Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Teresina Tua

Teresina Tua (Maria Felicita Tua) was an Italian violinist born (in Turin) on May 22, 1867.  Her date of birth is somewhat vague – she may also have been born on April 23, 1866.  For a time, she was called the “violin fairy” for her angelic face and good looks.  However, her fame did not last into the twentieth century.  She studied at the Paris Conservatory with Joseph Lambert Massart, taking a first prize in violin at the age of thirteen.  In 1882, she toured Germany.  She played in London, England for the first time on May 5, 1883.  It has been said that in Europe, everywhere she played, she created a sensation.  She very successfully toured all of Europe and Russia.  One source states that in Russia, in the fall of 1885, her accompanist was none other than Sergei Rachmaninoff.  He was not impressed with her playing but shared the stage with her for three months.  Stating that she did not play particularly well, he went on to say that "as an artist, she is not serious, but she has talent."  Soon after touring the U.S. – in 1887 – she gave up her public stage life altogether.  A review of one of her performances in New York (New York Times, October 18, 1887) was fairly typical of the reception she received in this country.  After her debut performance in New York on October 17, 1887, the reviewer pointed out (among other shortcomings) that “Her enunciation of rapid passages is often unfinished and at times absolutely unintelligible, and her double stopping is frequently distressing to the acute ear.”  The reviewer also noted that Tua seemed to want to beguile her listeners with her looks rather than with her playing.  After she returned to Europe, Tua seemed to gradually lose interest in concertizing further but devoted some of her time to teaching.  It also didn’t help that in 1889, she married a wealthy member of the nobility – Giuseppe Franchi Verney.  When he died, she married another aristocrat – Emilio Quadrigo.  Her economic incentive to keep playing– if there had ever been one – was thus destroyed.  A similar thing happened to Johanna Martzy.  Another now-obscure violinist (and Tua's contemporary), Arma Senkrah, also gave up playing in public after marrying an attorney in Weimar.   Her ultimate fate, however, was very dissimilar.  According to a usually reliable source, from 1885 until about 1935, Tua played a Stradivarius constructed in 1708.  From 1909 forward, she owned and played a 1709 Stradivarius – now in a museum in Turin – given to her by a British friend and patron (Ludwig Mond) via his will.  In 1940, she entered a convent and was obliged to give this violin up.  She was 74 years old.  Tua died on October 29, 1956, at age 90, largely forgotten. 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Giovanni Giornovichi

Giovanni Giornovichi (Ivan Mane Jarnović) was a Croatian violinist, composer, and teacher born (in Palermo, Italy) on October 26, 1747.  He was a virtuoso violinist who was very well-known in his lifetime though completely forgotten today.  I would never have heard of him had it not been for the short blog about George Bridgetower which I wrote immediately preceding this blog.  He was one of Bridgetower’s teachers in England.  One source states that his full name (i.e. first and last name) - other than in the birth certificate for a daughter born in London in 1795 - did not appear in any document or program during his lifetime, not even in his published works.  The first reference work to actually publish his first name was published in 1840.  Another oddity about him is that his surname appears to have had at least nine different spellings.  Perhaps he purposely desired to be known – or publicize himself - by a single name, such as other artists have since then, including Midori, Liberace, Houdini, Prince, and Madonna.  Who knows?  It is believed that he studied with Antonio Lolli in Italy and that his ancestry derived from Dubrovnik, Croatia.  It is documented that he made a very successful debut in Paris on March 25, 1773 – he was 25 years old.  His playing was described as being brilliant, amazing, and elegant.  Subsequently, his appearances all over Europe (but especially in England and France) received great acclaim.  Among the cities he toured and played in were London, Edinburgh, Dublin, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Warsaw, Stockholm, and St Petersburg.  He also shared the stage with musicians who are now legendary, including Joseph Haydn.  It is known that from 1779 to 1783 he worked for a member of the aristocracy in Prussia.  From 1883 to 1886 he was employed by Empress Catherine II of Russia.  From 1790 until 1796 he lived in England.  He took to touring again from 1797 to 1802.  Then he moved permanently to St Petersburg where he died (while playing billiards) on November 23, 1804, at age 57.  He composed over 70 works, 22 violin concertos among them – music which is now almost never played.  Nonetheless, the Starling Chamber Orchestra can be heard in three of the concertos at Instant Encore’s website here.  They have recorded three CDs featuring Giornovichi’s violin concertos.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

