Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library


Discover more about the British Library's 6 million sound recordings and the access we provide to thousands of moving images. Comments and feedback are welcomed. Read more

03 July 2024

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: ‘I want to be nothing in the world except what I am - a musician.’

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor quoted in Norwood News (7 Sept. 1912).

Photo of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor sitting at a piano
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor © Alamy

Interview with Dr Catherine Carr, conducted by Fiona Stubbings

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was one of the most eminent composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was born in 1875, with mixed Sierra Leonean and English heritage, and grew up in Croydon. Defying societal conventions, he was celebrated as a promising musician both in the UK and the USA and was often referred to as the 'Black Dvorak' or the ‘Black Mahler’. Much has been written about his fame, popularity and his support for pan-Africanism.

His most famous work is undoubtedly The Song of Hiawatha, which premiered in 1898 at the Royal College of Music. The musical composition was based on an epic poem written by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It was hailed as a masterpiece and hundreds of thousands of copies of the score were sold.

Coleridge-Taylor’s popularity continued after his death – from 1924 until 1939 his Hiawatha trilogy was regularly staged at the Royal Albert Hall, usually conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent. It was shown for two weeks every year, and was attended by thousands of people, among them the Royal Family.

Programme for Hiawatha, performed at the Royal Albert Hall
Programme for Hiawatha, performed at the Royal Albert Hall in 1935, © Alamy

Whilst all of this reflects his popularity and his standing in his own lifetime and the inter-war years, performances of his work slowly declined after the Second World War. This might explain why there is a disproportionate amount of literature written about him, compared to the prestige with which his work was held. 

When researcher Dr Catherine Carr decided to focus her PhD research on the music of Samuel Coleridge Taylor, she was motivated by the lack of scholarly literature on the composer’s work: ‘One of the reasons I did the PhD was because as I looked and researched, everything referred to his race… I thought, but what about the actual music?’

Dr Catherine Carr

Whilst she noted that it was important not to disregard his race altogether, it seemed that in some ways superficial accounts of his life and achievements overshadowed his sheer musical genius.

In 2003, as part of her PhD for research at the British Library, Dr Carr uncovered a full manuscript of Coleridge-Taylor’s opera Thelma, previously thought to be lost. In her own words, she describes:

When I was researching Coleridge-Taylor I kept on coming across mentions of the opera as being lost. It was even discussed in several critical writings that it may have been destroyed, because he did that with the finale of his Symphony - he'd ripped it in half and tossed it away and his friend William Reed had rescued it, I believe it was taped back together and is now in the Royal College of Music. So yes, I thought, well, maybe it does still exist and if so, I need to find this manuscript. Unbeknownst to me, I had seen it in 1997 when I first started my research because I was working off a list of his works from the British Library, but at that point it wasn't catalogued….It was in boxes of music with ‘unsorted’ written on. So I had seen it in the early stages of my research but didn’t know what it was.

And then I found a letter at the Public Records office in Kew from a musical director to Coleridge-Taylor's wife Jesse, and it was talking about the performing rights for the opera. The letter was written in 1913. And Coleridge-Taylor died in 1912, so I knew it was still in existence when he died. I knew it had to be somewhere. So I went back through all of my research and reviewed everything again with fresh eyes…when I looked back at the box of unsorted manuscripts in the British Library I had the real sort of Eureka moment when the penny finally dropped – there it was, unbound, but with all three acts complete. I had been discussing it at length with my supervisor, about how great it would be to assess Coleridge-Taylor through this ‘missing’ opera. I think if he could have done cartwheels, he would have done when I told him I’d finally located it.

I then applied to reproductions for a working copy so that I could analyse the music and it became evident that it's really top drawer stuff. And from my research I knew that it was really dear to Coleridge-Taylor's heart. It was great to be able to actually find it and for people to be able to see it and perform it, as it eventually was done.

Add MS 63809 A_f.2
Opening page of Act I in Thelma, BL reference Add MS 63809 A

My longer-term goal after completing my PhD was to try and get a performance of the opera. I wanted to get it for 2009, which was the 100th anniversary – the work is signed it at the bottom ‘15th of March 1909’. I finished the PhD in 2005-2006 but it took longer than I’d hoped to bring that dream alive. Perhaps I didn’t have the right opera connections, or a business mind, but I struggled to get much interest from opera companies in the UK and US.  Some years later, in 2011, Jonathan Butcher, from Surrey Opera, got in touch with me, as they were mounting a production. His dedication and expertise in bringing it to life as was brilliant, and it was performed in 2012 in Croydon as part of a year-long festival on the centenary of Coleridge-Taylor's death.

