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Introducing THE HISTORICAL STRING RECORDINGS PODCAST , The incredible story of Kathleen Parlow part I

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Kathleen Parlow was one of the most outstanding violinists at the beginning of the 20th century.

In 1912, she was signed by the Columbia Record Company in New York, and her first records for the U.S. label were brought out alongside those of the legendary Eugene Ysaÿe.

Listen to her fascinating story and how she took the world by storm. From her devastating looks to the intrigue her priceless instrument created. You will hear rare recordings of this prodigious player as we retell her life and try to understand why such an incredible talent has been so forgotten today.

Brought to you by Biddulph recordings

TRANSCRIPT

Kathleen Parlow Part 1

Welcome to this very first episode of the Historical Strings Recording Podcast. A show that gives you a chance to hear rare and early recordings of great masters and their stories. Hello, my name is Linda Lespets. I'm a violin maker and restorer in Sydney, Australia, and I'm also the host of another podcast called ‘The Violin Chronicles’, a show about the lives of historically important violin makers and their instruments.

But today we have a different podcast and telling this incredible story with me is my co-host Eric Wen.

Hello, my name is Eric Wen, and I'm the producer at Biddulph Recordings, which is a label that focuses upon reissuing historic recordings, particularly those by famous string players of the past. I also teach at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where I've been for the past 24 years.

In this first episode, we will be looking at an incredibly talented violinist called Kathleen Parlow, who, in her time, took Europe and the world by storm, giving even Fritz Kreisler a run for his money in the popularity department.

She was described in the media as being ‘One of the phenomena of the musical world’ on par with Mischa Elman, or the ‘greatest lady violinist in the world’, and ‘the girl with the golden bow’. She was treated with superstar status wherever she went, which begs the question as to why she is so little known today?

Well, join us to discover her incredible story, the events of her career and her violin. A violin which would eventually financially ruin one man and divide his family. We will take a closer look at high hat kicking breakdancers, militant fascists, scandalous theatre directors, impossible love, a score ripping composer, and all this revolving around one of the world's most expensive violins and the incredible means one man went to get it into his hot little hands and then give it away.

This is the story of Kathleen Parlow.

And all of the pieces you will be hearing in this podcast are of Kathleen Parlow playing her violin.

Kathleen Parlow was born into a modest family in Calgary on the Canadian prairies in 1890. Her mother, Minnie, was a violinist. So, at a young age at four, she gave her daughter a violin and started teaching her. When she was six years old, the family, Kathleen, Minnie, and her father, Charlie, they moved to San Francisco where her talent was immediately recognized. And well, this is probably because of the, the mom. And she was having lessons with her cousin called Conrad Coward in San Francisco. Very soon, still aged six, she gave her first recital in San Francisco.

So is six, is six a reasonable age for a child to give a recital? What do you think? It's extremely young. In fact, that is truly prodigious. I mean, people don't even begin the violin till six and that's an early beginning of an instrument. Most people start around seven or eight, but to begin much earlier and to even be playing a concert at the age of six. That's really quite phenomenal.

So with her burgeoning talent, she now started having lessons with Henry Holmes, who was a pupil of Louis Spohr, the well-known German composer and violinist. And he's a conductor and who he's the man who apparently invented the chin rest. So where would we be without the chin rest, really? He's attributed with inventing it.

Well, Spohr was a fine violinist, German violinist. He was also a quite prominent composer. He was quite a conservative composer. So, I believe he wasn't that fond of the music of Beethoven. In other words, there were people like Spohr, Von Weber, and they represented a much more conservative branch of the sort of German composition. of the German composers. And basically, they looked upon Beethoven as such a wild revolutionary in his music, so daring that I think they were almost a little offended by it. So Spohr, if you could say, is primarily a kind of conservative, very well-schooled, excellent composer. He wrote many, many violin concertos, the most famous of which is No. 8 in A minor, which is written in the form of an operatic scene. Full of violin solo recitatives and arias for the violin.

Oh, wow. Yeah, that's interesting. So they were, there was like very shocked by Beethoven. They were, apparently. Was he a contemporary of Beethoven? Because I, because sometimes you go back pretty quickly, don't you? Like the teacher of the teacher of and all of a sudden you're in like the

Well, Spohr was born 14, he's 14 years younger than Beethoven.

Oh, okay. So, he was born in 1784, but he lived a lot longer. He lived over 20 years longer than Beethoven.

Oh, wow. And that's fascinating. So, Henry Holmes, Kathleen Parlow's teacher, was taught by this guy who would have known Beethoven?

Yes, absolutely.

And objected to Beethoven. Was shocked by his music.

Well, I mean, I think sort of the, you might say the more mature Beethoven or the more daring Beethoven. But I think, you know, I'm sure maybe some of Beethoven's early works were much more acceptable. They were more normative, so to speak.

Oh, okay. So Kathleen's in San Francisco and her parents’ marriage is breaking down. Her father, Charlie, moves back to Calgary where he dies of tuberculosis the year after. But Kathleen, she rockets on and is becoming more and more well known. Her new teacher sees real talent in the girl, and this teacher, Henry Holmes, he has contacts to make things happen. And he helps arrange a tour for her and playing engagements in England. So for this to happen, Kathleen's mum, she's, she's I'm getting stage mum vibes.

Yes.

Because she's still very, still very young.

Oh, yeah. I mean, I can't believe she wasn't playing with dolls.

And this would have been a conversation between Minnie, Kathleen's mum, and the teacher. It probably wouldn't have been a conversation with her as a child.

No, probably not.

You don't really choose much when you're six, seven.

No, that's true.

So the problem they have is that they have no money. So, so what do you do, Eric? You have no money, you have a prodigy.

You exploit the prodigy by having them play and make an income for you, which is something that happens unfortunately to many, many talented musicians coming from, you might say, less well-off families. They end up becoming the breadwinner. All their focus gets put upon these, these kids. And so not only do they have the added burden of playing and making sure they keep up They're playing well, but they also have the burden of making sure that they play well enough to make an income so that their families can survive. I mean, that's a very familiar story, and it's a story that has more failures than winners, I'm afraid, because you do hear about the winners. You do hear about the Misha Elmans or the Yasha. Well, Heifetz is a little different because he had a more middle-class family, but you do hear of Oskar Shumsky, for example, who I know I knew personally, he says, don't believe that these violence that you hear about having normal childhood behind every great violence, there's always a mama or a papa. And I think he himself endured that kind of pressure, the pressure to somehow become. The breadwinner, or let's say the some, the pressure to become a great violinist, primarily because he would serve as the breadwinner for the family. Well, if you think about it, you could say that. Violin playing in the early 20th century was very dominated by Russians, particularly Russian Jews. And one of the reasons for that was that in Russia, all the Jews were confined to an area known as the Pale of Settlement. In other words, a designated area that they could live in, but they could not leave that particular area. And basically, some very gifted young students could get into university or could go into a conservatory, and one of the big examples was Misha Elman, and Misha Elman, you might say left the Pale of Settlement to go study with Leopold Auer in St Petersburg. And they had to get all sorts of permission to do that. Well, the success of Misha Elman, the global success, the international success, I think resonated so well. with the people in the ghetto that they sort of saw, wow, this is one of our boys and look what he's done. He's now playing for the crowned heads of Europe. So I think for them, they felt this was a way out. And if you think about it, the film, Fiddler on the Roof, which is a famous musical and it was adapted as a famous film. And basically, that film, just the very title, talks about the Fiddler on the Roof. And the setting is in the Pale of Settlement, the Jewish ghetto in Russia. They're often subjected to random attacks by the Cossacks and all sorts of difficulties. But here, despite all that, you know they manage to survive. And of course the image of the Fiddler on the Roof. The violinist is exemplified, you might say, by Misha Elman, who literally grew up in the Russian ghetto.

Yeah, and Misha Elman, he'll, he'll become, he He'll become important in our story, yeah.

The money. This is not a problem. There is a wealthy admirer called Harriet Pullman, Carolan, in San Francisco. And she pays for Kathleen and her mother to take the trip to England. And in 1904, at the age of 14, Kathleen plays for King Edward VII at Buckingham Palace. And then in the next year in 1905, she and her mother, they come back to England. This tour marks the beginning of a life that she would lead for years to come of performing and playing. And so by the time she was 15, she was touring and playing with the London Symphony. And it was in a concert at the Wigmore Hall in London that she really shoots to fame. So is the Wigmore Hall, is that, is that still today an important place to play?