George Bridgetower

George Bridgetower (George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower) was a Polish-African violinist, composer, and teacher born (in Biala, Poland) on February 29, 1780, though this date of birth is far from certain.  Some sources give this date as October 11, 1778 or simply 1779.  Though he was an accomplished concert violinist and teacher, he is best known for his brief association with Beethoven and his Kreutzer Sonata.  It appears that his father worked in the household of Prince Esterhazy, Joseph Haydn’s employer, which is where he probably received his early musical training.  His Polish mother might have been employed in another royal household nearby.  He gave his first public performance in Paris on April 13, 1789, playing a concerto by Giovanni Giornovichi, and caused a sensation.  Whether he was 9, 10, or 11 years old is anyone’s guess.  On February 19, 1790, he appeared in London, England, playing a solo between the first and second parts of Handel’s Messiah.  On June 2 of that same year, he and Franz Clement (who was 9 years old at the time) played a concert sponsored by a member of the British nobility.  After a few more public performances in England, he became a member of the first violins in the orchestra of the Prince of Wales, where he remained employed for 14 years.  The Prince of Wales, an important patron of the arts, arranged for Bridgetower to receive private lessons from Francois Barthelemon, Giovanni Giornovichi, and Thomas Attwood, recognized eminent musicians of the time.  Bridgetower – as did other members of the orchestra - divided his time between Brighton and London.  In 1802, Bridgetower visited his mother in Dresden.  He played very successful concerts there in July of 1802 and March of 1803.  He obtained permission to extend his leave and was thus able to visit Vienna in April of 1803.  He played in Vienna and was soon ushered into the highest social circles, including that of Prince Lichnowsky, one of Beethoven’s royal patrons.  Bridgetower supposedly met Beethoven through an introduction by Lichnowsky – so the story goes.  Beethoven was then working on his Opus 47, the famous violin sonata number nine – the Kreutzer Sonata.  Some sources say Bridgetower actually asked Beethoven to write the sonata.  In any case, both of them premiered the sonata on the morning of May 24, 1803, reading from Beethoven’s manuscript.  It has been said that the violin part of the second movement had not been written out separately, compelling Bridgetower to read that movement from Beethoven’s piano score.  Another version has the premiere taking place on May 17, not May 24.  Still another version has Bridgetower receiving the manuscript fully copied out the day before the premiere.  The fact remains that both played the premiere of the work and the thing was soon afterward dedicated to Bridgetower.  However, there was a quick falling out between the two (very soon thereafter) over some remarks Bridgetower made (about a woman both of them knew) that Beethoven found offensive.  Some versions actually have Bridgetower and Beethoven competing for the affections of the woman.  Who knows?  Beethoven subsequently rescinded the dedication and re-assigned it to Rodolphe Kreutzer who actually never played the piece, finding it incomprehensible.  Bridgetower was about 24 years old.  In June of 1811, he received his Bachelor’s degree in Music from Cambridge.  He continued to teach violin and piano and play concerts in Europe, especially Italy and France, for many years.  A small piano piece of his was published in 1812.  George Bridgetower supposedly died in poverty in London on February 20, 1860, although he left an estate of about one thousand British Pounds Sterling, a very good sum in those days.  He was about 80 years old. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Theodore Thomas

Theodore Thomas (Theodore Christian Friedrich Thomas) was an American violinist, conductor, and arranger born (in Esens, Germany – not to be confused with Essen, Germany) on October 11, 1835 (Brahms was 2 years old.)  Today, he is hardly remembered as a violinist though he made his living as one for the first 20 years of his musical life, which began at age 6.  However, what is well-known is that he founded the Chicago Symphony and conducted it from 1891 to 1905, although he also conducted other orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic.  Thomas exemplifies the quintessential entrepreneur.  His father (Johan), a professional provincial musician, seems to have been his only teacher in violin.  By age 7 he had played for the King of Hanover. Thomas was by age ten performing (in his home town) at social events and in taverns as well.  Thomas never attended a conservatory or a university.  The family came to the U.S. (New York City) in 1845.  Thomas played in the Navy Band and pit orchestras in the surrounding areas of New York City until about 1849.  He then toured briefly as a recitalist, giving concerts as far South as Mississippi.  He was fourteen years old and traveled alone.  In 1850, back in New York, he took conducting lessons from Karl Eckert while playing in various orchestras which toured the U.S. widely, accompanying major artists of the day, including Jenny Lind, Henrietta Sontag, and Sigismond Thalberg.  It has been said that his approach to violin sound changed upon hearing these two singers (Lind and Sontag.)  He joined the first violin section of the New York Philharmonic in 1854.  In 1855, he organized a musical series of piano quintet concerts called the Mason-Thomas concerts, featuring himself as first violinist and William Mason as pianist.  The series lasted for 14 years.  After a concert in 1859, he was called "America's most accomplished violinist" by a Chicago newspaper.  Thomas unexpectedly made his conducting debut in New York in 1859, filling in for an ill opera conductor - as Toscanini also did later.  He then founded the Theodore Thomas Orchestra in 1862 with which he toured the Northeast (New York to Chicago) and initially made his great reputation as a conductor.  He was 27 years old.  The orchestra actually made its debut on December 14, 1864.  I don’t know if Thomas ever regularly played the violin in public again after that.  However, as late as October of 1870, he played Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata at a concert in Boston.  His accompanist was a Miss Anna Mehlig, a noted concert pianist of the day.  From 1877, Thomas also simultaneously conducted the New York Philharmonic (founded in 1842) until about 1891, in addition to other regional orchestras.  He became the highest paid conductor of the time.  It must be noted, lest present-day readers imagine an impossible amount of work, that seasons in those days consisted of about six or eight pairs of concerts.  Nevertheless, his own orchestra played - during tours -  as many as 62 concerts in the span of four months.  In 1888, due to financial difficulties, the orchestra (the one bearing his name) was disbanded.  Thomas was by then 53 years old.  In 1889, a Chicago businessman, meeting Thomas by chance in New York, invited him to come to Chicago to form a permanent orchestra there.  Thomas is supposed to have uttered a memorable response.  Whether any of that is true is anyone's guess.  However, in the summer of 1890. Thomas married that businessman's sister.  By December of 1890, Thomas had signed a contract to direct a permanent orchestra in Chicago.  In October of 1891, the Chicago Symphony presented its first concert under Thomas.  The orchestra consisted mainly of former members of his old orchestra, several former members of the New York Philharmonic, and some musicians brought in from Europe.  Sources vary widely as to how many came from each group.  The season consisted of twenty pairs of concerts presented over twenty weeks.  During his tenure (of thirteen and one half years), he conducted 112 U.S. premieres with the orchestra - more than any conductor since then (of any U.S. orchestra) could ever come close to.  Not bad for a guy who never attended a conservatory.  Theodore Thomas died (in Chicago) on January 4, 1905, at age 69. 

