Tag Archives: society can be really weird sometimes

Is Minnesota Orchestra management lying to us?: Part II: Michael Henson Edition

When I read the latest Star Tribune article on the Minnesota Orchestra crisis, one quote in particular struck me as being so patently absurd, and so directly opposed to everything that had come before it, I felt like I’d wandered into a new upside-down dimension. Either Michael Henson is going off the rails, or I’m becoming dangerously entrenched and reading much too deeply into a couple of sentences, and I’m not sure which it is. If you could convince me I’m crazy, I’d appreciate it. Thanks.

Here’s the portion of the article that made me feel as though a Rod Serling sighting was imminent:

Michael Henson, president and CEO of the orchestra, said on Friday that no immediate financial crisis exists, but he likened the investment funds that help fund each season to a retirement account.

“You can’t spend 90 percent of it in the first four years of retirement,” Henson said. “You need to make it last.”

He indicated the orchestra would like to draw no more than 5 percent annually from the funds; the draw rate has averaged nearly 10 percent over the past 10 years, he said.

Before I begin, I’m going to assume that Henson was quoted accurately, and that his words weren’t manipulated or misrepresented in any way. We should hear within the next couple of days if he objects as to how his comments were portrayed.

With that assumption out of the way, let’s try to unpack this “no immediate crisis” remark.

First, I’d like to say a few words on the nature of crisis.

If you are on track to spend ninety percent of your income in your first four years of retirement, then you are in IMMEDIATE CRISIS.

If you’ve staked the long-term fiscal health of your organization on overly “optimistic economic assumptions and the hope of limitless benefactor generosity,” then you are in IMMEDIATE CRISIS.

If you say on your website that “if the Orchestra continues to operate at its current rate of spending, our endowment will be depleted by 2018“, you are not only in IMMEDIATE CRISIS, you’ve been in IMMEDIATE CRISIS for years.

If your only hope of creating a “fiscally responsible” organization means cutting musicians’ pay somewhere between 25-50%, then you are in IMMEDIATE CRISIS.

If you knew you wouldn’t be able to work for the next few years, and knew your only income would be your life savings, and you knew you’d run out of that savings by 2018, then you would be in IMMEDIATE CRISIS.

If you knew that all American resources would, at the current rate of spending, be depleted by 2018, then newsflash: we would all be in one hell of an IMMEDIATE CRISIS.

Call this what it is:


Financial crises don’t start when your checks start bouncing. Crises start when you make the calculations and realize that all resources will be depleted by a particular point in time (say, 2018) if you don’t make major unprecedented changes (“significant departure[s] from the traditions of the past,” according to management) that run the risk of changing the face of your organization. The risk of such a thing happening is, in and of itself, a crisis. A huge one. Period.

I’m racking my brains and I can only come up with three explanations for this bizarre statement. Leave a note in the comments if you can think of another.

1) The orchestra is truly IN IMMEDIATE CRISIS!!!ZOMG111!!!1!ELEVENTY!!!1!…but Michael Henson either A) lied or B) accidentally said it isn’t. That means that Michael Henson is either A) a liar or B) incompetent.

2) The orchestra is not in immediate crisis, and management is misrepresenting what’s actually in the endowment in order to get a sharply concessionary contract.

3) Henson didn’t actually use those exact words, and didn’t mean to insinuate that the Orchestra isn’t in crisis right now, but he made a statement that led Graydon Royce to feel comfortable risking his and his paper’s reputation by interpreting it in that way. I have no reason not to trust Mr. Royce. (And like I said, we’ll see in the next few days if any statements emerge from Henson disputing how his remarks were interpreted…) If this is true, then that means Michael Henson is communicating poorly at a moment in time when he needs to communicating with crystal clarity. It also suggests that he hasn’t thought enough about how to explain the Orchestra’s problems coherently and persuasively. If you need unprecedented concessions from your musicians because if you don’t get them, the organization as you know it will no longer be able to “survive”…then for God’s sake, run with that. Yes, Campbell and Davis made some pretty damaging PR mistakes within the last few weeks, and that sucks. But Campbell and Davis have s*** to do. Those guys were probably sneaking a five-minute phone call into the Star Tribune in between eating caviar, approving billion dollar mergers, and telephoning Tim Pawlenty to ask if he’d be interested in being CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable (where Davis is a director, FYI). But this is Henson’s full-time jobFor which he is being paid $400,000+ this year alone. He should be fully capable of handling a simple newspaper interview without mucking up his message.

Some additional questions…

If there isn’t an immediate crisis, why tamper with working conditions? How much would the changes in working conditions save the orchestra? Have they run the calculations on that? Why haven’t they made those calculations publicly available with their proposed contract? They’ve got an awesome shiny website with which to disseminate such information…

Also: why not agree to an independent financial analysis?

I’d like to take a moment to discuss the current musicians’ contract, which management is saying doomed all prospects of fiscal sustainability. This shamefully irresponsible contract was signed in October 2007, according to this Playbill article. Michael Henson came aboard in September 2007, so I’m not sure if he had any say in negotiating or ratifying that.

But even if he didn’t, dude was super-proud of how things were going financially at the Minnesota Orchestra as late as July 2010…almost three years into that irresponsible five-year contractIn retrospect, this is a hilarious article to read. [Edit 10/15: This article has since been removed from the Minnesota Orchestra website. Feel free to draw your own conclusions as to what that means. There has been no explanation so far. You can take a peek at the screenshots I took here.] For a bit of perspective, let’s remember that the much ballyhooed Strategic Plan was published in November 2011. In the introduction we read that “the ideas in this plan have been developed, tested, and honed over the last 18 months.” So that means management started working on the ideas contained within the Strategic Plan in the spring of 2010. Insinuation: they were seeing “significant financial issues and unsustainable fiscal practices the organization must resolve to ensure a sound future” before the spring of 2010. (This meshes with the claims of the Open Letter, which claims, “This is a journey that began several years ago, when the Board of Directors of the Minnesota Orchestra recognized that the organization could no longer survive [my bold] based on optimistic economic assumptions and the hope of limitless benefactor generosity.”) So, having established that, I’d like to let Michael Henson from July of 2010 say a few things. Remember that during this time, he had not only been seeing “significant financial issues and unsustainable fiscal practices” within his orchestra for at least the last few months, if not the last couple of yearshe was also, behind closed doors, writing a plan to address those financial issues and unsustainable fiscal practices.

Take it away, Michael Henson of July 2010!

The former Bournemouth Symphony head is strategising his way through the recession – and winning. [my bold]

“There’s no single strategy to beating the downturn,” Michael Henson asserts. “There has to be a whole series of strategies to maintain a focused approach. The priority is continuing the excellence in the artistic work.” With orchestras across the US hard hit by the recession – and management strategies the number-one talking point at the League of American Orchestras’ conference in June – the Minnesota Orchestra stands out as a beacon institution among the bad news. It’s planning a European tour in August (its second in two years), expanding its online content and starting a large-scale renovation project at its home venue – having recently announced the end of a highly successful fundraising scheme. “I would say the support we get from the community is unique,” Henson boasts.

