Category Archives: Women Violinists

Zitkála-Šá: Musician, Author, Activist

Quaker missionaries lured the little Sioux girl with tales of orchards. Come with us, they said, and we’ll bring you to school.

Her widowed mother protested. She’d lost a son to white missionaries before. But her little girl begged and begged, eager to escape to a faraway place where she might pursue knowledge and eat red apples.

Finally her mother relented. The seven-year-old boarded a train and journeyed seven hundred miles. When she arrived at the school, it was February. The air was cold and the branches of the apple trees were bare. She immediately burst into tears.

The school was White’s Manual Labor Institute in Wabash, Indiana, and the little girl’s experiences there read like the early chapters of an American Jane Eyre. Teachers beat students. Young friends died from neglect and malnutrition. Students were forced to rise early in the day to study and do hard labor. The girl’s long black braids were forcibly cut. White’s Institute was part of an entire culture that sought to suffocate her very identity.

But she emerged clutching that identity more tightly than ever.

Gertrude Simmons, later known as Zitkála-Šá (“Red Bird”) is best known today for her activism and writing. And for good reason, too: the brutal, poetic honesty of her essays can take your breath away. But Zitkála-Šá was also renowned for her mastery of the violin, the piano, and the voice. Western art music was a tool that she used to cope with abuse, garner praise and respect, and shatter stereotypes of Native people.

In 1913 she collaborated on a groundbreaking work, The Sun Dance Opera. It is the first opera written by a Native American, and it employed elements of Native folk music. Unsurprisingly, her white male collaborator took more credit than he was likely due. He copyrighted the score under his name alone, despite citing Zitkála-Šá as a creative partner in his memoir. We don’t have any first-person account of its composition from Zitkála-Šá, and so we are forced to squint between the lines and fill in the blanks ourselves.

Doing so is worthwhile. For those interested in Western art music, the story of Zitkála-Šá is uniquely challenging and rewarding. It raises a variety of questions we still struggle with today. Is Western art music really a universal language? Might it bridge cultural chasms, or does it cause them? How might it oppress, and might it give the voiceless a voice?

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Josephine Amann Weinlich: 1870s Conductor and Lady Orchestra Founder

You’d think that a female conductor who toured the world with her own orchestra in the 1870s would be well-known, but sexism.

I’ll start off by being blunt: there aren’t many English language articles about Josephine Amann Weinlich that are easily accessible online. Maybe I’d find more if I was associated with an institution, but I’m not. So I’m using a Google translation of a German webpage * to scrape together some biographical factoids for my English-speaking readers. Take everything with a grain of salt until an actual scholar can pick up the baton. (Thrillingly, I’ve heard from some via Twitter, so it’s possible we’ll hear more about Josephine in future! Stay tuned!) In the meantime, here are what appear to be the broad strokes of her story, as best as I can ascertain:

Josephine Weinlich was born around 1840 in Vienna. Her dad was a merchant and amateur musician. (I’ve found nothing about her mom, but judging by most historical records, moms were invisible throughout the nineteenth century. /sarcasm) Josephine’s passion for music-making must have been encouraged, because she played both violin and piano, and her sister Elisa Weinlich was a cellist.

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Frédérique Petrides: Music Director, Newsletter-Writer, Orchestrette-Maker

Industrialist Joseph Heinrich Mayer met Seraphine Sebrechts when he hired her to be his invalid first wife’s musical companion. After the first Mrs. Mayer died, Seraphine became the second, and in 1903, the newlyweds had a daughter named Frédérique Mayer.


“Be glamorous AND trailblazing AND aristocratic AND badass? I believe I can do that.” – Frédérique Mayer Petrides, probably

Riki (as she was nicknamed) seized every privilege of her upbringing, throwing herself into her studies with aplomb and enrolling at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels. (She had seen how her pianist / composer / painter / photographer mother’s talents had been suppressed, and she was determined not to let her own go to waste.) In 1923 Frédérique emigrated to the United States, where she began pursuing her penchant for conducting at New York University.

A decade later, in 1933, she and her journalist husband Peter Petrides decided to found a women’s chamber orchestra: the Orchestrette Classique. Peter was named the Orchestrette’s manager and publicist, while Frédérique became its music director.

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Maddalena, Musicology, & Me: Prologue

There is an elephant in the room, and that elephant is the fallout from the Minnesota Orchestra lockout.

Unfortunately, I can’t do much about that elephant right now. Crucial portions of the future of the elephant, which will determine how I ultimately react to the elephant, are being decided in closed door meetings. My poking the elephant could easily turn counterproductive. And rest assured, I work with friends behind the scenes every – single – day to do what I can to help the elephant; and I imagine many of you do, too. So until there is more concrete information about the state of the elephant, or the state of elephants in general, I want to move onto another topic that brings me joy, namely:

Discovering the work of a forgotten composer – resurrecting one of her compositions – musing on the (dangerous?) nature of our Sacred Canon of Western Art Music – learning what I can about period performance practice of the 1770s – taking up a new violin concerto – and writing about the journey for anyone who cares to read.



Meet Maddalena Laura Lombardini Sirmen. According to Wikipedia, she was born in 1745 (roughly a decade before Mozart) and she died in 1818 (roughly a decade before Beethoven). We don’t know a lot about her. What we do know, though, is fascinating. She was a violinist, composer, harpsichordist, singer, and businesswoman. When she was 21, she married another violinist and composer named Ludovico Sirmen. Ludovico eventually became involved with a countess, while Maddalena traveled across Europe with a priest. She performed in many of the cultural centers of her day and her work was widely praised. But unfortunately, if predictably, her extraordinary career was largely forgotten in the intervening centuries. In fact, if her name is ever mentioned today, it is invariably because her teacher Tartini (he of Devil’s Trill fame) once wrote her a famous letter about violin technique. But Maddalena Lombardini Sirmen was so much more than a Tartini student. In later blog entries, I’ll try to fill in some more of the details. But it’ll take some time and detective work. Continue reading


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The Devourer and the Devoured: The Intertwined Lives of Annie Vivanti and Vivien Chartres

Here is a very long essay (over a year in the making) that discusses the relationship between violin prodigy Vivien Chartres and her mother, author Annie Vivanti. At the turn of the twentieth century, Vivien Chartres was often mentioned in the same breath as Bronislaw Huberman and Mischa Elman, two of the greatest prodigies in the history of violin playing. And yet for a variety of reasons her name has been largely lost to history. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first Chartres biography publicly available in print or on the Internet. Hopefully it shines a small light on these two extraordinary women and their unique, symbiotic relationship. I would be absolutely delighted if other readers, writers, and researchers dig even deeper into their story…believe me when I say I only skimmed the surface.

I’d like to thank Douglas d’Enno (Chartres’s grandson) and Vivanti expert Annie Urbancic for their generous feedback and encouragement. Any errors that remain in the text are entirely mine. (If you see anything that you feel ought to be altered, let me know.)

This piece will be in four parts. After all four are published, I will make a PDF available for printing that will include a full bibliography.



There was a man, and he had a canary. He said, “What a dear little canary! I wish it were an eagle.” God said to him: “If you give your heart to it to feed on, it will become an eagle.” So the man gave his heart to it to feed on. And it became an eagle, and plucked his eyes out.

There was a woman, and she had a kitten. She said: “What a dear little kitten! I wish it were a tiger.” God said to her: “If you give your life’s blood to it to drink, it will become a tiger.” So the woman gave her life’s blood to it to drink. And it became a tiger, and tore her to pieces.

There was a man and a woman, and they had a child. They said: “What a dear little child! We wish it were a genius.” …


Nearly every prodigy has a parent who supports the development of his child’s unique, oftentimes unnerving gifts. Witness to the blossoming of extraordinary talent from the beginning, he aspires to encourage it and train it, like a gardener might train a vine. The role tends to be a thankless one. It is difficult (some would say impossible) to nurture a well-adjusted prodigy who has also taken advantage of every opportunity to develop professionally. Curious bystanders are always on hand to criticize every decision the parent makes. Your child is playing too much; let her rest and be a child. Your child isn’t playing enough; she will never develop into a great artist. When the child’s successes begin to snowball, it becomes more and more tempting to push her harder, faster, to see what she is all capable of doing. Some parents drift from supporting to hectoring, then from hectoring to abusing. Then, once the child has achieved notoriety – if the child achieves notoriety – the supporting parent inevitably melts into invisibility, his name becoming a footnote in a dusty music history text read by no one but musicology students.

Many of the great violin virtuosas of the nineteenth century had counselor fathers, all of whom have since faded into an even darker obscurity than their daughters. The Italian violinist Teresa Milanollo (1827-1904) had a father who, to his great credit, did not care that the violin wasn’t an instrument fit for ladies; when his daughter begged him for a fiddle, he bought her one, and when she proved to be a prodigy, he traversed the Alps with her so that she might study with the finest Parisian teachers. Wilhelmina Norman-Neruda (c 1838-1911) was born into a family of prodigies, all, regardless of sex, taught and encouraged by a musician father. Camilla Urso (1842-1902) had a flautist father who faithfully badgered the officials at the Paris Conservatoire (an institution that refused to admit girl violinists) until they agreed to hear his daughter play. Teresina Tua (c 1866-1956) was the child of an amateur violinist who became her teacher and traveling companion. Unfortunately his support came at a horrific cost: according to one newspaper ‘account, Teresina’s mother “in the temporary absence of her husband…deliberately burnt herself to death.”

The case of Vivien Chartres, a violin prodigy born in 1893, was different. First, her counselor parent wasn’t her father; it was her mother, Annie Vivanti. And not only was Vivanti a mother; she was also a talented writer, and she had no qualms about pouring her conflicted feelings about her daughter’s talent into an unsettling novel called The Devourers, published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in 1910. The Devourers is fiction, ostensibly. But it rings again and again with a gripping emotional truth clearly drawn from life.

An appealing ambiguity is available to authors when they write themselves into their fiction. If anyone ever questions them about a particularly thorny passage or plot point, they can always smile and say, “Oh, but that part I made up.” It is possible to say everything while admitting nothing. Vivanti takes full advantage of this freedom, interweaving fact and fiction until it becomes impossible to tell what exactly is what. One gets the impression that three-quarters of the novel is, in fact, a memoir. But which three-quarters? Vivanti never says. It is up to us to read between the lines – to draw our own hesitant conclusions about Vivien and Vivanti’s talents, their unique symbiotic relationship, and the all-consuming nature of exceptionally gifted children.


So Fräulein, after she had tried all the words she could think of, took Lenau’s poems from her own bookshelf, and read Nancy to sleep. On the following evenings she read the “Waldlieder,” and then “Mischka,” until it was finished. Then she started Uhland; and after Uhland, Korner, and Freiligrath, and Lessing.

Who knows what Nancy heard? Who knows what visions and fancies she took with her to her dreams? In the little sleep-boat where Baby Bunting used to be with her, now sat a row of German poets, long of hair, wild of eye, fulgent of epithet. Night after night, for months and years, little Nancy drifted off to her slumber with lyric and lay, with ode and epic, lulled by cadenced rhythm and resonant rhyme. On one of these nights the poets cast a spell over her. They rowed her little boat out so far that it never quite touched shore again.

And Nancy never quite awoke from her dreams.


When Annie Vivanti wrote herself into The Devourers as the prodigy poetess Nancy who is destined to be metaphorically devoured by her own prodigy violinist daughter Anne-Marie, it was not her first time recreating herself. Vivanti specialized in self-invention. Throughout the course of her decades-long literary career, she became a poet, novel writer, short-story writer, playwright, and journalist who switched effortlessly back and forth between English, French, Italian, and German. She was a chameleon, constantly adapting herself and her work to suit respective markets and societies. Accordingly she had a series of monikers she used professionally on different continents and in different contexts: George Marion, Annie Vivanti, Anita Chartres, Annie Vivanti Chartres, Anita Vivanti Chartres, A. Vivanti Chartres…the list goes on and on.

Her impulse toward re-invention came partly from her multicultural upbringing in Britain, Italy, Switzerland, and America. She was born in London in 1866 (although she later claimed 1868). Her father was a silk merchant named Anselmo Vivanti, a revolutionary from Mantua of Jewish descent; her mother Anna Lindau was a German writer who knew Marx and other intellectuals, and who died of tuberculosis when Annie was fourteen. It was an unconventional upbringing in an unconventional household, and it granted Vivanti a strength and independence that she would draw on throughout her life.

Annie Vivanti, mid-1890s

Vivanti began her career as a poetess writing in Italian. In 1890 a firm offered to publish a volume of her work if she could get Giosuè Carducci, the great Italian poet, to write a preface for the book. This was no small request, as Carducci made no secret of the fact that he thought women (and priests) were unable to write good poetry. Despite the misogyny, Vivanti refused to be intimidated by the great man; she traveled to his home to ask him for the preface in person. Not only did he end up providing it, but he declared her to be the equal of Sappho, Marcelline Desbordes-Valmore, and Elizabeth Browning. He even took Vivanti on as a protégée of sorts, their relationship raising more than a few eyebrows. That year her book Lirica was published to great acclaim.

Vivanti and her Devourers doppelgänger Nancy are tantalizingly similar. Nancy too is the product of a mixed-race marriage: her father is English, her mother Italian. Nancy too has lost a parent to tuberculosis. Nancy too is feted for her poetry from childhood, and she writes a bestselling book of poetry at a young age (sixteen, however, as opposed to twenty-four). From the very beginning of the book we are treated to Vivanti’s characteristic mix of fact and fiction.


So Valeria had her wish. Her child was a genius, and a genius recognized and glorified as only Latin countries glorify and recognize their own. Nancy stepped from the twilight of the nursery into the blinding uproar of celebrity, and her young feet walked dizzily on the heights. She was interviewed and quoted, imitated and translated, envied and adored. She had as many enemies as a Cabinet Minister, and as many inamorati as a premiere danseuse.

To the Signora Carolotta’s tidy apartment in Corso Venezia came all the poets of Italy. They sat round Nancy and read their verses to her, and the criticisms of their verses, and their answers to the criticisms. There were tempestuous poets with pointed beards, and successful poets with turned-up moustaches; there were lonely, unprinted poets, and careless, unwashed poets; there was also a poet who stole an umbrella and an overcoat from the hall. Aunt Carlotta said it was the Futurist, but Adele felt sure it was the Singer of the Verb of Magnificent Sterility, the one with the red and evil eyes…

During the discussion that followed, the din of the two poets’ voices built a wall of solitude around Nino and Nancy.

“How old are you?” asked Nino, looking at her mild forehead, where the dark eyebrows lay over her light grey eyes like quiet wings.

“Sixteen,” said Nancy; and the dimple dipped.

Nino did not return her smile. “Sixteen!” he said. And because his eyes were used to the line of a fading cheek and the bitterness of a tired mouth, his heart fell, love-struck and conquered, before Nancy’s cool and innocent youth. It was inevitable.


In 1892 Annie Vivanti married John Chartres, a businessman, lawyer, and journalist who agitated for Irish independence. Together they moved to Italy. In 1893 she bore him a daughter named Vivien.


Nancy stirred, sighed, and awoke.

In the room adjoining, Valeria was sobbing in Zio Giocomo’s arms, and Aunt Carlotta was kissing Adele, and Aldo was shaking hands with everybody.

