Monthly Archives: June 2011

Leaving Stonehenge

Bon Iver on the Colbert Report

Come on skinny love just last the year
Pour a little salt, we were never here
My my my, my my my, my my
Staring at the sink of blood and crushed veneer

Musically speaking, I live under a rock. I’m so busy with violin stuff – classical violin stuff, to be exact – that I tend to be ignorant about other styles of music. I’m not proud of the fact, and I know I’m missing out on a lot, but to be honest, I don’t even know how to start listening to non-classical stuff. My situation is a bit unique, I think. Unlike most people, I didn’t listen to a single pop, rock, or folk album for my entire childhood; it was all classical or classically influenced instrumental. (I actually laughed while reading Alex Ross’s Listen to This, where he recounts a musical childhood eerily similar to mine.) I have no frame of reference for anything else. I just don’t speak the non-classical language, at all. And it’s intimidating to wander into a new country when you don’t speak the language. It’s easier just to stay on your side of the border, right?

I tell my love to wreck it all
Cut out all the ropes and let me fall
My my my, my my my, my my
Right in this moment this order’s tall

I’ve heard about Bon Iver for a few years now. If I didn’t, I’d have to live under not just a rock, but a frigging Stonehenge. They’re probably the most famous thing to have come out of my hometown. In fact, Eau Claire has actually become an integral part of the allure of the band. Justin Vernon, the lead singer, wrote the first Bon Iver album, For Emma, Forever Ago, holed up in a tiny cabin in northern Wisconsin. He still lives here when he’s not touring the world, and if his place is where I think it is (and I think it is), I’ve been past it countless times. He actually once brought a New York Times critic down Putnam Drive, where I ride my bike.

And I told you to be patient
And I told you to be fine
And I told you to be balanced
And I told you to be kind

I’m a huge fan of The Colbert Report, and about a week ago Stephen interviewed Justin Vernon on the show. I identified straightaway with Vernon. He has the same shy quiet mannerisms a lot of people from this part of the country have…not to mention the same fashion sense. (Some people think that he’s a poseur and trying to up his indie rocker cred by dressing the way he does, but I can assure you, he’s not; to paraphrase Lady Gaga, people in rural Wisconsin are just born that way.) Seeing one of Eau Claire’s own on national – international – television was…weird. And weirdly gratifying. No, we aren’t from the center of the universe. Yes, we exist. And yes, we have something to say. I hadn’t actually heard any of Bon Iver’s stuff before, so I listened to their performance of Calgary. I thought it was interesting, although nothing special. But the web extra Skinny Love really struck me. After steeping myself a bit in the sound of the band, I came back to Calgary and loved it. I’m gradually, and happily, working my way through their discography.

And in the morning I’ll be with you
But it will be a different kind
And I’ll be holding all the tickets
And you’ll be owning all the fines

I’m always fighting being from Eau Claire, being a country bumpkin. To be blunt, I’m embarrassed of where I’m from; I’m embarrassed of my relatively limited scope of reference; I’m self-conscious of my less-than-stellar education, and I’m only too aware what a different person I’d be if I’d been able to get a good one in New York or Philadelphia or heck, even Minneapolis. Classical music culture in particular fetishizes urbanity and big cities; that’s where all the talent drains, and I suppose it’s only natural. But this phenomenon can have the unintended consequence of making culture-lovers who aren’t in those urban centers feel insecure in their own experiences. Heck, how can you not feel a little naive when The Scotsman writes this about your “Wisconsin lumber town” home: “The Wikipedia list of Eau Claire’s local notables previously ranged from a girlfriend of Charles Manson to the inventor of the fraud-proof ballot paper, so Bon Iver quickly qualified.” Ouch. Seeing someone like Justin Vernon, who embraces and celebrates where he came from, who isn’t afraid of being called a hick, who isn’t frantically trying to scrub all scent of Eau Claire off himself and his body and his art…well, that’s food for thought. That’s good. He’s found that geography doesn’t necessarily impact your ability to connect to other people. He and his success make me wonder if being from a small town might actually give me a valuable perspective as a musician and as a writer. And yes, I’m well aware that indie-rock and classical music aren’t exactly the same genre. But still.