Thelma at Surrey Opera Copyright Peter Marr
Performance of Thelma by Surrey Opera, image © Peter Marr

To see it on stage for the very first public performance ever was surreal, and I was elated  that it had finally been produced.  As I've been doing this research, it became apparent that the opera was something he had poured all his aspirations into. I knew that it was a really important work to him, so it was wonderful to actually hear it and to see it.  When I’d been researching it I was absolutely immersed in it – analysing the musical intricacies. But to see it actually performed on the stage was emotional. It was said that the reason it wasn't performed in Coleridge-Taylor's lifetime was because there were insurmountable problems to do with the staging (and the libretto). But Jonathan Butcher and the Surrey Opera found a way round those, in a splendid production.

In 2022, nearly two decades after Dr Carr’s discovery, the Royal College of Music discovered in their archive a previously unknown composition by Coleridge-Taylor, called Nourmahal's Song. Despite being compared to renowned composers such as Mahler and Dvorak, the extent of scholarly research of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s work is reflected by the fact that new works of continue to be uncovered.

Dr Carr’s thesis can be found here: The Music of Samuel Coleridge Taylor (1875-1912): A Critical and Analytical Study.

25 June 2024

SIVORI IS DEAD! VIVA SIVORI! The haunting recorded legacy of Paganini’s only pupil, Part 2


Part 2 of a guest blog by Andrew O. Krastins.  Part 1 can be found here.

We continue our exploration of the British Library’s Mystery Cylinders. And, the author can attest, mysterious they indeed are – equal parts Rubik’s Cube, Voynich manuscript and chest of drawers seen in Buster Keaton movies where the hapless star tries to close one drawer only to be whopped in the forehead by another. In our first installment, readers learned that an anonymous donor delivered sixteen mysterious brown wax phonograph cylinders to the British Library and advised that he was told decades ago that they were recorded by August Wilhelmj.  To summarize, Wilhelmj had no known relation with Sivori, never was known to have performed any of Sivori’s works and had retired from public performance before the cylinders were made.  That leaves Sivori as our prime suspect.  But why should anyone care either way?

Who exactly was this Sivori?

September 2, 1887 – St. Gratien, about 18 kilometers from Paris.  We are at the summer home of Princess Mathilde Bonaparte, niece of Napoleon I and cousin of Napoleon III, celebrated salonnière and patron of literature, art and music, intimate of Gounod, Saint-Saëns, Flaubert, St. Beuve, Renan and many others.1 Among the luminaries in attendance is the literary diarist, novelist and playwright Edmond de Goncourt, a longtime intimate of Princess Mathilde’s circle.  Camillo Sivori, whom Princesse Mathilde likely has known since at least since 18582, is called upon to reminisce about his six-decade career, Goncourt with his boasted prodigious memory, listening and perhaps jotting down notes on his sleeve.

Sivori had much to tell.  Childhood lessons with Paganini himself, a thorough traditional Italian musical education with Paganini’s own teacher Giacomo Costa, and with Paganini’s friend, Agostino Dellepiane, a concert tour of London and Paris at age 12 in 1827, leading the Genoa conservatory in his early twenties after Dellepiane’s death, the world premiere performance of all of Beethoven string quartets as a cycle in London in 1845, close association with members of Beethoven’s circle, associations with Liszt, Berlioz and other musical luminaries, concert tours throughout Europe and North and South America, and all the wisdom acquired and distilled over a six-decade artistic career.

And what did Goncourt choose to memorialize?  It seems Sivori was crossing a river in Panama in a canoe, paddled along by native oarsmen. Sivori took out his violin and began to play, so frightening the natives that they thought he was bewitched and were about to hurl him overboard.  But all was saved by putting away the violin and passing out some cigars.  This is all that Goncourt thought worth telling – a single trivial anecdote, which was picked up by European and American newspapers and repeated with embellishments, even making its way into Sivori’s obituaries. Such the fate of the mere musical executant.  Since Goncourt is useless, we turn instead to other sources, much of it ephemera that might easily have landed in the mulch heap. 

Sivori toured London and Paris in 1827 at age twelve, a year before Paganini himself launched his international concert tours.3


1827 Sivori programme
1827 Sivori programme 

Sivori’s tour was overseen by his teacher, Paganini’s friend, Agostino Dellepiane, director of the Genoa Conservatory and of the orchestra of the Carlo Felice theater.4 After he returned to Genoa, Sivori undertook a rigorous study of harmony and counterpoint with the Genoese composer Giacomo Serra.  Some time in the mid 1830s, Dellepiane died. According to his first English biographer, Sivori took over Dellepiane’s duties as head of the Genoa Conservatory and of the orchestra at the Carlo Felice theater – posts which he kept up until 1840.5  By the age of twenty-five, Sivori had acquired a deep, thorough and practical musical education at odds with modern stereotypes of the ‘typical’ flashy early 19th century instrumental ‘virtuoso’ who never ventures beyond tinkly arpeggio-sodden fantasias on opera tunes or Home Sweet Home.     

