Article: Female Violinists from The Contemporary Review, 1872

Here’s an article about female violinists from The Contemporary Review, dating from 1872. There were clearly some lazy writers in the Victorian era, because this is basically just a less-characterful compression of an article on the same subject by George Dubourg from 1852.


A great deal has lately been said about the propriety of ladies playing the violin. Some people seem to think it quite a novelty, but the practice in England at least is old enough.

On the painted roof of Peterborough Cathedral, said to be not later than 1194, is depicted a female figure seated and holding on her lap a sort of viol with four strings and four sound-holes: her left hand grasps the head, whilst she draws a bow across the strings with her right. Amongst the royal accounts, November 2, 1495, we  read, “To a woman who singeth with a fidell, 2s.; the queen’s male ‘fideler’ of the period, Feb. 17, 1497, was paid ‘in rewarde,’ £1 6s. 8d.”

Poor Anne of Cleves, after her divorce from Henry VIII, amused herself sometimes by playing on a sort of viol with six strings and frets, but no distinct finger-board. From a ballad in Charles I’s reign, we find that the art of viol playing was not uncommon amongst ladies; and amongst the accomplishments of a lady, we read that –

“She sings and she plays

And she knows all the keys

Of the viol de Gamba and lute.”

In more modern times ladies have excelled on the violin. Mozart wrote a sonata for Regina Schlick, born at Mantua, 1764. Louise Gautherot, a Frenchwoman, was also distinguished for her concertos played at the London Oratorio Concerts, 1789-90. Luiga Gerbini, a pupil of the celebrated Viotti, played solos at Lisbon in 1799, and afterwards visited London in 1801.

Signora Paravicini, another of Viotti’s pupils, was a favourite of Josephine, the wife of Buonaparte. She afterwards grew so poor as to be obliged to part with most of her wardrobe, but was charitably helped by some generous Italians at Milan. In 1827 she was much admired, and in the words of a poet –

“Flourished her bow and showed how fame was won.”

She played at Bologna as late as 1832.

The names of Mesdames Krahmen, Schultz, Eleonora Neumann, and Filipowicz, will be familiar to some of our readers, whilst few living musicians will need to be reminded of Mdlle. Sophie Humler, Mdlle. Vittoria de Bono, and Madame Norman-Neruda.

It may once have been maintained that the arm of a beau was more fit for a lady than a bow arm; but that prejudice has now happily vanished. Indeed nothing can be more appropriate in a lady’s hands than a violin properly held and properly played. If she have a good arm it is shown to the best advantage; if she have a pretty hand a tapering fingers, and a slender wrist, all these are thrown into the most graceful positions by the action of bowing and fingering.

Her arms, shoulders, and hands, her head and neck, and indeed her whole body have but to follow sympathetically the undulating and delicate curves of the violin itself. A beautiful woman holding a beautiful violin, is one of the most beautiful sights in the world. There are refinements of sentiment and of execution, which a woman’s sensitive hand is peculiarly fitted to render; in delicacy of touch and finely gradated effects she is unsurpassed, and although usually deficient in roundness of tone, yet both in rapidity of execution and melting pathos, have we not lately seen in the case of Madame Norman-Neruda “quid faemina possit!”‘

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Filed under Not My Writing, Women Violinists

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