.

I’ve looked around for more information on the Baroness and found little else. I’m writing a novel now (that has nothing to do with music), and I’m committed to finishing that, and I’m going to be busy with it for the foreseeable future, but…I have to confess, I’m totally inspired by the idea of somehow fictionalizing this strange love triangle between a reclusive violin collector, a spiritualist writer, and an independent musical young woman…

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A Blessing

Here’s an essay that I published on in April 2011. I was extremely touched by the reaction it garnered there, and so I’d like to reproduce it here.


My violin has laid in the corner of the room for weeks now. I haven’t picked it up at all, save for the ninety minutes I spend every Thursday night at orchestra rehearsal. But I’ve decided to cut myself some slack because my life is currently spinning out of control.

In the last six weeks alone, I have started seriously contemplating moving from the small town in which I’ve lived all my life to Minneapolis; I decided for sure that I am going to try my very best to become a music writer and musicologist; I saw the Minnesota Orchestra play one of my favorite pieces of all time, Ravel’s La Valse; I spent a thrilling day with a musician and writer I admire very, very much; I made contact with a professional string-player who has the same ridiculously rare health problems I have; my beloved 15-year-old cat was diagnosed with cancer; she died a few days later; I made an inadvertent discovery of a truly devastating secret that I was never meant to uncover; family tensions simmered; unbearably tight financial pressures grew even tighter; and yesterday my other teenage cat was diagnosed with a life-threatening uterine infection. Not to mention all of the horrors happening all around the world. And we’ve had the strangest spring weather, to boot. We’ve emerged from one of the snowiest, most brutal winters we’ve ever had directly into what could easily pass as late autumn. There has been no sunlight or warmth or light or any of the lovely spring things traditionally associated with April: daffodils, maybe, but to be honest, at this point, they’re growing in spite of themselves.

In any case, whatever the reason, whatever the reasons, I’ve got a bad case of emotional whiplash. This morning I was so numb from yesterday’s diagnosis that I didn’t feel like getting out of bed. It took me almost half an hour to drag myself out, eat a bagel for breakfast, feed my ailing cat…and stuff my music into my neglected violin case. This noon my little string orchestra had a concert at a local organization called the Community Table, which serves a free meal every day of the year to whoever wants one. This organization does hugely important work. And trust me, you don’t know how important it is unless you’ve been food insecure yourself. So I got there at eleven, feeling a little disheveled from yesterday’s day of trauma, but still excited and resolved to play. I’d been sick for the last rehearsal, and all of the musicians asked how I was feeling. Their love and concern was touching, and the memory of yesterday’s tears began to fade, a little.

We started with a G-major scale to warm up, then played our way through a set of relatively simple pieces, with a chunk of the first movement of Brandenburg 3 for good measure. Every once in a while came a round of applause from the diners. We smiled and grinned at them. The organizer came up beaming in the middle of our set and said, “I think you should know that one of our guests just said, I’m so thankful for the angels who are playing here today.” We all blinked quickly a few times and moved onto the next piece as fast as we could. There was a comic interlude, during which we had a group picture taken against one wall. First we blocked the door to the restroom. Then we scooted over. Then we had to scrunch so closely together that we were practically cheek to cheek. We all got a fit of the giggles. Then we had a ten minute break where we had some coffee and shot the breeze and talked about how much we were enjoying ourselves. Then back to the set. The last few pieces had to go at a quicker pace so we’d finish up by one – “’Swing Low, Sweet Chariots’ should be taken faster, like the chariots at the royal wedding,” our conductor advised. As we were packing up, a gentleman came up and told us, “Thank you so much for the best fifteen minutes of my week. If I had known you were coming, I would have gotten here earlier.” And at that moment I felt a great thankfulness for him, and a great kinship with him, and a great thankfulness for that great kinship…as it was the best fifteen minutes of my week, too.

This is a cliché, but – I am so blessed. And musicians? We’re even blessed-er. Even if absolutely everything feels as if it’s going wrong in our lives – even if we have been pounded into the pavement again and again and again, until we are convinced we can’t take another day of it – even if we’re chronically dizzy from the dull stuffy headaches that come after long bouts of crying late into the night, and even if our eyelashes are stained with the salt of our tears, and even if our hearts and ribs and throats feel as if they are loaded heavy with lead – the fact remains: we are so blessed. We are so powerful. We have a precious, precious talent that we will be able to employ for as long as we want to groom it: we have the ability to bring joy and beauty into other people’s darkened lives…and in turn, into our own. It doesn’t matter if we can’t play the Caprices, if we can’t get into Juilliard, if we haven’t made a world-class orchestra, if we will never play the Sibelius, or the Bruch, or Mozart 3, or more than a handful of Suzuki books. If we can draw a semi-decent tone, and hit some of the notes some of the time…really, honestly, that’s all it takes to brighten and beautify a day and a life. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t care about being the best musicians we can be. It’s hugely important to always want to excel (says the woman who hasn’t practiced for weeks; remember, kids, do as I say, not as I do). But we severely underestimate our own capacity to illuminate the world. Today I realized it is in our most trying hours as musicians that we need to remember that the most.