Nancy could hear the whispering voices through the half-open door, and they pleased her. Then another sound fell on her ear, like the ticking of a slow clock – click, click, a gentle, peaceful, regular noise that soothed her. She turned her head and looked. It was the cradle. The Sister sat near it, dozing, with one elbow on the back of the chair and her hand supporting her head; the other hand was on the edge of the cradle. With gentle mechanical gesture, in her half sleep, she rocked it to and fro. Nancy smiled to herself, and the gentle clicking noise lulled her to sleep again.

She felt utterly at peace – utterly happy. The waiting was over; the fear was over. Life opened wider portals, over wider, shining lands. All longings were stilled; all empty places filled. Then with a soft tremor of joy she remembered her book. It was waiting for her where she had left it that evening when futurity had pulsed within her heart. The masterpiece that was to live called softly and the folded wings of the eagle stirred.


After her daughter’s birth, Vivanti published several short stories and a novel called The Hunt for Happiness. She also wrote a play called That Man, which ran on Broadway in 1899. (The play became notorious when Vivanti brought the producer to court for altering the fourth act.)

Not long after came a mysterious interlude in her marriage. According to an article in The New York Times dating from December 1900, Vivanti and Chartres traveled to South Dakota in 1897 and were divorced. (South Dakota was famous at the time for its relatively lax divorce laws.) Existing Vivanti scholarship has so far been unable to shed light on the incident; it remains to be seen whether the divorce actually occurred, and in any case, it seems that Vivanti and Chartres were back together within a few years. In the interim, however, Vivanti was cited in The New York Times as London businessman Sidney Samuel’s fiancée. She went so far as to come to America to prepare for the wedding, when finally Samuel gave in to the wishes of his disapproving father and broke off the engagement. Vivanti, ever the businesswoman, demanded $8000 for the amount that she had spent at the Fifth Avenue Hotel and on her trousseau. The sorry affair ended in Samuel’s suicide.

Such stories – true or not – confirm Vivanti’s reputation as an independent woman who wasn’t afraid of doing what she thought was best for herself and for her family, other people’s opinions be damned. She would draw on every ounce of that self-certainty while raising Vivien.

In June 1905 Vivanti wrote a striking essay called “The True Story of a Wunderkind” for Pall Mall Magazine, describing Vivien’s earliest successes. In the article Vivanti relates how she had attended a concert of the prodigy Bronislaw Huberman “some seven years ago” (actually, it was nine), when Vivien was an infant. She found herself unsettled by the sickly boy who played so ethereally, whose astonishing talents she was convinced were being taken undue advantage of. She came home to say good-night to Vivien and whispered to her, “No! you shall never be a violin virtuoso, my baby!”

Vivanti continues:

At this moment – at this precise moment and no other! – that baby turned down the corners of its mouth in the extraordinary way I know so well, and set up a wail of grief, a sudden cry of despair! I was thrilled. It seemed a direct answer to what I had said. I kissed her and soothed her in vain.

Vivanti told her husband of their baby’s response. She brought him into the nursery and tried to produce another such reaction – but to no avail. “No vocation whatever,” Chartres finally pronounced. “She is a most commonplace infant. Just a brat.”

Only one thing spoils this dramatic story: it wasn’t true. Despite what Vivanti claimed, Vivien was born in 1893, not 1895. Bronislaw Huberman didn’t make his New York debut until 1896. Something – maybe everything – was fabricated. But whatever the actual truth, the story illustrates several themes that Vivanti would struggle with, both personally and professionally, in the coming years – the special, indeed sacred bond she felt with Vivien; the competing feelings of fascination and horror that her daughter’s talent engendered; the relative absence of John Chartres in mother and daughter’s professional lives; and most importantly, the sense that Vivien was destined to become a great genius, and there was nothing anyone could do about it.


One day George and Peggy came to visit them at the boarding-house. And with them they brought Mr. Markowski and his violin.

In the drawing-room after tea Nancy asked the shy and greasy-looking Hungarian to play: and the fiddle was taken tenderly out of its plush-lined case. Markowski was young and shabby, but his violin was old and valuable. Markowski had a dirty handkerchief, but the fiddle had a clean, soft white silk one. Markowski placed a small black velvet cushion on his greasy coat-collar, and raised the violin to it; he adjusted his chin over it, raised his bow, and shut his eyes. Then Markowski was a god.

Do you know the hurrying anguish of Grieg’s F dur Sonata? Do you know the spluttering shrieks of laughter of Bazzini’s “Ronde des Lutins”? The sobbing of the unwritten Tzigane songs? The pattering of wing-like feet in Ries’s “Perpetuum Mobile?”

Little Anne-Marie stood in the middle of the room motionless, pale as linen, as if the music had taken life from her and turned her into a white statuette. Ah, here was the little neoteric statue that Nancy had tried to fix! The child’s eyes were vague and fluid, like blue water spilt beneath her lashes; her colourless lips were open.

Nancy watched her. And a strange dull feeling came over her heart, as if someone had laid a heavy stone in it. What was that little figure, blanched, decolourized, transfigured? Was that Anne-Marie? Was that the little silly Anne-Marie, the child that she petted and slapped and put to bed, the child that was so stupid at geography, so brainless at arithmetic?

“Anne-Marie! Anne-Marie! What is it, dear? What are you thinking about?”

Anne-Marie turned wide light eyes on her mother, but her soul was not in them. For the Spirit of Music had descended upon her, and wrapped her round in his fabulous wings – wrapped her, and claimed her, and borne her away on the swell of his sounding wings…


The last long-drawn note ended; then Anne Marie moved. She covered her face with her hands and began to cry.

“Why do you cry, darling – why do you cry?” asked Nancy embracing her.

Anne-Marie’s large eyes gazed at Nancy. “For many things – for many things!” she said. And Nancy for the first time felt that her child’s spirit stood alone, beyond her reach and out of her keeping.


According to her mother, Vivien Chartres was a strong-willed child who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. She once got into an argument with a little French girl who was boasting of her silk blue coat. Vivien retorted that God had given her a blue silk coat as a consolation for having a “horrid French father.” She then ripped out a fistful of the French girl’s hair.

She expressed a constant impatience with all things, as many gifted children are apt to do. It was not uncommon for her to suddenly stop in the middle of a walk and tell her mother, “I want to be at home.”

“Well, darling, we will go home,” Vivanti would answer.

“No, I don’t want to go home. I want to be at home. Now directly. Without going.”

As Vivanti wrote in The Pall Mall Magazine:

No amount of coaxing, no promise of sweets or toys would pacify her, or cause her to move a step farther. I could not help marvelling at the deep philosophy in the child’s apparent unreasonableness: for do we not all of us in all things want to “be” at our wishes’ ends, without the intermediate “going” there? But at the moment it was embarrassing, for the child would scream, and sit down on the pavement, causing a crowd to gather, which would look reproachfully at me, and give me heterogenous advice. It was only by playing “horse” with her as far as the nearest cab-stand that I could get her to move at all; and it was most unpleasant for me to have to pretend to canter and trot, and to say “Giddy-up, gee-gee!” with everybody looking on.

On her sixth birthday, Vivanti came into the nursery to wish her daughter a happy birthday and to ask her “if she was a happy little girl that day.” Vivanti wrote:

“Oh, no!” she said. “I am not happy. I am very tired of being alive, and always doing the same things. I do not wish I were dead; but I wish I had never begun!”

I was horror-struck. I led her into the breakfast-room with a trembling heart, and showed her her presents arrayed on the table. Fortunately she was pleased with them, and was especially delighted with a false beard that her father had put on for the occasion. I had to wear it all through breakfast because it amused her; and she insisted that Mary should wait at table in it that evening, when we had guests for the birthday dinner. I was so shaken by what she had said in the morning that I could refuse her nothing. Mary wore the beard; but was very cross about it, and gave me notice next day.

It was at that memorable dinner that I was to be reminded of the Vocation in a strange and unexpected way…

Aunt Margaret turned the conversation by inquiring about Vivien’s presents.

“I have everything I want,” said Vivien, “except a bulldog and a violin.”

A violin! How strange that she should ask for a violin, suddenly, of her own accord! Everybody said that it clearly denoted great talent and a gift for music; and I determined to buy her one the very next day. I did so: I bought a charming half-size instrument of a bright brown colour, and most excellent in tone, the dealer told me. Of course we did not get the bulldog.

Vivien’s auspicious start did not immediately translate into the glittering career her mother was anticipating. According to The Pall Mall Magazine, she used the fiddle as a money box and a depository for bread and milk. As Vivanti remarked, “I…began to doubt as to the Gift and the Calling.”

Eventually, however, Vivien’s talents began to manifest themselves, although the details are fuzzy. In some accounts (including “The True Story of a Wunderkind”), it is said that an Italian gentleman named Signor Santavicci was Vivien’s first teacher; other sources indicate that her first instructor was a player named Luigi Marescalchi from Monaco. In addition, it is unclear when exactly she began her studies. Although Vivanti claims that Vivien began to play between her seventh and eighth birthdays, it is possible she began earlier; Vivanti had a habit of fudging dates. More research is required on the point.

At any rate, a while after she began playing the violin, Vivanti’s uncle sent his grand-niece two beautiful dolls, which Vivien adored. She slept with one on either side of her. Vivanti related that one night:

…She called me in an agitated voice. I hurried to her bedside. She had the two dolls huddled in one arm and the other stretched out. “Give me my violin,” she said; “give it to me quickly. I dreamt that it was jealous.”

“Nonsense, darling!” I said, laughing.

But she was much disturbed, and insisted upon my bringing it to her.

“If it thought that I liked the dolls best, it might be angry, and make ugly voices at me tomorrow.”

So she insisted upon sleeping with the violin on one side of her and the dolls on the other.

Thus it was that I noticed that to her mind the violin was a live thing: a rather evil, impish thing, with an uncertain temper – a creature to be appeased and propitiated lest it should make “ugly voices.” I thought the idea uncanny. And one day I resolved to tell her a story, such as mothers invent under the inspiration of their children’s questioning eyes. And here it is, as I told it to her and to the dolls, all sitting in a row:

“Vivien, dear, in the violin there lives, as you have already guessed, a being – a tiny, beautiful, invisible fairy, whose named is The Spirit of Music. The man who long ago made this violin caught her by her wings as she was flying in the air and shut her up in the violin. A spell was cast over her – ”

“What is a spell?” said Vivien.

“An enchantment – a – a kind of net,” I said vaguely.

“Butterfly-net?” said Vivien.

“Well, yes. Something of the kind,” I answered; “so that her wings were tied, and she could not move, or speak, or see – ”

“Or eat,” said Vivien.

“And she lies there in the dark waiting for the spell to be broken.” Vivien’s eyes grew large and resplendent. “Now, do you know how the spell can be broken? How the net – ”

“Is it green?” asked Vivien; “and is the stick inside too?”

“What stick?” I said impatiently. “If you keep on interrupting I shall stop telling the story. Now, there is only one way in which the fairy can be released; and that must be” – I took Vivien’s small warm hand in mine – “by the hand of a little girl. One day a little girl will come, who will play so beautifully, so perfectly, without one mistake – ”

“What shall I have to play?” interrupted Vivien.

The Paganini Concerto,” I said, on the spur of the moment. “And on that day the Fairy Spirit will wake up and shake out her beautiful wings and come forth from the violin to do the little girl’s bidding.” I read in Vivien’s face that she was going to say, ‘What is bidding?’ so I went on quickly. “She will obey the little girl and fulfil all her wishes. She will turn the violin-bow into a magic wand, and the little girl will work charms with it: make bad people good, and sad people happy, and poor people rich – ”

“And order pony-carriages at once? And make Fräulein Muller vanish away?” cried Vivien, intensely excited.

“Everything!” I replied, in order not to spoil the effect of the story. Vivien had already flown to the case, and now she held the fiddle up and turned it in every direction, peering into the sound-holes with anxious eyes. I improved the occasion. “And the more you practise, the sooner will she be visible. Every hour you play loosens a little the bonds that tie her. Scales especially have a very loosening effect,” I added.

I confess to feeling some twinges of remorse the next morning, when I heard her practising scales all by herself for a long time. At the end of every scale she looked into the fiddle; and before lunch she came and whispered in my ear, “I think I heard her move!”

These two juxtaposed stories perfectly illustrate the attitude that Vivanti had toward her daughter’s talent – at least publicly. She loved it, was fascinated by it, was a little afraid of it, and cared very deeply for it; she was both attracted to, and in a way, repelled by it. As can be shown from her words after the Huberman concert, she was only too aware that it would be discomfitingly easy to use her daughter’s talent to break her spirit, and yet she still encouraged its development. Vivanti, ever the dramatist, reveled in the tension.

As with everything Vivanti wrote, the anecdotes in “The True Story of a Wunderkind” need to be taken with a grain of salt; it is impossible to ascertain what exactly about them is true or false. For instance, in another interview from 1905, Vivien herself told a reporter that her father, not her mother, had been the one to tell the story of the fairy. One wonders where exactly Chartres was during all this. In “The True Story of a Wunderkind,” he appears only three times – to dismiss Vivanti’s gut instinct about her baby’s talent, to encourage Vivien not to make an early debut, and to ask (basically) what the hell the two of them were doing auditioning for a teacher in Prague. Were it not for those three mentions of him, readers would be forgiven for assuming Vivanti was a widow or divorcée. Was Chartres really so distant from his wife and daughter? Had Vivanti’s relationship with him turned so rocky that she wrote him out of her past? Perhaps it is significant that in The Devourers, Anne-Marie’s father is an irresponsible gambler and womanizer who ultimately leaves Nancy and Anne-Marie to fend for themselves. Or maybe Vivanti merely understood that the idea of a girl and her mother fighting alone against the world was much more dramatically appealing than a traditional family unit doing the same.


Thanks to the instruction of her teacher, her mother’s encouragement, and her own remarkable innate talent, Vivien soon began to excel in a truly shocking way. A few months after she began playing, she was performing Svendsen’s Romance. Around that time Vivien visited her great-uncle, Paul Lindau, in Paris. He was astonished by her progress and suggested that mother and daughter travel to Prague so that Vivien could audition for arguably the greatest violin teacher in Europe, Otakar Ševčík. Being accepted into the Ševčík studio would be no small feat; it would be, in a way, an achievement akin to Annie Vivanti befriending Carducci so many years before. Ševčík’s services were in remarkably high demand; over the course of his career, he rejected hundreds of pupils, many older than Vivien. According to Vivanti, after hearing her uncle’s suggestion, she took Vivien straight to Prague from Paris, without even telling her husband of her plans. After a dirty, disagreeable trip by train, Vivien decided to wash her violin and bow before her audition so that they might feel fresh and clean before the momentous day. Of course after this treatment the violin could no longer speak. But somehow mother and daughter secured a second instrument on which Vivien auditioned.

Otakar Ševčík was a giant of nineteenth century pedagogy. Born in 1852, this shy, thoughtful, generous man was one of the great instructors of the late Victorian era. His students included some of the greatest violinists of the age: Marie Hall, Jan Kubelík, Erika Morini, and Efram Zimbalist, among others. He had a punishing professional regime: he usually began to teach at seven in the morning, took a break in the afternoon, and then worked late into the night. He expected his select students to be just as committed to their education as he was, and he advised them to practice no less than eight hours a day.

After her audition, Vivien Chartres became one of those select few.

When Vivien was accepted into Ševčík’s studio, Vivanti’s life became even more intertwined with Vivien’s. She no longer had any time to fulfill her own professional promise; she was too busy helping to fulfill her daughter’s. She wrote a fictional account of this time in The Devourers:

…She went with Anne-Marie and Fräulein to Prague, where the greatest of all violin-teachers lived, fitting left hands with wonderful technique, and right hands with marvellous pliancy; teaching slim fingers to dance and scamper and skip on four tense strings, and supple wrists to wield a skimming, or control a creeping, bow. And this greatest of teachers took little Anne-Marie to his heart. He also called her the Wunderkind, and set her eager feet, still in their white socks and button shoes, on the steep path that leads up the Hill of Glory.

