They play the violin. The American Girls Who Are Celebrities.
THERE ARE SEVEN OF THEM. Like Poets, They Were Born Violinists, Not Made–Interesting Facts and Particulars.1The Brooklyn Citizen, August 4, 1895, p. 10, accessed via newspapers.com
Young women violinists from the United States made headlines such as this in the late nineteenth century.2See also “Our women violinists,” The Philadelphia Inquirer April 9, 1893, p. 19, accessed via newspapers.com. The most frequently profiled were Dora Valeska Becker (1870-1958), Maud Powell (1867-1920), Leonora Jackson (1879-1969), and Geraldine Morgan (1867-1918).3The six others in this article were Maud Powell, Miss Bertha Behrens, Miss Bertha Webb, Laura B. Phelps, Jeanne Franko, and Miss Currie Duke.
While publicizing their very real achievements, these news items also emphasized their conventionally feminine charms. In the “American Girls” article, Geraldine Morgan is introduced this way: “She is an attractive-looking girl, and I must say that the accompanying photograph falls far short of doing her justice. She has a mass of Titian-hued hair, large brown eyes and a peachy complexion. The day I saw her she had on a most becoming light-blue cashmere dress, with some soft lace about her neck. Her hands are white and shapely.”
Morgan stands out in several ways, even without a lot of information to go on. First, she was a longtime friend of her teacher Joachim: they maintained a correspondence and she visited him in Berlin at least twice.4“Miss Geraldine Morgan recently returned from a summer’s trip to Berlin, consulting with Joachim, arranging with him for several former pupils to go to him, and making larger plans for this season. She was also the guest of the well-known Mendelssohn family, old friends, and had altogether a delightful experience.” Musical Courier (1901): 33. Second, she founded a successful school called the “Joachim Violin School” in New York where she taught Joachim’s “Method.” Third, after making her name as a soloist, she led various chamber groups in New York for at least ten years. She enlisted members of the musical Morgan family in both her teaching and performing projects.
Geraldine Woods Morgan was the daughter of John P. Morgan –but not that J.P. Morgan. Her father was a composer and organist from an illustrious scholarly family; his father was Oberlin College theology professor and abolitionist John Morgan. John P. Morgan (1841-1879) helped found the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in 1865.5Robert Samuel Fletcher, A History of Oberlin College from its foundation through the civil war (Oberlin College, 1943), 183, 801-03. He moved to New York and became a prominent organist at Trinity Church in Manhattan. The move to Santa Barbara, California a few years later was intended to improve his health, but he died of tuberculosis when he was only 38 years old.6Arthur Henry Messiter, A history of the choir and music of Trinity Church (New York Edwin S. Gorham, New York : 1906). Morgan’s New York friends Leopold Damrosch and the Schirmers (of the music publishing company) helped his widow Virginia move the family to Leipzig so that all four children could study at the Conservatory, as their father had done in the 1860s. Geraldine and her two younger sisters, Theodoria (“Dora”) and Cornelia (“Nell”), studied violin and the son, Paul, studied cello. Geraldine’s teacher at the Leipzig Conservatory was Henry Schradieck. When he left to become the director of the Cincinnati College of Music, the family moved on to Berlin, and all four eventually studied at the Hochschule.7Dora and Nell studied with Andreas Moser and Paul was Robert Hausmann’s pupil.
Geraldine Morgan was admitted to Joachim’s class in 1883. She became the first American to be awarded a Mendelssohn Prize, and she received it twice: in 1886 for 200 marks, and in 1887 for the highest amount of 1500 marks. She made her debut performing the Spohr Concerto No. 9 with the Berlin Philharmonic, Joachim conducting, on 3 January 1887. Subsequently she toured as a soloist with representation by the Hermann Wolff concert agency from 1888-91. A highlight was playing the Bach Concerto for Two Violins with Joachim in London on 3 March 1888. According to profiles in American papers, Joachim loaned her one of his four Stradivarius violins, which was later purchased for her by a New York patron.8“They Play The Violin. The American Girls Who Are Celebrities,” The Brooklyn Citizen, August 4, 1895, 10. Accessed via newspapers.com (There is a 1708 Stradivarius violin that is currently known as the “Joachim/Geraldine Morgan.”)9Anne Mischakoff Heiles, America’s Concertmasters (Sterling Heights, MI: Harmonie Park Press, 2007), 520. She continued to tour as a soloist for a few years, and gave concerts once back in the U.S. She performed the Bruch 3rd Violin Concerto with the New York Philharmonic in Carnegie Hall with Walter Damrosch conducting on 6 February 1892, and repeated this performance with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Nikisch conducting, on 8 February 1892.
Advertisements for the “Joachim Violin School,” also called the “Joseph Joachim School,” started appearing in 1898. The claim that she had the “only school in America authorized by Professor Dr. Joachim to teach his method,” sparked a controversy in the Musical Courier about whether Joachim could be said to have a “method.”10J. Arthur Demuth, “The Joachim Method,” Musical Courier 37 (August 16, 1899): 16. The school continued to be advertised this way until at least 1908. It was located at Carnegie Hall, and eventually included her brother Paul and sister Nell as faculty. Classes were expanded to offer instruction to beginners, adults, and teachers.11Musical Courier 1901: 33.
In 1898 she also established the Morgan Quartet, in which her brother played cello and the two other players were Fritz Schaefer12Schaefer is listed as playing viola in the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1904-05. and Eugene Boegner. The latter was another former Joachim student who had been a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1891-97. Besides playing and teaching with his sister, Paul Morgan also played in the New York Philharmonic.13He was on the roster in 1910.
Geraldine founded the Morgan Chamber Music Club in 1897, which lasted several years. Its Gilded Age society members included the wives of Robert Abbe, (the surgeon who introduced radiation therapy for cancer), coal-mining magnate Edward J. Berwind (who also helped establish the New York subway system), and international polo champion John E. Cowdin.14Musical Courier vol. 44 no. 10 (5 March 1902): 15. In 1902 the club held six concerts in the homes of architect Stanford White and Henry W. Poor (of Standard & Poor’s). Assisting artists for that season included Fritz Kreisler and Hans Hermann Wetzler, who founded an orchestra the following year and brought Richard Strauss over to conduct concerts of his music.
In 1901, she married Benjamin F. Roeder, an agent for the stage manager and playwright David Belasco, and had one son, but did not retire from her profession. She had a chamber music series in New York during the 1908-09 season.
Geraldine Morgan died of an unspecified illness at age 51 at her home at 124 W. 55th St. in New York, on 20 May 1918.15New York Herald, 22 May 1918, p. 7. Among those who attended her funeral were Fritz Kreisler, Mischa Elman, the Kneisel Quartet, and the Godowsky family.16Louise Dooly, “In the World of Music,” The Atlanta Constitution, May 26, 1918, p.6, accessed via https://www.newspapers.com. This list of musical stars surely indicates that she had been a highly respected professional and important part of New York musical life.