“Minnesotans are highly educated and committed to education,” he goes on, “and with a community this size – around 5m people in the region – we have a wide range of arts organisations, and a collective desire from individuals and corporations to support them.” In 2008-09, contributions accounted for 44 per cent of the orchestra’s $32.5m income. “On top of that, we’ve made some concessions at various points, there’ve been some layoffs and pay cuts in administration,” Henson notes; in August 2009, he took a seven per cent pay cut himself [heh], while Osmo Vänskä, music director since 2003, took 10 per cent [the organization’s fiscal leader took a smaller pay-cut percentage-wise than the music director? classy]. At the same time, Henson negotiated modifications to the musicians’ contract, resulting in around $4.2m in cost savings up to 2012 – mostly through salary and pension reductions, and a wage freeze in FY2010. The orchestra currently numbers 95 contracted players, with six positions open; delaying filling those positions could save up to $1.8m in the long term. [Why are these concessions not mentioned on management’s website? Have they slipped Henson’s mind? Pity, because he seemed awfully proud of them in 2010…]

The orchestra announced in June 2009 that it had raised $14m of its $40m goal for the renovations. One year later, thanks to a last-minute $5m donation from the Target department store chain, it announced it was up to $43m. “The extra will mean we have enough to do it right – to improve chair Y as well as chair X,” says Henson. It also bodes well for the orchestra’s more long-term fundraising programme, “Building for the Future”, which aims to supplement its endowment by $30m, and provide a further $30m for artistic and educational endeavours. Including the renovation funding, the campaign has raised $82m of its $100m target. “Even though we’re in a recession, we have to keep up the commitment to the long-term vision,” Henson continues. “The board agreed to take the risk on this.”

This year, Minnesota will be the only US orchestra represented at the Proms, a fact with added significance for Henson. “We have already made six live broadcasts this season on the BBC,” he notes (another echo of his Bournemouth days). “Our appearances at the Proms, the world’s greatest music festival, have grown from our close relationship with the BBC and will contribute to the process of increasing our visibility.” Its 2010 tour will also take it to the Edinburgh Festival and the Concertgebouw Amsterdam. “We have to keep up our international presence,” Henson says, indicating again his multi-stranded approach to building up the orchestra’s standing. “It’s all about keeping the key priorities in mind.”

This does not sound like a man (or a board) who has been seeing “significant financial issues and unsustainable fiscal practices” for months or years. Nor does it sound like a man (or a board) who is thinking very deeply about those significant financial issues and unsustainable fiscal practices and writing a Strategic Guide of how to address them. And this surely does not sound like a man (or a board) who is anticipating the necessity of a sharply concessionary contract – a “significant departure[s] from the traditions of the past” – a mere two years later, in September 2012. So of course one has to wonder: was Michael Henson being disingenuous to this reporter, or is he being disingenuous to us now?

In case you were thinking this was just a bad interview…may I present to you the Michael Henson of December 2009

Henson says the last fiscal year was also one of artistic success for the orchestra both at home and abroad.

“We are quietly pleased with the results,” he said. “We are in control of a difficult situation and I think we are looking forward to the future with a similar amount of control, mindful of the economy we face.”

He says the coming year will continue to present economic challenges but he is confident the orchestra is keeping a careful handle on the situation.

That’s nice. But if you were drawing out of the endowment at an average of 10% during this time, then you were (by the parameters you set forth in the Star Tribune yesterday!not in control of a difficult situation. You were not keeping a careful handle on it, and you had no right to be pleased – quietly or otherwise – with how things were going. Yes, I know that when non-profits are struggling, there is a reluctance to admit how bad things are for fear of scaring away donors and fostering death-spirals. But if things are bad, and you sugarcoat them, when the chickens come home to roost, you can’t treat the public like clueless idiots for asking why your tune has changed. You can’t be in a house, smelling smoke, feeling heat, and hearing smoke alarms, while simultaneously telling people you’re totally in control of any fire that may be forming on the property…and then, when the flames start coming out the windows, scold the public – who wasn’t even in your damn house – by saying, “Guys, I’ve been talking about this raging inferno for years. Help me put it out!”

Of course that leads me to wonder: maybe the fire wasn’t actually burning yet?

Here’s another article from December 2008:

As was the case last year, the orchestra drew only 6 percent from its endowment to help address the budget. The $191 million endowment was down 11 percent because of stock-market performance. The board is allowed to draw up to 7 percent, but spokeswoman Gwen Pappas said the organization has been very firm about avoiding that method.

Okay, so… Based on that 2008 article, let’s try to figure out what’s been happening with the endowment draw rate. I’m using an average of 7% for pre-2007 years, even though Ms. Pappas said the organization had been avoiding that percentage, and it may well have been lower…

2002 – 7% or less

2003 – 7% or less

2004 – 7% or less

2005 – 7% or less

2006 – 7% or less

2007 – 6%

2008 – 6%

I obviously don’t have all the numbers, but based on the ones I do, I don’t think it’s particularly outrageous to assume that, if Henson’s “ten percent over the past ten years” statement is actually true, then in 2009, 2010, and 2011, the board must have increased the draw rate to an annual average percentage of 17%+. This seems frankly unbelievable, especially since Richard Davis went on record in December 2010 as saying, “This was a season characterized by disciplined budget management and significant expense cuts, which kept our operations stable in an unpredictable environment.” I don’t know if anyone would call a 17% annual draw “disciplined budget management” (especially not the Richard Davis of 2012), but…okay. I’d be curious to know what all happened in 2009 that necessitated such a dramatic climb in the draw rate. Yes, the crashing economy no doubt had a lot to do with it…but does that explain all of it? (Or, is Michael Henson lying about the draw rate?)

Also, since the post-2009 draw rates were clearly such dramatic outliers, regardless of exact percentages, why didn’t Henson say something like “over the last three years, our draw has increased to an average of 17%+, but before the recession began, it was no higher than 7%”? Were ulterior motives at play? Did he want to make it look like the huge draws were an indication of systemic failure, rather than merely a result of the recession? (This meshes with management’s insinuation that problems have been in place “for many years.”) Did he want to keep the public from placing the blame on him? Did he just pull that number out of nowhere, forgetting that a quick Google search is all it takes to check his statements against Star Tribune articles?

[Important Edit 10/29: More information on draw rates here.]

And why isn’t Henson willing to clearly discuss everything that happened in his tenure, positive or negative? It smacks of a rather desperate insecurity. He was proud to say in December 2009 that he was in control of a difficult situation, and that he was pleased with how things were going. In July 2010 the Minnesota Orchestra felt comfortable posting an article on their website saying, “The former Bournemouth Symphony head is strategising his way through the recession – and winning.” Implication: management thought they were strategising their way through the recession, and winningBut now we’re being told that, “Whoops; our bad; we didn’t actually mean ‘winning’; we meant ‘veering ever-closer toward an inevitable fiscal Armageddon.'” Then why didn’t you tell us then???

Binds like this don’t happen overnight. If the Orchestra’s only options truly are to deplete their endowment by 2018 or impose 25-50% wage cuts, there is an immediate crisis, no matter what Mr. Henson says. Obviously someone, somewhere, screwed up. Badly. And even if part of the blame rests on the musicians’ 2007-12 contract, not all of it lies there. If the problems really were this serious back in July of 2010, and December of 2009, and December of 2008, then Michael Henson knew about them. And he had a duty to say something. Or at least email whoever was in charge of the website and say, “Guys, you might want to take down that ‘Michael Henson is winning’ article…it will come back to bite us in the a** in 2012 when we’re forced to reveal how hopelessly f***ed we are…”

Michael Henson is either misrepresenting the facts now, or he was misrepresenting the facts then. Period.

(Also, I have a funny little factoid for y’all: when you Google “Michael Henson Minnesota Orchestra”, my Hundred Questions are on the first page. So every time Michael Henson does a Google search on himself and his employer, he’s going to be reminded of me. Aww.)