Saturday, December 17, 2011


I have been curious lately about the longevity - life span -  of concert violinists.  It seems most of them age rather well and die in old age.  Some have died young, of course, but, among the ones I surveyed here, half reached 80 years of age or more and the other half at least reached age 72.  I did a random check of twenty violinists born in the Twentieth Century (on this blog) and found the average age at death was 81.  The one lasting the longest died at age 99.  Curiously, among female concert violinists, a great number of them (comparatively) died young.  The ratio is, of course, skewed because, over time, there have been fewer women violinists than men.  Ginette Neveu died at 30; Arma Senkrah died at 36; Alma Rose' at 37; Eda Kersey at 40; Edith Volkaert at 42; Alma Moodie at 44; Maud Powell at 52; Johanna Martzy at 54; and Camilla Urso at age 59.  With time, that disproportion will correct itself since there appear to now be more female concert violinists than male.  Among the men who have died young are: Katya Tsukanova (17), Josef Hassid (26), Gregory Cardi (28), Eitan Silkoff (29), Nico Richter (29), Julian Sitkovetsky (32), Francois Prume (33), Ottokar Novacek (33), Ossy Renardy (33), Dmitri Kogan (38), Noel Pointer (39), Jitka Suranska (40), Michael Rabin (40), Lucien Martin (42), Ferenc Vecsey (42), Andrei Korsakov (44), Henryk Wieniawski (44), Benjamin Godard (45), Tor Aulin (47), Paul Kochanski (47), Carl Rosa (47), Christian Ferras (49), Karl Halir (50), Philippe Hirschhorn (50), Chevalier De Saint George (53), Ida Levin (53), Nicolai Berezowsky (53), Lucien Capet (55), Joseph Achron (56), Eddie South (57), Stuff Smith (58), Leonid Kogan (58), Nicolo Paganini (58), Julian Olevsky (59), Grigoras Dinicu (59), and Vasa Prihoda (59).  On the other hand, Olga Rudge lived to age 100 and Roman Totenberg to age 101.  

