T. L. (Thomas Lamb) Phipson.

Voice and violin : sketches, anecdotes, and reminiscences online

. (page 4 of 19)
Online LibraryT. L. (Thomas Lamb) PhipsonVoice and violin : sketches, anecdotes, and reminiscences → online text (page 4 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

But what is more curious, she was evidently well
acquainted with the low state of his finances.

In this respect the following little anecdote may
be related here : —

One evening, after thanking him for his usual
gift, she added —

^' Prince, I should Hke to say a word to you."

*' Speak," said Louis Napoleon.

" They tell me," said the little violinist, " that
you are very hard up at the present moment.
I have three bank-notes of a thousand francs each


at home, where they are doing nothing. Will you
permit me to offer them to you ? You can return
them to me when you are Emperor."

It is not difficult to imagine the effect that little
speech must have made upon Louis Napoleon,
who was not yet even President of the Republic !

He did not accept the money ; but he was one
of those men who never forget a kindness, and
when he did become Emperor he offered the
'' Violinist of the Boulevards " a small annuity.

The answer which she returned to him on this
occasion is highly characteristic.

" Tell the Emperor/' she said to the Aide-de-
Camp who brought her the information — '' tell
the Emperor that it is very good of him to remem-
ber me, but that I cannot accept his offer. If he
had accepted the money I offered him it might
have been different."

This is almost incredible, though some have

vouched for the accuracy of the words. I feel

convinced that she did accept the annuity after

all ; for I have been informed that the ^' Violinist

of the Boulevards " was still to be found in the

old place as late as 1887, selling her prints and

songs as usual. But my informant also says that

he has heard more than once that she owns one

or two houses in the Avenue de I'Gpera — one of

the most expensive quarters of Paris — and that

she gave a considerable marriage-portion to her



daughter, on the condition that she would emigrate
to AustraHa.

From all this, it is evident that some mystery
attaches to this interesting personality, which our
historians have not yet been able to solve com-



The well-known painter Gallait, one of the
greatest representatives of the modern Flemish
school, once horrified the public by the exhibi-
tion of his terrible historic picture of the Counts
d'Egmont and De Homes immediately after their
execution at Brussels by orders of the Spanish
Duke of Alva. It is one of the frightful episodes
of the sixteenth century. But he is more popu-
larly admired for his charming composition Art
and Liberty : an Alpine shepherd-boy, with slouched
felt hat and bright intelligent face, a thick coarse
cloak thrown over one shoulder, and a violin, on
which he is playing, pressed against the other ;
whilst on the white-washed wall which forms the
background of the picture is scrawled in bold
characters the word '^ Maria."

Another picture, less widely known, but no less
beautiful and of a sadder nature, is called Doiileur
oubliee (forgotten grief). It represents an episode in
the life of the celebrated Hungarian violinist Giorgi.

The title of this splendid picture scarcely ex-



plains the subject. A young itinerant musician,
seated upon a bank at the roadside, has just
finished a performance on his violin, whilst a
lovely girl at his side has sunk down exhausted,
with her head upon his shoulders, her tambourine,
still held in her delicate hand, touching the ground.
The girl, wearied by her labours, has fainted and
fallen against him, apparently in a deep sleep, but
pale as death, and the sad expression upon the
bronzed features of the young violinist as he
contemplates the calm, angelic face of his beautiful
companion, thus suddenly struck down by fatigue
and misery, is very touching.

To those who know the history of Giorgi it is
still more affecting. Anyhow, this picture by
Gallait is another chef d'oeuvre.

Towards the latter end of the last century, or,
to be more precise as regards our narrative, in the
earliest years of the present one, there stood a
small farm in the wild country at a certain un-
known distance from Buda-Pesth.

It consisted of a few thatched wooden sheds,
where the cows were sheltered from the rain, and
the corn and fodder stored for the winter. One
of these structures, rather larger and somewhat
less coarse, served as a dwelling for four persons
— a father, a mother, and two young children. It
was the home of the farmer Giorgi, an honest,
hard-working man, who had formerly been a


member of a Hungarian gipsy band, and was
the fortunate possessor of a fine violin made by
the great Eberle of Prague.