Nancy unpacked her manuscripts in an apartment in one of the not very wide streets of old Prague; opposite her window was a row of brown and yellow stone houses; she had a table, and pen and ink, and there was nothing to disturb her. True, she could hear Anne-Marie playing the violin two rooms off, but that, of course, was a joy; besides, when all the doors were shut one could hardly hear anything, especially if one tied a scarf or something round one’s head, and over one’s ears.

So Nancy had no excuse for not working. She told herself so a hundred times a day, as she sat at the table with the scarf round her head, staring at the yellow house opposite…

Besides this ache was the yearn and strain and sorrow of her destiny unfulfilled. For once again the sense of time passing, of life running out of her grasp, bit at her breast like an adder…

The door opened, and Fräulein’s head appeared, solemn and sibylline, with tears shining behind her spectacles.

“Nancy, to-day for the first time Anne-Marie is to play Beethoven. Will you come?”

Yes, Nancy would come. She followed Fräulein into the room where Anne-Marie was with the Professor and his assistant.

The Professor did not like to play the piano, so he had brought the assistant with him, who sat at the piano, nodding a large, rough black head in time to the music. Anne-Marie was in front of her stand. The Professor, with his hands behind him, watched her. The Beethoven Romance in F began.

The simple initial melody slid smoothly from under the child’s fingers, and was taken up and repeated by the piano. The wilful crescendo of the second phrase worked itself up to the passionate high note, and was coaxed back again into gentleness by the shy and tender trills, as a wrathful man by the call of a child. Martial notes by the piano. The assistant’s head bobbed violently, and now Beethoven led Anne-Marie’s bow, gently, by tardigrade steps, into the first melody again. Once more, the head at the piano bobbed over his solo. Then on the high F, down came the bow of Anne-Marie, decisive and vehement.

“That’s right!” shouted the Professor suddenly. “Fa, mi, sol – play that on the fourth string.”

Anne-Marie nodded without stopping. Eight accented notes by the piano, echoed by Anne-Marie.

“That is to sound like a trumpet!” cried the master.

“Yes, yes; I remember,” said Anne-Marie.

And now for the third time the melody returned, and Anne-Marie played it softly, as in a dream, with a gruppetto in pianissimo that made the Professor push his hands into his pockets, and the assistant turn his head from the piano to look at her. At the end the slowly ascending scales soared and floated into the distance, and the three last calling notes fell from far away.

No one spoke for a moment; then the Professor went close to the child and said:

“Why did you say, ‘I remember’ when I told you about the trumpet notes?”

“I don’t know,” said Anne-Marie, with the vague look she always had after she had played.

“What did you mean?”

“I meant that I understood,” said Anne-Marie.

The Professor frowned at her, while his lips worked.

“You said, ‘I remember.’ And I believe you remember. I believe you are not learning anything new. You are remembering something you have known before.”

Fräulein intervened excitedly. “Ach! Herr Professor! I assure you the child has never seen that piece! I have been with her since the first day she überhaupt had the violin, and – ”

The Professor waved an impatient hand. He was still looking at Anne-Marie. “Who is it?” and he shook his grey head tremulously. “Whom have we here? Is it Paganini? Or Mozart? I hope it is Mozart.”


On a chilly evening in early January 1905 Vivien made her orchestral debut in Prague with the Bohemian Philharmonic Orchestra in the Bruch g-minor concerto. She was eleven years old.

All Prague sat expectant – rustling and murmuring and coughing – in the stalls and galleries of the Rudolfinum, on the night of the concert. The Bohemian orchestra were in their seats. Kalas stepped up to his desk, and an overture was played.

A short pause. Then, in the midst of a tense silence, Anne-Marie appeared, threading her way through the orchestra, with her violin under her arm. Now she stands in her place, a tiny figure in a short blue silk frock, with slim black legs and black shoes, and her fair hair tied on one side with a blue ribbon. Unwondering and calm, Anne-Marie confronted her first audience, gazing at the thousand upturned faces with gentle, fearless eyes. She turned her quiet gaze upwards to the gallery, where row on row of people were leaning forward to see her. Then, with a little shake of her head to throw back her fair hair, she lifted her violin to her ear, plucked lightly, and listened, with her head on one side, to the murmured reply of the strings. Kalas, on his tribune, was looking at her, his face drawn and pale. She nodded to him, and he rapped the desk. B-r-r-r-r-r-r rolled the drums.

During the concert Vivanti sat paralyzed in the audience, wondering how it was possible for her little girl to play so beautifully – how she could memorize so many notes – how her little fingers could land so quickly and accurately so many times in a row. Vivanti was terrified that Vivien would break down at any moment, or forget her place, or even run off the platform. But of course she needn’t have worried. The concert was an unqualified triumph. News of it leaked back to London, where a review of her concert appeared in the Times: “her public performance…seems to have surpassed all expectation,” the reporter wrote. If the account in The Devourers can be trusted, Ševčík came backstage after the concert and said simply, “I have taught you what I could. Life will teach you the rest.” There is no record of Vivien ever returning to him for instruction.

After the triumph in Prague, Vivien and Vivanti made their way to Vienna, where Vivien played nine concerts. A correspondent for the Daily Chronicle noted that no English musician had ever achieved such a success there. After Vienna, mother and daughter came to Berlin, where Vivien collaborated with no other than Max Bruch. Bruch’s colleague, violinist Joseph Joachim, met Vivien and thought her gifts “fabulous.” After Vienna came Zurich – Stockholm – Rome – Palermo. It wasn’t long before Vivien was visiting and bewitching the European aristocracy. She had an extraordinary ability, intelligence, and charm, mixed with a pure childish innocence that endeared her to everyone she met.

In early 1905 Vivien and Vivanti returned to London so that Vivien might make her British debut. A writer named Wakeling Dry from the Daily Express came to interview her.

“How do you do?” I said.

“Very well, thank you. This is my frog,” said the little girl, holding up a jar for me to see. I was ostentatiously interested in the little green animal sprawling on the watercress in the bottle. “And this is Schopenhauer,” she said, hoisting up a puppy. “They are a little unwell. They have travelled all night.”

“Where have they travelled from?” I asked.

“All the way from Prague,” said the little girl. “A most far-away travel.”

I laughed and Schopenhauer barked.

“Is your name Vivien?” I asked.

She nodded. “If you like you may hold my frog,” she said in a sudden access of friendliness, and gave me the glass jar, which I took with every appearance of gratitude.

“Do you play the violin?”

“Yes, thank you,” she answered politely. “This is a very thorough-bred dog,” and the small, shining head bent over the woolly puppy. “When I hold him up by the tail he hardly whines at all. I tried it again this morning. He is growing throroughbredder and thoroughbredder.”

“Tell me something about your violin,” I suggested. “Do you practise much?”

“Oh, not much,” she said, airily. “I have so little time. I have also two birds and a canary. And eight dolls. Two of the dolls were given to me at the concert with Van Dyck.”

“What is your favourite music?”

The little girl thought awhile. “Bach and Grieg,” she said. “And also ‘Rockaby, lullaby, bees on the clover.”

“What about Paganini?” I inquired.

“He is not very pretty,” was the answer. “I only play his music for fun because Schopenhauer whines so loud at the harmonies.” And she laughed cheerfully. “If you really want to, you may hold Schopenhauer, too, for a little while.” So I held Schopenhauer.

“How did you like Prague?”

“Very much, thank you.”

“And Professor Ševčík?”

“Very much, thank you.” She looked anxiously at the dog.

“And London?”

“Oh, very much, thank you” – hurriedly. “I think you are hurting his paw.”

She made me sit down on the bench with the frog and the dog, and she stood before me smiling and small.

“What violin do you play on?” I enquired.

“I have three,” she said, “but they are not mine. Professor Ševčík has lent me one of his own to play Moïse on; it has only one string. And Dvořák, in Prague, has lent me another to play everything else on. And the third – ” She hesitated and blushed.

“What about the third?” I asked.

“The third is the one I post my letters to the fairy in.”

“What fairy is that?”

“The fairy that lives in the violin,” said Vivien. “Her name is the Spirit of Music, papa says.”

“Oh, of course,” said I. “And does the fairy answer you?”

“Always,” said the little girl with eyes alight. “You see nothing written on her letters until you heat the paper in front of the fire. Then the writing jumps out! They are very kind letters. One day when I play perfectly I shall see her, and she will turn the bow into a wand to do everything I want with. Make poor people rich and unhappy people happy. Papa told me so. And pony-carriages and everything,” she added with a sweep of her small hand. “I think I shall turn Schopenhauer white,” she said thoughtfully, looking at the woolly black ball on my knee. “With long silvery, silky hair.”

“And when will you see the fairy?” I inquired.

“When I play quite, quite perfectly,” she said; then added confidentially: “Sometimes when I am practising all by myself, I make a few mistakes on purpose. You know,” she said, dimpling and smiling, “of course, I should love to see the fairy. But still – well, I should prefer to see her when Mama is in the room!”

I got up and took my leave. I shook paws with Schopenhauer, and saluted the frog, and took off my hat to the little girl who gets letters to the fairy and who plays Paganini for fun.

“When you come again,” she said, standing at the gate in the sunshine, “you may see the dolls and the two birds and the canary – but you won’t hurt Schopenhauer’s paw again, will you?”

As the press became more and more fascinated by this gifted young girl, Annie Vivanti began to claim that Vivien was born in 1895, and not 1893 – presumably so that her playing might seem all the more extraordinary. Prodigies’ dates of birth have been fudged from time immemorial, and Vivanti doubtless thought it a harmless practice (she had, after all, indulged in some personal date-fudging of her own). Unfortunately, in Vivien’s case, the decision had horrible unforeseen consequences. And rather than causing a scandal in the press, or taking the risk of discrediting her daughter’s achievements, Vivanti chose to keep silent.

Vivanti relates in The Devourers of Anne-Marie’s London debut:

The first London concert was to be the week after their arrival. The manager, pink-faced and blue-eyed, came to the hotel to talk about the programme.

“England is not Berlin. Don’t make it too heavy,” he said. So the Beethoven Concerto was taken out, and the Vieuxtemps Concerto put in its stead. The Chaconne was taken out, and the Faust Phantasie put in its stead. The manager said, “That’s right,” and went out to play golf.

So Anne-Marie played the Beethoven Concerto and the Beethoven Romance, the Bach Chaconne and Fugue, Prelude and Sarabande. And the audience shouted and clapped.

But the critics carped and reproved. How can a mere child understand Beethoven and Bach? How wrong to overweigh the puerile brain with the giants of classic composition! It is almost a sacrilege to hear a little girl venturing the approach the Chaconne. Let her play Handel and Mozart.

So in the third concert Anne-Marie played Handel and Mozart, and the audience shouted and clapped.

But the critics said that, though she played the easy, simple music very nicely for her age, still, in a London concert hall one expected to hear something more puissant and authoritative. And why did she give concerts at all? Why not do something else? Study composition, for instance?

“That’s England all over,” said the manager, and went out and played golf.

Vivien’s London manager was a man named Narcisco Vert, from the firm of Ibbs and Tillett, which represented a number of artists in Britain at the time. In May 1905 Vert allowed Vivien to play a concert without a license. Since Vivien was said to be “a child under the age of eleven,” the performance was deemed to be a violation of the Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act. Of course, Vivien wasn’t under the age of eleven; she was just about to turn twelve. But neither one of her parents spoke up about their deception, and Vert and the Chartres family ended up in court. Not even then did they tell the truth, although John Chartres did cryptically say, “They are always advertised as young as they are, that’s all I can tell you. Her age will be produced at the proper time.” Vert ended up being fined twenty-five pounds and Chartres five. The stress of the affair arguably killed Narcisco Vert: he died at the age of sixty on 3 June 1905 of a heart attack. If the description of the manager in The Devourers is any indication, Annie Vivanti doesn’t seem to have felt much guilt over her lie. The incident makes one wonder just what Vivanti was all willing to sacrifice to make sure that Vivien fulfilled her potential.

Despite the untimely death of her manager, Vivien received rave reviews in London. “An exceedingly clever child violinist,” proclaimed The Violin Times. “The most marvellous of all marvellous children,” praised The Daily Graphic. “Another Sarasate or Kubelík,” predicted the Daily Chronicle. “Most amazing of all the prodigies,” deemed the Sunday Times. “Certainly one of the most talented children that England has ever produced,” opined the Graphic. “This little damsel played with wonderful dexterity on her debut at Queen’s Hall on May 15, and is undoubtedly gifted musically to a very exceptional degree. This having been satisfactorily demonstrated to the public, let us hope that her parents will not subject her to the strain and excitement of such performances for some years to come,” intoned The Musical Times.

This was a typical criticism, but Vivien and Vivanti did their best to ignore it. Vivanti in particular was going to do what she thought was best, regardless of what people thought or said; she knew Vivien the best, she felt. In “The True Story of a Wunderkind” she wrote:

People come into the house and look at her and criticise her; say that she is large, that she is small; that she looks ill, that she looks well; that she is over-worked, that she does not work enough; that I ought to dress her in white, that I ought to dress her in black velvet; that she ought not to play Bach; that she ought only to play Bach; that she ought not to wear socks; that she ought to do gymnastics; that she ought to cut her hair; that she ought to play for charity; that she ought never to play for charity; that she ought to take iron pills; that she ought to go and study in Berlin, in Leipzig, in London, in Paris, in Brussels; that she ought to give up the violin at once; that she ought to practise fourteen hours a day; that she ought to have begun when she was five years old; that Wunderkinder never turn out anything but disappointments; that I am much to be pitied, that the child is much to be pitied; and that the father must be a Brute.

Nobody would believe how difficult it is to be the mother of a Wunderkind. Everything I do is wrong; everything the child does is “for effect”; everything we say is utterly untrue. If Vivien runs up to me and kisses me, I hear it murmured that she is trained to do so. (“Whipped to be affectionate in public!”) So I tell her never to do it again. Immediately people remark how cold I am to the child; how the poor little creature evidently fears me and prefers Fräulein Muller.

We take her with her hoop and skipping-rope to play in the park? It is said we make her pretend to be infantine, force her to act the “happy child” when people are looking on! So we take her toys from her and conduct her for prim walks between us. “Poor little unnatural creature!” say our friends: “she has no child-life at all.”

People come and ask us how old she is.

“Eight,” I reply. (The answer is greeted with smiles of polite disbelief.) [Warranted, it turns out.]

How long has she studied?

“Two years and three months.” (Incredulous sneers.)

How long does she practise every day?

“As long as she likes. Usually about three hours.” (Silence and exchange of eloquent glances.)

Then they embrace the child and say, “Poor darling!” Whereupon they go away, leaving us sore and snappish. My servants are cross-questioned when I am out, and I receive anonymous letters finding fault with me.

But if Vivanti was stubborn about letting Vivien’s talent take its course, so, it seems, was her daughter. Vivanti continues in the same article:

...If I suggest taking her violin away, she shrieks and is very naughty. I cannot punish her, lest the neighbours should think we are beating her to make her practise. The child knows this, and cries whenever she wants anything that she ought not to have; and her digestion is utterly ruined by the amount of horrid things we allow her to eat, rather than that she should scream for them…

Of course there are moments of thrilling happiness that compensate for much anxiety and worry.