Like I said, convince me I’m crazy. Please. Because this just seems too wild to be true. As always, the comments section is open to everybody.

Update, 9/26.According to the musicians’ blog, at their most recent negotiating meeting, the musicians asked management questions about “inconsistencies found within the Board and Management’s financial information.” I’m assuming at least some of those questions were similar in nature to the ones asked above…? “The meeting proceeded with an assurance from the Board and Management that the Musicians would receive answers to these questions later…” Interesting. Feel free to speculate as to what that means… If I hear or read anything from management addressing what I wrote above, I’ll add it to this entry. If you hear anything, post it below.


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Women as Musicians; Past and Present, 1895

Another article, another stereotyped view of women from the 1890s.  Once again, women are deemed capable of interpreting, but incapable of producing – seen as sub-par composers – and even accused of “retarding” the growth of musical understanding. And yet it is not a simple case of sexism, since women violinists are praised and men are insinuated to be unable to get in touch with their emotions. Understanding the role that gender has played in the history of music remains an elusive task…

This is from The Current Opinion, January 1895.


T.L. Krebs…The Sewanee Review

Since the days of Gobi, the Hindoo goddess, of Miriam, the Jewish maiden, and of the Sirens of ancient Greek mythology, a woman has figured conspicuously in the development of music. Although she has never been a great productive genius, although she has never created symphonies, operas and oratorios of lasting value, her influence has been such that, without it, we could hardly conceive our music off the present to be possible. In music we need all the faculties, all the characteristics, in a word, all the personality of the human being. Since the nature of woman is such as man does not possess; since the elements of male and female individualism combined make up what we know as human mind and soul, it is evident that, without the assistance of woman, without her influence, her emotions, her intuitions and her prejudices, a full development of music would be impossible. Since music is the language of the emotions and appeals directly to the heart, it must necessarily affect strongly a being so preeminently emotional, one who consults the heart much oftener than the head. As there exists a clearly defined masculine and feminine element in the nature and construction of music, it is evident that there must also be the same condition in its interpreters.

The instrument justly considered to be most pre-eminently suited to women, because of its lightness, its form, the natural grace required in its treatment, but, above all, because of the deep poetry of its tones, its emotional qualities and its sympathetic appeals – the violin – was for years neglected by female musicians, for reasons which, plausible though they may seem, are, nevertheless, utterly without justification. Every twenty years ago it was an odd sight, and one that rarely failed to elicit visible and audible comment, not always charitable, when a girl or young woman carried a violin case through the streets of a city. Now it is quite different, thanks to a few noble women, who, not heeding this criticism as adverse as it was prejudiced, devoted themselves to the queen of all musical instruments. The violin, in the hands of a skilled female performer, appeals to the emotions of the listener as it does but rarely when played upon by a man, although the greatest depth and grandeur of which the instrument is capable have not yet been elicited by women.

Prominent among women who have composed music is Clara Schumann, who has published many more or less acceptable pieces of vocal and instrumental music. Fanny Hensel, the sister of Felix Mendelssohn, composed a number of songs and pianoforte pieces in the style of her illustrious brother. Josephine Lang, a friend of the Mendelssohns, also composed some pleasing vocal music. Louis Ruget composed songs that were admired and sung, for the time being, throughout France and Belgium. Marie Malibran, the great vocalist, was also the author of several fine songs. A few years ago an opera composed by Ingeborg von Bronsart, the celebrated pianist, was performed at Weimar under the direction of the composer. This opera met with a favorable reception both from the public and from the musicians of that great art center. Among the few women who have gained fame as writers on musical subjects are Elisa Polka, Mrs. Raymond-Ritter and Anna March, who have written some excellent sketches and essays.

But why is it that woman, who has gained the height of fame not alone as executive musician, but also as painter, poet and novelist, who has even manipulated the chisel and modeling-clay with success, and has attained renown at the bar and in the dissecting-room, has not excelled as a productive musician? Though woman is highly qualified by nature to express ideas in music as if they were the workings of her own soul, though she is peculiarly fitted to reflect the poetical nature of the art on the background of her own individuality, she cannot create these poetic reflections in compositions original with herself. Her nature is opposed to the cold reasoning and the solution of profound musical problems, such as must be encountered by the successful composer. This perhaps explains why there is not a single composition by a female musician  that bids fair to hold even the second or the third rank. As a teacher of music, except in the field of theory, woman has been eminently successful, though it is painfully obvious that some, by their incompetence and superficiality, have done much to retard a healthful growth of musical understanding. In this capacity women have a great and glorious future before them.

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Musical And Arts Criticism, Press Work for Women, 1904

There is no particular reason I’m including this on the blog except for the fact that I consider myself more a music writer than musician, and I rarely come across any discussion of female music writers from around the turn of the century. It is important to keep in mind that many of our primary sources about women musicians were actually written by men. Even nowadays, it seems as if the majority of the best arts journalists are men…or is this just coincidence, given the fact the sample size of best arts journalists is so pathetically small? Who are some of your favorite female writers on the arts – whether of the past or present?

This is from the 1904 book Press Work for Women by Frances H. Low.


Musical and Art Criticism.

This branch of journalism is, for the most part, even in the sixpenny women’s papers, for some extraordinary reason, almost wholly in the hands of men, and offers an interesting though limited field for a cultivated writer’s taste, imagination, and knowledge. Dramatic criticism involves attendance at first nights, and also some of the disagreeable features inseparable, apparently, from the stage. But as an enormous number of concerts take place in the afternoon, and as nearly all art shows can be visited in the daytime, it seems strange that so small a number of women are employed as art and musical critics. A large number of lady journalists attend private views and concerts, and describe the people and the frocks, and everything but the artistic productions; but their functions are not those of the trained critic. Seeing what a number of cultivated women musicians there are, this want of enterprise is striking; and I cannot help thinking that students who have a thorough knowledge of the theory of music, might do worse than qualify themselves as critics. The best way to bring herself under the notice of editors would be for the young critic to write a short magazine article dealing with some aspect of the musical art in an original and individual way; and with this object, it would be best to get her views printed in a journal that is not an exclusively musical organ.

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Symphony Orchestras of Women, 1913

Here is a passionate plea by music writer and founder of Musical America John C. Freund to allow women jobs in symphony orchestras. Unfortunately, nearly half a century would pass before women were consistently seen in orchestral positions. By that time, Freund was long dead.

This article appeared in The Violinist in September 1913.


Nearly six hundred million dollars, or almost seven dollars per head for every man, woman and child of the population, spent in the United States for music in every form! That is, for the purchase of musical instruments, from the mouth harmonica and the talking-machine to the concert grand, for music teachers, for concerts and recitals, for church music, for bands, for opera, and let us not forget the music in the theaters, the vaudeville shows and the “movies.” Of these $600,000,000 you may safely estimate that at least eighty-five per cent are spent by the women. And yet, with this vast expenditure, at least six to eight thousand young women, graduating with honors from our leading music conservatories as instrumentalists, have no hope of being able to learn a living at their chosen profession, except they, in turn, become teachers, descend to a cabaret show, or play slumber songs to their babies.

The great feminist movement which is taking place all over the world, in Islam, in Europe, and more particularly in the United States, where it is finding its highest and its noblest form of expression, as we saw in the suffragette parade this Spring, is in my judgment, the great reform movement of the hour, because it is going to make the world better, for it will make it sweeter and cleaner.

In this uplift music, literature and the arts will play their part with our ninety millions, just as surely as all the various movements for betterment will play their part.