Oh, extremely so. It's funny because the Wigmore Hall was originally called the Bechstein Hall, and obviously during the wars, it became a much more the name was more neutralized to become less dramatic, and it became named after the street it's on, which is Wigmore Street. It was always a very important venue, but around the sort of 60s In the 70s it had declined a bit in its status because the South Bank had been built and so the Wigmore Hall was a little bit relegated to a sort of a little second class status. But in the past 20 years or so the Wigmore Hall has catapulted to fame again and it's today one of the most distinguished halls. In London.

All right. Okay. And this is, this is pre war. So it's, it would have been called?

Bechstein.

Okay. So it would have been called the Bechstein Hall when she played?

Probably. Oh yeah, definitely. So the Bechstein Hall was, I think first opened in 1901 and it was built by the piano manufacturers, the German manufacturers Bechstein, hence the name. And after the First World War, I believe it was changed to a more neutral sounding, less Germanic name, and it adopted the name of the street that it's currently on, which is Wigmore Street. Incidentally, the first concert at Wigmore Hall was actually performed, was a violin and piano recital, performed by Eugene Ysaye and Federico Busoni.

And then one night in London, Kathleen and her mother went to another concert of another child prodigy called Mischa Elman. And he was, so he's the fiddler on the roof guy, and he was almost exactly the same age as Kathleen. He was just a few months there's just a few months difference between them. And she, she hears him playing this concert and she's, she's just blown away. Blown away, and after the concert, she and her mother decide that Kathleen, she just has to go and have lessons from the same teacher as this, as this, as Mischa. So the only thing, only little thing about Mischa Elman's teacher is that he is in Russia. And as far as anyone knows, no foreigners study in the St. Petersburg Conservatorium, but that is about to change. Definitely no ladies. So, Kathleen and her mother had arrived in England with 300 raised by their church in San Francisco and this was, it just wasn't enough to get them to Russia and to the conservatorium where the famed Leopold Auer was a professor, but get there they would because Kathleen's mum, Minnie, still had a few tricks up her sleeve. She went and petitioned the Canadian High Commissioner. So she must have been, I feel like Minnie, she must have been very persuasive. Like there was nothing was getting in between, you know, her daughter and this career.

Forceful, a task to be reckoned with, certainly.

Yeah. She's like we'll get to England, we have no money. Not a problem. We're gonna, we're gonna get this teacher. He's in Russia. Not a problem. No foreigners. It, you know, it doesn't, it doesn't seem to be a problem for her, no girls. Not a problem. No foreigner has ever studied in this St. Petersburg conservatorium. Not daunted. They're off. They go. So to pay the cost travel, Minnie managed to get a loan from Lord Strathconia, the Canadian high commissioner. And from there, mother and daughter travelled to Russia. And in October of 1906, Kathleen becomes the first foreigner to attend the St. Petersburg Conservatorium. And in her class are 45 Students and she's the only girl. And we have to remember this is pre-revolutionary Russia. So there's still the Tsar Nicholas the second at this point. Yeah. She's mixing in, in that set. So it's an interesting place to be as a musician. Cause you're frequenting the sort of the upper classes but you can come from, from nothing and arrive there. Her professor was the famed teacher, Leopold Auer, who had a knack of discovering talent.

Leopold Auer was actually a Hungarian violinist, and he was trained in Vienna, and he also studied with Joachim. And what happened was Russia has always had a sort of love for the violin, and they employed many people to teach at the conservatory, because they really embraced Western culture. They had A number of important French violinists come, but their big, you might say, catch was to get Vieuxtemps, Henri Vieuxtemps, to teach for a number of years at, in St. Petersburg. And after Henry Vieuxtemps, they actually got Henry Wieniawski to teach at the conservatory. And when Wieniawski decided to go back to Europe, they employed Leopold Auer to take his place at St Petersburg.

Right. So he's up there with the big names.

Well, they were a little bit let down. I mean, that's what they were, I think, a little bit disappointed to replace Wieniawski with Leopold Auer because Wieniawski was such a major violinist. So he had initially a little rough time, but he was adored by Tchaikovsky and Tchaikovsky loved Auer's playing, dedicated a number of works for him, including the famous serenade melancholic, and wrote a lot number of ballet scores, which Leopold Auer played the solos for. But of course, they had a big rift when Tchaikovsky wrote his violin concerto for Auer, because Auer said it was unplayable. And that really hurt Tchaikovsky's feelings. And it laid dormant for several years before another Russian violinist. Brodsky took it up, learned it, and. Premiered it in Europe first, and only after its success in Europe did he bring it back to Russia, where it became a big success, and Auer felt very bad about that, and in fact, just before Tchaikovsky died, a few months before Tchaikovsky died, story has it that Auer went to Tchaikovsky and apologized to Tchaikovsky for his initial mistrust of the concerto. In fact, by that time, Auer himself had actually performed the concerto, championed it, and taught it to many of his students.

Yeah, and we'll see in this story how sensitive composers are, and how easy it is to hurt their feelings and really create. Like a lot of emotional turmoil. That's coming up. So Auer, like he might not have been their first choice for replacing, but he did have a knack of finding star pupils. That is something that we see, that I see in the conservatorium. Every now and then you have a teacher who's very talented at finding talent.

Absolutely. And I know in Australia you have one very distinguished teacher who I think now has been poached by the Menuhin School in, in England.

Yes. And we're not going to talk about that.

Yes, we won't. Because it's Must be a sore point. But we do see, we do see him every now and then when he comes back. So along with Elman and Efren Zimbalist, Parlow becomes one of Auer's star pupils and Auer was so taken with her playing that he often called her Elman in a skirt, which I think is supposed to be a compliment. And in Auer's biography, he writes, he says, “It was during this year that my first London pupil came to me, Kathleen Parlow, who has since become one of the first, if not the first, of women violinists”. And that, he says that in his biography, My Long Life in Music. So, Every year, Auer had a summer school in Kristiana, which is Oslo today. And Parlow spent her summers there and became a great favourite in Norway, which leads us to the next and perhaps one of the most marking events in her career and life.

At 17, having spent a year at the conservatory in Russia, Kathleen begins to put on public performances she gives solo performances in both St. Petersburg and Helsinki. So these are two places she knows quite well by now. And these concerts were, they were very important as Kathleen's mother really had no money to support them. And so, with but you know, Minnie doesn't bother her, she just ploughs on. And so with the money from these concerts this would have to tide her over. From letters that I've read, they were living in like this small apartment and then another friend writes, you know this other person, they've been saying you live in a tiny little place, but I'm not going to spread that rumor. And, and so it was a, it was a thing on the radar that they didn't have much money and they were scraping by and they were like frequenting people of much more wealthier than they were, so they were sort of on the fringes of society, but with her talent that was sort of pushing, people wanted to know her.

So she makes her professional debut in Berlin and then began, she begins a tour of Germany and the Netherlands and Norway. And in Norway, she performs for the King Hakon and Queen Maud. Of whom she'll become a favorite. And, and her touring schedule was phenomenal. It was just like nonstop. So, yeah. For a 17-year-old that's, you know, she's going all over the world. And you were saying that Auer knew . Do Tchaikovsky do you think Auer, was he was giving her these pieces that did, that influenced him? Yes. I mean, Tchaikovsky wrote a number of violin, solo violin works before the concerto, the most famous of which is, of course, the Waltz Scherzo and the Serenade Melancholique. One is a fast, virtuoso piece, the other is a slow, soulful piece. And I know that Auer was the dedicatee of certainly the Serenade Melancholique, which she did play.

So, so Auer's giving her stuff from, you know, his friend Tchaikovsky to play. Now she's 17 and she's touring to support herself and her mother and she has an amazing teacher who probably understands her circumstances all too well because Auer growing up also found himself in her position, supporting his father in his youth with his playing. So she's studying in St. Petersburg, which is an incredible feat in itself. So she must have had quite a strong character and her mother, Minnie, also appears to be very ambitious for her daughter. We're talking about her mother being ambitious, but for Kathleen to, you know, she's her daughter, she, she must've had quite a strong wheel as well.

Yes. Well, she certainly did. I wish we knew more about her because maybe she was very subservient, you know, we have no idea. Maybe she didn't have, I mean, it's a speculation, of course.