Come on skinny love what happened here
We suckled on the hope in lite brassieres
My my my, my my my, my my
Sullen load is full, so slow on the split

Reading Bon Iver reviews is interesting. People either think it’s the most gorgeous beautiful lyrical stuff ever written, or ridiculous whiney indie wangst. There’s not many people on the middle ground. I think I’m one of the few. Bon Iver doesn’t replace my Brahms or Beethoven. But Brahms or Beethoven doesn’t replace Bon Iver, either. Brahms and Beethoven didn’t have anything approaching my life experience, at all, and it’s disorienting and wonderful to know of an artist who has. And he’s alive, to boot! Happily there’s room for everybody on my mp3 player. Why has it taken me so long to figure this out? Has my insecurity really seeped into my listening? Really? … Pathetic as it sounds, I think it did.

And now all your love is wasted
Then who the hell was I?
And I’m breaking at the britches
And at the end of all your lines

I’m heartened that most of the younger classical players I know are just as familiar with the popular world as the “classical” world. I’m relieved that the type of classical-only childhood I had is an increasingly rare one. I’m proud I’m finally opening up a bit more, and willing to listen to and appreciate new sounds. I’m glad that I’ve realized there may be certain advantages to having grown up in a small town. (Maybe.) And I’m thrilled that it turns out I don’t need to speak the language to understand.

Who will love you?
Who will fight?
Who will fall far behind?

*presses repeat*

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Interview: Daisy Kennedy

Here’s a link to a fantastic interview with Australian violinist Daisy Kennedy (1893-1981). I don’t feel comfortable copy/pasting it here, so I’d recommend moseying over there and reading (and listening!) to it ASAP. It gives an intriguing glimpse into the European violin scene around the turn of the century. Enjoy.

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Article: A Talk With Madame Beatrice Langley

This article appeared in The Windsor Magazine sometime in early 1898. It is by Charles Cathcart.


A bitter, north-easterly gale, accompanied by blinding sleet and snow, was sweeping over Primrose Hill as my dripping hansom pulled up with a jerk at Madame Beatrice Langley’s comfortable house near Regent’s Park; but before I had been many minutes seated near the blazing fire, sipping tea and listening to the sparkling conversation of my genial hostess, all recollection of the refrigerating process I had just experienced had faded from my mind and my spirits had risen considerably. Indeed, so completely did Madame Langley’s witty comments upon all sorts and conditions of men and matters engross my attention, that fully half an hour must have passed before we came to actual business.

“It was in Dublin,” my hostess then said, in answer to my opening question, “that I first played in public. My mother, at that time a well-known amateur singer, had promised to sing at the Antient Concert Rooms for the benefit of some charity. The song, I remember, was Braga’s famous serenade, and I played the obbligato.”

“Was that long ago?”

“Yes, for I was quite a child, barely nine years old; but I had, of course, been learning the violin for several years; indeed, I cannot remember the time when I did not possess a fiddle of some sort. In 1886 I became a pupil of Mr. Joseph Ludwig, but after I had studied with him for seven years I went to Professor Wilhelmj, then just returned to England.”

“Did you remain with him long?”

“Two years. But before going to him I had made my début.”

“Where did that take place?”

“At one of the Crystal Palace Saturday afternoon concerts. Then engagements began to come in, and the most important concerts at which I played were the London Symphony Concerts, the Queen’s Hall Orchestral Concerts, and Madame Albani’s London Concerts.”

“But didn’t you go on tour with Madame Albani?”

“Yes, but that was later. I toured twice with Madame Albani; indeed, it was Madame Albani who gave my ‘send off,’ as they say in America. The first time I met her was one evening at dinner, before I had made my début, and after dinner I was asked to play. I played several solos, and next day Madame Albani asked me to go with her on tour.”

“Was that tour made in England?”

“Yes. We went all through England, and everywhere the public seemed to like my playing. I enjoyed the tour immensely. Last year, as you may know, I was the violinist in Madame Albani’s concerts in Canada, and we had a perfectly delightful tour right across the continent, from Halifax to Vancouver and Victoria, and we also gave a few concerts in the United States. In all we gave thirty-three concerts. Madame Albani had also engaged Mr. Braxton-Smith and Mr. Lempriére Pringle, and in Canada we were joined by Miss Beverley Robinson, daughter of the late Lieut.-Governor of Ontario. From beginning to end the tour was a kind of triumphal march, for, of course, Madame Albani is immensely popular in Canada, as, for that matter, she is popular everywhere.”

“I am told that you were married just before you sailed for Canada.”