In 1841, Sivori commenced his first concert tour outside of the Italian peninsula as a mature artist, beginning with concerts in Vienna. Just as it had for Paganini in 1828, the Artaria music publishing house – publishers who dealt personally with Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven – issued a lithograph portrait executed by the Viennese popular celebrity portraitist Josef Kriehuber, who had been a member of Schubert’s artistic circle.6 Sivori immersed himself in Vienna’s musical life.  He wrote to his father of his delight to spend Easter with Mozart's son.7  

On April 20, 1841, Sivori gave his first Vienna concert at the hall of the prestigious Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. First on the program was the Vienna (and almost certainly world) premiere of Sivori’s Second Violin Concerto, with piano accompaniment. Sivori’s collaborating pianist was Joseph Fischhof, professor of piano at the Vienna Conservatory and renowned collector of Beethoven manuscripts.8  

One of two 1841 Vienna programmes
One of two 1841 Vienna programmes


A second 1841 Vienna programme
A second 1841 Vienna programme

Sivori inscribed one of the Artaria/Kriehuber lithographs to Fischhof.9  

Sivori Kriehuber Lithograph

Sivori Concerto cylinder 1

Sivori Concerto cylinder 2

Sivori Concerto cylinder 3

Sivori Concerto cylinder 4

Listening notes by Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music:

The playing at the beginning of cylinder 1 is rather insecure but by the time we reach the second subject [2’10”] the intonation is more secure. The playing time for the cylinders is three minutes and just before the end [2’53”] Sivori is evidently told to stop which he and the pianist do abruptly, followed by an exchange of words which is just caught by the recording apparatus.

He then begins cylinder 2 after another word is spoken, probably by the recordist, who then says something else once Sivori begins to play. This cylinder contains some remarkable violin playing – melodies in octaves, double stopping in thirds and sixths as well as two part playing. There is probably a short tutti section [2’05” to 2’23”] where Sivori plays along with the piano. The cylinder runs out at the end [3’02”]. On cylinder 3 there is a section in C major and A flat major [1’30”] where spiccato and descending scales are employed followed by the second subject in the home key. Cylinder 4 begins with two loud knocks which were probably caused by the recording machine. There is a slight insecurity in intonation near the beginning [0’24”] at a section in F major just before it is repeated in octaves. The recording is best heard on speakers rather than headphones.

According to Pierrottet, Sivori’s Vienna concerts were a triumph, a description consistent with reviews in the Allgemeine Wiener Musik-Zeitung.  Sivori, summoned by court carriage, performed before the Austrian Emperor, the Empress Mother, Prince Metternich, and other Austrian royalty.10  In Leipzig, Sivori wrote to his new friend Fischhof of the warm reception he received from Robert and Clara Schumann.11  These were followed by triumphs in Paris and other European capitals.

From the second half of 1843 through the spring of 1846, Sivori established himself as one of the central figures in the musical life of London, both in elite circles such as the Queen Square Select Society and Beethoven Quartet Society, in the ‘potpourri’ and ‘monster’ concerts so popular in early Victorian London, and in private soirees.  His first biography, really a publicity vehicle, was distributed through Cramer & Beale, the London music publishers. Under the direction of Thomas Willert Beale, from the early 1850s through the mid 1870s, Sivori toured extensively throughout England, Scotland and Ireland in the company of operatic luminaries such as the tenor Mario12, the soprano Giudetta Pasta, and instrumentalists such as the bassist Giovanni Bottesini and the pianist Sigismund Thalberg who was then considered the rival of Liszt.13

Among the most elite musical institutions of Regency and early Victorian London was the Queen Square Select Society, founded in 1830 by Thomas Alsager, a wealthy Bloomsbury music critic and partial owner of the London Times who was a knowledgeable amateur musician devoted to the German classics, particularly Beethoven.  The Society was divided between select ‘amateurs’ and ‘professors,’ that is, amateur and professional musicians. By 1844, Alsager had enrolled Sivori among the ‘professors,’ placing him among the most respected musicians of London, at least three of whom were linked directly to Beethoven.14  George Bridgetower premiered Beethoven’s Ninth Violin Sonata from manuscript with Beethoven at the piano, and was the work’s original dedicatee.15  Sir George Smart, the conductor and founding member of the London Philharmonic Society, knew Beethoven personally, and in 1825 conducted the world premiere of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which the Society had commissioned.16  Also in Alsager’s circle was the composer and pianist Ignaz Moscheles, personal friend of Beethoven and early editor of Beethoven’s complete piano sonatas.  Mendelssohn and Spohr were honored guest participants.