Yeah. We do have like hundreds of letters from Kathleen and there's a lot between her and Auer, and there's a real sort of paternal, he really sort of cared for her like a daughter almost and she looked up to him like a father and he was always very correct about it, you know, he would always write the letter to her. To Minnie, her mother the correspondents, it was, and it was always very, everything was very above board, but a very, they were very close.

Kathleen later says that after expenses, her Berlin debut netted her exactly 10 pounds. She didn't know it at the time, but this was an indication of what her future would be like, and she would be sort of financially in a precarious state most of her life, and she would so her routine was she studies with Auer every summer in order to prepare, like they were preparing her repertoire for the next season of touring.

So now she has a tour in 1908, so she's still 17, almost 18. It's in Norway, and to understand just a little bit of the political climate in the country, We can see that Norway, only three years earlier, had become independent of Sweden and had basically become its own country. So there's this this great sense of nationalism and pride in being Norwegian. And they have a newly minted king, King Hakon, who she's played for, and his queen, who was, He was in fact a Danish prince. And then when Norway, the Norwegian parliament asked him if he would like to become the king of Norway when they had their independence. And he said, why not? As part of this great sense of nationalism Norwegian musicians, composers, writers, and poets, they were celebrated and became superstars.

And, oh gosh, yes,

We can sort of understand. Poets have sort of dropped off the list, but back then poets, they were a big deal. So you add to this a young, fresh faced, talented Canadian girl who knows and understands their country. She arrives in Oslo to play in the National Theatre, where Norway's very own Johan Halvorsen who's conductor and composer and violinist, he's conducting the country's largest professional orchestra. And that night for Kathleen's concert, she plays Brahms and some of Halvorsen's compositions and the two, Kathleen Parloe and Halvorsen, they would go on to become quite good friends and Halvorsen regarded her very highly in saying, he said that her playing was superior almost to all the other famous soloists who made guest appearances in the city. So, I mean, a lot of people went through Oslo, so that was, you know, high praise. And Kathleen quickly Becomes a admirer of his and she would become a driving factor in him finishing his violin concerto that he'd been dithering over for a very long time. And this is Kathleen playing one of Halvorsen's compositions.

It's not his concerto, it's Mosaic No. 4.

So back to the theatre. And it was a magical night with the romantic music of Brahms to make you fall in love. And everyone did, just some more than others. And to finish off, there's music from their very own Johan Halvorsen to celebrate you know, a Norwegian talent. So Kathleen plays her heart out and when the concert ended, the crowd goes wild and the 17 year old soaks up the thunderous applause. She's holding on tight to her violin as she bows to adoring fans. Tonight she is the darling of Oslo. In the uproarious crowd stands a man unable to take his eyes off this young woman. Her playing has moved him and her talent is unbelievable. This man makes a decision that will change both their lives forever.

So, Einar Bjornsson had fallen head over heels for the 17 year old Canadian there and then. She would turn 18 in a few months. And in that moment, he decided to give her the most beautiful gift she would ever receive. So, who is Einar Bjornsson? So what we were saying, poets, poets are less of a, you know, a hot shot today, but Einar was the son of a very, very famous poet. A Norwegian businessman and son of one of the most prominent public figures of the day, Bjørnstan Bjørnsson. He was a poet, a dramatist, a novelist, a journalist, an editor, a public speaker, and a theatre director. Five years earlier, in 1903, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, and one of his poems, called ‘Yes, We Love This Land’, was put to music and is the Norwegian national anthem up to this day. So, you could say he was kind of famous in these parts, and his personality alone would have easily filled. A concert hall, that one in Oslo. Einar's father here, we're talking about Einar's father, he's the poet. Einar himself doesn't appear to have written any poetry. And this, so this situation could have been just fine the whole infatuation, love at first sight thing, except for a few things that put a spanner in the works.

To begin with, Einar Björnsson is somewhat older than the youthful Kathleen he's 26 years older. Then her, in fact, and for a 17 year old, that is a big age gap. So he's 45, but that aside, there is a problem that he's also married and has two children. His daughter is actually almost the same age as Kathleen she's 16, but he doesn't really seem to see that. All he can see is this violinist and her talent. And he's been just, he's besotted and he's going to make a grand gesture. So obviously, one way to support the arts is to, what patrons do is they will buy, a lovely instrument and lend it to someone. So that's your normal affair. Obviously, one way to show his devotion to her is to find her a better violin. Hers is absolutely not good enough for someone of her talent. And he has to find her something amazing because she is amazing. He's determined to give her the most wonderful gift she has ever received. So he goes out and he's a businessman. And so he goes to his businessman contacts. And Kathleen would have spoken to her entourage. I imagine, and I now finally finds a violin worthy of Kathleen's virtuosity, and it happens to be one of the most expensive violins on the market in 1908, and it's a 1735 Giuseppe Guarneri Del Gesu violin.

It had previously belonged to great violinists such as Giovanni Battista Viotti and Pierre Baillot. So just to clarify in the violin making world Antonio Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesù are the two top makers. If you're comparing two instruments, if one was owned by no one not anyone that you know. And then another one was owned by Viotti and Pierre Baillot . The one that's owned by Viotti and Pierre Baillot is probably going to be worth more. Yeah. So Viotti, he was just huge. He had a lot of instruments. I think he did a little bit of teaching and dealing on the side, Viotti. Like with the number of instruments named after him, or he just went through a lot of instruments. So she buys this violin, and it's not all smooth sailing to get the violin. Because she, there's this, there's a big correspondence between her and Auer, and we see that actually there's this letter where it says from Auer saying, I saw Hamming very cross. He says that the violin is compromised if he takes it back. So at one point, I think she may have changed her mind about this violin, but Hamming the dealer was not okay with this. All the I'm just trying to read his writing, it's not that easy. All the papers brought the news That Kathleen bought it so the newspapers have already, so the, you've got Hamming, that's annoyed, the papers have already said they've bought this violin and he could not, it says he could not sell it soon and repeat the sale, waiting till he finds something equal to the Guarneri.

He showed me a Strad, indeed wonderful, asking 60, 000 livres, which must be pounds, right? A nice fellow, isn't he? And now, goodbye, write to me. Love, Auer. They do end up getting the violin. They, they don't get the 60, 000 Strad that Hamming Gets all upset about and offers, which I think he might have been exaggerating the price just to make him calm down about and to keep the del Gesu.

Then Einar gives this to Kathleen. So this is a very kind of strange situation because normally you don't, you don't actually give, the patrons don't actually give their instrument to the

No, absolutely. That's a remarkable gift. Just in terms of, I mean, the gesture is very magnanimous, but in terms of financial, there's just a financial cost or value of the gift is quite enormous.

And so really after only knowing her for a month, Einar transfers this money into her account and she travels, Kathleen travels to Germany to the Hamming workshop and purchases her del Gesu violin for two thousand pounds and in today's money according to an inflation calculator, that is three hundred thousand pounds. Almost four hundred thousand US dollars. More than half a million Australian dollars, which at the time was a lot for a violin as well. So we're not I mean, I, today you'd be kind of happy to buy a Del Gesu for half a million, but then it was, it'd be a bargain. So, it's interesting this, like, he buys this, this young violinist this very expensive present and it's a, and it's a grey area and it's fraught with debate ethically, really. And I feel like today musicians find themselves sometimes in this position where they're sort of indebted to the, to a benefactor. It's almost feudal. I I feel cause at the same time you're very happy that they're lending it to you, but got to keep an eye on if it's a healthy relationship to. To get the money he had to get, you know, half a million pounds pretty quickly. If you remember, Ina's father was a very famous poet who'd won a Nobel Prize in literature and part of the prize is that you win a large sum of money. And so, what does Einar do? He goes and asks Dad. So he asks, he borrows, he borrows most of the money actually. Goodness knows how he convinced him, but you know, he's a businessman. And also for the remaining, he's married, remember, and he's married to, actually, to an heiress, and he takes a bunch of her, her dowry money and transfers this to essentially a teenager he met a month ago. The purchase of this incredibly expensive violin attracted, it attracted the attention of the press internationally, but journalists It's never really questioned the fact that this, this gift was given to a young woman by a, by an established family man. So everyone was just like, Oh, isn't it amazing? Because normally in this circumstance, people don't often give the instrument. You buy it as an investment and you'll lend it to someone. I think I've heard of like very few, very few cases of things being gifted, but actually normally your standard practice is to, to lend it to people. And most people playing on strads, that's, that's what it is, someone's lent it to them.

