The lady violinist, an exhibition of grace
The “Violin Girl” as a solution to the “Piano Girl”
Around 1890, English-language press started describing a trend in which women musicians were choosing the violin over the piano. “Violin playing is all the rage now, and is a welcome relief after the feminine piano banging one is forced to endure. Girls do not realize that they are not intended, with a few exceptions, to play the piano.”1Musical Courier (1889) 476. This article argued that girls pounded the keys to overcompensate for their lack of strength, making it unpleasant to listen to. But another item from the Musical Courier that year indicated that the ones experiencing “welcome relief” were men trying to make a living as pianists.
As described in earlier posts, the problem of “too much music” (meaning more supply than demand) was blamed on the usual suspects: the masses, the proletariat, and women. As the piano industry boomed, the number of women pianists became recognized as a problem.
The popularity of the violin (an industry undergoing its own boom) seemed to some to offer a solution. But as with the piano, women had not been intended to play the violin. How did this attitude change? The Strad argued that a woman’s pleasing appearance while playing outweighed other considerations:
“Why in the brief space of a few years has public opinion, with regard to female violinists, undergone so violent a change? Is it not because instead of being unladylike and ungraceful, the playing upon the lute and viol is in reality one of the most graceful of technical accomplishments? Can it be denied for one moment that if a lady must play any instrument she cannot choose one more (or even equally) graceful than the violin? Next to the violin, I may take it that the pianoforte is the most popular instrument among ladies. Now, candidly, does this afford one tenth part of the opportunity for the exhibition of grace that the violin affords? Where is the opportunity for showing the beautifully shaped arm, the graceful lissome figure when playing the larger instrument? The very shape of the violin in graceful-can the same be said of the other? No–no–no!
The Strad 5 (1894): 122-23.
Some professional violinists at the end of the 19th century (who were also Joachim pupils)
“The violin is becoming more and more popular for woman. It seems to be a part of herself. Her grace and its grace are akin. The poetry of motion is in the woman with a violin. One half of her public success is due to her beauty, enhanced by the skillful manipulation of her bow and the tout ensemble of the girl and the violin….I have seen the violin girl in art galleries. I have seen her likeness at the exhibits of our best photographers. I have seen her on posters and alas–on cigar boxes and calendars!”
Edith Lynwood Winn, “Noted Women Violinists,” The Musician 8 (1903): 150-51.