Already there are not only popular but municipal and even State movements for the recognition of music, not only as a necessary and integral part of education but as a necessary integral part of that recreation which is as much a duty in human life as the providing of food, drink, clothes, sleep and sanitation.

What we need right here in New York is a symphonic orchestra composed of women and led by a woman. In the first place, as we have the material, why would we not have the orchestra?

Such an orchestra will be supported by liberal-minded people, perhaps, first, for its novelty, but afterwards for its value and its excellence.

It will not provide positions for the thousands of competent women musicians, but it will act as an example, and other orchestras composed of women will be formed all over the country.

The question as to whether woman is musical or not is so easily answered that one need only mention the names of the great singers, pianists and violinists of world renown. As to whether women has creative ability as a composer has nothing to do with the question, though Musical America, two years ago, found there were in this country no less than sixty women composers whose work had merit sufficient, at least, to be printed and be profitable to the publishers.

But why should not woman prove to have creative ability in music, as she has shown she has in literature, as she has shown she has in art, as she has shown she has in science? – for it was Mme. Curie who discovered radium.

An orchestra of women would not be a fad. Indeed, it is not any new thing. There is the well-known Fadettes Orchestra of Boston; there is a fine women’s symphony orchestra in Los Angeles, with Cora Foy in the concertmaster’s chair; there is the noted Aeolian Ladies’ Orchestra in London, England, now over twenty years old, with a woman conductor; there is the Olive Mead Quartet, the American String Quartet, there are women who play in the Hartford Symphony Orchestra; not long ago, in Detroit, Mich., the ladies of the Fine Arts Society organized a string quartet, for which Elsa Ruegger was solo ‘cellist. The Soldat String Quartet is known throughout Germany, and the Nora Clench Quartet holds its own against many masculine rivals. So, you see, it is already in the working; it needs only expansion and encouragement – the encouragement given by publicity to the movement to break down the ridiculous prejudice that a great musical composition cannot be interpreted by humanity except it be dressed in evening clothes, white ties and patent leather boots.

“It may be objected that the attitude of the Musical Mutual Protective Union is opposed to having women in the orchestras. I understand that they do take women members, though this applies only to women playing in orchestras with men. My proposition is for the formation of high class orchestras of women, to give opportunity to the women who can perform the music.”

If you say, “We have already too many orchestras,” I reply, “Possibly too many in New York; possibly in one place; but we have over ninety million people who are showing every day a greater appreciation for music.”

And the women are working. There are already in this country several hundred musical clubs, composed of women, with a membership of nearly 100,000, who are the greatest factor in the encouragement of artists of the highest rank. They are the backbone of our festivals. They are, indeed, the backbone of our best orchestras, for the Philharmonic, it is a well-known fact, would have gone to pieces not so long ago but for the public spirit of the late Mrs. George R. Sheldon.

Why, at this very moment, with preparations for the great exhibition going on in California, to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal, who is working for music? Who is doing something? The women! Only recently two women of high social standing came here from California to make the conditions under which the sum of $10,000 is offered by the city of Los Angeles for a prize opera, which is backed by $70,000 more for the production of that opera by an American composer on an American subject.

Someone may say, “Yes, you may be able to get together fifty or sixty women of superior ability to perform the finest works; but who, pray, will conduct them?”

Well, we have, to begin with, Maud Powell, a master mind, as well as a great musician with an international reputation. Here is a telegram from her, which reads:

“Of course women should play in symphony and other orchestras, if they want the work. Wanting the work implies measuring up to the standards of musical technical efficiency, with strength to endure well hours of rehearsing and often the strain of travel, broken habits and poor food. Many women are amply fitted for the work; such women should be employed on an equal footing with men. I fail to see that any argument to the contrary is valid. But if they accept the work they should be prepared to expect no privileges because of their sex. They must dress quietly and as fine American women they must uphold high standards of conduct.”

You see how sensibly she talks. She claims for woman no privileges whatever on account of her sex, and there she takes ground that is unassailable. Capacity has no sex. A person can do a thing or not, whether he or she wears pants or petticoats.

If it be said that should women invade the orchestra and concert field or the theaters, they will take the bread from the mouths of some of the men, I reply, “They will not do it where the men are competent, and if they do it where the men are not competent the public and my ears will benefit.”

When the ancients desired to represent, to typify the spirit of music, of art, of literature, did they do it in masculine terms? Did they do it with male forms? In every case the very words were feminine, as were the forms that represented the spirit of men’s nobler attributes. Why? Because they realized that in the stress and strain and struggle for existence the nobler qualities will always be submerged, and therefore it would be left to the women ultimately to put humanity on a higher plane, not only of civilization, but of aspiration and accomplishment.

This does not mean that every woman is fitted to be a musician, or that every woman who is a musician is fit to play in a symphony orchestra. But it does mean that when a woman is fit to play in an orchestra and wants to do so, that she shall have an opportunity – that is the crux of my whole position.

If women have inspired the poets, the writers, the thinkers, the statesmen, the scientists, the musicians of the world, do you not think that some of them, at least, are capable of interpreting the very works to which they have given inspiration?

One thing is certain: while a woman in an orchestra may carry, surreptitiously, chewing gum and a powder puff, she won’t have to go out in between times for beer and a cigarette.

Now, let me tell you a little story to illustrate my position: Many years ago, at a time when even a woman pianist was almost unknown here, and a woman violinist would have been almost hooted in the streets if she carried her violin case, I became acquainted with a little Russian, or Polish, Jewess who had extraordinary musical talent. Her parents were, as most of her class are, extremely poor. A German musician of great talent, but himself poor, recognized the child’s ability and gave her lessons for nothing, for years. She tried to get engagements, without success; and finally she went to the conductor of a well-known orchestra and applied for a position. He heard her play, and said: “My dear young lady, you have so much ability and talent that you would put to shame some members of my orchestra. I could use you as my first violin, but if I were to put you in that position there would be not only a riot on the stage, but one in the audience.”

For a time, her parents having died, the young girl endeavored to maintain herself, playing around in little restaurants on the East Side, till the usual love tragedy happened, with a handsome but unscrupulous young Italian singer. She had a child, which, from lack of proper nourishment, died.

In her despair she took to drink and sank and sank – till she sank out of sight.

Here was a genius, a great talent, who was told that she had no show, no opportunity – because she was a woman. And we boast of our civilization and we call ourselves a Christian people!

This whole question, wherever we touch it, wherever we tackle it, is not a question of sex at all. It presents to the thinking mind no problems. It is a matter of elemental truth, of basic, elemental justice. – Musical America.

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Two Woman’s Journal Articles, 1920-21

Here’s two articles from the suffrage magazine The Woman’s Journal that shed some light on the battle to allow women to play in orchestras. I’m still mystified by the reasoning that women couldn’t play in orchestras because the touring would tire them, when many conductors had no problem hiring women soloists who traveled even longer and harder than orchestral players did.


New Hope for the Musicians

31 December 1921

A bit of news interesting to women musicians comes from London. The Royal Philharmonic Society has abolished all sex distinctions and has admitted women to all privileges equally with men. When the Society was founded in 1813, except as singers women musicians did not appear in public. In recent years they have been admitted as fellows and associates but not to the higher grade of membership, which is considered a professional honor and is rather strictly limited in number. Many women musicians have aspired to this membership which is now open to them, and as the directors are elected annually by the members, women may now become directors also.

During the war, because of the lack of men, women were admitted to the symphony orchestras of both London and Paris, and some women musicians are still playing in them. In Paris, the famous Lamoreux orchestra is closed to them, but the equally famous Colonne orchestra has a number of women playing side by side with men. In the United States, except as harpists, women are not found in any of the large symphony orchestras.

