Violin Playing in England

by An Englishman

England can hardly be said to be a violin playing country. Possibly the explanation of the fact lies in the fondness which English people have for the voice. If you mention music to the average Englishman of musical tastes he begins to talk of singing or of choral work. A celebrated English author, writing on the subject of violin playing in England, has said :

“In reading the history of violin playing the pride of an Englishman cannot fail to he mortified, while he observes that the encouragement of the art has, until recent years, been almost confined to the Continent; that we have heard practically nothing of British schools, artists, or patrons; that all writers on the subject seem to consider the hyperbolean fogs of England are completely inimical and impervious to the rays of taste; and that, however justly we may boast our superiority in some points, the country has hitherto been forced to allow its deficiency in the most refined branch of art, and content itself with a very subordinate rank among those who aspired to the study of music.”

The same writer says. however, “I have no doubt that the time is fast approaching when many English names will he found worth}” to stand high in the list of modern artists. However visionary this expectation appears, it has already been proved, for I can mention English names who would undoubtedly do honor to any modern school.” The optimistic tone which this writer adopts when speaking of the musical future of England is quite in line with what others are saying. At the present time there arc many able English violinists.

Probably the most famous of English violinists is .Marie Hall, who is to England what Miss Maud Powell is to the United States. She was born at New-castle-on-Tyne. 1884, and was the daughter of a harpist, who was at that time engaged with the orchestra of the Carl Rosa Opera Company. Eater she studied with Elgar, Max Mossel. and with Wilhelm in London. It was Sevcik, however, so- Miss Hall declares, who put the finishing touches to her education, and made of her a virtuoso comparable with the foremost living. Another well-known English violinist is John Dunn, who was born at Hull. 1866. Mr. Dunn is at present touring America, and is meeting with very gratifying success. Mr. William Henley is well-known in England as a violin soloist, and as a writer on violin subjects. Rowsby Woof deserves mention as an able violinist.


If England has not produced violinists of her own, it certainly cannot be said that she has failed to recognize the genius of those foreign artists who have visited her shores, and decided to remain-there. Among these may be mentioned Guido Papini, who appeared annually in London for many years, and after becoming Professor of the Violin at the Dublin Royal Academy of Music, returned to London, where he has now resided for some years, and done some excellent work as teacher, soloist, composer and editor of violin music. Lady Halle (Normann-Neruda) was responsible for much musical growth inI Manchester, where she lived with her husband until his death. Possibly the most distinguished foreign violinist who took up a permanent residence fn England was Wilhehn ( 1845-1908). He it was who persuaded Wagner to come to London, and he undoubtedly exerted a great influence on the musical life of the British capital. He wasfor some years head Professor of the violin at the Guildhall School of Music. In his later years he took an active interest in violin making, and his London home was a veritable museum of modern made violins. Other distinguished residents in the country have been Sauret. Max Mossel, Schiever and Adolf BRodsky. Dr. Joachim did not reside in England, but he was practically as well known in London as in Berlin, and entertained a great regard for the old city. Maud Powell and Francis MacMillen. the two foremost American violinists, have both borne testimony in these columns to the warmth of English appreciation of foreign artists.


Perhaps England would have a larger number of eminent violinists if some of her musical sons had continued along the paths in which they started. Harold Bauer, an Anglo German by birth, commenced his professional career as a violinist, and made quite a tine reputation, but eclipsed it by becoming a liner virtuoso pianist. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was a violin student at the Royal College of Music, and had a praiseworthy desire to distinguish himself as a violinist, which he would doubtless have done had he not turned out to be a cnmposer of a very high order. The same thing happened to Edward German, who startedhis professional career as a violinist in a theatre orchestra, and probably expected to make his living that way. Sir Alexander MacKenzie was the son and grandson of violinists, and had achieved a very high reputation as a violinist long before he became a distinguished composer and educator. He is at present Principal of the Royal Academy of Music, and has undoubtedly done much to stimulate English interest in violin playing. He has composed several pieces for the violin in smaller form, besides a concerto for the violin, which was played for the first time by Sarasate at the Birmingham Festival of 1885.


The figure which looms largest in English musical life of to-day is undoubtedly that of Sir Edward Elgar, In his early days he made his living out of the violin and was a member of Stockley’s orchestra in Birmingham. Almost the only real lessons in music he ever had were those taken for a few months from Mr. Pollitzer, in London. His music, however, betrays an intimate knowledge of strings, and indeed his orchestration throughout is one of the most remarkable things about this composer, showing as it does absolute mastery over the resources of the instruments. For some time past the violin world has been agog with expectation of the violin concerto upon which Elgar has been engaged. This work was produced at a London Philharmonic Concert in November, with the composer as conductor, and Kreisler as the soloist. It is to early yet to say whether this work will prove to be a masterwork to take its place beside the concertos of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Bruch and Tschaikowsky. There can be no doubt, however, that the work is of serious import. Elgar, like Brahms, speaks only to those who will follow him in along unbeaten tracks, careless of the heedless crowd that are moved and swayed by temporal thoughts, aims and passions. Will he lead us where

“The thoughtful Soul to Solitude retires,
Where the White Hand of Moses on the Bough
Puts out, and Jesus from the Ground suspires ?”

If this is so, England has indeed atoned for her past indifference to music.