How would you feel about someone giving a 300, 000 instrument to your daughter, who's a teenager?

Well, I'd be, I mean, I'd just hate the sort of obligation that would involve, because On one hand, it is a very wonderful gift if it is a gift, but you almost expect that there is some expectation in return, don't you?

Yeah. It's like he's bought her almost.

Kind of.

So, Einar, as, as I mentioned, he's, he's from a well known Norwegian family. They're very patriotic. His father's writings really established a sense of pride and meaning to what it was to be Norwegian. And he was. Like his father was this beloved figure in the country and he was quite frankly a hard act to follow. But his children gave it a good shot. You have Einar was one of five children. His father Bjornstein Bjornsson was the poet and public figure. He worked in a theatre. His mother was an actress when he'd met her. Which is a little bit risque also for the time. So they're a bit more of sort of an acting bohemian theatre family. His older brother Bjorn Bjornsson, just to be complicated here, his brother's called Bjorn Bjornsson. And not to be confused with Bjornstein Bjornsson, his father. So he was a stage actor and a theatre director. Like his dad. He was a playwright and he was the first theatre director of the National Theatre. And that was the big theatre in Oslo where Kathleen played. He was also quite busy in his personal life, because his first wife was Jenny Bjornsson. I mean, another Bjornsson. Boarding house owner. So he married her for four years. So this is Einars older brother. He married her for four years, then he divorced her, then he married an opera singer.

Called Gina Oselio for 16 years, but then he, they, they got divorced, and then he married in 1909 Aileen Bendix, who was actually Jewish, and that's an important point, that she was Jewish, because at this time, things are kind of soon things will start heating up in Europe. And then he was, then there was Einar's younger brother called Erling Bjørnson, and he was a farmer and a politician for the Norwegian Far Right Party. So he was extreme right. Bit of a fascist. The other brother. So he was elected to the parliament of Norway and he was very active during World War II. So his two brothers have very, like, polarized opinions. Einar himself, he was a passive member of the far right party, but during the war years at that time that was the only party that people were allowed to be part of, so you can't, it's hard to tell his political leanings from that. Then he has a younger sister. Bergliot Bjornson, and she was a singer and a mezzo soprano, and she was married to a left wing politician Sigurd Ibsen, who was, he was the son of a playwright, and he becomes the Norwegian Prime Minister, so he plays a central role in Norway getting its independence. He met Einar's sister because he's a big patriot. Einar's father is a big patriot and that's how they were kind of family friends. It's not bad, you know, having your husband as the prime minister. Then he has another little sister called Dagny Bjornson and she was 19 when she marries a German publisher called Albert Langdon and so they're sort of like leftish as well. So Einar, he marries the sister of Albert Langdon. So they have this joint brother sister wedding. On the same day, the Bjornson brothers sisters marry the Langdon brothers sisters. But, the important thing to know is that the Langdons are very, very wealthy. They're orphans and they, they've inherited a lot of money. And so, but then Dagny, she ends up leaving her husband. Goes to Paris and works at another newspaper. And this is all in the, you know, the early 1900s. So she had this amazing life and then and then she marries another man, a French literate called Georges Sartreau well he comes also from a very wealthy family. Then you have Einar, who's a businessman, and he marries Elizabeth and they have two children, and his life is like not that remarkable. I think the most exciting thing he does is fall in love with Kathleen, I suppose, and sort of runs after her and her violin. From Kathleen's diaries, we can see the day after this concert in Oslo on the 10th of January, it's written 10th January, Mr Bjornson, 11;30am She meets with him the day after skiing and tobogganing with the Bjornsons. She has a concert the next day, but the day after that it's dinner with the Bjornsons, then another concert. And then she plays for the King. Then she goes to dinner with the Bjornsons. So this is just an excerpt from her diary for those weeks. And the next day, it's just Mr. Bjornson. That's just her meeting him not with the family. And maybe this is where he says, you know, I'll get you a violin. Maybe that was that meeting. And then on the 28th of February, she's in Germany and, and he's there. Einar is there. He goes to see her. Then on the 6th of March, she's in Amsterdam and in her diaries, you know, Mr Bjornson, he's there. He's kind of like, I don't know if this is creepy. He's following her around and then, and it's around about this time that he buys the violin for her. So she finishes her tour and she goes back to England and a month later in her diary, who rocks up? I know, he's there. In England, and she's still only 17 there. It's like he's kind of shadowing her a bit. Yes, it's that next level patronage.

And then there's the, the aesthetic at the time, the, the pre-Raphaelite willowy type woman, which she fits perfectly into. And Kathleen, if you, if you see Kathleen, it's kind of like. John William Waterhouse, his paintings. There's women in these long flowy robes with flowers in their hair and long willowy postures and, they're often like, you know, they're flopping about on something like a chair or there's this one holding this pot of basil. And there's that famous painting, The Lady of Shalott, where you've got this woman float, is she, is she dead? She's floating in the water with her hair and, and all this fabric and flowers and. In a promotional article, there was this quote from a review in the Evening Sun.

“Kathleen Parlow, tall, straight, slim, and swaying as the white birch sapling of her native Canada, but a spring vision, but a spring vision all in pink from her French heels to her fiddle chin rest and crowned with parted chestnut hair of a deeper auburn than any Stradivarius violin made an astonishing impression of masterful ease”.

I don't know if men were described like this, but they loved her. She's like a white birch.

Well she's very slender, she had beautiful long hair she was very thin, very fragile, and I think she sort of exemplified this pre Raphaelite beauty basically and that was so enchanting to have someone who was almost from another world playing the violin divinely. I think she must have cut an incredibly attractive image for the day. Absolutely. Yeah. And then she would have been like playing these like incredible romantic pieces.

It would be juxtaposed with her playing. Yeah. And yeah. Yes. So she was this real William Waterhouse figure with her violin. So she's lithe and willowy, and she has her touring schedule, which was phenomenal. She, so she tours England, Finland, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway. Just to name a few. It just kind of stopped after that. It was just never ending. And you have to remember it's the beginning of the 20th century, and traveling, it's not like it is today. It was much more. Uncomfortable. I mean, it's incredible. You see one day she's in one country, the next day in another country. So this must have been quite fatiguing. And she's just playing night after night. Her mother, Minnie, she's her, she's, they're quite close. She's, and often like with these, with prodigies, often their parents. They're best friends, like they're the only constant in their life. So in the summers, she returns to Oslo every year for the summer school hour that's helping her for the next concerts. She spends quite a lot of time with Halverson, going to lunches and teas and rehearsals with him. You can see this in her diaries. But is this, is this kind of the life of a musician as well? Like you have to, you have to go to a lot of teas and lunches with people to please patrons and so on.

Yes, I think you do because musicians don't normally have much money and so to ingratiate themselves to patrons and sponsors they really had to coax them into help

Yeah, because she's living this life sort of beyond her means, going to the theater, going to concerts and things, and sort of a balancing act.

Back in Norway, and a week after she turns 18, there's an entry in her diary, play for Mr. Bjornson, and the next month her entries, they change slightly, and she'll now just call him E. B. For Einar Bjornson and the entries will say things like E. B. arriving and then often like a week later It's E. B. leaving and in her diaries, it's intermittently always though he'll be there for a week wherever she is often in England or and every few months He'll just pop up, you know in London in Germany in the Netherlands And he just always happens to be happens to be there and what's interesting is she has these hundreds of letters archived Of her writing to friends, to family, to her pianist. And it's really interesting that there's zero letters to Einar. There's no correspondence between them, which I think is maybe on purpose, they may be, they have to have been removed because she just writes letters to everyone, but we don't have these, any letters from them, so it just leaves things up to speculation.

This brings us to the end of part one in the story of Kathleen Parlow. I would encourage you to keep listening to the music of Kathleen. To do this, Biddulph Recordings have released two CDs that you can listen to on Apple Music, Spotify, or any other major streaming service. You can also buy the double CD of her recordings if you prefer the uncompressed version.

I hope you have enjoyed her story so far, but stick around for part two to find out what will happen with her career, the violin, the man who gave it to her, and the mystery behind a missing concerto that Kathleen would, in part, help solve after her death. Goodbye for now.