It is a great joy to see Vivien step out on the platform, where a thousand people look at her and love her for the music that she makes. I like to think that on those dear small fingers flying across the quivering strings I have said, “This little pig went to market” only a short while ago, that those blue eyes (they grow so deep and solemn while she plays) laugh up at me every morning limpid and light with all the babyish thoughts I love. When the applause rises round her like a storm, her smile meets mine, and my heart beats loud with happiness at the thought that that little girl belongs to me!

But does she really belong to me?…Does not her soul fly out of my keeping at the sound of her own music, when her eyes grow deep and solemn, gazing at things I do not see?

Another story – this one from The Devourers – demonstrates the stubbornness and depth of artistic conviction that Vivien herself had. It resonates with more emotional truth than any other episode in the book.

Many people called at the hotel to ask for autographs, and to express their views. One elderly musician was very stern with Anne-Marie, and sterner still with Nancy. He began by asking Nancy what she thought her child was going to be in the future.

“I do not know,” said Nancy. “I am grateful for what she is now.”

“Ah! but you must think of the future. You want her to be a great artist – ”

“I don’t know that I do,” said Nancy. “She is a great artist now. If she degenerates” – and Nancy smiled – “into merely a happy woman, she will have had more than her share of luck.”

“Take care! The prodigy will kill the artist!” repeated the stern man. “You pluck the flower and you lose the fruit.”

Nancy laughed. “It is as if you said: ‘Beware of being a rose-bud lest you never be an apple!’ I am content that she should bloom unhindered, and be what she is. Why should she not be allowed to play Bach like an angel to-day, lest she should not be able to play him like Joachim ten years hence?”

“Yes, why not!” piped up Anne-Marie, who had paid no attention to the conversation, but who liked to say “Why not?” on general principles.

The stern man turned to her. “Bach, my dear child – ” he began.

Anne-Marie gave a little laugh. “Oh, I know!” she said cheerfully.

“What do you know?” asked the gentleman severely.

“You are going to say, ‘Always play Bach; nothing else is worthy,’” said Anne-Marie, regretting that she had joined in the conversation.

“I was not going to say anything of the kind,” said the stern man.

“Oh, then you were going to say the other thing: ‘Do not attempt to play Bach – no child can understand him.’ Professors always say one or the other of those two things. Much stupid things are said about music.”

“It is so,” said the gentleman severely. “You cannot possibly understand Bach.”

Anne-Marie suddenly grasped him by the sleeve.

“What do you understand in Bach? I want to know. You must tell me what you understand. Exactly what it is that you understand and I don’t. Bemolle!” she cried, still holding the visitor’s sleeve. “Give me the violin!”

Bemolle jumped up and obeyed with beaming face.

“Anne-Marie, darling!” expostulated Nancy.

But Anne-Marie had the violin in her hand and wildness in her eye.

“Stay here,” she said to the visitor, relinquishing his sleeve with unwilling hand, and hastily tuning the fiddle. “Now you have got to tell me what you understand in Bach.” She played the first five of the thirty-two variations of the Chaconne; then she stopped.

“What does Bach mean? What have you understood?” she cried. The English musician leaned back in his chair and smiled with benevolent superiority.

“And now – now I play it differently.” She played it again, varying the lights and shades, the piani and the forti. “What different thing have you understood?”

“And now – now I play it like Joachim. So, exactly so, he played it for me and with me…

“…Now what have you understood that I have not? What has Bach said to you, and not to me, you silly man?”

Nancy took Anne-Marie’s hand. “Hush, Anne-Marie! For shame!”

“I will not hush!” cried Anne-Marie, with flaming cheeks. “I am tired of hearing them always say the same stupid things.”

The visitor, smiling acidly, stood up to go. “I am afraid too much music is not good for a little girl’s manners,” he said.

“Mother,” said Anne-Marie, with her head against her mother’s breast. “Tell him to wait. I want to say a thing that I can’t. Help me.”

“What is it, dear?”

“When we were to have gone to a country that you said was hot and pretty – and dirty – where was that?”


“Yes, yes, yes! You said something about the little hotels there…the funny little hotels. What did you say about them?”

Nancy thought a moment. Then she smiled and remembered. “I said: ‘You can only find in them what you bring with you yourself.’”

“Yes, yes!” cried Anne-Marie, raising her excited eyes. “Now say that about music.”

And Nancy said it. “You will only find in music what you bring to it from your own soul.”

“Yes,” said Anne-Marie, turning to the visitor; “how can you know what I bring? How can you know that what you bring is beautifuller or gooder? How can you know that Bach meant what you think and not what I think?”

“Don’t get excited, you funny little girl,” said the visitor; and he took his leave with dignity.

But Anne-Marie was excited, and did not sleep all night.

After taking London by storm, Vivien returned to the Continent for yet another tour. A psychologist based in Vienna named Dr. Herman Swoboda (a pioneer in the field of biorhythms) asked to study Vivien; after meeting her, he declared that “The musical wonder-child is a revelation of the divine. She is the nearest approach to those ideal beings that men call Angels… She is a living messenger from Beyond, waking our souls with her god-given music to believe in what is above all human understanding.” In late 1906 Vivien gave eight concerts in Turin, Italy, the city of her birth. She had a blazing success there; one reporter claimed that “there has been no such triumph since Paganini.” She also visited and charmed Queen Margherita, who she adored (in fact, she cried every time her face was washed, because she did not want the queen’s kiss to be wiped off her cheek). In a touching gesture, after performing a Paganini concerto, she trimmed some lilacs and laid them on the composer’s grave with the simple note, “To Paganini, humbly, Vivien.”

In 1907 the two Chartres women sailed back to Britain. In September of that year Pall Mall Magazine ran a feature on Vivien. Vivanti claimed that it was Vivien’s diary, but anyone familiar with Vivanti and her love of mixing fact and fiction certainly wouldn’t put it past her to tweak her daughter’s words…if not make them up outright.

I am giving an “at home” with music this afternoon. Nobody invited but animals. I am going to play the “Chaconne” to them, and they are not allowed to go to sleep or to walk away. It is to be quite like a real “at home.”

The cow hates music…

One year ago to-day the King kissed me…


We have been to a party. The E string broke while I was playing the “Hungarian Dance,” but I went on with only three strings quite well. My fingers went where I did not know they had to go…


I have been in the field and played my violin to the pony and the dogs. The dogs listen and then they go to sleep. But the pony keeps on listening, especially when I tie him to a little piece of wood. I have played things that I like and that I hate to play to other people. I played great slow things by Beethoven; and I played Bach. And Schumann. And then long compositions by me…


I have received a letter from a gentleman in a workhouse. He has no money to buy violin strings with. The workhouse is in Hackney. He would like my old strings when I have finished with them, to play to some other old gentlemen who are living there.

Papa says I may bring the strings myself, and play to them. I am going to-day. And Mamma says I am to dress like when I played to the King, because they are very poor and will like it…


We have been to Hackney. I played in all the wards where the sick people are. Many of them cried.

I did not know there were so many people ill in the world. I am sad for the sorriness of all these things.

My mamma held my hand tight, tight, all the way home…


The Chaplain asked us to come into the little church after everybody had gone, and I and mamma went and knelt down like for Communion.

And the Chaplain said to God: “I want to dedicate this little girl’s gift of music to You. Please take care of her.” He said many other things differently and better than I write them, and mamma cried, and I did too.

Then we all three said our prayers, not loud. I said: “Our Father,” and I also said: “Now I lay me down to sleep,” which I should not have done.

But mamma says it does not matter. She kissed me very much…


As Vivien grew older, she played the violin in public less and less. Whether her interest in music had waned, whether she was asserting her independence, or whether she was applying her considerable intellect to other hobbies, is unknown. She lived with her mother, who in turn lived separately from her father.

In the early days of World War I, Vivien met a man named Arthur Lindsey Burns. According to a letter written by an acquaintance named Amelia Nyasa Laws, Vivien fell very deeply in love and wanted to marry as quickly as possible. Laws described Vivanti as “sensible, if a little business-like,” and, true to that reputation, she soon began busying herself inquiring after character references for her prospective son-in-law. Presumably Burns passed her inspection; he was the General Manager for the Singer Sewing Machine Company in Italy and was, like his future wife and mother-in-law, a polyglot. The two were married 19 July 1915 in Milan. Vivien was twenty-two, Burns ten years her senior.

Annie Vivanti had anticipated her daughter’s marriage five years earlier in the second-to-last chapter of The Devourers.

The carriage that was to take the bride and bridegroom to the station was waiting in the Tuscan sunlight, surrounded by the laughing, impatient crowd. As Anne-Marie appeared – her rose-lit face half hidden in her furs, her travelling-hat poised lightly at the back of her shining head – the crowd shouted and cheered, just as it had always done after her concerts. And she smiled and nodded, and said, “Good-bye! Good-bye! Thank you, and good-bye!” just as she always did at the close of her concerts. The bridegroom, tall and serious beside her, would have liked to hurry her into the carriage, but she took her hand from his arm and stopped, turning and smiling to the right and to the left, shaking hands with a hundred people who knew her and loved and blessed her. With one foot on the carriage-step, she still nodded and smiled and waved her hand. Then the young husband lifted her in, jumped in beside her, and shut the carriage-door. Cheers and shouts and waving hats followed them as the horses, striking fire from their hoofs, broke into a gallop, and carried them down the street and out of sight.

…Nancy had not left the house. She had not gone to the window. She could hear the cheers and the laughter, and for a moment she pictured herself with Anne-Marie in the carriage, driving home after the concerts – Anne-Marie still nodding, first out of one window, then out of the other, laughing, waving her hand; then falling into her mother’s arms with a little sigh of delight. At last they were alone – alone after all the crowd – in the darkness and the silence, after all the noise and light. And Anne-Marie’s hand was in hers; Anne-Marie’s soft hair was on her breast. Again the well-known dulcet tones: “Did you like my concert, Liebstes? Are you happy, mother dear?” Then silence all the way home – home to strange hotels, no matter in what town or in what land. It was always home, for they were together.

Nancy stepped to the window, both hands held tightly to her heart. The road was empty. The house was empty. The world was empty. Then she cried, loud and long – cried, stretching her arms out before her, kneeling by the window: “Oh, my little girl! My own child! What shall I do? What shall I do?”

But there was nothing left for Nancy to do.

No doubt Vivanti felt many of the same emotions that her fictional counterpart did.

Vivien Chartres Burns, the former wonder-child, had children of her own in August 1916 and September 1917: a girl and a boy. The girl was named Vivien Ann-Marie, presumably a tribute to Vivien’s fictional alter-ego.

Mr. and Mrs. Burns and their children lived happily together until 1925, when Arthur Burns died of pneumonia, leaving Vivien a young widow with two young children to raise. Before his death, Burns had suggested that Vivien marry a dear friend of his named Sir Richard C.R. Young, who was three decades Vivien’s senior. Vivien was apparently hesitant to follow her late husband’s advice: two weddings were planned and then canceled. But happily the third time was the charm, and Vivien and Young were married in August 1927.

A few months later John Chartres died. Vivanti had not lived with him for many years. It is unclear how much contact they had leading up to his death, or even if much affection lay between them after Vivien was grown.


Vivien Young committed suicide in 1941 in her home in Hove in the south of England. It was not as a protest against her lost youth, or because of a failed career, as some might expect. Rather, she had grown profoundly depressed after her husband grew ill with paralysis. She refused to watch him suffer or to contemplate a life without him. So she sealed her husband’s bedroom, lit the gas fire, and attached a rubber tube from the gas to a gas mask.

“Forgive me,” she wrote in a suicide note. “I cannot go on. I cannot watch my dear husband becoming more paralyzed and his pain becoming worse and worse… We shall go together, quietly and peacefully.” Just like when she was a little girl, Vivien was determined to have things her own way.

For her first violin teacher, she left a hundred pounds; for her daughter, trinkets from Queen Margherita and the family of Prince Bismarck; for her son, a bronze and portrait of her, as well as a brooch that had been presented to her by King Edward VII; and to the Church, a piece of jewelry for the Altar of the Sacred Heart in Brompton Oratory in London, “in gratitude for blessings received.” Her Gagliano was bequeathed to the Musician’s Benevolent Fund in London and sold for the benefit of the Fund.

Annie Vivanti was living in Italy when she received word of Vivien’s sudden death. She was devastated. Although many years had passed since mother and daughter had toured so triumphantly together, Vivanti’s rooms were still filled with mementos of their work and travels. She converted to Catholicism a few days before her death – which occurred a mere six months after Vivien’s.

Certain people share strangely intense bonds with one another. It often seems as if they’ve known each other before, as if they’ve merely picked up where they once left off. Maybe Ševčík was right; maybe Vivien had indeed played the violin in another time, and was not actually learning, but rather remembering. If so, then surely Annie Vivanti had been at her daughter’s side in that earlier incarnation. There would have been no Vivien Chartres without Annie Vivanti, and Annie Vivanti would have lost out arguably on the most momentous experience of her life if she had not had Vivien Chartres. Together they brought an unearthly joy and beauty into the lives of music lovers across the world. Maybe a day is coming when their remarkable relationship can be remembered as it deserves to be.

Anne-Marie holds my heart… I am one of the Devoured. Little Anne-Marie has devoured me, and it is right that it should be so; she has absorbed me, and I am glad; she has consumed me, and I am grateful. For it is in the nature of things that to these lives given to us, our lives should be given.


A bibliography is forthcoming.


Filed under My Writing, Women Violinists

Interview with Maud Powell, Violin Mastery, 1919

Here is an interview with Maud Powell from the 1919 book Violin Mastery by Frederick Herman Martens. Powell is one of the more inspirational women in a field chockablock with inspirational women. She was born in a tiny town in the Midwest; became an internationally renowned performer with one of the biggest repertoires around; premiered the Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, and Sibelius concertos in this country; and championed the work of black, female, and American composers. Sadly, there are twenty-four violinists interviewed in this book, and Powell is the only woman. On the bright side, it’s a fantastic interview that touches on violin technique, Powell’s struggles with prejudice, and her championing of American composers.

For more information on Maud Powell and her legacy, head on over to the Maud Powell Society website. If you want to hear a lovely collection of late Victorian and Edwardian violin pieces with connections to Powell, take a listen to Rachel Barton Pine’s Tribute to Maud Powell.


Powell is often alluded to as our representative “American woman violinist” which, while true in a narrower sense, is not altogether just in a broader way. It would be decidedly more fair to consider her a representative American violinist, without stressing the term “woman”; for as regards Art in its higher sense, the artist comes first, sex being incidental, and Maud Powell is first and foremost – an artist. And her infinite capacity for taking pains, her willingness to work hard have had no small part in the position she has made for herself, and the success she has achieved.


“Too many Americans who take up the violin professionally,” Maud Powell told the writer, “do not realize that the mastery of the instrument is a life study, that without hard, concentrated work they cannot reach the higher levels of their art. Then, too, they are too often inclined to think that if they have a good tone and technic that this is all they need. They forget that the musical instinct must be cultivated; they do not attach enough importance to musical surroundings: to hearing and understanding music of every kind, not only that written for the violin. They do not realize the value of ensemble work and its influence as an educational factor of the greatest artistic value. I remember when I was a girl of eight, my mother used to play the Mozart violin sonatas with me; I heard all the music I possibly could hear; I was taught harmony and musical form in direct connection with my practical work, so that theory was a living thing to me and no abstraction. In my home town I played in an orchestra of twenty pieces – Oh, no, not a ‘ladies orchestra’ – the other members were men grown! I played chamber music as well as solos whenever the opportunity offered, at home and in public. In fact music was part of my life.