After his marriage he had settled down in this
little farm, which existed since 1740 or thereabouts,
and when his young son was about eight years of
age he taught him to play the sparkling gipsy
dance music with which he himself was so well

The heat of the summer ripened the corn, the
rain and the mists from the Danube raised splendid
pasturage, the cattle thrived, the cows yielded
abundance of milk, and poultry multiplied won-

During the dark winter months the sound of
the Eberle violin enlivened the small household,
and an occasional visitor or two, who had ventured
on a stroll of five or six miles from the nearest
village for the sake of a little gossip, a pipe of
Giorgi's tobacco, and a glass of his beer.

When he was nine or ten years of age, little
Giorgi's playing was commented on by some of
these stray visitors, and the young lad gained quite
a reputation for his dash and boldness. His little
sister was younger by two years, and used often to
join in these performances by a kind of extempore
accompaniment on the tambourine.

The girl was eleven, and the boy thirteen, when
one night in autumn there arose a storm of wind,


during which the farm caught fire. Before they
could escape, both father and mother perished in
the smoke and flames, and in an incredibly short
space of time everything was destroyed.

The two children, by a wonderful miracle, were
saved. They rushed from the burning building,
instinctively carrying with them the violin and
tambourine on which they had been playing that
same evening. Of the whole property nothing
else escaped destruction — a violin and a tam-
bourine, with a few articles of clothing, represented
all that was left of that happy little homestead !

After a period of intense grief and misery, which
I shall not attempt to describe, the two poor chil-
dren wandered from village to village, gaining their
daily bread, and sometimes a night's lodging, by
their music.

The Hungarian dances and military marches,
vigorously performed by the lad, and cleverly
accompanied by his pretty sister, who was a
very handsome child, though somewhat frail, ap-
peared everywhere to give great pleasure to those
who heard them. But it was a hard and very
precarious livelihood.

Giorgi, who was powerfully built, and enjoyed
robust health, would have been equal to any
amount of fatigue and privations ; but his deli-
cate sister Liza sufifered much, and misery soon
told its unvarnished tale upon those pallid features,


even when they were lit up by a momentary

Two or three long years thus roll by, the young
wandering musicians still earning a scanty living
along the banks of the Danube ; and finally, when
the charming Liza was fourteen and Giorgi about
sixteen or seventeen, they found themselves one
day on the outskirts of Vienna, where the sad
episode of Gallait's splendid picture occurred.
Alas ! the lovely girl had not merely fainted ; she
had indeed fallen into a deep sleep — but it was
the sleep of death!

By this severe blow Giorgi was for a time
deprived of reason, and had to be taken in
charge by the authorities of Vienna. Months of
seclusion followed before his ravings ceased and
sanity again declared itself. His naturally strong
constitution finally overcame this fearful shock,
and to earn his bread he again took up his violin
— now, alas ! without the accompanying tam-
bourine and the bewitching beauty of his beloved

His lot was harder than before, and misery
combined with grief well-nigh destroyed all that
remained of his physical and mental powers.

It happened that one day, during some military
manoeuvres, he was delighting a group of Austrian
soldiers by his playing, when the firm, round tones
of his Eberle violin reached the ears of some


officers, and of the Archduke Charles, who was
present. He ordered the young viohnist to be
brought to his tent, where he played several
pieces, and among them a national hymn, in such
a remarkably fine manner that all the officers pre-
sent were struck with astonishment.

When the Archduke heard his history he was
touched by it, and then and there determined
upon providing for the proper education of a
musician who gave evidence of such innate talent.

Under these august auspices Giorgi soon rose to
the foremost ranks of virtuosi. He travelled through
all the principal cities of Europe, and was every-
where applauded to the skies.

It is curious to note that in after life he wan-
dered as a distinguished artist through many of
the towns where formerly he had strolled as a
beggar minstrel, and where he was now received
as one of the finest of Hungarian violinists.



It is interesting to record, from personal notes and
reminiscences; facts which have not yet found their
way into musical dictionaries, and to make known
a few traits, if not the complete life-history, of
some of the finest violinists the world has ever

Alas ! it is now more than forty years ago that
I made the acquaintance, for a brief moment, of
a most beautiful and accomplished lady vioUn-
player in the person of Mademoiselle Frery, a
favourite pupil of the great De Beriot.

