Pioneer Female String Players in Vilnius: From Soloists to the Orchestra (2nd Half of the 19th Century)

Vida Bakutytė (PDF)

The article focuses on the performances of the first publicly performing female string players (local and touring musicians) in Vilnius. This topic, which is concerned with an epoch-making change in a woman’s identity, is discussed in the context of the European and global situation that has been determined by long-lasting public intolerance towards the performances of female string players on public stages. The circumstances started changing with the growing pace of the movement for women’s equality in the second half of the 19th century.

The article focuses on female violin and cello virtuosos, whose profession had a stigma attached to it in comparison to other instruments or singing for the longest period of time: playing the violin and cello was perceived as provoking a more eloquent expression of the performer’s emotions and holding the instrument close to the face (violin) or between the knees (cello) was seen as evoking erotic associations and, therefore, incompatible with the desired image of a delicate, shy woman.

Culturally established centuries-long standards, according to which women’s musical performances had to be restricted to home environment, had an important role to play as well.

Though quite a number of female violinists and cellists received education at the conservatories of Paris and Berlin in the second half of the 19th century, solo playing a string instrument on a concert stage was (with certain exceptions) still considered a new female profession even at the end of the 19th century. When orchestras began to form, women were still being ignored. This circumstance led to the establishment of all-female orchestras: in the middle of the 19th century, violinist Josephine Weinlich founded the First European Ladies’ Orchestra (Ersten europäischen Damen-Orchester) in Vienna, which also paid a visit to Vilnius (1873).

The article presents the findings of the research that has analysed the performances of female violin and cello soloists and female performers in string quartets as well as the First European Ladies’ Orchestra and the reception of these performances in Lithuania; it also assesses their importance. The research mostly focuses on world-renowned performers, namely violinists Wilma Neruda, Teresina Tua, and Metaura Torricelli and cellists Lisa Cristiani-Barbier and Lucy Campbell, as well as the First European Ladies’ Orchestra led by one of the first female conductors in the world Josephine Weinlich, and the circumstances of their concerts in Vilnius.

The achievements of the local female string players  – Teofila Borowska, Wanda Bohuszewicz Halka-Ledóchowska, etc. – deserve a special mention as well. The above performers, who were building their careers in the context of the sociocultural public life at a time when similar activities were restricted on the grounds of gender, were the true pioneers of their field and became an example to be followed by the female musicians of the next generation in Lithuania and worldwide in their endeavour to exercise their right to free artistic expression.

Key words: Lithuania, Vilnius, 19th century, music, concert life, first violinists and cellists, First European Ladies’ Orchestra