T. L. (Thomas Lamb) Phipson.

Voice and violin : sketches, anecdotes, and reminiscences online

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with constant success ; and it has done much to


lighten the burdens, and cause us to forget for
a time the miseries and sorrows, of this earthly

Among the many happy occasions of this kind, I
will mention one in particular, as it will certainly
interest many amateur musicians.

It was on the 3rd September 1892, at Southsea,
when we played in two concerts (afternoon and
evening) on the same day, given by the excellent
string band of the Royal Marine Artillery. They
were the last concerts of the season ; and as Madame
Agnes Larkom, a noted mezzo-soprano, was to ap-
pear, my good-natured wife could not be persuaded
to sing, but she played my accompaniments. It
came about in the following manner : —

Whilst staying at the house of my sister-in-law,
in the country near Portsmouth, a piano-tuner con-
nected with these concerts informed me that Mr.
Carrodus, who was to have appeared, had been
summoned back suddenly to London, and I offered
to play in his place. This was told to the com-
mittee, and I was duly announced on the bills,
having been granted the use of the Portland Hall
concert-room and a good piano to rehearse my
pieces. The concerts were given at the new pier.
There were eight hundred persons present at three
o'clock, and twelve hundred at the evening concert.
I was down for four pieces, two in each concert,
but I had to play eight times ; and 1 remember that


when it was all over, we enjoyed our frugal supper
very much indeed.

At the eight o'clock concert, having no evening
costume, I went on, as in the afternoon, in morning
dress ; but the cut of my coat happening to be very
similar to that of the dark blue tunics of the artillery-
men, barring the stripes and medals, it appears to
have passed muster very well, for the notices in
the newspapers did not allude to the circumstance,
whilst they gave most flattering accounts of the
double concert.i

^ Perhaps I may be permitted to quote the following lines from The
Evening News, 5th September 1892 : "There were crowded audiences
at the concerts on the South Parade Pier on vSaturday. Here the prin-
cipal attraction was Dr. T. L. Phipson, President of the Bohemian
Orchestral Society, London, whose masterly playing of the violin carried
his hearers by storm. He was several times encored. Madame Agnes
Larkom, the popular soprano, and Mr. Henry Pope, basso, were the
vocalists, and their songs were warmly applauded. The string band
of the Royal Marine Artillery also performed."

I have a collection of a large number of similar notices from various
London newspapers and musical journals, which I sometimes refer to
when I feel low-spirited.



After the great Stradivari, no violin-maker has
been more imitated than Stainer, though Amati and
Guarneri have had their share of copyists. But so
popular have become, during the present century,
the names of Stainer and Kloz, that no one will
accuse me of exaggeration when I assert that their
labels have been placed in many thousands of violins
which they never made.

Jacobus Stainer was born at Absom, near In-
spriick, in the Tyrol, about the year 1620, and
lived to the age of sixty-three. Whilst still a mere
boy he went to Cremona, and found employment
in the workshop of Nicolo Amati (the greatest
of the makers of that name), of whom he was
destined to become a noted rival, not only in his
native land, but throughout the whole world ; and
his name at the present time is as familiar to
violinists of every country as is that of the great
Amati himself.

Stainer must, by all accounts, have been a hand-
some man, of engaging manners, but bold and head-



strong in comportment, especially favoured by the
fair sex, and an exceedingly talented workman.

Books treating of the old master luthists record
a good deal of detail (mostly imaginary) on the
obscure life of Jacob Stainer, his love affairs, his
miseries, and his celebrity as a violin-maker. But
very few have given us much information on the
structure or model of his instruments, which differ
considerably from those of all other makers.

At the present day the most ordinary violins are
occasionally to be found in biic-d-brac shops and
pawnbroker's establishments, bearing 2. printed label
representing these instruments to be the work of
Jacobus Stainer, of Absom. Not long ago I saw a
^' Stainer " of this kind sold for ^^20. It was a very
fair instrument, and worth the money given for it ;
but a genuine Stainer would probably be worth
^200 to ;£300 as prices go.

The best authorities agree in stating that no
genuine Stainer violin ever had 2. printed label. The
real Stainer labels are all hand-written, and in that
coarse, uncouth, barely legible scrawl which also
characterises the written labels of Stradivari and
many other workmen, whose hands were more
accustomed to the manipulation of the chisel, the
file, and the glue-pot, than to that of the pen.