“Only three days before!” Madame Langley answered, with a look of amusement.

She is the wife of Mr. Basil Tozer, a prolific writer of newspaper articles and the author of several books on sport.

“I wonder how your husband liked your going on tour for the honeymoon,” I continued; “he went with you, I suppose?”

“He did, and he rather enjoyed the absurdity of the situation. Afterwards, in Canada, strangers were constantly blundering by saying the wrong things to him. One day, for instance, in Montreal – or in Toronto, I forget which – an inquisitive stranger, with whom he was talking casually, inquired whether it was true that I had a husband ‘knocking around’ with me. Upon his answering that such was actually the case, and that he, my husband, knew the gentleman intimately, the stranger became quite confidential, and presently remarked in an undertone, ‘Say, I guess you might introduce me to that husband right away,’ and, of course, my husband did so. Then – when we were in Winnipeg, I think – I remember reading in a newspaper that ‘yesterday Madame Albani and her husband were seen sleighing, accompanied by a small boy, probably their son.’ That ‘son’ was my husband!”

“Does your husband look so young, then?”

“About ten years younger than he is, though he has travelled in every part of the world except Australia – by the way, we ought to be in Australia now.”

“With Madame Albani?”

“Yes. Just before Christmas Madame Albani asked me to accompany her as violinist on her tour in Australia and South Africa, but, much as I should have loved the voyage and the tour, I could not see my way to leaving England for six whole months, especially as I had already accepted several engagements in England for this year.”

“And how did America impress you?”

“Very favourably indeed,” Madame Langley replied promptly; “and I think the Canadians themselves perfectly delightful. As for the audiences, well, you can’t help liking the public when they seem to like you, and the larger the city, the more enthusiastic to audience – at least, such as my experience in Canada, and several artists who have toured there say they agree with me. The biggest ‘house’ we had was in Winnipeg, where the Drill Hall is said to have scating accommodation for 5,000 persons. On the night of the concert it was packed.  Some of the people came scores of miles in sleighs, others two hundred and two hundred and fifty miles by train, to be present at the concert. I shall never forget the sight of that Drill Hall, or the applause of that audience, as long as I live. It was perfectly splendid. Then, too, everybody was so hospitable. During the week or [?] days we spent in Winnipeg we were feted almost to extinction, and in such towns as Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Kingston, Vancouver and Victoria – everywhere, in short, where we stopped for a week or more – people hitherto perfect strangers to us seemed to vie with one another in entertaining the company. I must say that in this respect the Governors of the various provinces set the example – an excellent example, too, we thought it.”

“So you prefer Canadians to your own countrymen and countrywomen?”

“Oh, no, I don’t mean that.”

“But you prefer Canadian audiences?”

“No, I don’t mean that, either. What I like about Canada, and about the States, too, is that an artist appearing there for the first time in reality runs entirely upon his or her own merits. For instance, an artist with a big name comes over from Europe, having been duly ‘billed’ in immense letters and boomed by the Press. At first the public flock to hear him, ready enough to approve and applaud; but if the artist with the big name fails to please, his song, or his playing, or his performance, or whatever his entertainment may be, falls quite flat, and very soon the towns hundreds of miles away, which he means to visit, hear that he is ‘a frost’ – for nearly all news goes by wire in America – so that when he arrives there, in spite of all his advance booming, he finds only empty houses awaiting him. For your American citizen is nothing if not practical, and, like our English tub-thumper, when he asks for his dollar’s worth he ‘means to get it’ – not that he always does. Now take the case of a really clever and well-taught, but unknown, artist. He appears upon an American platform for the first time. He is received in silent. The audience hardly look at him. If they speak of him at all they merely criticise his appearance. He sings, or he plays. Gradually the audience become attentive. Then he seems slowly to hypnotise them. Their interest expands; their admiration increases. Finally he stops; the spell is broken; he leaves the platform amid a storm of applause, only to be recalled again and again, and the next time he makes his appearance he is greeted with quite an ovation before he has sung a note or touched his instrument, as the case may be. Then glowing reports about him are flashed from city to city, so that from the first his success is assured all along the line. These remarks apply to women as well as to men artist,s and the artist may have been raised in Germany and christened with a name of fifteen syllables, or he may be called Tom Jones, and have first seen light in Whitechapel, it makes not one whit of difference, provided he please his public.”

“Did you study abroad at all, Madame Langley?”