“No student who looks on music primarily as a thing apart in his existence, as a bread-winning tool, as a craft rather than an art, can ever mount to the high places. So often girls [who sometimes lack the practical vision of boys], although having studied but a few years, come to me and say: ‘My one ambition is to become a great virtuoso on the violin! I want to begin to study the great concertos!” And I have to tell them that their first ambition should be to become musicians – to study, to know, to understand music before they venture on its interpretation. Virtuosity without musicianship will not carry one far these days. In many cases these students come from small inland towns, far from any music center, and have a wrong attitude of mind. They crave the glamor of footlights, flowers and applause, not realizing that music is a speech, an idiom, which they must master in order to interpret the works of the great composers.


“Of course, all artistic playing represents essentially the mental control of technical means. But to acquire the latter in the right way, while at the same time developing the former, calls for the best of teachers. The problem of the teacher is to prevent his pupils from being too imitative – all students are natural imitators – and furthering the quality of musical imagination in them. Pupils generally have something of the teacher’s tone – Auer pupils have the Auer tone, Joachim pupils have a Joachim tone, an excellent thing. But as each pupil has an individuality of his own, he should never sink it altogether in that of his teacher. It is this imitative trend which often makes it hard to judge a young player’s work. I was very fortunate in my teachers. William Lewis of Chicago gave me a splendid start. Then I studied in turn with Schradieck in Leipsic – Schradieck himself was a pupil of Ferdinand David and of Léonard – Joachim in Berlin, and Charles Dancla in Paris. I might say that I owe most, in a way, to William Lewis, a born fiddler. Of my three European masters Dancla was unquestionably the greatest as a teacher – of course I am speaking for myself. It was no doubt an advantage, a decided advantage for me in my artistic development, which was slow – a family trait – to enjoy the broadening experience of three entirely different styles of teaching, and to be able to assimilate the best of each. Yet Joachim was a far greater violinist than teacher. His method was a cramping one, owing to his insistence on pouring all his pupils into the same mold, so to speak, of forming them all on the Joachim lathe. But Dancla was inspiring. He taught me De Bériot‘s wonderful method of attack; he showed me how to develop purity of style. Dancla’s method of teaching gave his pupils a technical equipment which carried bowing right along, ‘neck and neck’ with the finger work of the left hand, while the Germans are apt to stress finger development at the expense of the bow. And without ever neglecting technical means, Dancla always put the purely musical before the purely virtuoso side of playing. And this is always a sign of a good teacher. He was unsparing in taking pains and very fair.

“I remember that I was passed first in a class of eighty-four at an examination, after only three private lessons in which to prepare the concerto movement to be played. I was surprised and asked him while Mlle. — who, it seemed to me, had played better than I, had not passed. ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘Mlle. — studied that movement for six months; and in comparison, you, with only three lessons, play it better!’ Dancla switched me right over in his teaching from German to French methods, and taught me how to become an artist, just as I had learned in Germany to become a musician. The French school has taste, elegance, imagination; the German is more conservative, serious, and has, perhaps, more depth.


“Perhaps it is because I belong to an older school, or it may be because I laid stress on techic because of its necessity as a means of expression – at any rate I worked hard at it. Naturally, one should never practice any technical difficulty too long at a stretch. Young players sometimes forget this. I know that staccato playing was not easy for me at one time. I believe a real staccato is inborn; a knack. I used to grumble about it to Joachim and he told me once that musically staccato did not have much value. His own, by the way, was very labored and heavy. He admitted that he had none. Wieniawski had such a wonderful staccato that one finds much of it in his music. When I first began to play his D minor concerto I simply made up my mind to get a staccato. It came in time, by sheer force of will. After that I had no trouble. An artistic staccato should, like the trill, be plastic and under control; for different schools of composition demand different styles of treatment of such details.

“Octaves – the unison, not broken – I did not find difficult; but though they are supposed to add volume of tone they sound hideous to me. I have used them in certain passages of my arrangement of ‘Deep River,’ but when I heard them played, promised myself I would never repeat the experiment. Wilhelmj has committed even a worse crime in taste by putting six long bars of Schubert’s lovely Ave Maria in octaves. Of course they represent skill; but I think they are only justified in show pieces. Harmonics I always found easy; though whether they ring out as they should always depends more or less on atmospheric conditions, the strings and the amount of rosin on the bow. On the concert stage if the player stands in a draught the harmonics are sometimes husky.


“The old days of virtuoso ‘tricks’ have passed – I should like to hope forever. Not that some of the old type virtuosos were not fine players. Remenyi played beautifully. So did Ole Bull. I remember one favorite trick of the latter’s, for instance, which would hardly pass muster to-day. I have seen him draw out a long pp, the audience listening breathlessly, while he drew his bow way beyond the string, and then looked innocently at the point of the bow, as though wondering where the tone had vanished. It invariably brought down the house.

“Yet an artist must be a virtuoso in the modern sense to do his full duty. And here in America that duty is to help those who are groping for something higher and better musically; to help without rebuffing them. When I first began my career as a concert violinist I did pioneer work for the cause of the American woman violinist, going on with the work begun by Mme. Camilla Urso. A strong prejudice then existed against women fiddlers, which even yet has not altogether been overcome. The very fact that a Western manager recently told Mr. Turner with surprise that he ‘had made a success of a woman artist’ proves it. When I first began to play here in concert this prejudice was much stronger. Yet I kept on and secured engagements to play with orchestra at a time when they were difficult to obtain. Theodore Thomas liked my playing (he said I had brains), and it was with his orchestra that I introduced the concertos of Saint-Saëns (C min.), Lalo (F min.), and others, to American audiences.

“The fact that I realized that my sex was against me in a way led me to be startlingly authoritative and convincing in the masculine manner when I first played. This is a mistake no woman violinist should make. And from the moment that James Huneker wrote that I ‘was not developing the feminine side of my work,’ I determined to be just myself, and play as the spirit moved me, with no further thought of sex or sex distinctions which, in Art, after all, are secondary. I never realized this more forcibly than once, when, sitting as a judge, I listened to the competitive playing of a number of young professional violinists and pianists. The individual performers, unseen by the judges, played in turn behind a screen. And in three cases my fellow judges and myself guessed wrongly with regard to the sex of the players. When we thought we had heard a young man play it happened to be a young woman, and vice versa.

“To return to the question of concert-work. You must not think that I have played only foreign music in public. I have always believed in American composers and in American composition, and as an American have tried to do justice as an interpreting artist to the music of my native land. Aside from the violin concertos by Harry Rowe Shelly and Henry Holden Huss, I have played any number of shorter original compositions by such representative American composers as Arthur Foote, Mrs. H.H.A. Beach, Victor Herbert, John Philip Sousa, Arthur Bird, Edwin Grasse, Marion Bauer, Cecil Burleigh, Harry Gilbert, A. Walter Kramer, Grace White, Charles Wakefield Cadman and others. Then, too, I have presented transcriptions by Arthur Hartmann, Francis Macmillan and Sol Marcosson, as well as some of my own. Transcriptions are wrong, theoretically; yet some songs, like Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Song of India’ and some piano pieces, like the Dvořák Humoresque, are so obviously effective on the violin that a transcription justifies itself. My latest temptative in that direction is my ‘Four American Folk Songs,’ a simple setting of four well-known airs with connecting cadenzas – no variations, no special development! I used them first as encores, but my audiences seemed to like them so well that I have played them on all my recent programs.


“The very first thing in playing in public is to free oneself of all distrust in one’s own powers. To do this, nothing must be left to chance. One should not have to give a thought to strings, bow, etc. All should be in proper condition. Above all the violinist should play with an accompanist who is used to accompanying him. It seems superfluous to emphasize that one’s program numbers must have been mastered in every detail. Only then can one defy nervousness, turning excess of emotion into inspiration.

“Acoustics play a greater part in the success of a public concert than most people realize. In some halls they are very good, as in the case of the Cleveland Hippodrome, an enormous place which holds forty-three hundred people. Here the acoustics are perfect, and the artist has those wonderful silences through which his slightest tones carry clearly and sweetly. I have played not only solos, but chamber music in this hall, and was always sorry to stop playing. In most halls the acoustic conditions are best in the evening.

“Then there is the matter of the violin. I first used a Joseph Guarnerius, a deeper toned instrument than the Jean Baptista Guadagnini I have now played for a number of years. The Guarnerius has a tone that seems to come more from within the instrument; but all in all I have found my Guadagnini, with its glassy clearness, its brilliant and limpid tone-quality, better adapted to American concert halls. If I had a Strad in the same condition as my Guadagnini the instrument would be priceless. I regretted giving up my Guarnerius, but I could not play the two violins interchangeably; for they were absolutely different in size and tone-production, shape, etc. Then my hand is so small that I ought to use the instrument best adapted to it, and to use the same instrument always. Why do I use no chin-rest? I use no chin-rest on my Guadagnini simply because I cannot find one to fit my chin. One should use a chin-rest to prevent perspiration from marring the varnish. My Rocca violin is an interesting instance of wood worn in ridges by the stubble on a man’s chin.

“Strings? Well, I use a wire E string. I began to use it twelve years ago one humid, foggy summer in Connecticut. I had had such trouble with strings snapping that I cried: ‘Give me anything but a gut string.’ The climate practically makes metal strings a necessity, though some kind person once said that I bought wire strings because they were cheap! If wire strings had been thought of when Theodore Thomas began his career, he might never have been a conductor, for he told me he gave up the violin because of the E string. And most people will admit that hearing a wire E you cannot tell it from a gut E. Of course, it is unpleasant on the open strings, but then the open strings never do sound well. And in the highest registers the tone does not spin out long enough because of the tremendous tension: one has to use more bow. And it cuts the hairs: there is a little surface nap on the bow-hairs which a wire string wears right out. I had to have my four bows rehaired three times last season – an average of every three months. But all said and done it has been a God-send to the violinist who plays in public. On the wire A one cannot get the harmonics; and the aluminum D is objectionable in some violins, though in others not at all.

“The main thing – no matter what strings are used – is for the artist to get his audience into the concert hall, and give it a program which is properly balanced. Theodore Thomas first advised me to include in my programs short, simple things that my listeners could ‘get hold of’ – nothing inartistic, but something selected from their standpoint, not from mine, and played as artistically as possible. Yet there must also be something that is beyond them, collectively. Something that they may need to hear a number of times to appreciate. This enables the artist to maintain his dignity and has a certain psychological effect in that his audience holds him in greater respect. At big conservatories where music study is the most important thing, and in large cities, where the general level of music culture is high, a big solid program may be given, where it would be inappropriate in other places.

“Yet I remember having many recalls at El Paso, Texas, once, after playing the first movement of the Sibelius concerto. It is one of those compositions which if played too literally leaves an audience quite cold; it must be rendered temperamentally, the big climaxing effects built up, its Northern spirit brought out, though I admit that even then it is not altogether easy to grasp.


“Violin mastery or mastery of any instrument, for that matter, is the technical power to say exactly what you want to say in exactly the way you want to say it. It is technical equipment that stands are the service of your musical will – a faithful and competent servant that comes at your musical bidding. If your spirit soars ‘to parts unknown,’ your well trained servant ‘technic’ is ever at your elbow to prevent irksome details from hampering your progress. Mastery of your instrument makes mastery of your Art a joy instead of a burden. Technic should always be the handmaid of the spirit.

“And I believe that one result of the war will be to bring us a greater self-knowledge, to the violinist as well as to every other artist, a broader appreciation of what he can do to increase and elevate appreciation for music in general and his Art in particular. And with these I am sure a new impetus will be given to the development of a musical culture truly American in thought and expression.”

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Filed under Not My Writing, Women Violinists

Article: How To Play the Violin, Girl’s Own Indoor Book, 1880s

Here is a chapter from The Girl’s Own Indoor Book. There is no date, but it appears to date from the 1880s, possibly 1883 or 1888. It is indicative of the popularity of the violin amongst girls in this decade that an essay on how to play the violin was nestled between such uncontroversial chapters as “How to Paint on China”, “Bridal Etiquette”, and “Salads in French Cookery.”

Aside from the fascinating glimpse of how Victorians viewed women violinists, this article is also interesting for the many wise tips the author shares, most of which are still relevant today. This piece was written by a woman named Caroline Blanche Elizabeth FitzRoy, who, after her marriage, became Lady Lindsay of Balcarres. I can’t seem to find much biographical information about her, save that she was a patroness of the arts, a painter, a writer, and a violinist. She eventually separated from her husband and moved between London and Venice. Here is a beautiful 1874 portrait of her, courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.


I have been asked to write upon the art of violin playing, but, whilst doing so, I am well aware that it is far easier to say how the violin should be played than to play it, and many a girl who reads this chapter, and who has grown discouraged and despondent over the manifold difficulties of her favourite instrument, will doubtless agree with such a statement. Still, there are some beginners and students who, though persevering and conscientious, are uncertain whether they are really following the wisest course of study; to them much conflicting advice is usually given, until they scarcely know what they should do or leave undone, and to them, perhaps, a few words of explanation and encouragement from a fellow-worker may not come amiss.

First of all, there is no doubt that the violin, whilst it is perhaps the most beautiful and fascinating musical instrument we possess, is difficult in absolute proportion to its beauty. No one should attempt to learn the violin who is not prepared to give up much time to it, to make many sacrifices for it, and to serve, like Jacob, many years for his beloved object. Very much work is required for the smallest result. The beginning is possibly not so difficult as might be fancied; our friends and we ourselves are surprised to find that we can pick out a popular tune on four strings. We are delighted; but, as time goes on, and we leave the comfortable harbour of the 1st position and the safe anchorage of open strings, and sail out amongst the stormy seas of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th positions, grappling with double stopping, arpeggios, and passages, the intricacies of which are felt much more keenly by performers than listeners, we begin to know something of the hard work and toil that lies before us, growing seemingly ever harder and more uncompromising.

Yet such work is not without its reward. The greater the struggle the greater the reward, and it sometimes happens that, as it is darkest before dawn, when we are most out of heart we are making the most progress. It is best to place our standard of excellence high from the very first, however far off and unattainable it may appear. After all, it is like climbing a hill to see a fine view. Though it be a steep hill, we may get a good deal of pleasure during the ascent; it is not all fatigue. Nor is the view, when we at last come within sight of it, the only gratification we shall have gained. Surely a walk on a summer’s day, as we go cheerfully up the hillside, is worth something; there are many lovely sights and glimpses of pretty country on the way, and, above all, we have pleasant companionship. For, as we toil up the side of the steep and rugged hill of musical knowledge, it is not necessary to wait until we become first-rate performers to spend many a happy afternoon or evening of music, to grow keenly interested in our own practising, and glean much delight from the playing of others, nor, more than all, to enjoy the companionship of the great composers who have written so much for our benefit, and whose works no one can thoroughly know or appreciate without learning to play them.

Perhaps of all instruments, the violin is the one to which the performer – and, therefore, as a rule, the owner – becomes the most attached. Its great advantages over other instruments are: –

1. Its extreme portability. You need never part from your instrument, need entrust it to no one, and, carrying it about with you, can always play on the same violin, and are not therefore puzzled or dispirited, like many unfortunate pianists or organists, by the complications of a strange or inferior instrument.