Nevertheless, Stainer's handwriting was some-
what better than that of Stradivari, and the latter
often used printed labels. Many facsimiles of the


written labels of these noted men have been care-
fully reproduced of late years ; and these reproduc-
tions appear, as far as we can judge, to be very
faithful representations of the originals. What
awful scrawls some of them are ! Many a school-
boy would have his ears boxed for an orthography
twice as good or half as bad.

So much for the labels of Stainer. Now let us, in
a very few words, examine his model and other

I may state at once that his violins are far less
numerous than those of Stradivari, who lived more
than thirty years longer. A genuine Stainer is cer-
tainly one of the rarest curiosities in the world.
Imitations by Dutch, English, and German makers
we have in plenty ; but the genuine article is rarely
or ever seen.

Among the violins which, during my long musical
career, have on various occasions been presented to
me by kind, enthusiastic, and far too indulgent
friends, there was one Stainer.

I was a young man at the time I received that
gift, and knew very little of the celebrated makers
of violins ; and it must be confessed that a real
Stainer is yet almost an unknown quantity — an x —
to the greater number of violinists.

Some people write his name '^ Steiner," which is
evidently incorrect. But there was a time, not more
than three-quarters of a century ago, when such


men as the enthusiastic Abbe Sibire, in France, and
OttO; the luthist, in Germany, had in their hands,
and under their chins, instruments which were
genume Stainer vioHns.

The history of mine may be very briefly told.

One hot day in June I met at a railway station in
London a gentleman who had a delicious tenor
voice, and was probably one of the finest English
tenors ever born. He had sung with great success
the previous night at a concert in which I had
played, and on coming off the little stage I had
found him at the wings, where he had been listen-
ing — which I considered a very great compliment.
He told me that he had an old Stainer violin which
had lain by among members of his family for many
long years ; it had finally become his property, and
he wished to make me a present of it !

I implored him to seek among his other friends
for some one who really wanted a good violin, as I
was already well provided for in that respect. But
nothing would prevail upon him to change his mind ;
he insisted upon giving the instrument to me, saying
I might do what I liked with it.

It was certainly an excellent violin ; very old,
but in good condition, with rather a bright yellow
varnish, mostly covered with one almost black with
age. It had a somewhat thin quality of tone, but
a tone that was exceedingly brilliant and sweet,
especially so on the first string — a characteristic of


Stainer. Its pattern was small, and its model much
raised, more on the table than the back — another
characteristic — and it was altogether a very charm-
ing instrument.

Alas ! in a moment of generosity I soon after-
wards gave it, or lent it, to a friend who was sadly
in want of a good violin ; and the last I heard
of this valuable instrument was that it had been
swopped in Scotland for two bottles of whisky !
Heaven alone knows where it now is.

There is something extremely interesting in the
life of Jacob Stainer as being connected, on the one
hand, with Cremona, through Nicolo Amati — to
whose daughter he made furious love and should
have married — and the famous Tyrolean school, on
the other, in which he was succeeded by one of the
Kloz family and by Albani, his workmen for the
time. He thus figures as a brilliant link connecting
the Cremonese and Tyrolean schools of violin-
making. Moreover, he appears to have been as-
sisted to some extent by his brother, Marcus Stainer,
a monk, who was also a very clever maker of violins,
and perhaps the author of the so-called ^^ Elector-
Stainers," made, as it was asserted, "in a monastery,"
and about which such glowing accounts have been

It has been gravely asserted that " after the death
of his wife" (who outlived him) *Mie retired to a
monastery, where he passed the remainder of his


life/' and constructed *' violins of super-eminent
beauty and quality/' with yellow varnish of a golden
hue. There were sixteen, one of which was pre-
sented to each of the twelve Electors, and the
remaining four to the Emperor."

" Unfortunately," says Pearce, ^' thirteen of these
appear to have been lost, and the remainder have
all been in royal hands, the Empress Maria Theresa,
the Duke of Orleans (grandfather of King Louis
Philippe), and Frederick William of Prussia, and
been presented by them (except the last) to eminent

I am sorry to say that some German writers at
present look upon that romantic story as a myth.
But the life of the monk, Marcus Stainer, is worth
looking into. Nothing, or scarcely anything, is
known about him at present.