“No, I studied entirely in London,” she answered with a bright smile. “That is something to be proud of in these days of foreign competition!”

“And you were not even born in Germany.”

“No, I was born in Devonshire, in a secluded townlet called Chudleigh.”

We continued our conversation, and I soon gathered that my hostess entertained the highest opinion of Madame Albani, not only, of course, as an artist, but as an individual. Incidentally, too, she let fall a remark that I have heard made before, a remark to the effect that Madame Albani seems never to say an unkind word about anybody, but that she is, on the contrary, ever on the look-out for talent, and ready to help any young artist in whom she discovers the germs of genuine merit. Now, oddly enough, from what I am told about Madame Langley herself, and from what I saw of her during my brief visit, I should say that the selfsame remark might truly be applied to another lady.

Upon the subject of musical agents and musical managers Madame Beatrice Langley waxed eloquent. With but one exception, she personally has been fairly treated, though she prides herself upon never in her life having asked for an engagement either for a concert or for “at homes,” at which latter she plays largely.

Madame Langley is an enthusiastic Wagnerian, and seldom misses an opportunity of being present at a Wagner concert. Also she is interested in politics, and, besides being a lover of art, she is an omnivorous reader, and appears to be thoroughly posted in topics of the day and well abreast of current literature.

“Would you care to see my fiddle?” my fair hostess asked presently, as she refilled my cup. I replied that I should like, not merely to see it, but to hear it, whereupon she favoured me with Bach’s famous “Aria,” played most exquisitely on her favourite violin, a Maggini, which her father, Colonel Langley, late of the Royal Artillery, gave her as a wedding present. This was the violin which she took to Canada. As Maggini died in the year 1630, the fiddle must be at least 267 years old; nevertheless, it is in perfect condition.

Madame Beatrice Langley is, I believe, the only woman violinist in London who has ever played in public the difficult A minor variations of Paganini. Her tone is quite wonderful, and, listening to her playing, one could almost imagine her Maggini was a ‘cello. During her absence from the room for a few minutes, I glanced through her albums of Press notices, truly a marvellous collection of unanimously favourable criticisms, and presently I came across one in particular that I well remembered having read before. It was taken from the Times of January 2nd, 1897, where, under the heading “Music of the Year,” Madame Beatrice Langley’s name is coupled with that of Sarasate. According to the Times, Sarasate, Ysaye, and Madame Beatrice Langley were “among the most successful violinists who appeared during the year.” Among the Canadian newspaper cuttings I noticed one that tempted me to ask Madame Langley rather a personal question as she re-entered the room.

“Are you a Romanist?” I ventured to inquire.

“Why, yes,” she answered, “I am Catholic. I suppose that paragraph about my playing in the Catholic Cathedral of St. Boniface, in Winnipeg, made you ask that question. I played several times in church on Sundays while in Canada, and the Maggini sounded magnificent – at least, so I was told. Most of the churches in Canada are very good for sound, you see, and the atmosphere is so crisp and dry that it suits the fiddle to perfection. Do I ever teach the violin? Yes; and I find teaching very interesting, especially when pupils show particular talent and are industrious.”

“One more question, Madame Langley, and I have done. I must put this question to you because it is one that everybody asks everybody else: Do you ride a bicycle?”

“I do,” came the laughing reply; “at least, in the country. My husband will not let me ride in town.”

I remarked that “Mr. Beatrice Langley” must be wise in his generation, and soon afterwards I took my leave.

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Article: As I Found Miss Bang At Lake George

This is an article from The Violinist from October 1920, “By a Pupil”, about violin teacher Maia Bang. I haven’t been able to find out much about her online. Can you help me and contact me with any information about her?


When a visitor reaches Lake George in summer he is greeted by green hills, a blue lake, and a peaceful village. He soon learns that there are gathered here violinists from various parts of the globe. The raison d’etre of this interesting group is the advent to Lake George, for the summer, of Professor Auer and assistant teachers.

One of the best known of these teachers is Maia Bang, who came to this country about three years ago, at the same time as Professor Auer. Her “Elementary Violin Method,” the first two volumes of which are already in the hands of many prominent teachers, is fast gaining her friends in this country.

Miss Bang likes America, but is a staunch and loyal patriot of her native land, Norway. It is indeed pleasant to hear one who loves them so, describe the mountains and fjords of Scandinavia.