Why Only The Harp?

14 January 1922

The conservative Old World moves ahead in some respects faster than the United States.

For some time women have been playing in the symphony orchestras of London and Paris, while they are still not accepted in the best orchestras of the United States with the exception of an occasional harpist. Conservatories and music schools of all descriptions have a large majority of women students. In all their graduating classes the women far outnumber the men. While they do not take up the wind instruments in any number, many women study the violin and a few the ‘cello. Why is the one source of a steady professional income in an established orchestra denied them? And, conversely, if the orchestras welcomed women players, would not many more women be encouraged to carry their studies to a greater proficiency?

A famous conductor recently gave two reasons why in his opinion women are not engaged for orchestra work. He claims, first, that they do not play as well as men and, second, that symphony orchestras in this country have such a long season and rehearse so constantly that women would find the work trying; further, that the large orchestras are on the road so much that it would be disagreeable for women. One might answer in regard to the last objection that women musicians travel in company with men in opera companies without embarrassment.

Undoubtedly the fact that women are not admitted to the best orchestras keeps many talented women from studying stringed instruments seriously, since the field of solo performer is possible for only a very few. What do women musicians themselves think of it? – G. F. B.

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Women and Music Summary, 1920

Here’s a summary of doozy of a paper that was presented in 1920 in Britain. In it, women were accused of reversing the progress of an entire art form, stealing opportunities from men, and having minds only good for receiving ideas rather than producing them. So far I haven’t come across anything that suggests more than a few people of this era believed this nonsense, but the fact that this paper was even presented, and considered worthy of summary in The Musical Times as late as 1920, certainly says something.

This is from 1 March 1920 The Musical Times.


Mr. James Swinburne’s paper, ‘Women and Music,’ read on January 13, proved to contain much matter for discussion. He took the line that the generally accepted idea that women were the musical sex was wrong, and that until it was given up England would remain an unmusical country. He did not desire to belittle their attainments, or to deny that there were able women musicians; but in discussing half mankind it was necessary to generalise. Brain power was coupled with large brain, and men had on the average larger brains than women, and their brains used more and richer blood. Intellect might be divided broadly into two kinds – Receptive and Productive. Everyone had both types of mind, but the proportions varied as well as the quantities of each. The receptive mind involved what was called a good memory; the productive mind not only possessed that, but its characteristic was that it compared facts or ideas and developed new ones. Women had nearly always the receptive mind only, while the productive was almost peculiar to men, though a very large proportion had receptive minds only. Women were behind in composition, and shone best as pure executants. They had done nothing in any mental branch of music. The cultivation of music by women not only did not help the art in its development, it kept it back actively. Women took no interest in the art as such; they were concerned solely with their own performances. They did not explore music for themselves; they only took up what they had heard before. They did not read the musical papers, still less did they read musical books, which was the reason why there was so little musical literature in this country, nothing compared with that in Germany, where men devoted attention to music. The assumption that women were musical had two main effects. It wasted the time of innumerable women, but the greater evil was that parents thought their daughters should be instructed in music and not their sons. Small boys were thus left, and one may hear men regretting in later life that they were never taught.

Following the paper was an animated discussion, the chairman (Dr. J.E. Borland), Dr. Yorke Trotter, and others warmly controverting the lecturer’s assertions.


Yes, one hopes they were warmly controverted, indeed.

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Article: Concerning the Sexuality of Musical Instruments, 1921

I think human sexuality is one of the most interesting things in the world. Heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, asexuality, demisexuality, pansexuality – I find all of them fascinating. I’m also very interested in the ways that people’s ideas about sexuality seep into things as seemingly non-sexual as instrumental music. I have a theory that one of the many reasons the violin was considered to be inappropriate for women for such a long time was because a female playing on a violin (an instrument with a high range, a small size, and a womanly shape) was suggestive of lesbianism. This is a point that this alternately hilarious / creepy article vaguely touches on. I still haven’t studied gender or sexuality in any academic setting (actually, the one high school course that I took that even that mentioned sexuality assumed all of its readers were straight, and obviously there was never a word about anything like asexuality or pansexuality). So I don’t have the intellectual tools that I’d love to have to analyze all the implications that this article is making. But I found it fascinating anyway. Hopefully someday after I’m better educated I can come back and really understand the points this byline-less, source-less article is trying to make.

This is from The Common Opinion, June 1921.

Addendum, 11/23: For an immensely entertaining take-down of this article, head over here to Sam Bergman’s blog entry “How To Tell If Your Bassoon Is Gay.”


In quality of sound, as compared with the human voice, the violin is soprano, the cello is tenor, and the contrabass may be defined as baritone bass. For the same reason that the normal average man prefers the soprano to the tenor and the woman generally shows more appreciation for the tenor, the choice of musical instruments is governed, when there is liberty of choice and the individual is conscious of his or her leanings. The violin artist, as Konrad Berkovici goes on to say, in Bruno’s Review of Two Worlds, even physically is of a different type from that of the cellist, the first being generally full of masculine vigor and life, while the second is apt to be effeminate, showy, soft and silky. Among gypsies, we are told, one seldom finds a cellist and almost never an alto. Their women, who are proverbially jealous, seldom or never play the violin; and for the most part the players of the contrabass and the alto are elderly men in any human society. Not because these instruments are physically easier to play nor because they demand greater experience, but because the advanced age of the players decides their inclination.

Superstrenuous music of the Wagner and Beethoven kind has its explanation in Kraft-Ebling‘s analysis of their sex-psychology. Both men seldom used the violin or cello for the leading melody. Tschaikovsky’s music, to the writer in Bruno’s Review, suggests Oscar Wilde’s literature, there being a strong psycho-sexual resemblance between the writer and musician. Tschaikovsky gave the viola and the contrabass preeminence in his music, whereas the music of such as Berlioz or Verdi or Mascagni or Massenet is of the male of the species – tenor and violin.

Not only have string instruments sexual character, but, we are assured, the cornet, the oboe, the flute, also have such a character. Berkovici observes, in this connection, that the French and Italians are the best wind-instruments players and that Teuton women have a predilection for the oboe and the nondescript saxophone, tho these instruments are bulky and physically difficult to play. “As to the men, to every saxophone student in a conservatory you will see ten flutes and twenty clarinets. The violin classes are always full of fiery dark-eyed boys. Seldom, if at all, have blue-eyed violinists reached any artistic height, while the classes of cello are comparatively swamped with female students. The males studying cello are in a minority and of totally different type than their brothers of the violin; blue-eyed, soft, shy, retiring effeminates.”

Commercial reasons of supply and demand do not regulate these classes. There is said to be an oversupply of male violinists and an unsupplied demand of male cellists. A woman violinist is a comparative rarity. Normal sexual males do not like the contralto voice. Their choice between a Tetrazini and Schumann-Heink is made as quickly as Elma and Kushevitzky. And it is due to their sexual indirectness that the alto of the violin and the clarinet are in the background of orchestras.

We read further that in the harmonic blending of voices, where a mixture of string and wind instruments is necessary, the flute and clarinet cannot be used to complete the violins because “they are of the same sex.” Instruments representing opposite sexes are instinctively used by musicians for this effect, tho this analyst “has a feeling that Beethoven and Mozart knew more about it than other composers.” Primitive races, or races in process of ascendancy, are said to produce more male violinists than highly cultivated ones. Russia, Hungary and Bohemia have given us the latest great ones. Spain and Italy gave the best formerly. The Teutons and the French have not given a single great violinist in the last hundred years. Ysaye, Thibaud, Vieuxtemps, are Belgians. Almost all good violinists are composers, having creative minds, and their compositions, even when not for the violin, have a strong sexual element. The waltz, with its exact rhythm, is a favorite vehicle. There is love appeal in every bar, impetuous, lascivious and pretentious – in one word: male.