A short time previously I had known slightly
Teresa Milanollo, had attended one or two of her
concerts, and once, during the brief interval of a
dance, had received from her own lips many inter-
esting observations relating to her musical career.
After studying in Italy and at Paris, she became a
pupil of Leonard, in Brussels, towards the middle
of the present century. She was clever and inter-
esting rather than beautiful, of somewhat diminutive
stature and rather cold manner, bearing, even at the



early age of twenty-three, conspicuous evidence of
severe training. She had also been stricken down
by grief after the premature death of her younger
and highly gifted sister Maria, with whom she had
achieved so many successes in the concert-room.
Leonard composed an Elegie in remembrance of
this sad event.

In Mademoiselle FYery we had not only a fine
violinist, but one of the most beautiful girls ever
seen in Brussels during the middle years of this

At eighteen years of age, when about to com-
pete for the first prize in the violin class of the
Conservatoire de Musique, she was a very attractive
young person indeed : rather above medium height,
with a profusion of lustrous dark hair, large
expressive eyes, regular and handsome features,
and of that modest, retiring disposition which
frequently accompanies decided talent.

Few of the youth of Brussels knew her even by
sight, for she devoted herself assiduously to her
studies ; but those who did happen to know her, it
is needless to say, were all enraptured.

She resided not very far from the Conservatoire,
of which she attended the classes regularly. How
long she had been in working her way up to De
Beriot's class (the highest class of the Conserva-
toire), I cannot say ; but my music master, Henri
Standish, was the repctikiir of that class, and, of


course, had Mademoiselle Frery, with others,
under his charge.

Some short time previously Standish had himself
taken the first prize in De Beriot's class, and it was
now this young lady's turn to compete for the same
honour. There were four or five other competi-
tors, all men, whose names I have now forgotten,
except that of Beumer, who w^as afterwards for
many years the first violin in the orchestra of the
Brussers Opera.

A little while before, I had attended the compe-
tition of the singing class, in which Mademoiselle
Sherrington (afterwards Madame Lemmens-Sher-
rington) had obtained a first prize, and now I was
about to witness a still greater triumph, when
Mademoiselle Frery came out victorious.

The great concert hall of the Grande Harmonic
was crammed ; for these competitions are open
to the public. Many students of the University,
and pupils of the Ecole Militaire, stood against the
wall of the balcony, or gallery round the floor,
and the body of the hall was filled with an enthu-
siastic audience. De Beriot led the small string
orchestra in front of the stage or platform ; and
Fetis occupied the chair, with his committee of
judges, all seated at a table covered with green
baize, placed in a corner of the room, to the left
of the orchestra.

In front of Monsieur Fetis was his glass of water,


and his little hand-bell, which he rang violently
whenever any applause arose among the public.
The bell was, however, quite ineffectual to sup-
press it. On such occasions he usually displayed
a good deal of temper, and when silence at length
ensued, the irritable little man would rise to his
feet and say —

'^ Ladies and gentlemen, you are aware that any
expression of feeling is strictly forbidden at these
public competitions, and if any such occurs again,
I solemnly declare to you that / will give orders to
the police to clear the room I "

Generally, this speech, which was repeated from
time to time in almost the same words, was re-
ceived with a few well-marked groans, and that
added so much to the old gentleman's irritability,
that more than once I feared we should really
have been ushered into the street by the armed
police force in attendance.

The piece chosen for the competition on this
occasion was the Andante et Rondo Russe from
De Beriot's Second Concerto, perhaps the most
beautiful of all his compositions.

Just before the proceedings began, my worthy
professor came into the balcony and asked me if I
would like to be introduced to Mademoiselle Frery.

Of course I should — I was then, also, about
eighteen years of age, and was studying the same
piece of music.


He took me to the back of the stage, where the
charming young girl and her mother were seated.
She had her viohn upon her lap, waiting till her
turn should come to be called upon for the trying
ordeal. She wore a plain, white, short-skirted
dress, which contrasted with her jet-black hair;
whilst a pretty pink sash round her delicate waist
vied with the crimson flush of excitement upon
her cheeks.

