Violin Virtuosas

Teresa and Maria Milanollo (1827-1904; 1832-1848)

Teresa and Maria Milanollo; from the Bibliotheque nationale de France
Teresa Milanollo was born on 28 August 1827 in Savigliano, near Turin, Italy. She was the second of thirteen children born to a poor silk manufacturer. On 19 May 1837, when Teresa was three and a quarters years old, she and her family went to the local church, where she heard a violinist play during the mass. Teresa was entranced and asked her father if she could learn to play the violin. He suggested that the harp or the piano would be a better choice for a girl. She reportedly replied, "But it is the violin that I love!" In another version of the story, her father asked her if she had been praying to God, and she answered by saying that she had been too busy listening to the music to pray. Her father brought her to study under Giovanni Ferrero, as well as two teachers named Caldera and Morra. She made her debut somewhere around Turin, and had such a great success that her parents decided that she should finish her training in a large city. So in 1837 the family went to Paris, traveling across the Alps by foot and mule. In Paris she met Charles Philippe Lafont (1781-1839), a French violinist who had studied under Kreutzer and Rode. He was so impressed by her abilities that he invited her on tour with him through the Netherlands. In 1837, Teresa went to England, where she also gave a large number of concerts (forty in a month, by one estimate) with the famous harpist Nicolas-Charles Boscha; unfortunately, Boscha made off with all of the profits from the tour. She also performed with Johann Strauss the elder during this time.

Sometime in the late 1830s, Teresa came back to France, where her family was staying. Upon her return, she began to teach her little sister Maria (born 19 July 1832) how to play the violin, and soon the two sisters were studying under Charles de Beriot (1802-1870). Maria proved to be a prodigy just like Teresa, and it wasn't long before they began to travel together, concertizing all throughout Europe. Teresa was considered to be the more thoughtful and mature of the two players, while Maria had a lighter, more sparkling touch. These appraisals of their playing led to their affectionate nicknames of "Mlle Adagio" and "Mlle Staccato." Both girls were concerned with the plight of the poor and frequently gave concerts for charity. According to one website, they were more successful in Lyons than Ernst, Thalberg, and even Liszt.

In 1846, the great Italian bass virtuoso, Domenico Dragonetti, died. He left two violins for the girls in his will: for Teresa, a magnificent 1728 Stradivari now known as the "Milanollo", and for Maria, a Ruggeri from the 1680s. These are the instruments they both used for the rest of their lives.
Teresa and Maria Milanollo; from the Bibliotheque nationale de France
Tragedy struck the Milanollo sisters on 21 October 1848, when Maria died after a two month battle with whooping cough. It must have been a shocking blow for the entire family, but especially for Teresa, who had lost her closest friend and musical partner. For the next two years she only played for charity, establishing a series of concerts known as the "Concerts des Pauvres" across France. She would play one concert for the wealthy, charging for the tickets, and then a second free concert for the poor; afterward, food and clothing were distributed to those in need. In 1852 she resumed a more traditional career, touring through France, Switzerland, Germany, and Austria. There is one story that when she appeared in Aix la Chapelle, she walked too close to the footlights and her skirt caught fire. Apparently she set down her violin, extinguished the flames, and continued with her performance. According to one account, she gave her last public concert on 16 April 1857 at the age of twenty-nine, and later that day, married a military engineer and amateur musician named Theodore Parmentier. However, she didn't give up her Stradivari until after her death, and many photographs were taken of her with her violin into at least the 1870s, suggesting that she played in private throughout the rest of her life. She died on 25 October 1904.

The Milanollo sisters were instrumental in changing people's perceptions about the suitability of the violin for women. Before them, violin virtuosas were very rare; after them, they gradually became more and more common. According to his biographer Andreas Moser, the great violinist Joseph Joachim once said of Teresa that "he had hardly ever heard then, or since, such accurate or charming violin playing; her technique was secure in every respect, and even in very difficult passages, her bow moved fluently and her tone was full of inner warmth. She was for him, in short, one of the most delightful and sympathetic artists that he had ever met."

Not only was Teresa a violinist, but she was also a composer, as most instrumentalists of her day were. Among other things, she wrote a Fantaisie elegiaque in 1853 in memory of her sister. Unfortunately her works are no longer performed today.

Teresa also encouraged Henry Schradieck, one of the greatest violin teachers of the Victorian era, whose pedagogical works are still used today. In fact, she paid for his education at the Brussels Conservatory.
Teresa Milanollo; from the Bibliotheque nationale de France
The Milanollos' Violins

At the age of nineteen, Teresa began to perform on the 1728 Stradivari now known as the "Milanollo." She kept it until her death in 1904. After 1964 it was played by the violinist Christian Ferras. It is now played by Canadian violinist Corey Cerovsek. Here is the violin's Cozio page.

At the age of fourteen, Maria began to perform on a Ruggeri from the 1680s. It was later played by Edgar Wollgandt, the concertmaster of the Gewandhaus Orchestra. It was put up for sale in 2010 and sold to an anonymous buyer. Here is the violin's Cozio page.

Teresa's Compositions

Grand Fantasie Elegiae and Adagio, Op 1
Transcription of Schubert's Ave Maria
Variations on Air de Marlborough
Variations on Rheinweinlied
Duet for Two Violins, using themes from Lucia di Lammermoor
Lamento, Op 7
Chorus for male quartet
Two romances
Transcriptions and variations for violin and piano

Works Associated with Teresa

Wieniawski - "Capriccio - Valse" - dedicated to Adalbert Wilkoszerwski and Teresa Milanollo

Sources / Further Reference

The Violinist, Volume 2; article "Mme. Teresa Milanollo" by Gertrude Paulette Ogden

The Norton Grove Dictionary of Women Composers, by Julie Anne Sadie and Rhian Samuel
Celebrated Violinists, Past and Present, by Alfred Heinrich Ehrlich
The Athenaeum, Article 1 - Article 2 - Article 3
The Violin, by George Dubourg
Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Vol 3, by Sir George Grove and John Alexander Fuller-Maitland
Dwight's Journal of Music, Volumes 1-2, edited by John Sullivan Dwight
Complete Encylcopedia of Music, by John Weeks Moore
Johann Strauss, by H.E. Jacob
The Musical Times, Vol 47

Examination by Roger Hargrave of the 1728 Milanollo Strad

Details about the ex-Milanollo Ruggeri
Biography of Teresa from Intrecci Femminili

There are a wide variety of photos of the Milanollo sisters here.