Konrad Berkovici, as the result of personal investigation in the quality of voices of violinists and cellists, male and female, reports that out of fifty male violinists, none older than thirty years, forty-one had deep baritone voices, of the other nine, six were tenors, and three non-descripts. Out of twenty male cellists, none older than thirty years, seven were altos and the other thirteen nondescript, and mostly effeminate voices. Out of ten female violinists, not over thirty years old, eight had alto voices, one a soprano, and one almost a baritone. This last one had also a masculine exterior. Out of fifteen female cellists, fourteen had soprano voices.


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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.


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Article: The Effect of Music On The Growth of the Hair, 1896

I have just found what is possibly my favorite article on Victorian music ever. It is from the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal of 6 February 1896.



The London correspondent of Le Temps writes that an English statistician has just demonstrated by figures the effect of music on the growth of the hair. The remarkable facts which he has discovered relate less to composers than to players. Among composers baldness is as frequent as among other professions, namely, twelve per cent., a proportion surpassed only by physicians, thirty per cent. of whom are said to be bald. The instrumental performer, however, almost always retained his hair up to an advanced period of life; performers on certain instruments retain their hair longer than others.

The piano and the violin, the piano in particular, prevent or arrest the loss of the hair. We are compelled to admit this on examining the portraits of Paderewski, Frederick Dawson, Vladimir di Pachmann, Léonard Borwich, Sapelloikoff, Henry Richard, Bird, and Emile Sauer, without including the prodigy, Joseff Hoffman, whose luxuriant growth of hair might be accounted for by his youth, even if he were not a pianist, and the aged Charles Hallé who died recently at an advanced age in possession of all his hair.

The same preservation of hair must be acknowledged to the violin, but in the players of this instrument the hair grows a little less luxuriantly, and there are a few cases of partial baldness. Eugéne Ysaye, Willy Hess, Sarasate, Tividar Nachez, Joachim, Betteman, Willy Burmseter, Fernandez Arboz, Johannes Wolf, Victor Wilhelms, all possess luxuriant heads of hair, but Louis Ries is compelled to use hair restorer, and John Tiplady Canodus could easily count the hairs which remain.

Similar observations have been made in the case of female violinists. The Swedish violinist Freda Scotta has an admirable head of black hair, and the yellow hair of the Austrian, Gabrielle Wietrowetz, falls to her feet.

Players on other instruments approach the mean of the learned professions, namely, about eleven per cent., of baldness. The ‘cello, the contra-bass, the alto and the harp preserve the hair fairly well, but one is not justified in placing much confidence in the hautboy, clarionette or flute, which do not guarantee the preservation of the hair much beyond the fiftieth year. On the other hand, brass instruments have a fatal influence on the growth of the hair, notably the cornet, the French horn, and the trombone, which apparently will depilate a player’s scalp in less than five years.

Our statistician simply states the facts, and leaves to scientific investigators the task of search for the causes which underlie them. It would certainly be interesting to find out why the slide trombone makes the hair fall out, while the piano preserves it. The statistician does not tell us, but his observations are well grounded, and will be easily confirmed by studying the musicians in the orchestras at concerts and theatres. The baldness which prevails among members of regimental bands has been given the name of “trumpet baldness,” calvitié des fanfares.

It would be interesting to know whether the predominance of brass instrument which the music of Wagner has introduced, has brought with it an increase of baldness among orchestras which are in the habit of rendering the music of that composer. It is also just possible that the baldness which is said to prevail among the habitués of the front rows at the theatre may be due to the proximity of the brass instruments, or may be caught by some contagion from the players themselves.


Filed under Not My Writing

Article: Addendum on Female Violinists by George Dubourg, 1852

Here is a fascinating chapter on female violinists from the book (take a deep breath!) The Violin: Some Account of That Leading Instrument, And Its Most Eminent Professors, From Its Earliest Date to the Present Time; With Hints to Amateurs, Anecdotes, Etc., by music writer George Dubourg (1799-1882). It was published in London in 1852 and, considering the era in which it was written, is a surprisingly liberal text. Dubourg had a prophetic viewpoint that women were just as capable of becoming great violinists as men were, and his spunky, spirited defense of his opinion makes for a highly enjoyable read. Wilma Norman-Neruda and Camilla Urso were both about twelve years old when this edition of The Violin was published, and they were just on the verge of proving Dubourg’s thesis right. No doubt in his later years he regarded their careers with satisfaction.




“Place aux dames!”

[This section of the Work, which should have formed Chapter VIII, having been accidentally omitted in the printing [(Emily: *eyebrow raise*)], there remained no other course than, either to insert it here (as is actually done), or, by a dismissal utterly at variance with the laws of gallantry and of justice, to exclude it altogether, and so to debar the fairer portion of the community from all participation in the honours connected with the “King of Instruments” – an idea not to be for a moment entertained. If, in this volume, as in a campaigning army, the ladies find themselves placed altogether in the rear – let them attribute the position, in this case as in that, to any-thing but disrespect.]

Instead of a bow-arm, must ladies be allowed only the arm of a beau? Why should not a lady play on the Violin? The common objection is, that it is ungraceful. The ladies in Boccaccio’s Decameron, however – and who shall charge them with want of grace? – played on the viol, a bowed instrument requiring from the performer a similar position and handling to those exacted by the violin. If this latter instrument, considered in relation to a lady, should be admitted to be somewhat deficient in grace, – has not the lady, out of the overflowing abundance of this quality, which is her sex’s characteristic, some of it to spare for communication to the instrument? Can she not impart some of it to whatsoever object she chooses to associate with herself? Surely, she who can transform the rudest of beings from a bear to a man, and from a man to a gentleman, can lend a few spare charms to so grateful a receiver as the fiddle, which is found to repay in so eloquent a manner the attentions bestowed on it. But if the doubters continue to shake their heads at this, I would ask them whether, after all, we are to expect grace in every act and habit of a lady’s life, and call on her to reject every thing that may be thought inconsistent with it? Our modern respected fair one may, like Eve, have “heaven in her eye;” but really, looking at some of the offices which we are content to thrust upon her, it seems rather too much to insist that she shall also, like our original mother, have “grace in all her movements.” Is there grace in making a pie, or cutting bread and butter, or darning a stocking? If we have grace in the effect, shall we be rigid to require it in the means also? Now, the grace which belongs to violin-playing is audible rather than visible, residing in the effect more than in the means: nor ought we to be such cormorants of pleasure, as to demand that the person who is filling our ears with rapture, shall, at the same time, be enchanting to the utmost our eyes. If, then, a lady, full of soul and intelligence, is capable of expressing these through the fine medium which this instrument offers, should she be debarred from it, and restricted perhaps to the harp, because, forsooth, the grace that is merely external is found most in association with the latter? Let us only be reasonable enough to be satisfied, on principle, with the delicious effect that visits us through the ears, and we shall then give no hyper-critical heed to the rapid action of a lady’s arm in a presto movement, or to the depression of her head in holding the instrument; nor shall we continue to demand, with a pertinacity more nice than wise, that a feminine fiddler be

“Graceful as Dian when she draws her bow.”