Although she appeared quite calm and collected,
she assured me that she felt very nervous and un-
easy. I did what I could to tranquillise her ; but
my efforts in this respect were evidently unavail-
ing, for when afterwards her name was called she
did not appear !

It was an anxious moment.

At the last minute her courage had completely
failed, and she declared that she would not com-

This message was communicated to the judges.

For a few minutes utter consternation reigned,
especially among the students, and indeed in the
entire audience. Inquiring glances were shot
across the room and from face to face. Low
murmurs were heard here and there, and a feeling
of intense disappointment prevailed, mingled with
the alarm that the beautiful girl artist might not
be well.

Four or five young violinists had already played


the piece above named, with more or less success,
and Mademoiselle Frery's turn came last. Why
was this ? Probably because the professors knew
that she could eclipse them all, and that the others
would not be patiently listened to after her playing.
And now she refused to appear !

After a short interval of suspense and anxiety
the celebrated De Beriot was seen to lay dow^n
his violin. He rose slowly from his seat in the
orchestra, and springing upon the platform, went
behind the stage. In the course of a few minutes
he reappeared, leading the bashful girl by the
hand, and evidently encouraging her by kind

A storm of applause then arose, amidst which
the little bell of Monsieur Fetis was not heard
at all. We could only see that he was ringing
furiously, his face getting red with anger.

When De Beriot had resumed his seat, and the
performance began, all was hushed ; and as the
first notes of the exquisite Andante streamed forth
you could have heard a pin drop.

The performance was in all respects equal to
the looks of the handsome young violinist who
played ; her full and luscious tone, refined ex-
pression, and elegant execution, created a sensa-
tion that will, probably, never be forgotten by
any who were present. At the conclusion there
was an outburst of applause such as I have rarely


heard ; and in spite of the strict regulations, the
httle speeches with alkisions to the poHce, and the
perfectly inaudible bell of Monsieur Fetis, it was
long and loud.

Another ovation, however, was immediately

After a rather lengthy deliberation on the part
of the jury, it was decided that the first prize
should be divided between Monsieur Beumer
and Mademoiselle Frery ; the second prize and
accessits being awarded to some of the other

This decision was, of course, received with great
cheering. But the uproar reached its climax when
M. Beumer and Mademoiselle Frery, both radiant
with smiles, came forward, hand in hand, to the
front of the stage to receive the award of the jury.
The applause was then quite deafening, and I
never witnessed a greater display of enthusiasm.

The following Sunday, according to custom.
Mademoiselle Frery played her prize piece again at
the hall of The Augustines, at the usual concert
of the pupils of the Conservatoire, when her
success was just as great, and she had to repeat
the last part of the Rondo.

My readers will doubtless like to know what
became of these two interesting young persons
who came forward, hand in hand, to receive their
divided prize, amidst the enthusiasm of a distin-


guished audience. Were their hands to remain
clasped together for ever — was such a lovely girl
to become an extra prize to the hard-working and
highly meritorious Beumer ? No, indeed ; fate
had destined that they were to be separated for
ever afterwards.

A year or so later M. Beumer was engaged,
not to be married, but among the first violins
of the Opera, where he afterwards took the posi-
tion of leader and solo violin ; and Mademoiselle
Frery was engaged — and married ! — to a pianist,
and proceeded to the United States. I never
learnt the name of her husband, nor did I ever
hear again of this lovely girl, who was certainly
one of the very finest violinists of her day.

Some little time after these occurrences, about
1853 or 1854, the two sisters Ferny made their
appearance on the stage of the Brussels Opera
as solo violinists. They were pupils of Artot, and
played his music to perfection. Their name
remained popular for some time, and being some-
what like that of Frery, caused the latter to be
forgotten by many who suffered from short

It v;as just at this time that, as a result, pro-
bably, of the effect that had been produced in
their concerts by the sisters MilanoUo, young
girls began to take up the violin as a means of
livelihood ; and Standish one day mentioned to


me, as a curiosity, that he had two lady pupils who
were adopting music as a profession.