In 1845, Alsager organized the Beethoven Quartett (sic) Society, for the purpose of performing the entire cycle of Beethoven Quartets in their entirety over a course of five concerts, ‘with the distinct and sole object of giving the most perfect performance of those beautiful compositions.’ According to Alsager’s manuscript prospectus, the five ‘meetings’ would ‘take place during the Season, at each of which would be played Three Quartets; one of his early age as Op. 18; one of his middle age, as Op. 59 to 95; and one of his Posthumous Quartetts, by which plan, the whole collection, or nearly so, could be performed in the Five Meetings, and a very interesting comparison established at the same time, between the Stages in the musical career of this great Composer.’  News articles explained that the Society was formed ‘to make lovers of music better acquainted with Beethoven’s quartets, particularly the posthumous, that nearly up to the present time were only known by name even to professors’ and were regarded as ‘musical puzzles not worth solving.’17

Alsager continued: ‘The most distinguished professors, whether foreign or native, will be engaged, who will be required to undergo the most careful rehearsals previously to each performance.  To preserve unity of style, the whole series will be played, if possible, by the same performers.  The Professors who will, it is expected, form the Quartett, are Sigr. Sivori, M. [Henri] Vieuxtemps, Violins – Mr. [Henry] Hill Tenor [viola] – Mr. [Scipione] Rousselot, Violincello.’  Sivori was first on Alsager’s list of violinists.  None of the quartet members Alsager chose for the first season was German or from the German-speaking parts of the Austrian Empire.18               

In early June 1846, the Beethoven Quartet Society announced its eighth and final concert of the season, to be held on June 22.  As a prelude, the Society invited its members to a special concert on June 20, ‘a performance of the ‘Posthumous Quartet,’ in B flat, in its full integrity; that is, with the grand fugue, forming his seventeenth quartet in Rousselot’s new edition, as its concluding movement.’19  On June 23, 1846, Cramer & Beale announced a public performance of the same Beethoven quartet, again with ‘grand fugue,’ to take place the same day under the auspices of the Musical Union.20

From Sivori’s arrival in London in 1843 until late 1846, when he left for North and South America, Sivori was a ubiquitous presence in London’s musical life, in all of its rich and perplexing variety. Sivori was so busy in early 1845 that a worried Alsager wrote: ‘We are yet without news of Sivori & as it is now nearly certain that the first [Beethoven Quartet Society] party must be played by Vieuxtemps & Sainton it will be necessary to consider whether a slight change should be made in the programme as the 15 ought to be left to Sivori alone. . . . If I knew for certain where Sivori is I would despatch a special messenger to bring him to England.  The delay is severely provoking!’21  

Alsager letter

There were rounds of private musical soirees, popular concerts in Bristol and York, concerts in Brighton at the Old Ship Hotel where Paganini stayed and performed and which is still open for business, ‘grand’ public concerts in which English popular ballads and opera arias might be interspersed between concerto movements, movements of Beethoven symphonies alternating with Jullien’s latest quadrilles, and the evening concluding with a farce or demonstration of some newly invented musical instrument.22  These venues, far from the rarefied atmosphere of Alsager’s two elite musical societies, provided habitats where repertoire and modes of expression now long extinct could thrive – habitats which have long since been destroyed.  It was in these environments, so strange to us, that Sivori embodied the role of Paganini’s only direct disciple, Sivori ‘the magician’ with his enchanted wand; it is these environments that the Mystery Cylinders permit us to ever so briefly glimpse – if they are indeed by Sivori, which remains to be shown.

 On June 17, 1843, the London Morning Post reported in glowing language that Sivori performed the first movement of his Second Violin Concerto, which he continued to perform in public concerts as a stand-alone composition well into the 1870s, in London, and elsewhere at least as late as 1881.23  Sivori’s connections to London were deep and important. In 1851, Sivori performed Paganini’s Le Streghe and First Violin Concerto in London five months before their publication in Paris. These 1851 performances are of central importance in unlocking the riddles of the Mystery Cylinders, and will be addressed in my final installment, ‘Paganini’s Witches.’

Sivori continued to tour widely in the 1860s and 1870s, even into the early 1890s. In the mid-1860s, he took up lodgings in Paris at the Hotel de Havane, a rooming house at 44 Rue de Trevise which contemporary travel guides described as a respectable establishment for travelers of modest means.  By the late 1880s, Sivori had lived primarily in Paris for nearly a quarter of a century, with occasional Continental concert tours and frequent trips to visit friends and family in Genoa.24 One musician who visited him in 1888 recalled: ‘Sivori was living on the fourth or fifth story of a very modest hotel, having a single room, with space for an upright piano and an alcove for his bed.  It was a charming, cosy little room, just such a one as the majority of bachelor artists occupy in Paris, no matter how ample their income.’25 And modest the Hotel de Havane remains to this day, spiral staircase intact.