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Linda Lespets에서 제공하는 콘텐츠입니다. 에피소드, 그래픽, 팟캐스트 설명을 포함한 모든 팟캐스트 콘텐츠는 Linda Lespets 또는 해당 팟캐스트 플랫폼 파트너가 직접 업로드하고 제공합니다. 누군가가 귀하의 허락 없이 귀하의 저작물을 사용하고 있다고 생각되는 경우 여기에 설명된 절차를 따르실 수 있습니다 https://ko.player.fm/legal.

Kathleen Parlow was one of the most outstanding violinists at the beginning of the 20th century.

In 1912, she was signed by the Columbia Record Company in New York, and her first records for the U.S. label were brought out alongside those of the legendary Eugene Ysaÿe.

Listen to her fascinating story and how she took the world by storm. From her devastating looks to the intrigue her priceless instrument created. You will hear rare recordings of this prodigious player as we retell her life and try to understand why such an incredible talent has been so forgotten today.

Brought to you by Biddulph recordings

TRANSCRIPT

Kathleen Parlow Part 1

Welcome to this very first episode of the Historical Strings Recording Podcast. A show that gives you a chance to hear rare and early recordings of great masters and their stories. Hello, my name is Linda Lespets. I'm a violin maker and restorer in Sydney, Australia, and I'm also the host of another podcast called ‘The Violin Chronicles’, a show about the lives of historically important violin makers and their instruments.

But today we have a different podcast and telling this incredible story with me is my co-host Eric Wen.

Hello, my name is Eric Wen, and I'm the producer at Biddulph Recordings, which is a label that focuses upon reissuing historic recordings, particularly those by famous string players of the past. I also teach at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where I've been for the past 24 years.

In this first episode, we will be looking at an incredibly talented violinist called Kathleen Parlow, who, in her time, took Europe and the world by storm, giving even Fritz Kreisler a run for his money in the popularity department.

She was described in the media as being ‘One of the phenomena of the musical world’ on par with Mischa Elman, or the ‘greatest lady violinist in the world’, and ‘the girl with the golden bow’. She was treated with superstar status wherever she went, which begs the question as to why she is so little known today?

Well, join us to discover her incredible story, the events of her career and her violin. A violin which would eventually financially ruin one man and divide his family. We will take a closer look at high hat kicking breakdancers, militant fascists, scandalous theatre directors, impossible love, a score ripping composer, and all this revolving around one of the world's most expensive violins and the incredible means one man went to get it into his hot little hands and then give it away.

This is the story of Kathleen Parlow.

And all of the pieces you will be hearing in this podcast are of Kathleen Parlow playing her violin.

Kathleen Parlow was born into a modest family in Calgary on the Canadian prairies in 1890. Her mother, Minnie, was a violinist. So, at a young age at four, she gave her daughter a violin and started teaching her. When she was six years old, the family, Kathleen, Minnie, and her father, Charlie, they moved to San Francisco where her talent was immediately recognized. And well, this is probably because of the, the mom. And she was having lessons with her cousin called Conrad Coward in San Francisco. Very soon, still aged six, she gave her first recital in San Francisco.

So is six, is six a reasonable age for a child to give a recital? What do you think? It's extremely young. In fact, that is truly prodigious. I mean, people don't even begin the violin till six and that's an early beginning of an instrument. Most people start around seven or eight, but to begin much earlier and to even be playing a concert at the age of six. That's really quite phenomenal.

So with her burgeoning talent, she now started having lessons with Henry Holmes, who was a pupil of Louis Spohr, the well-known German composer and violinist. And he's a conductor and who he's the man who apparently invented the chin rest. So where would we be without the chin rest, really? He's attributed with inventing it.

Well, Spohr was a fine violinist, German violinist. He was also a quite prominent composer. He was quite a conservative composer. So, I believe he wasn't that fond of the music of Beethoven. In other words, there were people like Spohr, Von Weber, and they represented a much more conservative branch of the sort of German composition. of the German composers. And basically, they looked upon Beethoven as such a wild revolutionary in his music, so daring that I think they were almost a little offended by it. So Spohr, if you could say, is primarily a kind of conservative, very well-schooled, excellent composer. He wrote many, many violin concertos, the most famous of which is No. 8 in A minor, which is written in the form of an operatic scene. Full of violin solo recitatives and arias for the violin.

Oh, wow. Yeah, that's interesting. So they were, there was like very shocked by Beethoven. They were, apparently. Was he a contemporary of Beethoven? Because I, because sometimes you go back pretty quickly, don't you? Like the teacher of the teacher of and all of a sudden you're in like the

Well, Spohr was born 14, he's 14 years younger than Beethoven.

Oh, okay. So, he was born in 1784, but he lived a lot longer. He lived over 20 years longer than Beethoven.

Oh, wow. And that's fascinating. So, Henry Holmes, Kathleen Parlow's teacher, was taught by this guy who would have known Beethoven?

Yes, absolutely.

And objected to Beethoven. Was shocked by his music.

Well, I mean, I think sort of the, you might say the more mature Beethoven or the more daring Beethoven. But I think, you know, I'm sure maybe some of Beethoven's early works were much more acceptable. They were more normative, so to speak.

Oh, okay. So Kathleen's in San Francisco and her parents’ marriage is breaking down. Her father, Charlie, moves back to Calgary where he dies of tuberculosis the year after. But Kathleen, she rockets on and is becoming more and more well known. Her new teacher sees real talent in the girl, and this teacher, Henry Holmes, he has contacts to make things happen. And he helps arrange a tour for her and playing engagements in England. So for this to happen, Kathleen's mum, she's, she's I'm getting stage mum vibes.

Yes.

Because she's still very, still very young.

Oh, yeah. I mean, I can't believe she wasn't playing with dolls.

And this would have been a conversation between Minnie, Kathleen's mum, and the teacher. It probably wouldn't have been a conversation with her as a child.

No, probably not.

You don't really choose much when you're six, seven.

No, that's true.

So the problem they have is that they have no money. So, so what do you do, Eric? You have no money, you have a prodigy.

You exploit the prodigy by having them play and make an income for you, which is something that happens unfortunately to many, many talented musicians coming from, you might say, less well-off families. They end up becoming the breadwinner. All their focus gets put upon these, these kids. And so not only do they have the added burden of playing and making sure they keep up They're playing well, but they also have the burden of making sure that they play well enough to make an income so that their families can survive. I mean, that's a very familiar story, and it's a story that has more failures than winners, I'm afraid, because you do hear about the winners. You do hear about the Misha Elmans or the Yasha. Well, Heifetz is a little different because he had a more middle-class family, but you do hear of Oskar Shumsky, for example, who I know I knew personally, he says, don't believe that these violence that you hear about having normal childhood behind every great violence, there's always a mama or a papa. And I think he himself endured that kind of pressure, the pressure to somehow become. The breadwinner, or let's say the some, the pressure to become a great violinist, primarily because he would serve as the breadwinner for the family. Well, if you think about it, you could say that. Violin playing in the early 20th century was very dominated by Russians, particularly Russian Jews. And one of the reasons for that was that in Russia, all the Jews were confined to an area known as the Pale of Settlement. In other words, a designated area that they could live in, but they could not leave that particular area. And basically, some very gifted young students could get into university or could go into a conservatory, and one of the big examples was Misha Elman, and Misha Elman, you might say left the Pale of Settlement to go study with Leopold Auer in St Petersburg. And they had to get all sorts of permission to do that. Well, the success of Misha Elman, the global success, the international success, I think resonated so well. with the people in the ghetto that they sort of saw, wow, this is one of our boys and look what he's done. He's now playing for the crowned heads of Europe. So I think for them, they felt this was a way out. And if you think about it, the film, Fiddler on the Roof, which is a famous musical and it was adapted as a famous film. And basically, that film, just the very title, talks about the Fiddler on the Roof. And the setting is in the Pale of Settlement, the Jewish ghetto in Russia. They're often subjected to random attacks by the Cossacks and all sorts of difficulties. But here, despite all that, you know they manage to survive. And of course the image of the Fiddler on the Roof. The violinist is exemplified, you might say, by Misha Elman, who literally grew up in the Russian ghetto.

Yeah, and Misha Elman, he'll, he'll become, he He'll become important in our story, yeah.

The money. This is not a problem. There is a wealthy admirer called Harriet Pullman, Carolan, in San Francisco. And she pays for Kathleen and her mother to take the trip to England. And in 1904, at the age of 14, Kathleen plays for King Edward VII at Buckingham Palace. And then in the next year in 1905, she and her mother, they come back to England. This tour marks the beginning of a life that she would lead for years to come of performing and playing. And so by the time she was 15, she was touring and playing with the London Symphony. And it was in a concert at the Wigmore Hall in London that she really shoots to fame. So is the Wigmore Hall, is that, is that still today an important place to play?

