Previous Post in Series: Vienna Philharmonic Debut


JJ Initials

Milanollos, and a Farewell to Vienna



Teresa and Maria Milanollo, 1842

Exceptional as these notices were, Joseph’s Philharmonic debut was nearly overshadowed by the simultaneous appearance of two other child prodigies, Teresa and Maria Milanollo, whose arrival in Vienna had been a matter of breathless anticipation for weeks. The 15-year-old Teresa and her 10-year-old sister were adorable, gifted and irresistible, and they received copious, effusive notices in the press:

Truly, one can hear nothing more astonishing, nothing more surprising, nothing more enchanting than the violin playing of this thirteen-year-old child; [1] her talent is an insoluble puzzle, before which criticism stands powerless and perplexed — it is a marvel of nature, and not just for musicians but also for physiologists. In the hands of this magnificent girl, the violin is no longer an unsuitable instrument, for what is more graceful than this, so prettily formed arm, that controls the bow with the greatest noblesse and ease; this delicate child’s hand that masters the strings with giddy security! The talent of this child is equal to all genres; her execution is brilliant, gracious, sparkling, consummate, and above all full of deeply felt, touching expression — and at the same time full of purity and power, and inimitably tasteful, even in the most difficult passages, in double-stops and staccato. Her style is as grand as it is simple, and always her own. Her adagio is melting, her cantilena unsurpassable. Truly, one does not know what one should admire more, her immense talent, or her deep intelligence…. [ii]

Teresa had studied with various teachers in her native Savigliano, Italy, and in nearby Turin. When she and her sister were seven and three, they crossed the Alps on foot with their family, eventually arriving in Paris in 1837. There, Teresa took lessons from Lafont, Habaneck and de Beriot. Lessons were short-lived, however, as she was nearly constantly on the road, giving concerts in Holland and Belgium, England and Wales. At about this time, she began giving violin lessons to Maria, who was thereafter listed in programs as “Mlle. Maria Milanollo (Pupil of her Sister).” This much commented upon, maternal and nurturing, feature of their relationship added immensely to their popular and critical appeal. These “violin-playing angels” offered an appealing contrast in styles as well: Teresa’s playing was warm and emotional; Maria’s brilliant. To the public, they came to be known as Mademoiselle Adagio and Mademoiselle Staccato.[2]

Ex-Milanollo Francesco_Ruggeri

Francesco Ruggeri “Ex-Milanollo”

The concert instrument of Maria Milanollo [iii]

Like many young virtuosi, the Milanollo sisters lived hard lives, and encountered difficulties making the transition from prodigy to mature artist. They continued to travel widely on the virtuoso circuit, giving an immense number of concerts, but by 1845, they were beginning to encounter sharp, not to say sexist, criticism, especially in England:

As the efforts of young females, we are bound to own that the performances of the sisters Milanollo fully bear out their continental reputation. As a matter of art we would rather not number ourselves among the crowd of votaries who worship at their shrine. That the sisters are prodigies is undoubted — but prodigies are not invariably artists. Precocity is one thing, art another. The sisters Milanollo most betray the want of a steady and experienced master. They attempt things which are beyond their powers of execution, and thus, though they throw dust in the eyes of the multitude, they cannot deceive the connoisseur. The eldest, Teresa, who is eighteen, has certainly a great command of mechanism—but her mechanism is by no means faultless, and her style is not healthful. In the air of Bellini, on which Ernst has founded his Pirata fantasia, we remarked an excess of sentimentality which amounted to the maudlin. The continued miauling—to use an expressive word—absolutely put us beside ourselves. On the other hand, though a variation was omitted, and several of the difficulties (instance the pizzicato in the passage of tenths near the end) passed over, the variation in chords was admirably performed and proved that, with a careful instructor, Mdlle. Teresa Milanollo might become a first-rate executant. […] To sum up our opinion — the sisters Milanollo are clever, spiritual, and interesting girls — but unless they, for a while, abandon public playing — throw money-getting overboard — and take to serious and assiduous study — they are not likely ever to become great artists. [iv]



The Milanollo Sisters

The case of the Milanollo sisters demonstrates the dangers of the path that Joseph did not take: that of travelling Wunderkind. After a childhood of constant travel, Maria died of consumption at the age of 16, and was buried in Paris’s Père Lachaise cemetery. Grief-stricken Teresa withdrew from public life for some time, after which she devoted herself to giving concerts for the poor. Her Concerts des Pauvres were given in pairs: the first before a paying public, and the second before an indigent audience that, at the conclusion of the program, received gifts of money, food and clothing, bought with the proceeds of the paid event. Following her marriage in 1857, she retired from the concert stage. Joseph had been impressed with Teresa’s playing when she arrived in Vienna in 1843. It is not known how many of the sisters’ twenty-five concerts he attended. In later years, when she was the wife of French General Parmentier, he would never fail to visit her when he found himself in Paris. [vi]


The Milanollo Sisters by Josef Kriehuber

During the summer of 1843, Joseph travelled to Leipzig, to audition for Mendelssohn. There, he also became acquainted with his prospective teachers: Gewandhaus concertmaster Ferdinand David, and the eminent theorist and cantor of St. Thomas’s Church, Moritz Hauptmann.