Miss Bang combines art and science in her teaching. She never lacks enthusiasm, and while critical of details is always encouraging to pupils, and never lacks appreciation of all efforts. She demands the correct things, but supports all attempts. She is democratic, looking with happy approval on the movement for putting violin instruction in the public schools. She gives hope and help to each of her pupils as his individual talent merits or requires.

Miss Bang admits of no limitations in her teaching. She says, “We can make all things. There is no ‘perhaps.'” If one follows the directions given, the goal is sure, provided, of course, that there is no serious handicap in the adaptability of the pupil. There being no phase of violin art which she has not analyzed, all one has to do is to apply the analysis. This is brought out effectively in her Violin Method mentioned above, the last part of which is now in the making. These volumes are in accordance with the principles of Auer, who, it is well known, possesses the last word with regard to methods and requirements of the modern virtuoso.

The pleasure and inspiration in writing such a method was brought out when one afternoon in a quiet and friendly conversation she remarked that her mind was teeming with ideas, and that as she writes the ideas do not come at the beckon of her will, but easily without any effort, as it were from above.

Miss Bang is a generous friend, a strong yet gentle character, an unusually interesting person to talk with on account of her originality and genuineness. She possesses a happy disposition, with a fine appreciation of the humorous. She is reverent to all things sacred, including other people’s personalities. She loves sports of all kinds. She is clever with children, and very inventive in methods to interest and to control their work.


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Article: Good Bowing, by Mozelle Bennett

Here’s an article by violinist Mozelle Bennett from the March 1922 issue of The Violinist.


For the solo violinist who hopes to step “over the top,” I would offer a few suggestions. Although he already knows, he probably does not realize just how much a few little points, which have been discovered by the great masters mean to the young artist.

During my study in Eugene Ysaye’s Master Class he often repeated – “Good bowing counts seventy-five percent in violin playing.” Learn to use the point of your bow and change the bow without twisting it at the point. Practice scales making a crescendo at the point.

Practice playing on the opening strings – G – D – A – E – with one stroke of the bow, using most of the bow on the G string, making a crescendo at the point, then back again on the E – A – D – G, using most of the bow on the E string, and keeping the bow so close to the next string that it finally is impossible to detect when the bow changes strings.

Then practice the G major and G minor scales in the first position with the same bowing, holding down the fingers very firmly on the first string until the first note on the next string has been played.

All of the scales should be practiced, carefully following these suggestions, and a perfect legato will be the result.

Good Bowing, I have discovered in my concert work, is one of the greatest secrets of success.


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Article: Nicoline Zedeler and the Observance of the String Level

Here’s an article from The Violinist from October 1920 by violinist Nicoline Zedeler…


That the technic of the bow arm is of infinitely more importance than that of the left hand is gradually being understood, but in spite of the increasing number of articles and treatises on the subject there are certain phases of right arm technic which still receive scant attention. One of the most important of these is the observance of the string level, and it is Theodore Spiering who has so persistently and so successfully called attention in his teaching to this feature of right arm technic.

Even though the violin student learns to hold his bow correctly and is taught the control of the arm in its sub-divisions of upper arm, lower arm and hand, which implies all that goes with muscular effort and relaxation, he nevertheless would often find himself handicapped by sudden awkward hand and arm positions did his knowledge of bow technic not include the observance of the string level. For only when each stroke, each movement of the arm and hand has passed the stage of analytical effort and has become automatic, the violinist’s technic has at last become reliable and free from conflicting muscular action. It is a well-established fact that when the arm is too high or two low the tone immediately reflects qualities which to a well-trained ear at once discloses the cause. The muscles of the arm struggling to bridge over the distance between the level of the arm and the level of the string are so much occupied with this conflict that they cannot apply themselves to the real task of inciting the string. The thin tone, as one result of this conflict, is also noticed when players who are not conversant with string crossings endeavor to play many notes on one bow.

This brings us to the very important subject of articulation. In rapid string crossings articulation very often is indistinct, for the reason that the crossings are not perfectly performed. The played must consistently bear in mind the string level on whic hhe is playing and he must train himself to quickly distinguish each musical pattern as it appears in the composition. If, for instance, rapid figures consisting of broken chords or other harmonic sequences are not read as patterns, the difficulty of their performance is at once enhanced, and needlessly so. In order to make my statement clearer let me say that I would always try to repeat by means of the same fingering the original pattern. In other words, the same fingering should suggest itself to the mind in each repetition of the pattern. This idea of a uniform fingering is carried out in scales, but it is the application of such logic to the more complex problems which often is neglected.