Photo of Hotel de Havane spiral staircase
Hotel de Havane spiral staircase

The Hotel de Havane was a fifteen-minute walk from the home of Sivori’s favorite collaborating pianist, Francis Thomé, the popular Parisian salon composer and pianist with whom Sivori often rehearsed and performed.26  It was about the same distance to the grandiose new Paris Opera House, and to the popular Brasserie Fontaine, where Sivori dined and played billiards with his old friend, the violinist, composer and Conservatoire professor Hubert Leonard.27  A few steps from the Hotel de Havane was the studio of the celebrity photographer Pierre Petit, to whom, for thirty years, Sivori turned for new cartes de visite and cabinet photographs, even as late as the spring or summer of 1893. On the Rue Cadet, about a block from Sivori’s room, was the apartment of the young Belgian virtuoso Ovide Musin, who frequently visited Sivori early in Musin’s career.28

Anyone in Paris who wished to hear Sivori, albeit informally, had only to go for an early morning walk past the Hotel de Havane, where Sivori, even near the end of his life, performed his daily ritual of exercises and scales which could eventually transmute into lengthy improvisations – no piece or etude in particular, but a daily exploration of the violin to animate the mind and hands.29  That love of fiddling for the pure joy of exploring the possibilities of the instrument was often noted.  When, on tour, if Sivori failed to appear for breakfast while his fellow artists worried about missing the train to the next town, his colleagues could safely assume Sivori was in his room engrossed in some new violinistic effect.30  

After his practice regimen, whether in Paris or Genoa, Sivori customarily took an afternoon stroll, greeting friends and admirers, and often inscribing the many cartes de visite and cabinet photographs which he had ordered in France, Italy and Germany over the decades.31

Even toward the end of his life, Sivori was a frequent guest at Parisian soirees, performing in every style.  He was a well-known and much liked figure on the boulevards and in the musical salons of Paris.

Sivori’s lodgings in Genoa were as modest as his room at the Hotel de Havane – an apartment on the top floor of a building at 15 Via Giulia, spare and small, like a schoolboy’s dormitory room – a small iron bed, like the bed of a child, a simple work table and a music stand, the walls decorated with a few prints, and an Erard piano in the sitting room – a gift from his friend, the young writer Egisto Roggero.  In the days after his death, his newly finished arrangement of Beethoven’s O Salutaris was still on his music stand.32               

From the late 1880s until his final illness, Sivori’s vigor and undiminished musical prowess were a matter kept before the public. In February 1889, a critic marveled that Sivori “has preserved to the fullness of his fingers all the agility of a young man of twenty years.”33 On November 9, 1890, Le Menestrel reported that Sivori was about to undertake a major tour of Italy: ‘Italian newspapers tell us that the great Sivori, violinist, who has not left France for a long time, intends to go on a long artistic tour in Italy and to be applauded by his compatriots.’  The writer noted that it is uncommon ‘to see an artist like Sivori seventy-two years (sic) old having retained all his talent and all his energy after a long and brilliant career of sixty years.’34 Sivori was actually 75, as the English papers noted.35          

The year 1892 was a particularly busy year for Genoa and for Sivori.  Genoa hosted countless festivities in honor of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ voyages to the New World.  Two interrelated exhibitions interest us.  The Esposizione Italo-Americana, which ran from July 10 through December 4, 1892, showcased Italian achievements in technology, manufacturing and the arts, much as the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris had done for France.

Columbus Expo magazine cover
Colombus Exposition magazine cover

The Exposition took several years of planning, and elaborate fair grounds were constructed. Sivori served on the Exposition’s organizing body alongside his friend Ferdinando Resasco (the director of the Carlo Felice Theatre and former head of the Il Caffaro newspaper), and other prominent Genoese.36  Sivori was involved in organizing the musical festivities.  Related and physically adjacent to the Italo-American Exposition proper was the Catholic Missions Exhibition, which included various  ‘ethnic’ or ‘tribal’ displays from regions of the world where the Catholic Church had established missions, similar to the samplings of ‘exotic’ cultures on show at the 1889 World’s Fair.  

Genoa hosted musical events of national and international significance, along with concerts of every kind, military bands, mandolin orchestras, symphonies and opera. There were concerts in honor of Rossini, who was born 100 years earlier.  On August 5, 1892, Mascagni conducted his works in a gala concert at the Ducal Palace.37  The City of Genoa commissioned an opera, Cristoforo Colombo, by Alberto Franchetti.  Sivori and Verdi sat in the same box during its October 25, 1892 premiere at the Carlo Felice Theatre.38

The year 1892 also corresponded to the 65th anniversary of Sivori’s debut as a child prodigy, and he performed a series of valedictory concerts, charity concerts and private recitals until he left for Paris in May 1893.  Verdi recalled that in the spring of 1892, Sivori attended a gathering at Verdi’s home, and ‘surrounded by intimate friends, he sent for his violin and amazed us all.’39  On February 29, 1892, Sivori performed his own works and Paganini’s Moses fantasy at the Rossini festivities.40  Sivori’s valedictory concerts were memorialized in an Italian national weekly magazine by a two-page illustration of Sivori performing at a fashionable Genoa salon in connection with the Columbus festivities.41