Otto, the German violin-maker, and author of
a little treatise on the subject, assures us that
Stainer's violins were quite equal in elegance,
finish, and tone to those of the greatest makers
of Cremona. They, naturally enough, have the
most resemblance to those of Nicolo Amati, his
master, but they are somewhat more raised in
the table. The purfling is beautifully executed,
narrow, and placed very near the borders ; the
sound-holes are shorter and not so elegant as
those of Stradivari.

All those who have played upon a genuine


Stainer instrument are enthusiastic in their praises.
The tone is described as sweet, powerful, round
as that of a flute, and especially brilliant and
sparkling on the first string. The pattern of
these violins is somewhat smaller than those of
most Cremona instruments, and the scroll is mar-
vellously well cut ; in some of his violins it ter-
minates in the head of a lion, most beautifully
carved. The wood is also handsome and well
chosen. Otto says, ''The colour of the varnish is
reddish yellow ; but some have the back and sides
dark brown, and the table yellow."

It is wonderful to relate that poor Jacob Stainer
often could not obtain more than about twelve
shillings for one of these excellent instruments !
Nevertheless, his fame as a violin-maker gained
for him the distinguished title of ''Violin-maker
to the Emperor."

On the 7th October 1645, Stainer married, none
too soon, a village belle of Absom, named Mar-
guerite Holzhammer. This occurred when he
was twenty-four years of age, so that he could
not have been more than a few years at Cremona.
His family increased quite as rapidly as his renown.

On the 29th October 1658 he was appointed
" Court Violin-maker to the Archduke Leopold "
of Austria, and on 9th of July 1669, "Violin-
maker to the Emperor."

But misery overtook him in spite of everything,


and he was compelled to hawk his violins about
the country to procure food for his poverty-
stricken family. He was imprisoned for debt for
six moaths, and on his liberation his business
grew smaller and smaller, and his debts greater ;
so much SO; that he was unable to pay the dues
levied on all Court tradesmen ; and when he
petitioned the Emperor to be forgiven the sum
— as was, now and then, done to others in mis-
fortune — his application was, for some reason,
unheeded. Finally, he died, a raving lunatic, in
the year 1683.

Stainer had only one son, born in 1657, who
died the following year. His beautiful wife and
eight daughters survived him.

During my long residence abroad I met many
French ecclesiastics who played the violin or
violoncello remarkably well. They were the suc-
cessors of the well-known and enthusiastic Abbe
Sibire, who, in the early years of this century,
penned the following lines about his Stainer
violin : —

*^ When in the course of a laborious day a desire
for dissipation compels me to interrupt my useful
work, I turn to my violins, and I must confess that
in the presence of a glorious sunshine I play, by
preference, and with greater delight, upon an ex-
cellent Cremona, which for me, as for you, will
always possess inexpressible charms. But when



in the dark silence of a night devoid of clouds,
everything is quiescent around me, and people
are plunged in sleep — when the canopy of heaven
spreads in magnificent profusion its innumerable
and dazzling riches in the immensity of space,
irresistibly attracting my gaze — I salute silently
through my open window this vast expanse of the
firmament, and fall into mute contemplation. To
deliver myself from an ecstasy which overwhelms
and crushes my thoughts, I take up a brilliant
Stainer. Its silvery tone flies out towards the
stars which shine afar ; I imagine that these distant
orbs can hear me, and I feel proud at having for
an audience those millions of worlds suspended
in infinite space. Such is the empire which the
irresistible magic of an enchanting and heavenly
toned violin exerts on my bewildered soul."



Tamburini was the most gentlemanly and hand-
somest person upon the Italian stage, not even
excepting that great favourite Mario (Count de
Candia). He was, as every one knows, one of the
finest baritone singers, holding the same position
in Italian Opera that our great baritone Henry
Phillips held on the English stage. But what
every one does not know is that he was delicate,
and required a great deal of milk.

How my violin got me to become acquainted with
Tamburini's cow forms a curious series of coinci-
dences, which I will relate in as few words as
possible. I had long wished to see him, or, at least,
his portrait, having heard so much about him — of
his magnificent voice, and his refined appearance
and manners. I had never had an opportunity of
hearing him, as he had retired into private life long
before I went to reside in Paris.