Returning to Vienna for a final visit, he gave a farewell recital. Saphir reported (20 July) in Der Humorist: “While visiting his family, the amiable violinist, Joseph Joachim, also highly esteemed in the [Imperial] Residence, has given a private academy in the salon of his uncle, the wholesaler Herr Vigdor. All that our city has to show for artists and patrons of art graced this private concert with their presence. The winsome little singer (that is Joachim on his instrument) was smothered in caresses. He who has not seen this Wunderkind with his own eyes as he performs the compositions of Classical masters would believe himself to be hearing a Nestor, or one of the modern, celebrated heroes of the violin. Joseph Joachim lacks only world renown — the aura of widespread reputation, in order to shine amongst the violin-stars of the present, both spiritually and technically. Whether his honorable family will see their wish fulfilled, to have the great public delight in their darling’s songs, is not yet determined.” [vii]

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 9.49.07 AM

On August 1, Joseph took a final leave of Vienna. With the Wittgensteins, he took the post-coach via Prague to Dresden, and the train from there to Leipzig. [viii] He did not get a chance to say farewell to the Böhms, who were staying in their summer residence at Schloss Plankenburg.

Joseph Joachim to Joseph Böhm [ix]

Vienna, [Monday] July 31, 1843

Revered Herr Professor,

You cannot imagine how sorry I am to miss the pleasure of seeing you before my departure, since I will not see you now for so long. The reason that I have not taken the liberty of visiting you in Plankenberg is that I only arrived here on Wednesday (delayed by illness), and I return tomorrow to Leipzig, which Mr. Wittgenstein only decided upon the day before yesterday; if I had known that we would leave my beloved Vienna so soon, I would have come to you in the first days of my presence here—so I am forced to take leave of you merely in writing. So with this I bid you my affectionate farewell, and further ask you to remember me; I will never forget the good things that you and your honored wife have done for me, and I will also strive to see that your efforts will not be in vain, to gratify you through my diligence. — Now farewell, dear Herr Professor, stay healthy, content and happy as you are now, and think sometimes, too, of your respectful and grateful pupil

Jos Joachim.

I kiss your dear, gracious wife’s hand. […]


Train on the Leipzig—Dresden Line, ca. 1837


© Robert W. Eshbach, 2013

Next Post in Series: Interlude: Leipzig 

[1] Following a well-worn custom, someone shaved several years off Teresa’s age.

[2] Teresa played a violin by Pietro Rogeri, later owned by David Oistrach. Maria played a 1703 Stradivarius. In 1846, the girls were bequeathed a pair of precious instruments by the great bass virtuoso Domenico Dragonetti. Maria received a violin built by Antonius and Hieronymus Amati ca. 1620, currently in the Smithsonian Institution; Teresa a 1728 Stradivarius that had once been the possession of Giovanni Battista Viotti, and had been played by Paganini. The Dragonetti-Milanollo Strad, an instrument of peerless beauty, has subsequently been owned by Christian Ferras and Pierre Amoyal. It is currently on loan to Corey Cerovsek.

[i] New York Public Library

[ii] Allgemeine Wiener Musik-Zeitung, No 35 & 36: 23, 25 March 1843, p. 147.

[iii] Tarisio Auctions

[iv] The Musical World, Vol, 20, No. 21 (May 22, 1845), p. 242.

[v] Musical Times, November 1, 1906, p. 737.

[vi] Moser/JOACHIM 1901, p. 24.

[vii] “Der liebenswürdige Violinspieler, Joseph Joachim, auch in der Residenz rühmlichst bekannt, hat, auf Besuch bei seiner Familie anwesend, im Salon seines Onkels, des Großhändlers Hr. Vigdor, eine Privatakademie veranstaltet. Was unsere Stadt an Notabeln Künstlern und Kunstmäcenaten besitzt, verherrlichte dieses Privatconcert. Der herzgewinnende kleine Sänger (das ist Joachim auf seinem Instrumente) wurde von Liebkosungen erdrükt. Wer dieses Wunderkind, während es die Kompositionen klassischer Meister vorträgt, nicht mit eigenen Augen sieht, glaubt in der That einen Nestor, oder einen der modernen, gefeierten Heroen der Violine zu hören. Joseph Joachim fehlt nur noch die ausgebreitete Weltbekanntschaft — der Nimbus des verbreiteten Rufes, um schon jetzt in geistiger wie in technischer Beziehung unter den Sternen der Violinisten der Gegenwart zu glänzen. Ob seine verehrliche Familie dem allgemeinen Wunsch: das große Publikum an den Gesängen ihres Lieblings delektiren zu lassen, nachkommen werde, ist bis jetzt unentschieden.” Der Humorist. Von M. G. Saphir, Vol. 7, No. 143 (Thursday, 20 July, 1843), p. 379.

[viii] Ehrlich/KÜNSTLERLEBEN, p. 154.