Photo of 1893 illustration of Sivori at Genoa salon
 1893 illustration of Sivori at Genoa salon

 In March 1892, Genoese students asked Sivori to participate in a charity concert. Sivori enjoyed the company of youth and readily agreed. On March 11, 1892, he performed at the concert and ‘thrilled and electrified the audience.’  The students followed Sivori home, cheering in call and response fashion, ‘Viva Sivori! Viva Sivori!’  Students lit matches as they marched, giving the effect of a candlelight parade.  ‘They accompanied him home in full force and triumph,’ wrote Sivori’s friend and biographer Adele Pierrottet.  ‘The crowd swelled to two hundred marchers.  They carried Sivori to his home in triumph, cheering ‘Viva Sivori.’42

Sivori performed at least four major concerts in April 1892, as recorded in Il Caffaro.  In May 1892, at the home of his friend, the prominent Genoese salonniere Selene Hofer, he performed the Anton Rubinstein G major sonata for violin and piano ‘with an impetus, a vigor, an adroitness that was absolutely youthful.’43  The June 19, 1892 edition of Il Caffaro announced ‘a concert of truly exceptional importance as it will be attended by Comm. Camillo Sivori, whose mere name is worth a whole string of enthusiastic plaudits, the famous artist Helene Hastreiter [and] the gracious ladies Selene Hofer and Laura Tedeschi, dilettantes of unparalleled exquisiteness’ – a gala charity concert across the harbor in Pietraruggia.  The day after the concert, the reporter described ‘the multitude of ladies in the most elegant and varied attire,’ dutifully naming each one and describing them in flattering detail.

Sivori returned to Paris in May 1893. On 24 May 1893, he wrote to a friend: ‘I hope your health is as good as mine in this moment.’44  On 16 July 1893, Sivori wrote an apologetic letter to Pierrottet blaming his delayed response to a whirl of Parisian social activities.45  Some time after his return, Sivori visited Pierre Petit’s photographic studio.  A surviving cabinet photo dated 1893 depicts an alert face, contentment and perhaps inner amusement.

1893 Sivori photo by Petit
1893 Sivori photo by Petit

Another Petit photograph, undated but obviously of about the same vintage, depicts Sivori with his violin.  

Sivori-Petit postcard
Sivori/Petit postcard

During the late Spring or early summer of 1893, Edison’s old friend Remenyi, the Hungarian violin virtuoso, was closing his affairs in Paris in anticipation of accepting United States citizenship.46 Remenyi’s widow recalled that, shortly before Sivori’s death, Sivori performed Paganini at a Parisian salon and humorously demonstrated the effect of beginning a piece with all four strings, breaking three strings in succession, and concluding on a the G string alone.47  That concert must have taken place after Sivori returned to Paris in May 1893 because that is when Sivori, Remenyi and Madame Remenyi were simultaneously present there. As late as July 30, 1893, Sivori visited an old friend and possibly performed at private chamber music evenings in Tours, some 200 kilometers from Paris.48  On August 21, 1893, Sivori attended another dinner at Princess Mathilde’s St. Gratien summer home.49

In September 1893, Sivori became seriously ill with severe lung congestion and his fluctuating health was a matter of international news.  Not only did the major French and Italian newspapers follow the matter closely, but so did the British press and various music journals.  On October 12, 1893, Il Caffaro reported that Sivori had recovered his health and intended to leave Paris for Genoa.  Sivori’s physician assured the press that Sivori’s lung congestion had almost completely disappeared.  Two days later, Le Gaulois reported that Sivori suffered a serious relapse from which he was recovering.  On October 21, 1893, Il Caffaro reported that Sivori’s latest medical reports were now favorable and that he was leaving Paris for Genoa that day. On October 30, 1893, the Il Caffaro announced Sivori’s return to Genoa. Sivori’s health again failed and he died on February 17, 1894.

So where’s the Phonograph? And where’s the evidence that Sivori was ever even near a Phonograph?  Is the author sputtering toward an ignominious exit having foolishly presumed that the British Library’s readers could be so easily gulled?  In our next installments, we will follow the fortunes of Sivori, Enrico Copello and the Phonograph in Italy, and watch as the three converge in the Genoa of 1892 and again in 1894.

By Andrew O. Krastins

© 2023 by Andrew O. Krastins. All rights reserved 

1.Edmond de Goncourt, Journal, v. 15, p. 25, Les Editions de l’Imprimerie Nationale de Monaco (1956).