2. The violin greatly resembles the human voice in its tone, and whilst possessing a far wider range of compass than the voice, has a similar capability of creating a responsive vibration in the hearts of its hearers, together with the same power of portamento, that is, of blending or carrying one note into another.

3. The notes are not ready-made, but have to be created by the player. Every player brings out a different quality of tone to that of other players, even when using the self-same instrument, and this adds much to the charm and personality of the music.

4. The violin is tuned in perfect and natural tune, and not according to the tempered scale, as are of necessity all ordinary keyed instruments (where the notes are divided), such as the piano, for example. Its vibrations are, therefore, infinitely more pleasing to the ear than the sound of any instrument tuned according to the tempered scale.

5. The violin is less monotonous for practising than many other instruments: it is more interesting to train the ear, together with the hand, in seeking after beauty and quality of tone, and not mere manual dexterity. Also, music written for violin is often simple, and so easily learned by heart that much practising may be gone through by moderately-advanced students whilst walking about the room, thus gaining a pleasant change and rest, though such a method is scarcely to be recommended for careless players.

6. Lastly, and not least, the violin is the leader in an orchestra, as in a quartet; and, even among its own family of beautiful stringed instruments, it is more brilliant and more capable of variety of tone than the viola or the violoncello.

It is not very long since the violin was considered an ‘unladylike’ instrument, ungraceful and impossible for women. I remember, as a child, reading in a story-book of a little girl who had surreptitiously bought a red fiddle, and who delighted her schoolfellows by playing to them in secret. This unfortunate girl was not allowed to become a great violinist, but was, on the contrary, reprimanded by the schoolmistress, who advised her to choose a more ladylike occupation for the future. I have also in former days known girls of whom it was darkly hinted that they played the violin, as it might be said that they smoked big cigars, or enjoyed the sport of rat-catching. But now all this has changed; there is scarcely a family of girls where there is not at least one who plays the fiddle. (I heard lately of a lady whose six daughters are all violinists!) Classes are held for female violinists, who likewise play in the orchestra of the Royal Academy of Music, and in that of the Royal College of Music, and it is no uncommon sight in our streets to see a girl carrying her fiddle in its black case. Besides this, in almost every programme of a concert we find the name of some lady violinist, who probably plays with fine tone and execution, for there are many good artists among us now.

For this change we are indebted to Madame Norman-Neruda (now Lady Hallé). She, by uniting with the firmness and vigour of a man’s playing the purity of style and intonation of a great artist, as well as her own perfect grace and delicate manipulation, has proved to the public at large what a woman can do in this field. Madame Neruda’s masterly playing is not to be surpassed by any one, whilst her feminine ease and elegance add an unusual charm to violin-playing.

Even in former years there were some notable exceptions to the universal custom which precluded women from such performances, viz.: the sisters Ferny, the sisters Milanollo, and others; but these ladies, while achieving much reputation, seem to have had but small influence on others. It was reserved to Madame Norman-Neruda to head the great revolution, and to enlist an enormous train of followers. And yet it is difficult to say why a prophet should have been so sorely needed, for in the Middle Ages, and later even, women and girls were taught to play on viols and similar stringed instruments, held sometimes downwards like violoncellos, but also often beneath the chin as we hold our violins, whilst in the old Italian pictures, in the works of Fra Angelico, Bellini, Raphael, and many others, angels and feminine figures are constantly depicted playing on the violins of the period, so that we may assume that, in the eyes of the great painters, such doings were by no means unwomanly or ungraceful. Be this as it may, the question need no longer arise, the crusade need not be fought anew; Madame Neruda, like a musical St. George, has gone forth, violin and bow in hand, to fight the dragon of prejudice, or rather, like a female Orpheus, has made captive all the wild beasts about her by the sweet sounds she has evoked. Certainly, no one requires now-a-days to be encouraged to learn the violin, but rather the contrary. Nay, sometimes, I am haunted by the fear that all ‘girls of the period’ of the next generation will scrape unmercifully on their fiddles, with much complacency, perhaps, but with little time or tune. There will be no one left who does not play the fiddle, and with our modern system of mental cramming, patience and leisure will alike be wanting for necessary practising; consequently, but few will play well, and, alas! the pianoforte, the harp, the organ, the guitar, the zither, and many other beautiful instruments will be altogether laid aside, or left to the sterner sex.

The best axiom, therefore, for our present times seems to me: Let no one learn the violin who has not a distinct and earnest vocation thereunto; and let whoever is determined to learn, learn well and thoroughly. Or, as Mr. Haweis wisely says: ‘Do not take up the violin unless you mean to work hard at it; any other instrument may be more safely trifled with.’

To those who work, and want to work, I would venture to give a few practical hints.

Use every endeavour to learn from a really good master at the very outset, and to have as many lessons from him as possible. Later on it will be easier for you to practise alone. At first, by working alone (however carefully, even with the help of books written for students), many bad habits are engendered that are afterwards hard to cure: the violin is held wrongly, or is imperfectly tuned; the bow is not drawn straight, nor is the whole length of the bow used; the wrist of the left hand is allowed to support the instrument for the comfort of the player.

When you have advanced sufficiently to play fluently you can get on tolerably alone, though by no means so quickly as under the guidance of a master. But, having a naturally correct ear, you can make progress, using a metronome, a practical school of violin-playing, and, occasionally, a looking-glass.

Remember that each hand has its special work to do; each different, yet very necessary to supplement the work of the other. Your right hand represents tone, your left hand tune. Your right hand gives expression, your left hand correctness. Most people think that the left hand does all the work – that bowing consists of sawing the bow up and down across the strings. Yet the right hand has perhaps the harder task of the two, as its duties are manifold, pure intonation and careful fingering, though important, being the sole occupations of the left.

It is very difficult to bow well; to hold the bow aright, lightly, and in what seems a constrained attitude; to keep the thumb steady, and the four fingers straight (not curved outwards), the tips resting firmly on the bow. It is very difficult in slow passages to bring out a full and mellow tone, to give fine expression, to draw the bow to its utmost limit (for there must be no tell-tale greyish mark on the horsehair near the nut to prove that the whole length has not been in constant use), also, to learn the different short, quick styles of bowing, staccato, saltando, etc., to mark a crescendo or diminuendo by more or less pressure, to prevent the bow from squeaking or slipping on the strings, or from giving a little grunt of disapprobation whenever you come to the end of an up or down bow, and proceed to draw it in the opposite direction. All these difficulties and technicalities can scarcely be overcome without the help and counsel of a master, whose patience and endurance must equal the docility of the pupil. But these are the difficulties of all beginners – nay, or all students, and many a moderately good artist has by no means conquered them.

It is absolutely necessary to stand well in a steady, upright, yet graceful attitude. Many girls, whose movements are natural and positively pretty before playing, undergo an extraordinary transformation the moment they take a violin in hand; they contort their features, turn their heads overmuch round, place their elbows and wrists at fearful angles, and look as though they were enduring frightful torture. Believe me, if from time to time you attempt a few bars before the looking-glass, it will by no means feed your vanity, but rather prove a wholesome lesson of humility.

It is very ugly to see a girl place a pad like a large pincushion on her left shoulder before playing, or to see her use a piece of wood like a patch of black sticking-plaister on the violin itself. All that is required to prevent the violin from slipping under the chin (thus causing premature double chins and all manner of wry faces) is, to raise the shoulder very slightly, keeping the elbow well forward and a little turned inwards. Hold the violin high, that is to say, quite horizontally, and you will soon forget that it was ever disposed to slip away. Habit will become second nature; even in changing the positions the attitude that at first was so trying will grow perfectly easy; you must, however, remember that in the lower positions the wrist must never be allowed to touch the violin, but your hand must slide comfortably up and down, the neck of the violin merely resting between the thumb and first finger.

In all this, I fear, my hints are chiefly negative. It is easier to point out probable faults than to give instruction on violin-playing merely by writing. As I said before, the practical teaching of a master is absolutely necessary to all beginners.

I will, however, now suppose that you have mastered the first difficulties, that you have had a certain number of lessons, and have profited by them sufficiently to play little pieces and moderately difficult exercises fairly well. I will suppose that you are in the country, unable for some time to come to obtain any further instruction, yet anxious to ‘get on.’

I should recommend you, above all, to practise regularly – that is, every day at stated times, one, two, three hours, as the case may be. Practise regularly, even though you are disinclined; unless you are really ill, a little weariness or fatigue soon goes off, and after playing for ten minutes you will probably feel fresher than before you began. Play good music, but do not disgust yourself with well-known beautiful things by playing them badly. Preserve them rather for by-and-by; pull them out of the drawer every few months, and play them through once or twice; then you will see how much progress you have made.

It is a good thing when you are working alone to vary your form of practice on alternate days. Let one day be devoted to difficult exercises, and to studying hard whatever pieces are to be studied. The following day, go through only a certain number of finger exercises, and then read at sight some easy sonatas, with or without pianoforte accompaniment, according to your opportunities.

In practising pieces that you have learned, but cannot quite conquer, do not play them all through, or you will tire of them quickly, but pick out the difficult passages, and leave the easy ones to take care of themselves.

Invent small exercises and new combinations for yourself; try to add thirds and sixths to notes in different positions, thus accustoming yourself to play chords; learn by heart as much as possible, for two reasons, viz., that you should not always have the trouble of preparing a music-stand, candles, &c., also because you will never play any piece really well that you do not know by heart, even though you play it from the book before your friends.

Whenever you are studying any new music, play it through once or twice with a metronome. Even though no metronome time be marked, the indications of allegro, andante, or adagio, will give you an idea of how to adjust the pendulum.

It seems to me more difficult to play in time on the violin than on the piano, because there is no bass for a foundation. The bass in pianoforte music is almost to the eye what a metronome is to the ear, and is a natural guide. In violin music you have but one stave; you cannot see what is going on below, and cannot, therefore, grasp the true nature of the composition.

A correct appreciation of time is very requisite. We often hear of amateurs who play charmingly, with wonderful genius and expression, but without any sense of time. That is very dreadful. Never allow your love of sentiment to put more rallentando passages into the music than are absolutely marked by the composer or dictated by your master.

It is a good thing to play often with pianoforte accompaniment, so as to learn the piece as a whole, to grow accustomed to the sound of the piano, and also to learn to play in time. But if you have no accompanyist, play the violin part once or twice from the book in which both violin and piano parts are written. Or, if you are a sufficiently good theoretical musician, look at it well and study it, and hear the whole composition, as it were, in your mind. But the best plan of all is to play the accompaniment yourself on the piano, for, indeed, every violinists should be somewhat of a pianist also. In most conservatoires a slight knowledge of the piano is obligatory. The pianoforte is, in our drawing-rooms, the nearest approach to an orchestra; on this instrument alone can you get any orchestral or complete effects; and, as a musician, if you do not study it at least a little, you will debar yourself from much musical knowledge and advantage.

In playing before an audience, however limited, however friendly, you will probably be nervous, more or less nervous according to your nature. Some people unfortunately never quite get over nervousness; but it is best to do our utmost from the very first to struggle against it. Do not begin to play without careful consideration; see that your bow has a sufficient amount of rosin; tune your violin steadily; try to avoid being flurried. Practise the art of beginning well, not with a scrape nor out of time, so that the accompanyist must needs begin again.

Wash your hands always before playing (as, indeed, before practising), and keep your violin nice and clean, carefully wiped before putting it away within its case under a silk handkerchief and flannel coat, the strings always in good order.

If you know that you are to play to an audience, try the strings a little beforehand. If you put on a new E-string, play on it for an hour or two in your own room before using it in public. Play enough beforehand to be in good practice, and to feel your fingers comfortably supple. Avoid if possible practising at the very last the piece you have to perform. Chopin, who usually performed his own pianoforte compositions, used immediately before his concerts to practise Bach’s fugues.

As you progress in your art, you cannot fail to grow more and more devoted to it; violinists are, as a rule, as enthusiastic and ‘shoppy’ in their talk as the keenest sportsmen, racing or hunting men, golfs, &c. To play or even to practise will be your greatest delight; you will lament the very shortest separation from your dear violin.

Do you remember the old rhyme? –

“Jacky, come give me thy fiddle,

If ever though hope to thrive.”

“Nay, I’ll not give my fiddle

To any man alive.

Were I to give my fiddle,

The folks would think me mad;

For many a joyful day

My fiddle and I have had.”

If possible, go often to good concerts, and hear good music, which, like good pictures, and indeed all good art, is thoroughly inspiring. We may be depressed by hearing a moderate player, but we become ardently anxious to work as we listen to something really great and fine. Such a performance incites our best efforts at imitation; we feel that it is worth while to work. You will learn a great deal by going to the Saturday or Monday Popular Concerts, by hearing and seeing Madame Norman-Neruda, the queen, and Herr Joachim, the king of violinists; or Signor Piatti, to whom his mighty violin of larger growth is a true slave of the ring, a potentate that conquers us but obeys him. You will learn more of bowing, phrasing, more of attitude, more of style, tone, or tune, than can be taught by a mountain of books or essays. You will learn, in fact, if not how to play the violin, at least how the violin should be played.

I have said nothing about books, violin-methods, or schools, as they are called. Any master you learn from will probably prefer one or another. To me, the elementary or first part of De Bériot’s violin-school seems the best and easiest for beginners. Berthold Tours’ Violin Primer (Novello) is also useful for beginners, and very cheap. At the commencement of De Bériot’s and many other schools, you will find drawings of mild young gentlemen, in different attitudes, that will show you clearly how both the violin and the bow should be held. As you progress, you will probably learn to play the exercises of Kayser, Dont, Kreutzer, Dancla, Léonard, Ries, and others. As for drawing-room pieces, there are a great many, more or less pretty. You must choose these for yourself. Messrs. Stanley Lucas, New Bond Street, can provide you with as many as you wish, especially those published in cheap German editions. As you gain mastery over your instrument, you will love more and more the Mozart and Beethoven sonatas, the old music reprinted in the Hohe Schule; by-and-by, trios, and quartets.

We have no space, unfortunately, for the history of the violin. It is an interesting history through these last three centuries, during which time the instrument itself has been scarcely altered in any way. ‘What a little thing to make so much noise!’ says the ignorant observer. ‘What a little thing to have so stirred the hearts of men!’ responds the philosopher. And, as we hold the treasure in our hands, reverently and affectionately contemplating the delicate work of Stradivarius, Guarnerius, or Amati, we wonder through whose hands before ours our fiddle has passed, whose magic touch, long since silent and dead, evoked sweet melodies resonant from the brown wood that still shines with its fair coating of varnish almost as of yore. We seem to hear divine and strange harmonies; we can almost see the shades of Corelli, Tartini, Haydn, Spohr, or Paganini, beckoning us to follow their example, leading us on in the path of music, and teaching us in truth, by those traditions that are our tangible heirlooms, how to play the violin.

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Article: Miss Marie Hall, The Girl Violinist, A Romance of Real Life, June 1903

Forgive the Marie Hall kick, dear friends, but here’s another fantastic interview with her. As if Hall wasn’t spunky and amazing enough already, she says in this article that she wishes she could be a conductor! Even today, a hundred years later, it is relatively rare to see a woman taking on that job.

This piece is by M. Dinorben Griffith; it appeared in the Strand Magazine in June 1903.


“Marie is always, for ever and ever, plactising, plactising,” was the irate comment of two little boys when they failed to induce their but little older favourite sister to play with them.

It is this “always, for ever and ever, plactising,” or, in other words, that infinite capacity for taking pains which is the sign-manual of genius, that has brought Miss Marie Hall, the girl violinist, to the front of her profession before she has reached her nineteenth birthday.