But, as I have shown in another place/ the
musical world had enjoyed the phenomenon of
a ^* girl-violinist " long before the time of Paganini.

1 " Famous Violinists," &c. (London : Chatto & Windus, 1896),
pp. 150-169.




Our English composer Balfe, some of whose
melodies have always been extremely popular, got
his inspiration chiefly from Bellini, and a few
other Italian composers of the same school. In
like manner Bellini was often inspired by the
popular airs of Naples, the city in which he studied.
That lovely song Finestra che lucevi (given in
Ricordi's collection, Eco di Napoliy vol. i. p. i6)
has its ^^ echo " in one of the most telling passages
of La Sonnambula, We could fancy Bellini wished
to recall to the minds of his hearers the sad words
of those verses so familiar to the people in order
to emphasise the situation of the disconsolate
Elvino. Whether he wished it or not, he has done
so, or 1 should not be able to mention the fact.

In some of the most effective violin music of
De Beriot we meet with like reminiscences of
Bellini's Norma (First Concerto), of Auber's La
Sirene (Ninth Concerto), of Rossini's La Gazza
Ladra (Sixteenth Etude mclodiquc), and many
other instances.



When I was a very young boy, and was just
beginning to play some of these deUghtful ItaHan
melodies upon my violin, I used to listen with
rapture to the playing of my paternal uncle upon
the flute. He was a man whose soul was devoted
to melody, and I shall never forget a little speech
he made to me when he paid us a visit one
summer in Brussels. Alluding to the study of com-
position, he remarked, '' My dear nephew, as you
advance in life you will find that the most difficult
thing in the world is to compose an original air."

We have, indeed, such a number of beautiful
songs in the world that some of the greatest com-
posers have not been able to avoid reminiscences
of previous compositions, which are often very
striking to those w^ho hear them for the first time.
It is, however, a thing to be carefully avoided in
producing a new work.

When you have an original melody the harmony
will take care of itself ; it is not very difficult to
supply the latter, and it should not be so compli-
cated or pedantic as to injure the theme — a fault
that is rather conspicuous in many modern com-

After such men as Zingarelli, Mercadante,
BeUini, Donizetti, Rossini, and others of the
modern ItaUan school (often spoken of as the
*' romantic school," in contrast to the ^' classical
school " of Bach, Handel, Haydn, &c.), it is


almost impossible to hit upon a decidedly new air
fit for the lyric stage. Of late years the only
musician who has thoroughly succeeded in this
respect is the veteran composer Verdi ; and some
of his melodies in / Lonibardi, II Trovatore, Ernanij
and RigolettOy have consequently become extremely

As I have cultivated this so-called ^^ romantic
school " all my life, without in any way despising
the other (for, like Rossini, I only recognise two
kinds of music : *' that which is good, and that
which is bad "), I have convinced myself that
young composers whose livelihood depends upon
the success of their compositions, cannot do better,
after familiarising themselves with Mozart and
Cimarosa, for instance, as a preliminary training,
than make a very careful study of the three operas
LElisire d^AmorCy by Donizetti ; // Barbiere^ by
Rossini ; and La Somtambtda, by Bellini ; more
especially the first-named.

If the complete score is not within their reach,
let them take the partition for voice and piano of
the Elisire d* Amove ; and, first, carefully study the
Italian words {^not the translations into French,
English, or German, which are often very defec-
tive), and then the music, bar by bar, from begin-
ning to end. It is one of the best lessons in
composition that I can recommend ; and it will
be all the more useful if they have been fortunate


enough to have seen the opera performed once or
twice before they study it from the composer's
point of view.

To produce an effective opera the greatest care
should be given to secure a well-written poem or
libretto. A silly plot, or one that is too elaborate,
are equally to be discarded.

Spontini's La Vestak had to be considerably cut
down before it could be declared successful, fine as
the music was. When Lesueur, the composer
whom Napoleon I. patronised, was asked his
opinion upon it by the young Italian composer,
he did not hesitate to declare that it was a very
fine work, indeed — in fact, that it had only one fault.

1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryT. L. (Thomas Lamb) PhipsonVoice and violin : sketches, anecdotes, and reminiscences → online text (page 4 of 19)