  1. Princess Mathilde’s longtime lover, Memoirs of Count Horase Viel Castel, v. 2, p. 112, Remington & Co., London 1888. Princess Mathilde’s cousin, Napoleon III appointed her longtime lover, the sculptor Émilien de Nieuwerkerke, to serve as director of the royal museums and awarded him a private residence at the Louvre. Sivori performed at the first reception held at Nieuwekerke’s luxurious new residence on January 23, 1858. Princess Mathilde appears to have had an abiding and cordial acquaintance with Sivori, evidenced by his presence at St. Gratien during the spring and summer months when Princess Mathilde presided over the salon at her celebrated St. Gratien summer home. (See correspondence in Krastins Sivori Archive.)
  1. Krastins Sivori Archive, 1827 Program, London
  1. The Musical World, 17 July 1845, p. 338-339 (British Newspaper Archive at ; Morning Post, 07 June 1827. British Newspaper Archive at
  1. James, E.; Camillo Sivori, a Sketch of his Life, Talent, Travels and Successes; Pietro Rolandi, Cramer, Beale & Co., London (1845), p. 13-14. Nothing is known of ‘E. James,’ who might actually have been one of the principals or employees of Cramer & Beale. The Rolandi firm published Italian translations for the benefit of Italian exiles and Londoners seeking literature in Italian. That James’ book was published in English suggests that Rolandi provided translation services and that the information came from Sivori himself. See also the first modern biography of Sivori, Flavio Menardi Noguera’s Camillo Sivori: la vita, I concerti, le musiche, Graphos, Genoa (1991) at p. 52-55, and The Musical World, 17 July 1845, p. 338-339 (British Newspaper Archive at
  1. Alice M. Hanson, Vienna, City of Music, in Schubert’s Vienna, ed. Raymond Erickson, p. 110, Yale University Press (1997).
  1. Pierrottet, Camillo Sivori, p. 31; Edizioni Bongiovanni , Bologna (1993)
  1. The program is held in the archive of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Wien.
  1. Autograph Artaria/Kriehuber lithograph portrait of Sivori inscribed by Sivori to Fischof/Krastins Sivori Archive.
  1. Pierrottet, Camillo Sivori, p. 31.
  1. Letter dated 29 October 1841 from Sivori to Joseph Fischof, in Inzaghi, L. (2004) Camillo Sivori: Carteggi del grande violinista e compositore allevio di Paganini; Zecchini Editore, Varese, Italy, p. 109. The recipient has been misidentified as ‘Tichoff’ rather than Fischof.
  1. Giovanni Matteo De Candia was a wildly popular Italian tenor known to the public simply as “Mario.”
  1. Thomas Willert Beale wrote two indispensable autobiographies, The Enterprising Impresario (London 1867) and The Light of Other Days Seen through Wrong End of an Opera Glass (London 1890).
  1. Queen Square Select Society announcement dated November 14, 1844. (Krastins Sivori Archive/Henry Hill papers.)
  1. Henry Hill, the violist in Alsager’s Beethoven Quartett Society, left a large and precious collection of musical correspondence, manuscript program notes, programs and other ephemera spanning his entire professional life, from the 1820s until his death in 1856. These irreplaceable papers provide essential information about musical life in early Victorian London unobtainable elsewhere. The Henry Hill papers make clear that George Bridgetower (1778-1860), Beethoven’s ‘gran pazzo e compositore mulattico,’ (‘great madman and mulatto composer’) even in the mid 1840s, was still a prominent figure in London’s most elite musical circles. We hope that some readers of these pages are inspired to follow up on this fact and help restore Bridgetower’s place in music history.
  1. The British Library holds Sir George Smart’s papers. A short and informative article is available on the British Library website at
  1. Krastins Archive/Hill papers/newspaper clipping.
  1. The violinists for the first season were Sivori and Prosper Sainton. Vieuxtemps participated in later seasons, as did Joseph Joachim (1831-1907), then barely in his teens, and Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst (1812-1865).
  1. Illustrated London News, June 13, 1846. British Newspaper Archive at
  1. London Morning Herald, June 20,1846. British Newspaper Archive at That Matinee concert included quartet performances by Sivori, Sainton, and Vieuxtemps as violinists, Henry Hill as violist and Alfredo Piatti as cellist. Vieuxtemps is identified as a violinist in the Beethoven performance but it is unclear whether the other violinist was Sivori or Sainton.
  1. Undated letter from Alsager to Henry Hill, Krastins Sivori Archive/Hill papers.
  1. Brighton Gazette, 12 December 1844, BNA
  1. Our knowledge of these performances rests on newspaper reports accessible through the British Library’s and French National Library’s online newspaper archives.
  1. Laurie, D.: The Reminiscences of a Fiddle Dealer (1925), p. 60-63; Houghton & Mifflin Co., Boston & New York; Musion, O.: My Memories Written by Himself (1920), p. 273-274; Musin Publishing Company, New York; Ryan, T.: Recollections of an Old Musician (1899), p. 32-33; E. P Dutton & Co., New York.
  1. Ryan, p. 32-33.
  1. Letter from Sivori to Francis Thomé dated March 21, 1883 (Krastins Sivori Archive); Cabinet photograph inscribed by Sivori to Thomé dated 28 September 1889(?) ( Krastins Sivori Archive); Letter, in French, dated Genoa, November 12, 1893, from Sivori to an unknown correspondent. (Krastins Sivori Archive.)
  1. The Strad, Supplement to v. 49, May 1894, p. 58.
  1. Musin, p. 273.
  1. L’Ateneo Religioso, 1 April 1894, p. 186. n. 13.; Laurie, p. 60-63; Kirby, W. H., letter to The Violin Times, , v. 1, no. 5, p. 67, 15 March 1894.
  1. Beale, T. W. (1867) The Enterprising Impressario, p. 143.
  1. Documentary evidence pertaining to many 19th century instrumentalists, famous in their day but forgotten in ours, can be exceedingly scarce, the substance of their lives as ephemeral as their performances. Cartes de visite and cabinet photographs, seemingly trivial “mere collector’s items,” can provide essential information about their subjects which cannot be gleaned anywhere else. This is particularly true of Sivori, the bulk of whose scores and personal family correspondence are privately held and not open for study, with the exception of a very limited number of Italian scholars to whom access has been granted.
  1. Scena Illustrata, Firenze, 1 March 1894, n. 5, p. 66.
  1. Gazette artistique de Nantes 21 February 1889, p. 6 BNF
  1. Le Menestrel, 9 November 1890, p. 360.
  1. London Daily News, 14 November 1890 BNA
  1. La Donna, 20 October 1913, No. 121, p. 20.
  1. Il Caffaro, 04-06 August 1892.
  1. Il Caffaro, 25 October 1892.
  1. Encounters with Verdi, ed. by Marcello Conati (tr. Richard Stokes) p. 220-221, Cornell University Press, Ithaca NY, 1984.]
  1. Il Caffaro Supp., 03 March 1892.
  1. L’Illustrazione Popolare: giornale per le famiglie; 15 January 1893, Milan; p. 33, 40 (Krastins Sivori Archive).
  1. Pierrottet, p. 72-72.
  1. Il Caffaro, 15 May 1892.
  1. Sivori Letter dated Paris, 24 May 1893 to a friend, in Pierrottet, p. 93.
  1. Letter dated 16 July 1893 from Sivori to Pierrottet, in Pierrotet, p. 94-95.
  1. Conable, E. W.: Music, March 1899, p. 589-590; Chicago.
  1. Ware, H., The Violinist , “A Visit to Madame Remenyi;” August 1914, p. 33-34; Chicago.
  1. Le Croix de Touraine, 30 July 1893,; Journal d'Indre-et-Loire, 23 July 1893,
  1. Termanini, S.; Quadrerni dell’Istituto di studi Paganini; “Alucune note sull’ epistolario di Camillo Sivori”; October 1999, p. 64.