That exquisite sensibility which is one distinguishing charm of the female character, has its fittest musical exponent in the powers of the violin, which, therefore, in this particular sense, might even be styled the women’s own instrument: but, without going so far as this, there seems no sufficient reason why it should not, occasionally, be honored by figuring in the hands of the fair. Should these defensive remarks, however, be found unsatisfactory by your anti-women’s-playing-the-violin-at-all sort of people, I have nothing farther to say to them, but leave them to quote, undisturbed, their “quae sunt virorum, mascula dicas,” &c. For my own part, I think so highly both of the ladies and the violin, that I rejoice at every opportunity of their being introduced to each other, and am delighted to know that, from time to time, certain clever and spirited women have been found ready to overcome the prejudices that have so long kept them asunder. Let us by all means enquire who these are.

A very high name meets us at the outset of our investigation – no less a one than that of QUEEN ELIZABETH. This exalted personage, who is recorded to have been musical “so far forth as might become a princess,” appears to have amused herself not only with the lute, the virginals, and her own voice, but with the violin. An instrument of this denomination, of the old and imperfect fashion, but splendidly “got up,” has been traced to her possession. If any particulars of Her Majesty’s style of performance could now be obtained, it would doubtless be found that she displayed, in no common degree, what is called “a powerful bow-arm”, but that she neglected the “sweet little touches” that give delicacy to execution.

To arrive at instances nearer to our own time, let us go at once from the Queen of England to Madame MARA, the Queen of Song. Her first musical studies were directed to the violin. When yet an infant, the little Gertrude Elizabeth Smaling (such was her name) discovered so strong an inclination for the violin, that her father was induced to give her a few lessons on that instrument. Her progress was so rapid, that, as early as her tenth year, she excited the public surprise. It is certain that the development of her vocal powers was not a little aided by this cultivation of an instrument that may be called the friendly rival of the human voice. She herself was known to declare, that, if she had a daughter, she should learn the fiddle before she sang a note; for (as she remarked) how can you convey a just notion of minute variations in the pitch of a note? By a fixed instrument? No! By the voice? No! but, by sliding the fingers upon a string, you instantly make the slightest variations visibly, as well as audibly, perceptible. It was by her early practice of the violin, that this celebrated woman had acquired her wonderful facility of dashing at all musical intervals, however unusual and difficult. She married a violoncellist, of no great capacity, except for drinking.

MADDALENA LOMBARDINI SIRMEN, who united to high accomplishment as a singer such an eminence in violin-playing, as enabled her, in some degree, to rival Nardini, had an almost European reputation towards the end of the last century. She received her first musical instructions at the Conservatory of the Mendicanti at Venice, and then took lessons on the violin from Tartini. About the year 1780, she visited France and England. This feminine artist composed a considerable quantity of violin music, a great part of which was published at Amsterdam. A curious document is extant as a relic of the correspondence between this lady and Tartini. It consists of a preceptive letter from the great master, the original of which, along with a translation by Dr. Burney, was published in London in 1771. From this pamphlet, which is now among the rarities of musical literature, I shall here give the Doctor’s English version of the letter:

“My very much esteemed


“Finding myself at length disengaged from the weighty business which has so long prevented me from performing my promise to you, I shall begin the instructions you wish from me, by letter; and if I should not explain myself with sufficient clearness, I entreat you to tell me your doubts and difficulties, in writing, which I shall not fail to remove in a future letter.

“Your principal practice and study should, at present, be confined to the use and power of the bow, in order to make yourself entirely mistress in the execution and expression of whatever can be played or sung, within the compass and ability of your instrument. Your first study, therefore, should be the true manner of holding, balancing, and pressing the bow lightly, but steadily, upon the strings, in such manner as that it shall seem to breathe the first tone it gives, which must proceed from the friction of the string, and not from percussion, as by a blow given with a hammer upon it. This depends on laying the bow lightly upon the strings, at the first contact, and on gently pressing it afterwards; which, if done gradually, can scarce have too much force given to it – because, if the tone is begun with delicacy, there is little danger of rendering it afterwards either coarse or harsh.

“Of this first contact, and delicate manner of beginning a tone, you should make yourself a perfect mistress, in every situation and part of the bow, as well in the middle as at the extremities; and in moving it up, as well as in drawing it down. To unite all these laborious particulars into one lesson, my advice is, that you first exercise yourself in a swell upon an open string – for example, upon the second, or la: that you begin pianissimo, and increase the tone by slow degrees to its fortissimo; and this study should be equally made, with the motion of the bow up, and down; in which exercise you should spend at least an hour every day, though at different times, a little in the morning, and a little in the evening; having constantly in mind that this practice is, of all others, the most difficult, and the most essential to playing well on the Violin. When you are a perfect mistress of this part of a good performer, a swell will be very easy to you – beginning with the most minute softness, increasing the tone to its loudest degree, and diminishing it to the same point of softness with which you began; and all this in the same stroke of the bow. Every degree of pressure upon the string, which the expression of a note or passage shall require, will, by this means, be easy and certain; and you will be able to execute with your bow whatever you please. After this, in order to acquire that light pulsation and play of the wrist from whence velocity in bowing arises, it will be best for you to practise, every day, one of the allegros, of which there are three, Corelli’s solos, which entirely move in semiquavers. The first is in D, in playing which you should accelerate the motion a little each time, till you arrive at the greatest degree of swiftness possible. But two precautions are necessary in this exercise. The first is, that you play the notes staccato, that is, separate and detached, with a little space between every two, as if there was a rest after each note. The second precaution is, that you first play with the point of the bow and, when that becomes easy to you, that you use that part of it which is between the point and the middle and, when you are likewise mistress of this part of the bow, that you practise in the same manner with the middle of the bow. And, above all, you must remember in these studies, to begin the allegros or flights sometimes with an up-bow, and sometimes with a down-bow, carefully avoiding the habit of constantly practising one way.

“In order to acquire a greater facility of executing swift passages in a light and neat manner, it will be of great use if you accustom yourself to skip over a string between two quick notes in divisions. Of such divisions you may play extempore as many as you please, and in every key, which will be both useful and necessary.

“With regard to the finger-board, or carriage of the left hand, I have one thing strongly to recommend to you, which will suffice for all, and that is the taking a violin part – either the first or second of a concerto, sonata, or song (any thing will serve the purpose) – and playing it upon the half-shift; that is, with the first finger upon G on the first string, and constantly keeping upon this shift, playing the whole piece without moving the hand from this situation, unless A on the fourth string be wanted, or D upon the first; but, in that case, you should afterwards return again to the half-shift, without ever moving the hand down to the natural position. This practise should be continued till you can execute with facility upon the half-shift any violin part, not intended as a solo, at sight. After this, advance the hand on the finger-board to the whole-shift, with the first finger upon A on the first string, and accustom yourself to this position, till you can execute every thing upon the whole shift with as much ease as when the hand is in its natural situation; and when certain of this, advance to the double-shift, with the first finger upon B on the first string. When sure of that likewise, pass to the fourth position of the hand, making C with the first finger, upon the first string: and, indeed, this is a scale in which, when you are firm, you may be said to be mistress of the finger-board. This study is so necessary, that I most earnestly recommend it to your attention.