Oh, extremely so. It's funny because the Wigmore Hall was originally called the Bechstein Hall, and obviously during the wars, it became a much more the name was more neutralized to become less dramatic, and it became named after the street it's on, which is Wigmore Street. It was always a very important venue, but around the sort of 60s In the 70s it had declined a bit in its status because the South Bank had been built and so the Wigmore Hall was a little bit relegated to a sort of a little second class status. But in the past 20 years or so the Wigmore Hall has catapulted to fame again and it's today one of the most distinguished halls. In London.

All right. Okay. And this is, this is pre war. So it's, it would have been called?

Bechstein.

Okay. So it would have been called the Bechstein Hall when she played?

Probably. Oh yeah, definitely. So the Bechstein Hall was, I think first opened in 1901 and it was built by the piano manufacturers, the German manufacturers Bechstein, hence the name. And after the First World War, I believe it was changed to a more neutral sounding, less Germanic name, and it adopted the name of the street that it's currently on, which is Wigmore Street. Incidentally, the first concert at Wigmore Hall was actually performed, was a violin and piano recital, performed by Eugene Ysaye and Federico Busoni.

And then one night in London, Kathleen and her mother went to another concert of another child prodigy called Mischa Elman. And he was, so he's the fiddler on the roof guy, and he was almost exactly the same age as Kathleen. He was just a few months there's just a few months difference between them. And she, she hears him playing this concert and she's, she's just blown away. Blown away, and after the concert, she and her mother decide that Kathleen, she just has to go and have lessons from the same teacher as this, as this, as Mischa. So the only thing, only little thing about Mischa Elman's teacher is that he is in Russia. And as far as anyone knows, no foreigners study in the St. Petersburg Conservatorium, but that is about to change. Definitely no ladies. So, Kathleen and her mother had arrived in England with 300 raised by their church in San Francisco and this was, it just wasn't enough to get them to Russia and to the conservatorium where the famed Leopold Auer was a professor, but get there they would because Kathleen's mum, Minnie, still had a few tricks up her sleeve. She went and petitioned the Canadian High Commissioner. So she must have been, I feel like Minnie, she must have been very persuasive. Like there was nothing was getting in between, you know, her daughter and this career.

Forceful, a task to be reckoned with, certainly.

Yeah. She's like we'll get to England, we have no money. Not a problem. We're gonna, we're gonna get this teacher. He's in Russia. Not a problem. No foreigners. It, you know, it doesn't, it doesn't seem to be a problem for her, no girls. Not a problem. No foreigner has ever studied in this St. Petersburg conservatorium. Not daunted. They're off. They go. So to pay the cost travel, Minnie managed to get a loan from Lord Strathconia, the Canadian high commissioner. And from there, mother and daughter travelled to Russia. And in October of 1906, Kathleen becomes the first foreigner to attend the St. Petersburg Conservatorium. And in her class are 45 Students and she's the only girl. And we have to remember this is pre-revolutionary Russia. So there's still the Tsar Nicholas the second at this point. Yeah. She's mixing in, in that set. So it's an interesting place to be as a musician. Cause you're frequenting the sort of the upper classes but you can come from, from nothing and arrive there. Her professor was the famed teacher, Leopold Auer, who had a knack of discovering talent.

Leopold Auer was actually a Hungarian violinist, and he was trained in Vienna, and he also studied with Joachim. And what happened was Russia has always had a sort of love for the violin, and they employed many people to teach at the conservatory, because they really embraced Western culture. They had A number of important French violinists come, but their big, you might say, catch was to get Vieuxtemps, Henri Vieuxtemps, to teach for a number of years at, in St. Petersburg. And after Henry Vieuxtemps, they actually got Henry Wieniawski to teach at the conservatory. And when Wieniawski decided to go back to Europe, they employed Leopold Auer to take his place at St Petersburg.

Right. So he's up there with the big names.

Well, they were a little bit let down. I mean, that's what they were, I think, a little bit disappointed to replace Wieniawski with Leopold Auer because Wieniawski was such a major violinist. So he had initially a little rough time, but he was adored by Tchaikovsky and Tchaikovsky loved Auer's playing, dedicated a number of works for him, including the famous serenade melancholic, and wrote a lot number of ballet scores, which Leopold Auer played the solos for. But of course, they had a big rift when Tchaikovsky wrote his violin concerto for Auer, because Auer said it was unplayable. And that really hurt Tchaikovsky's feelings. And it laid dormant for several years before another Russian violinist. Brodsky took it up, learned it, and. Premiered it in Europe first, and only after its success in Europe did he bring it back to Russia, where it became a big success, and Auer felt very bad about that, and in fact, just before Tchaikovsky died, a few months before Tchaikovsky died, story has it that Auer went to Tchaikovsky and apologized to Tchaikovsky for his initial mistrust of the concerto. In fact, by that time, Auer himself had actually performed the concerto, championed it, and taught it to many of his students.

Yeah, and we'll see in this story how sensitive composers are, and how easy it is to hurt their feelings and really create. Like a lot of emotional turmoil. That's coming up. So Auer, like he might not have been their first choice for replacing, but he did have a knack of finding star pupils. That is something that we see, that I see in the conservatorium. Every now and then you have a teacher who's very talented at finding talent.

Absolutely. And I know in Australia you have one very distinguished teacher who I think now has been poached by the Menuhin School in, in England.

Yes. And we're not going to talk about that.

Yes, we won't. Because it's Must be a sore point. But we do see, we do see him every now and then when he comes back. So along with Elman and Efren Zimbalist, Parlow becomes one of Auer's star pupils and Auer was so taken with her playing that he often called her Elman in a skirt, which I think is supposed to be a compliment. And in Auer's biography, he writes, he says, “It was during this year that my first London pupil came to me, Kathleen Parlow, who has since become one of the first, if not the first, of women violinists”. And that, he says that in his biography, My Long Life in Music. So, Every year, Auer had a summer school in Kristiana, which is Oslo today. And Parlow spent her summers there and became a great favourite in Norway, which leads us to the next and perhaps one of the most marking events in her career and life.

At 17, having spent a year at the conservatory in Russia, Kathleen begins to put on public performances she gives solo performances in both St. Petersburg and Helsinki. So these are two places she knows quite well by now. And these concerts were, they were very important as Kathleen's mother really had no money to support them. And so, with but you know, Minnie doesn't bother her, she just ploughs on. And so with the money from these concerts this would have to tide her over. From letters that I've read, they were living in like this small apartment and then another friend writes, you know this other person, they've been saying you live in a tiny little place, but I'm not going to spread that rumor. And, and so it was a, it was a thing on the radar that they didn't have much money and they were scraping by and they were like frequenting people of much more wealthier than they were, so they were sort of on the fringes of society, but with her talent that was sort of pushing, people wanted to know her.

So she makes her professional debut in Berlin and then began, she begins a tour of Germany and the Netherlands and Norway. And in Norway, she performs for the King Hakon and Queen Maud. Of whom she'll become a favorite. And, and her touring schedule was phenomenal. It was just like nonstop. So, yeah. For a 17-year-old that's, you know, she's going all over the world. And you were saying that Auer knew . Do Tchaikovsky do you think Auer, was he was giving her these pieces that did, that influenced him? Yes. I mean, Tchaikovsky wrote a number of violin, solo violin works before the concerto, the most famous of which is, of course, the Waltz Scherzo and the Serenade Melancholique. One is a fast, virtuoso piece, the other is a slow, soulful piece. And I know that Auer was the dedicatee of certainly the Serenade Melancholique, which she did play.

So, so Auer's giving her stuff from, you know, his friend Tchaikovsky to play. Now she's 17 and she's touring to support herself and her mother and she has an amazing teacher who probably understands her circumstances all too well because Auer growing up also found himself in her position, supporting his father in his youth with his playing. So she's studying in St. Petersburg, which is an incredible feat in itself. So she must have had quite a strong character and her mother, Minnie, also appears to be very ambitious for her daughter. We're talking about her mother being ambitious, but for Kathleen to, you know, she's her daughter, she, she must've had quite a strong wheel as well.

