America’s first woman solo violinist?

America’s first woman solo violinist?


norman lebrecht

April 28, 2016

The claim is being made for Camilla Urso (1840-1902), a French artist from Nantes who appeared in New York, aged 12, with her father’s ensemble.

The family moved down to Nashville and Camilla went on to play with the orchestras in Boston, New York and elsewhere. The Viotti concerto was reputedly her speciality.

Why has she been erased from music history?

Read here.

camilla urso

image: NYPL


  • Brian Bell says:

    The claim is quite legitimate. Nor has she ever been entirely erased. You can find references to her in Ezra Schabas 1989 biography of Theodore Thomas (arguably the most important American musician from his first tour with his orchestra in 1869 to his final Chicago concert in December 1904). There are nearly a dozen references to Urso in Nancy Newman’s excellent 2010 volume on the Germania Musical Society, “Good Music for a Free People”, published by the University of Rochester Press,

    Brian Bell

  • Robert Holmén says:

    “…many of the characteristics that went into making Urso the exceptional person that she was also contributed to ensuring that her fame would not live on.” As a twice-married mother who was a performer, concert organizer, and teacher, she “did not fit comfortably within the late 19th-century paradigms of womanhood.”

    A wrong-headed thesis. Just about all the women remembered from that era are remembered precisely because they did not fit “the late 19th-century paradigms of womanhood.”

    I’d say she has faded from memory because that is what has happened nearly every performer before the arrival of sound recording who did not leave some legacy as a teacher or composer.

  • Andrew Baker says:

    Interesting. Why was it so late in America? There were women solo violinists in Europe in the 18thc. Maddelena Sirmen performed in London in the 1770s as a soloist and composer, and also a soprano. She was one of the musicians who played in concerts for Thomas Anson, a kind of eminence grise of the arts I suspect, at his house 15 St James Square.

  • Elizabeth says:

    There’s more than one Viotti concerto, dumbass.

  • Tom says:

    The New York Philharmonic Digital Archive has her performing as soloist with them on 16 occasions between 1855 and 1893, playing 13 different works including concertos of Mendelssohn, Beethoven and Mozart, but no Viotti.