A few people have emailed me wondering what happened to my second cat. Sadly, she too passed away after surgery on May 4. I’d like to dedicate this entry to my two extraordinary kitties – Demi (1996-2011) and Winks (1997-2011), who brought so much light and joy into my life.

Demi on my violin case, 2009

Me, my violin, and Winks, 2009

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Coming Attractions: Vivien Chartres

EDIT (5/28/2012): This essay has now been posted here.


I thought I would start a series of blog entries describing upcoming projects (FYI, I’m going to tag them “Coming Attractions”), so everyone is encouraged to check back as often as possible. There may be relatively long stretches of silence on this blog as I do research and write rough drafts, etc., so I want everyone to stay tuned even if it seems like I’ve abandoned the blog.

Recently I became interested in the life story of violin prodigy Vivien Chartres (1893-1941). Chartres was a musical phenomenon in the early years of the twentieth century, and in the contemporary press her name was often mentioned in the same sentence as Elman and Huberman. Her story is truly fit for a novel…and unlike most life stories, it actually became one: Vivien’s mother, Annie Vivanti Chartres, was a professional writer who wrote a book about Vivien in 1910 called The Devourers. As you can imagine, since the fictional Devourers is a major primary source, it occasionally gets a bit sticky trying to separate fact from fiction, and the challenge has been a fascinating one that has made me ask a lot of questions… What roles do parents play in raising musical children? What roles should they play? How far should a gifted child be pushed? How do writers fictionalize their own experiences, and how can historians untangle the truth? I’ve been in touch with some people who have helped me uncover some really interesting, thought-provoking things about Vivien and Vivanti, and I’m super excited to be able to share my findings. To the best of my knowledge, this will be the first biography of Chartres available to the general public. So if you’re interested, be sure to check back in the coming weeks. The subjects are extraordinary and I promise that their contemporary relevance will surprise you.

Vivien Chartres and her mother Annie Vivanti


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Link: The Kôda Sisters

Through I’ve found a fascinating series of essays written by Margaret Mehl about early female violinists in Japan and the Kôda sisters..

Earthquakes and Pioneering Sisters in Japan

Kôda Shimai: the Pioneering Sisters (2): Kôda Kô

The Kôda Sisters 3

If anyone knows of any online resources about female violinists, or if you have essays like this one to share, contact me! I’d be glad to read them and publicize it here. Er, not that being featured on a tiny blog like this one is going to increase your hits very much, but it certainly can’t hurt, right?

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ISGOT: Lady Anne Blunt

I’m introducing a new series of blog entries called “I Should Get On That.” These are little snippets of information I’ve heard of here and there that I want to dig into deeper but can’t at the moment, for whatever reason.

So, drumroll please.

Today’s ISGOT… Lady Anne Blunt.

According to Wikipedia, she was a writer, a polygot, a breeder of horses, and a fantastic violinist. I’m curious how fantastic a violinist. She studied under Leopold Jansa, who was Wilma Norman-Neruda’s (Lady Hallé’s) teacher. When did she start? Did she ever think of becoming a professional, or did she just study for her own pleasure? When did she start playing? Did she study abroad, or did Jansa come to her? She was born in 1837, so she was Lady Hallé’s near-exact contemporary, and before Lady Hallé came along, there were not many English women violinists at all. How did she start playing an instrument that was so unusual for her era and gender? I’d love to know, but sadly at the moment there doesn’t seem to be much information about her online… And I’m nowhere near a reputable library, so I’ll have to sit tight on this one. Unless, of course, one of my readers emails me some info…

You may have heard of her fiddle, the impeccable 1721 Lady Blunt Strad. It’s currently for sale. So if anyone has a spare….ten or twenty million, call me.

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Works Associated With Female Violinists

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



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



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)



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.


Filed under Lists, Women Violinists

A (Transcribed) Chat With Lady Hallé, 1894

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


A Chat With Lady Hallé

By the Baroness Von Zedlitz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who were your subsequent teachers, Lady Hallé?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And who are your favorite composers?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is what he said of her:-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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