Viotti, who was one of the greatest of violinists,
had long haunted my mind. He died in 1824 ; and

I have been accustomed to ask all my musical



friends where I could see a good portrait of him.
It was many years before my desire in this respect
was satisfied, and I need not describe the dehght I
experienced when a portrait of that celebrated artist
appeared in The Strad a short time ago — a face full
of intelligence and good-humour, which, once seen,
can never be forgotten.

Well, as regards Tamburini, I have never yet been
thus satisfied. Hence, when in Paris, I wished, if
possible, to make his acquaintance. At last the
vision of a chance appeared to loom above the
horizon. My friend M. De Sussex had married
Mdlle. Beauce, sister of Madame Ugalde, the cele-
brated prima donna (who created quite -3^ furore in
the opera of Les Montinegrins and Fra Diavolo^ &c.),
and he had a charming residence on the banks of
the Seine, at Bellevue, near Paris, overlooking the
river and the Pont de St. Cloud. He was a man
who was very fond of music, and especially of the

Often, on a Sunday, I was in the habit of dining
with him, en famille, and returning to my solitary
quarters in Paris by a late train in the evening.

On these occasions I sometimes met Madame
Ugalde, a dark-complexioned brunette, with highly
intelligent features, fine eyes, slim figure, and lady-
like manners, but not beautiful ; and I once attended
a special religious service in which she sang magni-
ficently. She had then retired for a year from the


operatic stage. Her mother; Madame Beauce, was an
excellent pianist, and often played with me the accom-
paniment to De Beriot's Seventh Concerto and other
pieces, though she must have been considerably over
sixty years of age, and her hair was as white as snow.^

Then there was another and younger Madame
Beauce, a tall, handsome woman, with fair hair
and blue eyes, daughter-in-law of the lady just
named, who had a remarkably fine voice. I shall
never forget one Sunday evening, just before sunset,
that we all went out in a boat and had a little con-
cert on the river. The younger Madame Beauce
sang some beautiful French songs to an improvised
pizzicato accompaniment on the violin, and they
were vociferously applauded by a group of plea-
sure-seekers on the bank of the river. Her husband,
who was a stockbroker, and, like herself, a good
amateur singer, sang a duet with his wife, the notes
of which were wafted far down the stream by the
soft summer breeze ; and I finished the concert by
a solo on the fourth string, and some arpeggios of
my own invention.

It was in this charming company that, one after-
noon, the conversation turned upon the career of

^ Long afterwards in London, at the residence of Lady Emily Grey, in
Putney, I heard the late Mrs. Lubbock sing Qui la voce {I Puritajii), and
a Scotch ballad, with a voice as fresh as that of a girl of eighteen,
though her hair was also as "white as snow." She was one of the
finest amateur singers I ever heard, and on this occasion she created a
great sensation.


Tamburini, whose villa was the next property to
that of my friend De Sussex. I intimated how much
I should like to know him, how much I had heard
about him, and my host replied by asking me if my
father was not looking out for a house in the suburbs
of Paris. I said that was so.

'' Eh, bien ! " continued De Sussex, '' here is an
excellent opportunity ; and you can make the ac-
quaintance of Tamburini at the same time."

*' What do you mean ?" I inquired.

'^ Why, his villa is to let."

" Is he, then, leaving Paris ? "

" Yes ; the doctors say he must not pass another
winter here ; he must return to Italy."

'^ If the villa is to be let, I should certainly like to
see it."

" Will you come now ? Finish your cigar, and I
w^ill take you."

In a few minutes afterwards we were strolling
through the front gates of Tamburini's villa.

Between the gates and the house there was a
circular lawn of rather coarse grass, upon which a
beautiful Alderney cow was quietly grazing. I stood
for a few moments to admire it.

" It is an English cow from the Channel Islands,"
said De Sussex ; '^ Signor Tamburini is ordered to
take good milk, and the cow was presented to him
by some of his friends and admirers."