Yes. Well, she certainly did. I wish we knew more about her because maybe she was very subservient, you know, we have no idea. Maybe she didn't have, I mean, it's a speculation, of course.

Yeah. We do have like hundreds of letters from Kathleen and there's a lot between her and Auer, and there's a real sort of paternal, he really sort of cared for her like a daughter almost and she looked up to him like a father and he was always very correct about it, you know, he would always write the letter to her. To Minnie, her mother the correspondents, it was, and it was always very, everything was very above board, but a very, they were very close.

Kathleen later says that after expenses, her Berlin debut netted her exactly 10 pounds. She didn't know it at the time, but this was an indication of what her future would be like, and she would be sort of financially in a precarious state most of her life, and she would so her routine was she studies with Auer every summer in order to prepare, like they were preparing her repertoire for the next season of touring.

So now she has a tour in 1908, so she's still 17, almost 18. It's in Norway, and to understand just a little bit of the political climate in the country, We can see that Norway, only three years earlier, had become independent of Sweden and had basically become its own country. So there's this this great sense of nationalism and pride in being Norwegian. And they have a newly minted king, King Hakon, who she's played for, and his queen, who was, He was in fact a Danish prince. And then when Norway, the Norwegian parliament asked him if he would like to become the king of Norway when they had their independence. And he said, why not? As part of this great sense of nationalism Norwegian musicians, composers, writers, and poets, they were celebrated and became superstars.

And, oh gosh, yes,

We can sort of understand. Poets have sort of dropped off the list, but back then poets, they were a big deal. So you add to this a young, fresh faced, talented Canadian girl who knows and understands their country. She arrives in Oslo to play in the National Theatre, where Norway's very own Johan Halvorsen who's conductor and composer and violinist, he's conducting the country's largest professional orchestra. And that night for Kathleen's concert, she plays Brahms and some of Halvorsen's compositions and the two, Kathleen Parloe and Halvorsen, they would go on to become quite good friends and Halvorsen regarded her very highly in saying, he said that her playing was superior almost to all the other famous soloists who made guest appearances in the city. So, I mean, a lot of people went through Oslo, so that was, you know, high praise. And Kathleen quickly Becomes a admirer of his and she would become a driving factor in him finishing his violin concerto that he'd been dithering over for a very long time. And this is Kathleen playing one of Halvorsen's compositions.

It's not his concerto, it's Mosaic No. 4.

So back to the theatre. And it was a magical night with the romantic music of Brahms to make you fall in love. And everyone did, just some more than others. And to finish off, there's music from their very own Johan Halvorsen to celebrate you know, a Norwegian talent. So Kathleen plays her heart out and when the concert ended, the crowd goes wild and the 17 year old soaks up the thunderous applause. She's holding on tight to her violin as she bows to adoring fans. Tonight she is the darling of Oslo. In the uproarious crowd stands a man unable to take his eyes off this young woman. Her playing has moved him and her talent is unbelievable. This man makes a decision that will change both their lives forever.

So, Einar Bjornsson had fallen head over heels for the 17 year old Canadian there and then. She would turn 18 in a few months. And in that moment, he decided to give her the most beautiful gift she would ever receive. So, who is Einar Bjornsson? So what we were saying, poets, poets are less of a, you know, a hot shot today, but Einar was the son of a very, very famous poet. A Norwegian businessman and son of one of the most prominent public figures of the day, Bjørnstan Bjørnsson. He was a poet, a dramatist, a novelist, a journalist, an editor, a public speaker, and a theatre director. Five years earlier, in 1903, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, and one of his poems, called ‘Yes, We Love This Land’, was put to music and is the Norwegian national anthem up to this day. So, you could say he was kind of famous in these parts, and his personality alone would have easily filled. A concert hall, that one in Oslo. Einar's father here, we're talking about Einar's father, he's the poet. Einar himself doesn't appear to have written any poetry. And this, so this situation could have been just fine the whole infatuation, love at first sight thing, except for a few things that put a spanner in the works.

To begin with, Einar Björnsson is somewhat older than the youthful Kathleen he's 26 years older. Then her, in fact, and for a 17 year old, that is a big age gap. So he's 45, but that aside, there is a problem that he's also married and has two children. His daughter is actually almost the same age as Kathleen she's 16, but he doesn't really seem to see that. All he can see is this violinist and her talent. And he's been just, he's besotted and he's going to make a grand gesture. So obviously, one way to support the arts is to, what patrons do is they will buy, a lovely instrument and lend it to someone. So that's your normal affair. Obviously, one way to show his devotion to her is to find her a better violin. Hers is absolutely not good enough for someone of her talent. And he has to find her something amazing because she is amazing. He's determined to give her the most wonderful gift she has ever received. So he goes out and he's a businessman. And so he goes to his businessman contacts. And Kathleen would have spoken to her entourage. I imagine, and I now finally finds a violin worthy of Kathleen's virtuosity, and it happens to be one of the most expensive violins on the market in 1908, and it's a 1735 Giuseppe Guarneri Del Gesu violin.

It had previously belonged to great violinists such as Giovanni Battista Viotti and Pierre Baillot. So just to clarify in the violin making world Antonio Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesù are the two top makers. If you're comparing two instruments, if one was owned by no one not anyone that you know. And then another one was owned by Viotti and Pierre Baillot . The one that's owned by Viotti and Pierre Baillot is probably going to be worth more. Yeah. So Viotti, he was just huge. He had a lot of instruments. I think he did a little bit of teaching and dealing on the side, Viotti. Like with the number of instruments named after him, or he just went through a lot of instruments. So she buys this violin, and it's not all smooth sailing to get the violin. Because she, there's this, there's a big correspondence between her and Auer, and we see that actually there's this letter where it says from Auer saying, I saw Hamming very cross. He says that the violin is compromised if he takes it back. So at one point, I think she may have changed her mind about this violin, but Hamming the dealer was not okay with this. All the I'm just trying to read his writing, it's not that easy. All the papers brought the news That Kathleen bought it so the newspapers have already, so the, you've got Hamming, that's annoyed, the papers have already said they've bought this violin and he could not, it says he could not sell it soon and repeat the sale, waiting till he finds something equal to the Guarneri.

He showed me a Strad, indeed wonderful, asking 60, 000 livres, which must be pounds, right? A nice fellow, isn't he? And now, goodbye, write to me. Love, Auer. They do end up getting the violin. They, they don't get the 60, 000 Strad that Hamming Gets all upset about and offers, which I think he might have been exaggerating the price just to make him calm down about and to keep the del Gesu.

Then Einar gives this to Kathleen. So this is a very kind of strange situation because normally you don't, you don't actually give, the patrons don't actually give their instrument to the

No, absolutely. That's a remarkable gift. Just in terms of, I mean, the gesture is very magnanimous, but in terms of financial, there's just a financial cost or value of the gift is quite enormous.

And so really after only knowing her for a month, Einar transfers this money into her account and she travels, Kathleen travels to Germany to the Hamming workshop and purchases her del Gesu violin for two thousand pounds and in today's money according to an inflation calculator, that is three hundred thousand pounds. Almost four hundred thousand US dollars. More than half a million Australian dollars, which at the time was a lot for a violin as well. So we're not I mean, I, today you'd be kind of happy to buy a Del Gesu for half a million, but then it was, it'd be a bargain. So, it's interesting this, like, he buys this, this young violinist this very expensive present and it's a, and it's a grey area and it's fraught with debate ethically, really. And I feel like today musicians find themselves sometimes in this position where they're sort of indebted to the, to a benefactor. It's almost feudal. I I feel cause at the same time you're very happy that they're lending it to you, but got to keep an eye on if it's a healthy relationship to. To get the money he had to get, you know, half a million pounds pretty quickly. If you remember, Ina's father was a very famous poet who'd won a Nobel Prize in literature and part of the prize is that you win a large sum of money. And so, what does Einar do? He goes and asks Dad. So he asks, he borrows, he borrows most of the money actually. Goodness knows how he convinced him, but you know, he's a businessman. And also for the remaining, he's married, remember, and he's married to, actually, to an heiress, and he takes a bunch of her, her dowry money and transfers this to essentially a teenager he met a month ago. The purchase of this incredibly expensive violin attracted, it attracted the attention of the press internationally, but journalists It's never really questioned the fact that this, this gift was given to a young woman by a, by an established family man. So everyone was just like, Oh, isn't it amazing? Because normally in this circumstance, people don't often give the instrument. You buy it as an investment and you'll lend it to someone. I think I've heard of like very few, very few cases of things being gifted, but actually normally your standard practice is to, to lend it to people. And most people playing on strads, that's, that's what it is, someone's lent it to them.