Friday, December 9, 2011

Patricia Travers

Patricia Travers was an American violinist and actress born (in Clifton, New Jersey) on December 5, 1927.  She is known for having given up her professional career entirely and dropping from sight in 1951, still in her early twenties.  She is also known for having owned the Tom Taylor Stradivarius (1732), the violin Joshua Bell used to play.  That violin was sold to a collector in 1954, three years after she retired.  It is now being played by Mark Steinberg, first violinist of the Brentano Quartet.  She also played a 1733 Guarneri violin.  Travers died only recently.  She began studying the violin before the age of 4.  Her teachers were Jacques Gordon (concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony for almost a decade and teacher at the Eastman School of Music) and Hans Letz (pupil of Joseph Joachim and concertmaster of the Theodore Thomas Orchestra for a time.  Letz believed, as did Bronislaw Huberman and Frans Bruggen, that Rhythm was the most important element in music.  He also taught at Juilliard.)  A single source says that Travers also attended the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.  Her first public performance was at age 6.  She gave her first Carnegie Hall recital in 1938, at age 9.  She appeared with the New York Philharmonic on July 6, 1939, playing Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnol.  She was 11 years old.  Two years later, she appeared in the movie There’s Magic In Music (1941.)  Here is a YouTube video showing her playing in the movie.  Finnish violinist Heimo Haitto also took part in that movie - he was 18 years old at the time.  Travers had a very promising and active career going and played with most major American and European orchestras from age 10 onward, including the orchestras of Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Boston, London and Berlin.  She also recorded several discs, one of them being the first recording of Charles Ives’ second violin sonata.  Joan Field had been the first to record the first Ives violin sonata.  People have taken wild guesses as to why Travers suddenly stopped playing.  She did not suffer a nervous breakdown as did Josef Hassid.  It is not an easy thing to stop doing something one truly enjoys.  If she had felt fulfilled, successful, or happy as a performer, she would not have stopped playing.  Approval from her audiences and critics would have been enough to keep her going.  An early article (1939) in a music journal stated the following: “We feel sure that the prophecy that Patricia Travers is to become known as one of the great women violinists will be fully realized.”  Toward the end, after a performance in Boston (1951), a critic wrote “…she is not yet either a brilliant technician or a compelling interpreter.”   What may have contributed to her decision to stop was that the economic motive to keep working was not there – she came from a well-to-do family.  It’s the old push-pull theory at work - in order for a person to move forward, there must be a push from within and a pull from without.  Some sources say she devoted the last six decades of her life to helping run her family’s business interests – similar to what Iso Briselli did, except he stopped playing much later in life.  As far as I know, she never had any students.  Patricia Travers died on February 9, 2010, at age 82. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Russian Violin Makers List

Well, I am no expert, but I can put a list together as well as anyone else.  Here are a few Russian violin makers you might be interested in knowing.  I will take a wild guess and say that Russia probably has not had as many makers as have come out of Holland (approximately 300.)  Present-day Cremona (Italy) boasts about 500 makers.  At present, there are no violin-making schools in all of Russia – not even one.  As you can see, there are very few Russian makers, the vast majority unknown.  Whether any of them are outstanding is really something I would not know about.  In any case, here is my (arbitrary) list: Mikhael Azoyan, Dmitry Badiarov, Vladislav Baginsky, Leon Dobryanski, Nikolay Frolov, Andranik Gaybaryan, Jury Ivanov, Nicolaus Kittel, Anatoly Kochargin, Anton Krutz, Alexander Krylov, Yuri Malinovsky, Amiran Oganezov, Ivan Pashin, Ivan Petrovitsch, Yuri Pochekin, Araik Resyan, Rigat Rubus, Armin Schlieps, George Schlieps, Lev Sobol, Vyacheslav Suprun, Boris Sverdlik, Daniel Tomaschev, Alexander Tulchinsky,  

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Russian Violin Makers

In terms of fame, and very likely in terms of expertise, Italian, French, and German violin makers have the Russians beat by a long shot.  At least that’s the general opinion.  Whether that is so because the violin was actually invented in Italy (around 1530) and the most prolific makers worked from there and were the first to become famous is anyone’s guess.  The names of da Salo, Amati, Stradivari, Guarneri, Maggini, Carcassi, Storioni, Gagliano, Guadagnini, Ventapane, Rogeri, Ruggieri, Pressenda, Albani, Gobetti, and Montagnana, are certainly very well known.  Their violins are prized above all others.  On the other hand, Russian makers are not known at all.  This peculiarity is striking since the whole world knows that most of the world’s celebrated violinists are Russian.  To filter them further, most among these superlative Russian players are Jewish – Oistrakh, Goldstein, Kogan, Heifetz, Elman, Zimbalist, Seidel, Milstein, and Gitlis, to name a few.  So, why aren’t there any great Russian violin makers – makers whose names are household words – Jewish or otherwise?  Perhaps it has to do with tradition – like the tradition of exceptional French wine making or fine watch making by the Swiss.  After Amati (and his relatives) and other early makers started violin making enterprises, the violin construction economic engine took off; soon, imitators sprang up elsewhere in Italy - some of them really good.  Entire families (such as the Guarneris and the Stradivaris) got involved in the trade and the tradition of fine Italian violin making was thus established.  By the time the ideas and patterns for violin making spread to other parts of Europe, the Italians had been at it for more than fifty years.  Then the Italian violin virtuosos got going as well.  Up until 1750, they were dominant in the violin playing sphere.  Italian violinists like Corelli, Somis, Pugnani, Tartini, Geminiani, Vivaldi, Tommasini, and Locatelli had few (if any) corresponding contemporaries in the other European countries or Russia.  There was a time when Spain ruled the seas.  There was also a time when the Roman Empire ruled the world.  Nothing lasts forever.  Who knows whether the Russian violin makers will not some day soon take over the business?