18 June 2024

Join us for the Oral History Festival on Saturday 6 July 2024 in the British Library Knowledge Centre

Square logo with pink text saying Oral History Festival 2024 on a green background

Mary Stewart, Lead Curator of Oral History and Director of National Life Stories writes…

The Oral History Festival needs you! Whether you have been involved in oral history for a month, a year, a decade or more, the Oral History Society in partnership with National Life Stories at the British Library extends a warm invitation to join us for a day of reflection, listening, conversation and networking.

Attendees at the Festival will have a rare chance to spend a day exploring a diverse range of ideas and experiences within oral history and memory work. Everyone will have the opportunity to reflect on their own practice in discussion with others, to network and – hopefully – to gain new perspectives and insights into oral history that they can apply to their work. The day is made up of peer-learning sessions, led by experienced oral historians, where participants are asked to reflect, collaborate and join in.

The Oral History Festival will be held on Saturday 6 July 2024 from 09.30-18.00 in the Knowledge Centre, British Library, London NW1 2DB. For more information and a detailed programme visit the Oral History Society’s Festival page:

Participatory workshop topics include:

  • oral history and its role in tracing climate change
  • expectations when commissioning oral history work
  • oral history and creative practice
  • emotions and oral history
  • playing with the future in oral history
  • place and identity in oral history
  • creative transcription
  • ethical dilemmas in oral history
  • family oral history
  • oral history in the classroom

Book tickets here:

Festival fee:

  • £75 Standard
  • £50 Oral History Society and British Library Members
  • £50 Concessions

*Includes lunch and refreshments* The catering will be vegetarian. For other dietary needs please contact OHS Events Manager [email protected].

For more information on National Life Stories, see our collection on the British Library Research Repository. More detail on the Oral History Society is at