Hers is no history of that forced and most miserable of spectacles – the child prodigy, often of ephemeral life and fame. A child prodigy she undoubtedly was, but of natural growth. Her talent was discovered and fostered by strangers, and it speaks well for her bodily and mental vitality that hard work, poverty, and even sorrow have only given strength to her personality and a finished maturity to her art.

She loves her fiddle, and even when idly handling it a beautiful tenderness comes into her face, which is generally sad and grave almost to sternness. With her bow she shows her inner self to the world, at least to as much of the world as can understand its language; her clever fingers not only interpret the masterpieces of the great composers, but the longings and aspirations of a young life striving for the perfection which alone can satisfy it; and for fame, not for fame’s sake, but because it will enable her to carry out a noble, unselfish purpose.

Like all highly-strung natures her personality is complex, oftenest grave, impulsive, yet sometimes as merry and gay as a little child.

To interview her is as difficult as to follow a will-o’-the-wisp.

“Where was I born? Oh, dear, must I go back as far as that? It was ages ago! In Newcastle, on April 8th, 1884, and I was called the ‘Opera Baby.'”


“Because my father, Mr. Edmund Felix Hall, was harpist in the Carl Rosa English Opera Company, which toured all over England. My mother always accompanied him, and while at Newcastle I was born; the company took a great interest in this important event, and called me the ‘Opera Baby.’ I may as well go a little farther back and tell you that my grandfather was a landscape painter and a harpist; my father, his brother, my mother, and sister are all harpists, and I ought to have been one too, I suppose. I did start; but I hated it, and used to hide when my father wanted to give me a lesson. I wanted to learn the fiddle. My father had his own ideas on the subject; I had mine, and I stuck to them.”

The little lady, I noted, had more than one side to her character. Into the grave face as she spoke came a mutinous, mischievous look reminiscent of an enfant terrible. It was also easy to infer that her early childhood held no pleasant memories for her. She was one of a family of four sisters (two of whom died) and two quite young brothers, one of whom – Teddy – is the stimulus to hard work and the making and saving of money on her part. He shares his sister’s love of the fiddle, and, although not yet nine, according to Miss Hall is “much cleverer” than she.

“Teddy is a genius,” she says, enthusiastically, “but, oh, so delicate. I want to have him with me always; to get him the best advice, to care for him, educate him, and love him. That is what I have been working for, that is what success means to me.”

She started learning the harp when only five, and the violin at the age of eight and a half, her father being her first teacher. Those lessons were not shirked, they were her only pleasure. More may be learned of Miss Hall’s early days from what she leaves unsaid than what she says, but there is no doubt that when Mr. Hall left the opera company, that meant to him a regular weekly income of twelve pounds, and more especially on the termination of a short engagement at the Empire Theatre, Newcastle, the family were in dire straits. From the orchestra Mr. Hall had to come down to playing in the streets, his wife and children in turns assisting him in earning a precarious livelihood.

The struggles of those days are written on Miss Hall’s face, but the fragile little figure is linked with an indomitable will. She is of the stuff that heroes are made of, withal a very girl, with a keen sense of humour and a pretty wit of her own.

The day of her first violin lesson was an era in her baby life, for the little maid had planted her foot firmly on the first rung of the ladder of fame. She had no thought of what was to follow; she had gained her point, and it behoved her to prove that the violin was her special métier.

“One day,” she said, “I played Raff’s ‘Cavatina’ to my father. I had been practising it hard as a surprise for him.” A surprise indeed it was, for it convinced him of her ability, and she was sent to Miss Hildegarde Werner, of Newcastle-on-Tyne, for lessons. She made remarkable progress, and her teacher was so proud of her precocious little pupil that she introduced her to M. Sauret, who predicted great things of her in the near future.

“After I had been learning the violin for a year I made my first appearance on the concert platform,” said Miss Hall. “I was then about nine and a half. After the concert was over I got several offers of engagements at music-halls.”

“Did you then play in the streets?”

“Yes, we all did; I hated it.”

“What were your usual takings?”

“Oh, a penny, and up to six-pence.”

“And is it indeed indiscreet to ask what you make now?”

“I will tell you with pleasure. My first concert in London, at the St. James’s Hall, brought me in five hundred pounds.”

Four hundred people were on that occasion – her second appearance in London – turned away from the doors. A guinea was cheerfully paid for standing room, and two guineas for a seat.

Before little Marie reached her eleventh year her parents moved to Malvern, when, she pathetically remarked, “times were very bad. My sister and I had to do all the housework, as we could not afford to keep a servant, and to help by playing in the streets and in the vestibules of hotels. I used sometimes to go inside the little gardens and begin playing, and was often then called into the houses.”

“Did you dislike it?”

“I hated collecting money,” was the reply, with a flash of her eyes. “Sometimes mother went out with father and she did the collecting, while my sister and I stayed at home.”

One can easily picture that untidy ménage, with the little drudges turning out in the evenings to play for money when tired out with the hopeless task of keeping things straight at home.

“Things might have been worse, you know,” she remarked, “for several people got to know me and were very kind. Fifteen pounds was subscribed among friends to buy me a violin, but my father thought the money would be more wisely spent in taking me to London, so that Wilhelmj could hear me.”

“With what results?”

“I stayed in his house for several months, he giving me free lessons as well as keeping me. I then returned to Malvern and took up my old life; not from choice, but from necessity. I played in the streets and in hotels until I was thirteen. Herr Max Mossel heard me play and offered me free lessons, so I went to Birmingham, living with some rich friends, who paid my parents a pound a week for letting me stay during the three years I worked under Mossel.”

Herr Mossel was charmed with his pupil; he recommended her so highly to the Birmingham School of Music Committee that she received a free studentship, which she held for two sessions.

When fifteen years old she competed for the first Wessely Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Music and won it, but was unable to take it up, as she had no means to live on while in London.”

“It was such a disappointment,” said Miss Hall, “and things were worse than ever at home. We moved to Clifton, and there met with friends who were most kind to us all. They were Mr. and Mrs. Roeckel, of musical fame. We got to know them through a strange incident.

“As I told you, my uncle was a very clever harpist; he used to go about the country playing. Mr. and Mrs. Roeckel were spending a short holiday at Llandrindod Wells, in Wales. My uncle was there too, and they were delighted with his playing and spoke to him frequently, and learnt that his name was Hall.

“The Roeckels, on their return to their home at Clifton, heard one evening a harpist playing outside their door who reminded them, both in appearance and superior skill in playing, of the harpist they had met in Wales. It was his brother – my father.”

From this time their kindness was unceasing to the family, who owe much to their frequent and timely help. They took a practical interest in the clever girl violinist, and enlisted Canon Fellowes’s sympathy for their young protégée.

By Mr. Roeckel’s advice Marie got up a subscription concert, Canon Fellowes promising to bring Mr. Napier Miles, the Squire of Kings Weston, near Bristol, to hear her play. The concert was a grand success, the playing of the delicate, frail, little fifteen-year-old débutante astonishing all present.

“Wonderful! delightful!” said Mr. Napier Miles. He asked if she had ever played with an orchestra. “No,” was the reply. “Then you must come to Kings Weston for that purpose.” Her future tuition and expenses were practically assured from that day.

Mr. Miles and a few other friends combined in sending her to study under Johann Kruse, and she stayed with him a year, or until, in her own words, “I had got all he could give me.”

It was while she was in London with Kruse that she first heard Kubelik. He had shortly before been playing Bristol, and Marie had urged her father to see him and beg of him to hear her play.

“I saw,” said Miss Hall, “an announcement that he would give a recital in London on the 19th of June, 1900. I went. It was a red-letter day in my life. I went mad over his technique. As soon as the concert was over I went behind and waited outside his door, determined to see him if I had to wait until two o’ clock in the morning. After what seemed to me a long time he came out, followed by his accompanist. I rushed forward and said, ‘Oh, will you hear me play?’ He seemed very startled, drew back a little, and stammered, ‘I don’t know you, do I?’ Breathlessly I explained that my father had seen him at Bristol, and finally I left him with an appointment for ten o’ clock the next morning. I practised nearly all night, for to sleep was impossible.

“I found Kubelik and his accompanist at breakfast. I do not think they expected me; they seemed to think I was amusing, especially when I asked Kubelik to accompany me.”

With the sublime audacity of youth she had elected to play one of the very pieces she had heard Kubelik play the previous evening, the “D Minor Concerto” of Wieniawski, which was the success of the evening.

Kubelik was enthusiastic. “You must go at once,” he said, “to Prague to my old master, Sevcik.”

“But what do you think?” said Miss Hall, with a burst of merry laughter at the recollection. “Kubelik and the accompanist were so polite to me they both rushed to place a chair for me at the table, so that I could write my name and address, and I sat down – not on the chair, but on the floor,  with my feet in the air and my hat – well, I don’t know where it was. I felt so small and so humiliated, and they – I do not know how they managed it – never even smiled – at least, for me to see.”

It is difficult to get Miss Hall to talk about herself. She acknowledges being a “creature of moods,” very full of spirits one moment, correspondingly despondent the next; gave, sympathetic, sedate, or a real little hoyden, full of fun and laughter.

Asked if she had received any offers of marriage since she had come out, “Two only,” was the reply – “one from a Greek, a literary man, and one from a Bohemian musician.”

“Were they nice?”

“Well,” with comically raised eyebrows, “one was old and silly, the other very young and impressionable.”

“No millionaire offers?”

“Sorry to disappoint you – no, not one.

“When did I go to Prague? Oh, very soon after my interview with Kubelik. My kind friend, Mr. Napier Miles, made all necessary arrangements. I went first to Dresden to learn a little German, which I managed to pick up without a master – Sevcik does not speak a word of English – and also to practise for my entrance examination for the Conservatoire.”

She was the great Sevcik’s only English girl pupil, and he says, “She is the most gifted pupil I have ever had.” In addition to lessons at the Conservatoire, she had private lessons as well, working often fourteen hours a day and getting up at four in the morning.

“Had you no recreation at all?”

“Oh, yes; while I was at Prague I read all Dickens’s and Thackeray’s works – to broaden my mind,” she said, with a smile. “Do you know, I am very fond of shocking people?” she added. “In Prague it is considered very improper for girls to go out alone, especially to any public place. Several girl students lived together at a pensionnat, and we English ones used to love to dress up and go and dine sometimes at an hotel; people used to look at us, shrug their shoulders, and say, ‘Es sind Englanderinen.’ I was also very fond of dancing, and learned all the Bohemian national dances, which are very pretty.”

“How long were you in Bohemia?”

“Eighteen months. A concert is given at the Conservatoire every year, in which all the students that have won their diplomas take part, and I played and was recalled twenty-five times.”

Miss Hall during her holidays once went to Marienbad, where Kubelik was also staying, and he gave her a few lessons. He has always taken a  great interest in her and considers her playing marvellous. She had a grand reception at Vienna, where she gave a recital before returning to England, being recalled no fewer than five times after each piece, a great compliment from so critical an audience.

“What is your fiddle?”

“An Amati. It was lent me by my master – Sevcik – and is the one used by Kubelik when he made his début. I have no violin of my own yet, but have three bows. I think I must learn to play on them.

“A pretty incident,” Miss Hall went on to say, “occurred when I appeared for the first time after my return, at Newcastle-on-Tyne. A workman stood up and said, ‘Miss Hall ought to have a new violin. I have just made one and would like to give it to her.’ He evidently did not think much of this Amati, did he?”

“Is it not true that a violin worth two thousand guineas is being purchased by public subscription as a presentation to you?”

“Yes, it is so, but it will be some time yet before such a sum can be collected.”

I was shown a letter from Sevcik; curious – as it showed his manner of giving his pupil violin lessons by post.

“He is coming back here with me in the autumn, and I hope he will settle in London.”

“What are your plans when the season is over?”

“After my two recitals here on the 30th of May and 23rd of June, I am going back to Bohemia. I shall take a little cottage in the country there where I can have perfect quietude and devote myself to practising, for I play with Richter in Manchester next season. I have a lot to do before I can rest, though. I am booked up for a tour in the provinces.”

In March last Miss Hall was made a ward in Chancery, which, on account of family differences, her friends considered a wise measure.

“You do not know,” she said, “how I want to help my family. I have offered my parents a regular income if they will only let me have my little brother Teddy.We are so fond of each other, and I want him to get strong and well. I have offered also to have my sister in London. She is fourteen, and her great wish is to have lessons with Mr. Thomas, the Welsh harpist.”

Miss Hall has very artistic tastes, is fond of pictures, and has the usual feminine love of pretty clothes. She always designs her own gowns. In a literary way her favourite books are the biographies of great musicians.

In reply to a query as to her favourite composers she said, “The three great B’s – “Bach, Brahms, Beethoven; and last, but not least, Paganini. I do not really care for anything but classical music, but the public taste must be studied too.”

She recently played for the first time before the Prince and Princess of Wales, and met with great appreciation. She is in much demand at smart “At-homes.” I heard an amusing story about a very smart society function at which she was asked to play. Her first piece was Bach’s famous “Chaconne.” When she had finished, and received the usual applause, a lady came up to her and said, “You played it divinely. It is my favourite piece. Do you play his ‘Chaconne’ also?” Miss Hall, when she had recovered a little, simply answered “Yes.”

“I forgot to tell you one thing that is important,” said Miss Marie, with a laugh. “I am immoderately fond of oranges, and eat I do not know how many a day; they taste better if I am reading a novel at the same time; that is what I was doing when you came in,” pointed to “Temporal Power” and a plate of orange peel lying side by side.

“You are a second Kubelik, people say, I hear.”

“I am not a second anybody or anything,” she quickly retorted, with a proud little gesture. “I want to be myself, with a method and style of my own. If I were a man I should like to be the conductor of an orchestra. I should love it. That is not impossible, is it? although you are unfortunate enough to be a girl.”

“Perhaps not impossible, but it would be a startling innovation, would it not?”

Miss Hall is fortunate in having as an accompanist a charming Bohemian lady, who was introduced to her by Sevcik himself. Miss Vojácek has travelled with, and accompanied, all the Sevcik girl pupils in England and on the Continent.

“Do not forget to mention,” said Miss Vojácek, smilingly, “that Marie always sits on the table when she is practising with me; it is so characteristic of her.”

There seems – if she does not overtax her delicate frame – to be no limit to the possibilities that the near future holds for this youthful and gifted violinist. Her short public life has been, and continues to be, a series of triumphs that might spoil a less modest and natural person.


Filed under Not My Writing, Women Violinists

Article: She Began As A Street Musician (Interview with Marie Hall, 1906)

Here is a surprisingly frank interview with violinist Marie Hall (1884-1956). She obviously had a dizzying drive and spunk to spare. She saw what she wanted and she went for it, other people’s opinions be damned. I wonder if all of these astonishing stories are true…

This article originally appeared in Success Magazine in March 1906.


She Began As A Street Musician:

Marie Hall, the Greatest Woman Violinist, Tells the Story of Her Hard Struggle to Win

by Ernest R. Holmes

“I was always determined to be at the top, and I’ve always had plenty of energy and perseverance.”

It was a very slight girl who said this, a girl with a thin, pale face, very serious brown eyes, and a mass of most rebellious dark hair, neither long nor short, just “coming in,” after an attack of typhoid fever. An utter stranger might well have questioned what it could be that such a frail person could lead the world in. Yet that girl of twenty-one can almost lay unquestioned claim to be the greatest woman violinist, and she is compared with Kubelik, her friend and benefactor, pupil of the same master.