The two pictures accompanying this article represent the bow in normal position (illustration 1) and the wrist in its string crossing movement toward a higher string level (illustration 2). This anticipatory movement of the arm and hand is necessary when the higher level is to be retained. When one or two notes are to be played on a higher level and an immediate return to the level on which the playing has been done is effected, there is no necessity for the arm to change its level, only when a higher level is to be adhered to for the time being, does the anticipatory movement illustrated take place. Not only does this insure a greater facility of string crossing, but what is almost of more importance, it insures greater articulation in this way, that the movement of the hand in regaining its normal position brings with it a much more definite grip of the string than when this anticipatory movement is not carried out.

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I’ve created a tumblr

I’ve created a tumblr; it’s at (creative address, I know). There you’ll find images of the great violinists of the past – video or audio of amazing Victorian and Edwardian musicians – video or audio of amazing contemporary musicians – various vintage-ish stuff – and probably occasionally a picture or two of Benedict Cumberbatch with a violin (I’m only human). Also, I’m looking forward to seeing if mentioning “Benedict Cumberbatch” ups this blog’s view-count.

I’m planning on adding at least one new image a day. So if you’re into that sort of thing…check it out.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lady Halle.

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

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

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

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

Camilla Urso.

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

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

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

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

 Teresina Tua.

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

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

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

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

 Maud Powell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ISGOT: The d’Aranyi Sisters

The violin-playing d’Aranyi sisters were fascinating women, and their lives are practically begging for a contemporary biographical treatment. To the best of my knowledge, only one book has been written about them, called (surprise!) The Sisters d’Aranyi, by Joseph MacLeod…this despite the fact that Jelly inspired some of the greatest violin masterworks of the twentieth century. Oh, biographers. Sigh. I’ve wanted to get my hands on a copy of the book for a long time, but just haven’t had the cash. Once I do, and once I buy a copy, expect to see some research here about these two extraordinary women.

The d’Aranyi sisters – Jelly and Adila – were born in Budapest, studied under Jeno Hubay, and knew Bartók as girls (just like Stefi Geyer). They were grand-nieces of arguably the greatest violinist of the late nineteenth century, Joseph Joachim, who was great friends with Brahms. The two inspired works from many of the major composers of the day – Bartók (his two violin and piano sonatas), Vaughan Williams (Concerto Academico), Ravel (Tzigane), Holst (Double Concerto). Jelly was friends with Elgar, as well; their relationship was dramatized in the admittedly rather Lifetime-y-looking (is that an adjective? well, it is now) movie Elgar’s Tenth Muse. (This article says “After Alice Elgar died, he conceived a brief passion for the dynamic young Hungarian violinist Jelly d’Aranyi, whom he treated to expensive dinners, a trip to the British Museum and an unfortunate scene over tea and a book at his Hampstead home that left the girl ‘cursing old men’ “… Hmm.) Bartók too was attracted to her; she actually ended up refusing to work with him outside of rehearsals because she was so uncomfortable with his obvious interest in her. Jelly herself had a tragic love affair with Frederick Septimus Kelly, an Australian Olympic athlete, pianist, and composer, who died in World War I. (His sonata for Jelly has recently been re-discovered.) And that’s not even touching the sisters’ fascination with spiritualism, which resulted in the uncovering of the mostly forgotten Schumann violin concerto. Adila actually wrote or co-wrote a book on spiritualism called Widening Horizons, and apparently she “possessed the rare gift of transmitting spiritual waves in a waking state and fully conscious, never falling into a trance.”

Here’s Jelly playing Brahms. She was a gutsy firebrand on that fiddle!

And Adila playing Beethoven –

I’m more keen on Jelly’s playing than Adila’s, but perhaps it’s just the quality of the recording. Adila’s is heavy on the piano, to put it mildly!

Here is a treasure trove of recordings of the two. They were two larger-than-life personalities who deserve a full biographical treatment pronto. Until then, I hope this little entry encourages some people to seek out what they can about the sisters and their fascinating lives. If you have any information on Jelly d’Aranyi or Adila Fachiri…or a used copy of The Sisters d’Aranyi…contact me! In the meantime I’ll keep digging online.


Filed under My Writing, Women Violinists