“I now pass to the third essential part of a good performer on the Violin, which is the making a good shake; and I would have you practise it slowly, moderately fast, and quickly; that is, with the two notes succeeding each other in these three degrees of adagio, andante, and presto; and, in practice, you have great occasion for these different kinds of shakes; for the same shake will not serve with equal propriety for a slow movement as for a quick one. To acquire both at once with the same trouble, begin with an open string – either the first or second, it will be equally useful: sustain the note in a swell, and begin the shake very slowly, increasing in quickness by insensible degrees, till it becomes rapid. You must not rigorously move immediately from semiquavers to demisemiquavers, or from these to the next in degree; that would be doubling the velocity of the shake all at once, which would be a skip, not a gradation; but you can imagine, between a semiquaver and demisemiquaver, intermediate degrees of rapidity, quicker than the one, and slower than the other of these characters. You are, therefore, to increase in velocity, by the same degrees, in practising the shake, as in loudness, when you make a swell.

“You must attentively and assiduously persevere in the practice of this embellishment, and begin at first with an open string, upon which, if you are once able to make a good shake with the first finger, you will, with the greater facility, acquire one with the second, the third, and the fourth or little finger, with which you must practise in a particular manner, as more feeble than the rest of its brethren.

“I shall at present propose no other studies to your application: what I have already said is more than sufficient, if your zeal is equal to my wishes for your improvement. I hope you will sincerely inform me whether I have explained clearly thus far; that you will accept of my respects, which I likewise beg of you to present to the Princess, to Signora Teresa, and to Signora Clara, for all whom I have a sincere regard and believe me to be, with great affection,

“Your obedient and most humble servant,


REGINA SCHLICK, wife of a noted German Violoncellist and Composer, was celebrated under her maiden name of Sacchi, as well as afterwards, for her performance on the violin. She was born at Mantua in 1764, and received her musical education at the Conservatorio Pietà, at Venice. She afterwards passed some years at Paris. This lady was a particular friend of Mozart’s, and, being in Vienna, about the year 1786 solicited the great composer to write something for their joint performance at her concert. With his usual kindness, Mozart promised to comply with her request, and accordingly, composed and arranged in his mind the beautiful Sonata for the piano and violin, in B flat minor with its solemn adagio introduction. But it was necessary to go from mind to matter – that is, to put the combined ideas into visible form, in the usual way. The destined day appeared, and not a note was committed to paper! The anxiety of Madame Schlick became excessive, and at length the earnestness of her entreaties was such, that Mozart could no longer procrastinate. But his favorite and seductive game of billiards came in the way; and it was only the very evening before the concert, that he sent her the manuscript, in order that she might study it by the following afternoon. Happy to obtain the treasure, though so late, she scarcely quitted it for a moment’s repose. The concert commenced: the Court was present, and the rooms were crowded with the rank and fashion of Vienna. The sonata began; the composition was beautiful, and the execution of the two artists perfect in every respect. The audience was all rapture – the applause enthusiastic: but there was one distinguished personage in the room, whose enjoyment exceeded that of a ll the other auditors – the Emperor Joseph II, who, in his box, just over the heads of the performers, using his opera-glass to look at Mozart, perceived that there was nothing upon his music-desk but a sheet of white paper! At the conclusion of the concert, the Emperor beckoned Mozart to his box, and said to him, in a half-whisper, “So, Mozart, you have once again trusted to chance!” – “Yes, your Majesty,” replied the composer, with a smile that was half triumph and half confusion. Had Mozart – not studied – but merely played over, this music once with the lady, it would not have been so wonderful: but he had never even heard the Sonata with the violin*.

* Anecdotes of Mozart, by Frederic Rochlitz.

LOUISE GAUTHEROT, a Frenchwoman, was also distinguished on this instrument. In 1789 and 1790, she performed concertos at the London Oratorios, making great impression by the fine ability she manifested. In referring to this lady’s professional achievements, one of those who refuse to consider violin-playing as “an excellent thing in woman,” has indulged in the following remarks: “It is said, by fabulous writers, that Minerva, happening to look into a stream whilst playing her favorite instrument, the flute, and perceiving the distortion of countenance it occasioned, was so much disgusted, that she cast it away, and dashed it to pieces! Although I would not recommend, to any lady playing on a valuable Cremona fiddle, to follow the example of the goddess, yet it strikes me that, if she is desirous of enrapturing her audience, she should display her talent in a situation where there is only just light enough to make darkness visible.” – Shall we reply, ladies, to a detractor who is forced to seek support for his opinions in “fabulous writers,” and, even then, drags forward that which is no parallel case? Nay, nay, let him pass! Let him retire into the darkness which he so unwarrantably recommends to others!

LUIGIA GERBINI, who ranks among the pupils of Viotti, attained considerable credit as a performer. In 1799, her execution of some violin concertos, between the acts, at the Italian Theatre in Lisbon, was attended with marked success; as were afterwards her vocal exertions at the same Theatre. This lady visited Madrid in 1801; and, some years later, gave evidence of her instrumental talent at some public concerts in London.

SIGNORA PARAVICINI, another pupil of Viotti’s, earned a widely spread fame as a violinist. At Milan, where various fêtes were given in celebration of the battle of Lodi, the wife of Bonaparte was very favorably impressed, during one of these, by the taletns of Madame Paravicini. Josephine, a woman of generosity as well as taste, became the patroness of this lady, engaged her to instruct her son, Eugéne Beauharnois, and afterwards took her to Paris. However, for some reason not publicly known, Madame Paravicini was, after a time, neglected by Josephine; in consequence of which, and of other misfortunes, as to be compelled to live on the money produced by the sale of her wearing-apparel. Driven at last to the utmost exigence, she had no remaining resource, except that of applying to the benevolence of the Italisn then in Paris, who enabled her to redeem her clothes, and return to Milan. There, her abilities again procured her competence and credit. Her performance was much admired also at Vienna, where, in 1827, she

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

According to the report which travelled in her favour from thence, she evinced a full and pure tone – a touch posessing the solidity and decision of the excellent school in which were formed a Kreutzer and a Lafont – and a mode of bowing so graceful, as to triumph over all preconceived ideas of the awkwardness of the instrument in a female hand. Madame Paracivini, in the course of her professional migrations, was performing at Bologna in the year 1832.

CATARINA CALCAGNO, born at Genoa in 1797, received, as a child, some instructions from the potential Paganini; and, at the age of fifteen, astonished Italy by the fearless freedom of her play – but seems to have left no traces of her career, beyond the year 1816.

Madame KRAHMEN, in 1824, executed a violin concerto of Viotti’s, with great spirit and effect, at a concert in Vienna. At Prague, in the same year, a young lady named SCHULZ gave public delight as a violin performer. Mademoiselle ELEANORA NEUMANN, of Moscow, pupil of Professor Morandi, also astonished the public in like manner at Prague, and at Vienna, when she had scarcely reached her tenth year! She is said to have treated the instrument with great effect, and with a precision and purity of tone not always to be found in those “children of larger growth” who are content to substitute feats of skill, in place of these essential requisites.

Madame FILIPOWICZ, of Polish derivation, has given us evidence, in London, not many years since, of the success with which feminine sway may be exercised over the most difficult of instruments.

The instances I have thus brought forward will probably be deemed sufficient – else were it easy to go backward again in date, and to mention Horace Walpole’s visit to St. Cyr, in one of the apartments of which serious establishment, he behold the young ladies dancing minuets and country-dances, while a nun, albeit “not quite so able as St. Cecilia,” played on the violin! – Or, I might allude to the threefold musical genius of Mrs. Sarah Ottey, who, in 1721-22, frequently performed solos at concerts, on the harpsichord, violin, and base-viol! Enough, however, has been produced, to shew “quid femina possit” – what the fair sex can achieve, upon the first and most fascinating of instruments.

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