But as I talked with Miss Marie Hall, the day after her second New York concert, her pale face grew animated, her eyes opened wide and flashed, and her words came with a decision that revealed a soul on fire with her art, and a determined will to great for her slight frame. One felt almost a pitying fear that her efforts would over-tax her strength.

As Miss Hall talks, one forgets her frailty, so sure of herself is she, and so full of her music. And the impression of an iron will and a dogged determination keeps recurring as she tells incident after incident of her rise from street and music-hall playing to a place among masters of the most human of instruments.

“Yes,” she said, “even when eight years old, I was determined to be a great violinist. My father was a harpist. He was with the orchestra of the Carl Rosa Opera Company and another, and he tried to teach me the harp. But I wanted the violin. He taught me a little on this, but still discouraged my continuing. I heard a lady play a concerto of Paganini, and I was bound I would play it too. With only a little help from my mother, I learned it in a few hours, and then played it for my father. He was astonished, and gave up to me. I had my beloved violin lessons.”

She had won by the weapon she has used ever since – winning prizes, tuition, instruction by the best masters, and now financial and artistic success.

“I have been lucky,” she went on. “I have always found friends to help me, I don’t know why. And if people won’t do what I want, I play for them, and generally then they do what I want,” and she gave a roguish smile as she thought of the magic power she keeps in little, slender, white fingers.

It was thus she won Kubelik, and through him his master, Sevcik, with an audacity that surprises when one thinks what she must have been at sixteen. Kubelik was taking London by storm.

“I went to hear him,” related Miss Hall. “I saw immediately that he had something I never had been taught, and I felt sure that it was from his teacher. I heard all his concerts, and I resolved that I, too, would learn that wonderful technique. I waylaid Kubelik – I was only sixteen, and my long hair was hanging loose. I told him I wanted him to hear me play. He smiled, and seemed amused, but consented. I went next day. His accompanist met me, and, seeing my violin, said, “But are you really going to play to him?” “Of course I am,” I answered, “that’s what I came for.” Kubelik came. He was very kind, but still seemed amused. I told him I wanted to know who his master was, who had taught him to play so, for I wanted to go and learn to do so too. He said, “I’ll hear you play first. I suppose you play from memory?” “Of course I do,” I replied with spirit, and then I played him two concertos that he had played the day before. He said it was wonderful, that I must go to his master, Sevcik, at Prague.

“I went to Professor Kruse, my teacher, and said, ‘I have found something that you can’t teach me. I must go to Sevcik to learn it.'”

The girl’s audacious proposal met with strong opposition from her master and her benefactors, who were supporting her in London. When there was no other way to gain her point, Miss Hall declared that if she could not go to Prague, she would quit studying and go home. She had her way, and it proved for the best, just as her decision for the violin and against the harp was for the best.

The ten years between her first public appearance at a little hall in her birthplace, Newcastle, and her triumphant debut at Prague, in 1903, were full of ups and downs, but that childish determination to be “at the top” shines through it all, and illumines seeming wilfulness that somehow always led to better things. One can gather, too, for Miss Hall is very frank, that her parents, musicians though they were, hindered rather than helped her high ambitions, though willing enough that she should help the family purse by playing in the way they always had. When enthusiastic Newcastle gentlemen wished to educate her, her nomad father took the family across England to Malvern, near Worcester. Her next benefactor, Max Mossel, violin professor at Birmingham, gave her a year’s instruction, and secured her a free scholarship at the Birmingham School of Music. Friends, won by her playing, aided her father to take her to London to Wilhelmj, who was so delighted that he wanted to adopt her, and he did keep her and teach her several months. But, as she told me, “I did not stay long. I was afraid of him, and of the bulldogs he kept in the room next to where I practiced.”

Then the ambitious girl tried for a Royal Academy scholarship, and won in the competition, only to find that it meant merely tuition, and there was no money to pay her board in London. She had to give it up, and go back to playing for her father in concert halls, and even on the street, for the family was then desperately poor. They wandered to Bristol, and there something in the little minstrel’s playing appealed to a musical clergyman, now Canon Fellowes, of Windsor. He asked her to his house, found out her poverty, her genius, and her ambition, and interested wealthy friends in her. Here again her unambitious father was an obstacle. He did not want to sign an agreement to give her to others’ care for a three years’ systemic course. When provision was made for the family, to compensate for the loss of her now valuable earning capacity, he consented, and the way was clear to accomplish all that the girl’s genius was capable of doing.

Then came Kubelik. When she had won consent to go to Prague, Kubelik aided her in every way, even to securing an apartment for her, and won over his old master, Sevcik, and Dvorák, director of the Conservatorium, to a lively interest in the little English girl.

“And there I worked,” said Miss Hall, reminiscently, “ten hours a day, but it was pleasure.”

When Miss Hall talks of Sevcik and his method, she grows enthusiastic. She says no one else on earth teaches such technique, and in such a systemic way. To that method she ascribes her sureness, and the confidence with which she attacks the most difficult concertos. On entering the Conservatorium, her attainments were recognized, so that she was admitted to the sixth year work, and in one year she had completed the whole course. Then for five months Sevcik gave her private lessons, – his “little concerts” he called them, so delighted was he with her playing.

When she gave her “coming out” concert  in Prague, to invited guests, they recalled her over a score of times after her rendering of Ernst’s concerto in F sharp minor. Two gold caskets and a laurel wreath were hers before she left Prague for other triumphs at Vienna, and then her appearance at St. James Hall, London, where the enthusiasm is said to have been unequaled since Rubinstein took London by storm. The long years of patience practicing (four thousand bowing exercises, she told me,) the alternate hope and despair, and the struggle with unappreciative parents and dire poverty had borne fruit – she was a great concert performer.

When I asked Miss Hall how much of a great artist’s success is from genius and how much from hard work, she looked puzzled for a moment, and then said: –

“Well, you must have the mind, the feeling to know what is right. You do feel, you don’t know how,” and she put her hand to her breast in an effort to express intuition. “You must be able to grasp the principles of art. If a person does not admire beauty in whatever form, if he is satisfied with the course and vulgar things, he can never become a great artist. Hard work will not make him one.”

“But in your struggles did you not get discouraged?”

“Yes, indeed I did, and I do yet. I just give up, and think I will not try any more. Then I conclude it is worth while, and I go at it again.”

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Interview with Marie Hall, 1913

Here is a chapter from the 1913 book Modern Musicians: A Book for Players, Singers, & Listeners, by J. Cuthbert Hadden on violinist Marie Hall (1884-1956). I feel badly that I missed the 55th anniversary of her passing by a week. Marie Hall was an extraordinary women who apparently overcame extraordinary obstacles.



Soft as the rain that falls on April night,

Light as the falling petals of a flower,

Dim as a misty landscape seen at night,

Low as the murmuring waves at twilight hour,

Your music held me with its strangely subtle power.

It rose and fell in lingering melody,

It held the speechless yearning of a soul,

Struggling for freedom – some great threnody

Woven in song, poured forth, a perfect whole

From those impassioned strings in mystic harmony.

Thus a rhymster in a Montreal paper in 1906. In England there was long a deep-rooted prejudice against lady violinists. It continued far into the nineteenth century. A musical journal of 1819 wrote: “We are tempted to ask why should not the prejudice against ladies playing the violin be overcome? It seems to us to be an instrument peculiarly adapted to their industry, delicacy, and precision; while what we have seen and heard of female violin-playing fully bears out the recommendation we feel disposed to give to its adoption.”

The Spectator in 1860 said: “Female violinists are rare, the violin being, we do not know why, deemed an unfeminine instrument.” In 1869 The Athenæum, noticing the performance of some lady violinists, said: “The fair sex are gradually encroaching on all man’s privileges!” Man’s privileges! What would that critic say now? Violin-playing by ladies made slow progress in England, even after the wonderful achievements of Mme. Neruda (later Lady Hallé) gave it such a splendid impetus. For instance, the first lady student of the instrument entered at the R.A.M. in 1872. Now the lady violinists at the Academy must be nearly a hundred.

And why not? Sevcik, the famous violin teacher, was asked recently whether in his experience men or women made the best pupils. And this was his answer:

“Girls don’t drink too much or smoke inordinately, therefore they keep their bodies in better condition. Besides, look what patience women have compared to men! Perhaps at first a woman does not put as much expression and feeling into her playing as a man, but wait till she falls in love! Then the soul comes. However, some remain as cold as ice for ever. Men, too, have often no idea of feeling, and imagine that if they put on a tremolo that they have done all that is necessary. Kubelik lacked expression at first, but it came to him as he grew older.”

It may be added that some leading lady singers, notably Christine Nilsson and Marcella Sembrich, have been good fiddlers.

Among living lady violinists, Marie Hall takes the first place. Her history has been quite romantic. She said once: “I am really sick to death of all that has been written about my youth and its vicissitudes.” But the way in which she triumphed over these vicissitudes is entirely honourable, and ought to be recorded for the encouragement of others.

Born at Newcastle-on-Tyne in 1884, she received her first lessons from her father, a harpist in the orchestra of the Carl Rosa Company. When she was ten she had a year’s tuition from Sir Edward Elgar – a very interesting connection, surely! Subsequently she studied for three years with Max Mossel at Birmingham, making several appearances meanwhile as an infant prodigy. The struggle was severe at this time owing to her father’s lack of means; and she was reduced to playing ephemeral music in saloons and sometimes on the pavement’s edge.

In 1899 she gained one of the recently-instituted Wessely Exhibitions at the R.A.M., but was unable, through poverty, to take it up. The story goes that a little later a clergyman, an enthusiastic lover of music, found her in a half-starved condition playing for composers in the streets of Bristol. Recognising a talent beyond the ordinary, he took her to London, and with the assistance of some friends – among them the late Mr. Hill of Bond Street – placed her in a position to continue her studies with Professor Johann Kruse. After she had made steady progress with him for a year and more, her friends again came forward, and sent her, armed with a letter of introduction from Kubelik, to Professor Sevcik at Prague. The rule at the Prague Conservatoire is that every pupil who enters must take the entire six years’ course before leaving; but Anton Dvorák, at that time chief director of studies, was so impressed with her playing that for the first and last time he allowed the regulation to be broken, and the first five years to be taken as fiddled. Hard work is the initial demand that Sevcik makes on his pupils, and it was a demand which Marie Hall was fully prepared to meet. During her year at the conservatoire, and her extra five months of private study with him, she practised eight hours a day at least, and oftener ten.

And yet Joachim had refused her because, as he alleged, she played out of tune!

Sevcik was so delighted with his pupil that he lent her his own Amati violin for her début. This was made at Prague in 1902. The lady’s success was enormous and instantaneous. When she appeared in London in 1903 she created a great sensation, and since then her brilliant career has proceeded on the usual virtuoso lines.

Marie Hall has been everywhere in the course of her tours. Her account of the Americans is very complimentary, but she has an amusing word to add about the New Yorkers. “The 1812 Overture of Tschaikovsky appeals to them,” she says. “They like something big, with plenty of sound. It seems more for their money.” At private parties in the States she has had sometimes to shake hands with 500 people. In Australia she was literally smothered with flowers. Harps and lyres, shepherds’ crooks, and bouquets were showered on her after her concerts.

An interviewer said to her once: “Will you tell me the most extraordinary experience you have had?” And this was her reply:

“I think the one that appealed to me most was a concert I gave at Suva, the capital of the Fiji Islands. Our boat put in there for a few days to take in some cargo, and a concert was hastily arranged. There are about 1100 white people there, and I think they all went – in fact, it was a sort of universal holiday. I went to the only draper’s shop there to see if I could get a cotton dress, as mine were packed away, and they explained to me that they could not let me have one that day as they were all going to a concert, and expressed much astonishment that I was apparently not going too. When I explained that I was going, and wanted a dress for that reason, that changed matters entirely, and they all set to work and fitted me out with something which answered the purpose. Suva does not boast a concert hall, so the concert was held in a sort of large tent, and the heat was something terrific; I had to have a man to keep an electric fan moving right over my hands, or I could not have played at all. The piano was a very old one and fearfully out of tune, but at last we found an old sailor from a warship who volunteered to tune it. He was very deaf, and had his own ideas about tuning, and he informed me with great pride that as a piano always sounded more brilliant if the upper notes were a little sharp he had tuned up the treble. He had really done so, with the result that for about an octave and a half in the treble the notes ascended in varying degrees of sharpness. The Governor and his wife were to be present, and someone was wanted to play “God Save the King” at the beginning, so the small daughter of one of the residents was pressed into service. She not only played “God Save the King,” but about twenty variations as well, during which the audience had to stand. I am pleased to say the concert was a great success, and we wound up the festivities by a dinner at the Governor’s house. I also played at Honolulu, in the Hawaiian Islands, and Miss Alice Roosevelt, or rather Mrs. Longworth, was staying there with her husband, and very kindly came to hear me. Another concert I gave was at Vancouver, but as we were only to be there for a few hours I had to go straight off the boat, and was on the platform within ten minutes of our landing. When I got back to England – after being away eight months – I was booked to play at a concert at New Brighton the day after my arrival, and had to be up early the morning after we landed to attend a rehearsal with the orchestra.”

Marie Hall, like all other artists of fine expression, is nervous when playing in public. “I have been very nervous on many occasions,” she said a year or two ago. And then she continued:

“I remember when Sevcik sent me to play in Vienna while I was still at Prague, how miserable I felt. It was only the fact that I felt I simply must do my best to prove my appreciation of all my master’s trouble that made me able to get through it all. Again at my début in London in February 1903 I felt so much alone and quite wretched. Mr. Henry J. Wood was a tower of strength and so kind to me, and all through that evening I felt as though Sevcik were present in the hall, and I forgot all about my fears and the audience, and just played to him. I may say that never in all my career have I enjoyed a concert as much as that (to me) memorable one. The only remedy I know for nervousness is to be able to concentrate one’s attention wholly on the music. By so doing all thoughts of self vanish, and one becomes lost to everything but the beauty of the music.”

She has interesting ideas about her profession, this fiddler of the frail physique. She thinks nineteen quite young enough for a violinist to “come out.” She says it is much better to wait until one’s education is finished, though finished is merely a convenient term, for “there is always something more to learn.” But certainly, she adds, “one is more fitted to appear before the public at nineteen than at twelve. I believe in gaining a certain amount of experience before playing in London or any other big town, and a hint that may be worth having is to try always to play before the concert in the hall in which you are to perform so that you may get some idea of its acoustic properties. Another thing I should like to say is that violinists should not neglect any opportunity of hearing the best music, and not only other violinists, but music of every kind, pianists, singers, orchestral, and chamber music.”

She says that violin-playing of the virtuoso sort is hard work, but she does not find it trying, because she loves it so much. She enjoys practising, and never allows anything to interfere with it. “I have practised,” she says, “in the train, on the steamer, and in all sorts of odd places when travelling, and I am not happy if I cannot get in about six hours a day. During my spare time at home (when I have any) I love to play chamber music, and have been revelling lately in quartets. I think every violinist ought to acquire a knowledge of chamber music, for, besides being most enjoyable, it affords such a splendid training.”

She plays on the famous “Viotti” Stradivarius. “It is a great treasure,” she says, “and it seems so wonderful to think that is over 200 years old, and is yet as beautiful as ever.” In 1911 Miss Hall was married to Mr. Edward Baring, of the firm of concert-directors, Messrs. Baring Brothers, of Cheltenham. Mr. Baring had been her business manager.

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