The lawn was surrounded by a shrubbery, with a



few large trees. Some pretty flower-beds graced
the entrance, running along the base of the house,
and sending up a climbing rose and a jasmine,
which partly covered the walls and encircled the
upper windows. There was a suite of small rooms
on the ground floor, and another, very similar,

The front door was open, but nobody was visible
inside. We rang and knocked ; but, for a long
time, nobody came. At last a kind of valet made
his appearance, and inquired what our '' pleasure "
was ; an English servant would have asked us what
our '^business" was.
" Signor Tamburini ? "
'^ II est parti depuis hier. Monsieur."
" He has, then, already left for Italy V
" Yes, sir ; he will be at Marseilles to-night, where
he can sing the old song, you know —

' Quando la notte viene
Non ho riposo, O Nice,
Son misero e infelice
Esser lontan da te ! '

And to-morrow he will be at Nice."
^' I have heard that the villa is to let."
" C'est vrai, Monsieur ; here is the address of the
agents in Paris. It is to be let furnished, just as it
is. I foUow Signor Tamburini in a few days, when
the remainder of his things are packed. Then, to


see the villa, which will be closed, you will have to
get an order from the agents ; but perhaps you would
like to see it now."

We looked over some of the rooms, simply but
neatly furnished, and the little garden at the back,
looking over the river, returning soon afterwards
to our friends.

So it happened that all I ever saw of the great
Italian baritone was Tamburini's cow, and his valet
(who had also a baritone voice). With regard to
the villa, it was impossible to treat for it ; it was
too small and too dear, besides which it was only
to be let furnished.

Poor Tamburini never returned from Italy ;
neither the rich milk of the Alderney cow nor the
tepid breezes of the sunny south could save him
from the consumption which deprived the artistic
world of this amiable and talented musician.

We were told that when the cow happened to
low late in the evening, or in early morning, while
Signor Tamburini was enjoying a little sweet repose,
he would awake suddenly, under the impression that
it was the voice of Lablache, and that it was his time
to join in the famous duet of the Puritani, But
seeing no one near him, and being in that peculiar
state which lies exactly half-way between being fast
asleep and wide awake, he would refer the sound
to some notes of the contra-basso in the orchestra,
and wonder when the player would finish his


tuning. Then realising the true state of affairs,
and centrahsing his thoughts on the beautiful cow
which his friends had presented to him, he would
ring and order his cafe au lait.

A very able contemporary of Tamburini says he
was ^^ a singer of great brilliancy and power ; his
voice was a line baritone, well defined, round, rich,
clear, and of wonderful flexibility. He was an ac-
complished actor, full of spirit and gaiety ; he was
handsome, his figure was manly, and his air noble
and prepossessing."

He played the part of Don Giovanni in Mozart's
opera of that name. He sang magnificently in /
Ptiritani and other operas of Bellini, Donizetti, and
Rossini ; was an excellent Figaro in // Barbiere,
splendid in La Gazza Ladra^ &c. In iS;^^ I Purztam
was performed (in Paris) for the first time with
Madame Grisi, Rubini, Tamburini, and Lablache —
said to be the finest quartette ever heard on any
stage. In this opera the duet Suona la trombay
sung by Tamburini and Lablache, brought down
thunders of applause. Rossini, who had a fair
touch of jealousy in his composition, however much
he may have befriended the young Bellini, wrote
from Paris to a friend in Milan : ^^ I need not de-
scribe the duet for the two basses ; you must have
heard it where you are ! "



The organisation of a good orchestra is an under-
taking not devoid of difficulties, even when it is
formed only of professional musicians of high
standing. But with amateur musicians it is still
more difficult, formed, as it then is, of men whose
daily occupations often interfere with their musical

In the latter case there are two classes of indi-
viduals to be dealt with : those whose livelihood
depends upon work other than musical, and whose
evenings are not always their own ; and those who
are independent, men of fortune, whose time is
wholly at their own disposal.

Of these, the former class is, perhaps, the most
conducive to success ; for, being accustomed to
methodical work, and having little time for music,
one of their greatest pleasures consists in attending
the meetings of the orchestra ; whilst men of
independent means who can take up their instru-
ments at any moment they please, are often found
to have made other engagements when they should
be at practices or rehearsals.



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Online LibraryT. L. (Thomas Lamb) PhipsonVoice and violin : sketches, anecdotes, and reminiscences → online text (page 11 of 19)