How would you feel about someone giving a 300, 000 instrument to your daughter, who's a teenager?

Well, I'd be, I mean, I'd just hate the sort of obligation that would involve, because On one hand, it is a very wonderful gift if it is a gift, but you almost expect that there is some expectation in return, don't you?

Yeah. It's like he's bought her almost.

Kind of.

So, Einar, as, as I mentioned, he's, he's from a well known Norwegian family. They're very patriotic. His father's writings really established a sense of pride and meaning to what it was to be Norwegian. And he was. Like his father was this beloved figure in the country and he was quite frankly a hard act to follow. But his children gave it a good shot. You have Einar was one of five children. His father Bjornstein Bjornsson was the poet and public figure. He worked in a theatre. His mother was an actress when he'd met her. Which is a little bit risque also for the time. So they're a bit more of sort of an acting bohemian theatre family. His older brother Bjorn Bjornsson, just to be complicated here, his brother's called Bjorn Bjornsson. And not to be confused with Bjornstein Bjornsson, his father. So he was a stage actor and a theatre director. Like his dad. He was a playwright and he was the first theatre director of the National Theatre. And that was the big theatre in Oslo where Kathleen played. He was also quite busy in his personal life, because his first wife was Jenny Bjornsson. I mean, another Bjornsson. Boarding house owner. So he married her for four years. So this is Einars older brother. He married her for four years, then he divorced her, then he married an opera singer.

Called Gina Oselio for 16 years, but then he, they, they got divorced, and then he married in 1909 Aileen Bendix, who was actually Jewish, and that's an important point, that she was Jewish, because at this time, things are kind of soon things will start heating up in Europe. And then he was, then there was Einar's younger brother called Erling Bjørnson, and he was a farmer and a politician for the Norwegian Far Right Party. So he was extreme right. Bit of a fascist. The other brother. So he was elected to the parliament of Norway and he was very active during World War II. So his two brothers have very, like, polarized opinions. Einar himself, he was a passive member of the far right party, but during the war years at that time that was the only party that people were allowed to be part of, so you can't, it's hard to tell his political leanings from that. Then he has a younger sister. Bergliot Bjornson, and she was a singer and a mezzo soprano, and she was married to a left wing politician Sigurd Ibsen, who was, he was the son of a playwright, and he becomes the Norwegian Prime Minister, so he plays a central role in Norway getting its independence. He met Einar's sister because he's a big patriot. Einar's father is a big patriot and that's how they were kind of family friends. It's not bad, you know, having your husband as the prime minister. Then he has another little sister called Dagny Bjornson and she was 19 when she marries a German publisher called Albert Langdon and so they're sort of like leftish as well. So Einar, he marries the sister of Albert Langdon. So they have this joint brother sister wedding. On the same day, the Bjornson brothers sisters marry the Langdon brothers sisters. But, the important thing to know is that the Langdons are very, very wealthy. They're orphans and they, they've inherited a lot of money. And so, but then Dagny, she ends up leaving her husband. Goes to Paris and works at another newspaper. And this is all in the, you know, the early 1900s. So she had this amazing life and then and then she marries another man, a French literate called Georges Sartreau well he comes also from a very wealthy family. Then you have Einar, who's a businessman, and he marries Elizabeth and they have two children, and his life is like not that remarkable. I think the most exciting thing he does is fall in love with Kathleen, I suppose, and sort of runs after her and her violin. From Kathleen's diaries, we can see the day after this concert in Oslo on the 10th of January, it's written 10th January, Mr Bjornson, 11;30am She meets with him the day after skiing and tobogganing with the Bjornsons. She has a concert the next day, but the day after that it's dinner with the Bjornsons, then another concert. And then she plays for the King. Then she goes to dinner with the Bjornsons. So this is just an excerpt from her diary for those weeks. And the next day, it's just Mr. Bjornson. That's just her meeting him not with the family. And maybe this is where he says, you know, I'll get you a violin. Maybe that was that meeting. And then on the 28th of February, she's in Germany and, and he's there. Einar is there. He goes to see her. Then on the 6th of March, she's in Amsterdam and in her diaries, you know, Mr Bjornson, he's there. He's kind of like, I don't know if this is creepy. He's following her around and then, and it's around about this time that he buys the violin for her. So she finishes her tour and she goes back to England and a month later in her diary, who rocks up? I know, he's there. In England, and she's still only 17 there. It's like he's kind of shadowing her a bit. Yes, it's that next level patronage.

And then there's the, the aesthetic at the time, the, the pre-Raphaelite willowy type woman, which she fits perfectly into. And Kathleen, if you, if you see Kathleen, it's kind of like. John William Waterhouse, his paintings. There's women in these long flowy robes with flowers in their hair and long willowy postures and, they're often like, you know, they're flopping about on something like a chair or there's this one holding this pot of basil. And there's that famous painting, The Lady of Shalott, where you've got this woman float, is she, is she dead? She's floating in the water with her hair and, and all this fabric and flowers and. In a promotional article, there was this quote from a review in the Evening Sun.

“Kathleen Parlow, tall, straight, slim, and swaying as the white birch sapling of her native Canada, but a spring vision, but a spring vision all in pink from her French heels to her fiddle chin rest and crowned with parted chestnut hair of a deeper auburn than any Stradivarius violin made an astonishing impression of masterful ease”.

I don't know if men were described like this, but they loved her. She's like a white birch.

Well she's very slender, she had beautiful long hair she was very thin, very fragile, and I think she sort of exemplified this pre Raphaelite beauty basically and that was so enchanting to have someone who was almost from another world playing the violin divinely. I think she must have cut an incredibly attractive image for the day. Absolutely. Yeah. And then she would have been like playing these like incredible romantic pieces.

It would be juxtaposed with her playing. Yeah. And yeah. Yes. So she was this real William Waterhouse figure with her violin. So she's lithe and willowy, and she has her touring schedule, which was phenomenal. She, so she tours England, Finland, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway. Just to name a few. It just kind of stopped after that. It was just never ending. And you have to remember it's the beginning of the 20th century, and traveling, it's not like it is today. It was much more. Uncomfortable. I mean, it's incredible. You see one day she's in one country, the next day in another country. So this must have been quite fatiguing. And she's just playing night after night. Her mother, Minnie, she's her, she's, they're quite close. She's, and often like with these, with prodigies, often their parents. They're best friends, like they're the only constant in their life. So in the summers, she returns to Oslo every year for the summer school hour that's helping her for the next concerts. She spends quite a lot of time with Halverson, going to lunches and teas and rehearsals with him. You can see this in her diaries. But is this, is this kind of the life of a musician as well? Like you have to, you have to go to a lot of teas and lunches with people to please patrons and so on.

Yes, I think you do because musicians don't normally have much money and so to ingratiate themselves to patrons and sponsors they really had to coax them into help

Yeah, because she's living this life sort of beyond her means, going to the theater, going to concerts and things, and sort of a balancing act.

Back in Norway, and a week after she turns 18, there's an entry in her diary, play for Mr. Bjornson, and the next month her entries, they change slightly, and she'll now just call him E. B. For Einar Bjornson and the entries will say things like E. B. arriving and then often like a week later It's E. B. leaving and in her diaries, it's intermittently always though he'll be there for a week wherever she is often in England or and every few months He'll just pop up, you know in London in Germany in the Netherlands And he just always happens to be happens to be there and what's interesting is she has these hundreds of letters archived Of her writing to friends, to family, to her pianist. And it's really interesting that there's zero letters to Einar. There's no correspondence between them, which I think is maybe on purpose, they may be, they have to have been removed because she just writes letters to everyone, but we don't have these, any letters from them, so it just leaves things up to speculation.

This brings us to the end of part one in the story of Kathleen Parlow. I would encourage you to keep listening to the music of Kathleen. To do this, Biddulph Recordings have released two CDs that you can listen to on Apple Music, Spotify, or any other major streaming service. You can also buy the double CD of her recordings if you prefer the uncompressed version.

I hope you have enjoyed her story so far, but stick around for part two to find out what will happen with her career, the violin, the man who gave it to her, and the mystery behind a missing concerto that Kathleen would, in part, help solve after her death. Goodbye for now.

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