Sunday, July 21, 2013

Arma Senkrah

Arma Senkrah (Anna Loretta Harkness) was an American violinist born (in Williamson, New York) on June 6, 1864.  She had an extraordinary but very short career (1882-1888) and, as did Patricia Travers much later, stopped playing and dropped out of sight altogether quite suddenly.  Nevertheless, a 1750 G.B. Guadagnini violin (which Isaac Stern owned and played for more than fifty years) is named after her and that alone will ensure she is forever remembered.  If not for that, then there are also very famous photos of her and Franz Liszt playing together.  In fact, she participated in duo recitals with several of Liszt’s pupils on several occasions.  Her career was spent entirely in Europe.  According to almost all sources, her life ended tragically in Weimar, Germany.  Her mother was her first violin (and piano) teacher.  At age 9, she went to Europe with her in order to pursue more advanced instruction.  (At that time, the U.S. had not yet established a solid framework of advanced music schools which Americans could rely on to further their education.  The very few American orchestras then in existence were made up almost entirely of European musicians.)  Between 1873 and 1875, Senkrah studied in Leipzig with Arno Hilf and, in Brussels, with Henryk Wieniawski.  It is not clear whether Senkrah was actually enrolled as a student at the Leipzig Conservatory (where Hilf was a teacher) or the Brussels Conservatory where Wieniawski taught.  It is far more likely that, due to her young age, she studied privately with both teachers.  She is also said to have studied with Henri Vieuxtemps – Vieuxtemps was teaching at the Brussels Conservatory at the time.  From 1875 to 1881, she studied at the Paris Conservatory with Joseph Lambert Massart and received a first prize in 1881.  She was 17 years old.  She began almost immediately to concertize all over Europe, still using her birth name - Harkness.  On November 25, 1882, she made her London debut at the Crystal Palace, playing Vieuxtemps’ fourth concerto, the one in d minor.  The reviewers praised her highly.  It was written that the concerto was “wonderfully interpreted,” that her tone “was clear and soulful,” and that “her mastery of the technical possibilities of her instrument left nothing to be desired.”  Wherever she played, the reviews were just as enthusiastic, if not more.  In Germany, she achieved even greater success.  It may have been in the autumn of 1883 that, at the urging of her German agent, she changed her name to Senkrah.  On December 28, 1883, she played the Mendelssohn concerto at a new theatre in Leipzig.  On January 3, 1884 she played at the Gewandhaus (Leipzig.)  And so it went.  She was compared to Italian violinist Teresina Tua who was touring England and Germany at about the same time.  Some reviewers made it a point to mention that Senkrah was Tua’s equal in technique but not in good looks.  Ironically, Tua and Senkrah both stopped playing publicly at about the same time.  On September 30, 1884, she made her debut with the Berlin Philharmonic with the Vieuxtemps d minor concerto.  On November 13, 1884, she again played with the same orchestra, this time playing the Wieniawski concerto in d minor.  A critic in 1885 mentioned that she overcame any difficulty “with the greatest of ease.”  In the summer of that year, she met Franz Liszt.  She was welcomed into his circle of friends and professional colleagues.  She was 21 years old.  Senkrah and Liszt played Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata (and some of Liszt’s music transcribed for violin and piano) on July 20, 1885.  I do not know whether it was a private or public recital.  Several sources say that Liszt was very fond of her and that they gave many public concerts together.  Her handling of the violin was then described as “incomparable.”  She also undertook several tours of Austria and Hungary with pupils of Franz Liszt.  In 1886, she was in Russia and met Tchaikovsky.  In 1888, she was appointed chamber virtuoso to the court of the Grand Duke (Charles Alexander Augustus John) of Saxony.  Karl Halir was the concertmaster of the Grand Ducal Court Orchestra (in Weimar) at the time.  On September 5, 1900, the New York Times reported that Arma Senkrah had committed suicide the previous day.  Another source gives the date of her suicide as September 3.  She was 36 years old.  Be that as it may, it was accepted as fact that she had indeed committed suicide with a pistol, although it was never confirmed.  In the autumn of 1888, she had met and soon after married a Weimar attorney surnamed Hofmann (or Hoffman) – nobody seems to know his first name.  She had henceforth not played in public.  Some sources say her brief marriage was happy but that she suffered from a disorder of the brain which supposedly rendered her emotionally unstable.  Other sources say her marriage was unhappy because she suspected her husband of infidelity and was chronically and hysterically jealous, which eventually resulted in her ending her life in despair.  One source states that she shot herself through the heart.  Whether it might be true that her husband at one time was infatuated with an actress is anyone’s guess.  One source claims that to be the case.  Senkrah owned a 1685 Stradivarius violin which bears her name.  I do not know who owns it now.  She also played the previously-mentioned Guadagnini.  Her mother was forced to sell both instruments (and perhaps others) when she later became destitute.  


  1. This is violinist profile number 350.

  2. Great to discover this violinist on Women's day :D Thank you ^^

  3. You are most kindly welcome Sysy. :-)