It’s Ginette Neveu’s 100th birthday

It’s Ginette Neveu’s 100th birthday


norman lebrecht

August 11, 2019

The French violinist – the greatest her country ever produced – was born on this day in 1919 and died at 30 in an aircrash.

It is a mark of her virtuosity that she beat David Oistrakh into second place at the Wieniawski Competition. ‘She hypnotised you with her charisma,’ said fellow-Flesch student Ida Haendel.

Between the end of the Second World War and her death in October 1949, Ginette Neveu recorded major concertos for EMI. The Sibelius is legendary.



  • Ruben Greenberg says:

    Thank you for reminding us of the great Ginette Neveu, one of the greatest violinists that ever lived. Also a thought for her accompanist-brother, Jean Neveu, who perished in the same plane crash. I imagine Gitlis is the last musician still alive that knew her personally. I’m sure he has a lot to say about her.

  • Harry Collier says:

    One of the truly great violinists of the past century. Her death was a major tragedy. She was also unfortunate in coming to fame in Europe during the troubled years of the later 1930s and the 1940s. She was superb in the Brahms and Beethoven concertos.

  • Pedro says:

    Neveu was my father’s favourite violinist. He heard her live, with her brother Jean just before her tragic death in the Azores. I still have the program of the concert.

  • Jack says:

    When we were in Paris last year, I visited her grave in Pere Lachaise to reflect on her unfairly shortened life and career. We’re going back again next month and I plan to go back to pay my respects.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    Thank you for this reminder of Neveu’s 100th birthday – just think, had she not perished in that tragic crash, her playing career might have ended as recently as a mere 25 or so years ago. We’d have so many stereo and even digital recordings by her that the recordings and broadcasts that we do have now would be regarded as superceded by some listeners just based on the sound.

    And we can never know what legacy she could have left by teaching.

    Music & Arts had a wonderful two-CD set of 1949 radio performances with Ravel (Tzigane), Chausson, and the concertos of Beethoven and Brahms. I remember reviewing it for Fanfare but cannot recall what issue. An easy review to write! Do try to track down that Tzigane if you can. I suspect the bow had to be re-haired and the fiddle re-strung after that concert! Whew.

    I do, however, have to back away a bit from a “the greatest her country ever produced” claim. How can we meaningfully compare her to, or evaluate, the Baroque to Romantic era — violinists with great reputations (and often, knuckle busting compositions) who never recorded, or recorded only in the early days of the technology. It is not even easy to fully evaluate, say, Jacques Thibaud based on his recorded/broadcast legacy, which is hardly a paltry one. His best playing is captured on some pretty grizzly recordings, alas, and his best sounding recordings often catch him in decline from his peak.

    Still, if we somehow could have real experience with the entire history of French violin playing quite possibly we would conclude that Neveu was the greatest.

    • Novagerio says:

      Thibaud died by the way also in a plane crash, four years after Ginette Neveu.

      • Petros LInardos says:

        Ginette Neveux 1949
        Jacques Thibaud 1953
        William Kapell 1953
        Guido Cantelli 1956

        All perished in plane crashes within a seven year period, all incalculable losses to the classical music world.

        That the list of musician losses to plain crashes has gotten so much thinner in recent decades, despite an exponential increase in musicians’ jet travel traffic, is powerful anecdotal evidence of the tremendous improvements in aviation safety.

    • The View from America says:

      And Christian Ferras as well — another French violinist who had an untimely death.

  • Wladek says:

    In music there is no “greatest”She was indeed formidable as a player ,….being the greatest of French players is to spout nonsense. It is all subjective.Two other wonderful
    performers come to mind Thibaud and, Francescatti.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Ginette Neveu, her accompanist-brother Jean Neveu, and her violin were alll losst in that crash. The deaths of Jacques Thibaud, Guido Cantelli, and William Kapell in other disasters of that decade led many artists to stop traveling by air.

    I didn’t know Neveu studied with Carl Flesch, who with Joseph Szigeti made an early electrical recording of Bach’s double violin concerto. The first of all is the century-old acoustic version with string quartet by Fritz Kreisler and Efrem Zimbalist, Sr., who came up recently. My favourite is Adolf Busch-Frances Magnes. Others were Enescu-Menuhin, Herrmann Diener and Berlin Academia Musicum; an infamous Heifetz-Heifetz playing both parts though not simultaneously, and then the deluge.

    Neveu’s Sibelius concerto (with Dobrowen?) ranks with Heifetz-Beecham and Kavakos-Vanska’s unpublished earlier version with two primo cadenzas. Thanks to Mr.Lebrecht for consecrating the passage of Neveu’s centenary.

  • Rolf Schulte says:

    Let’s not get carried away : this Sibelius is a heroic struggle ! As far as the greatest French violinist, I ‘d have to give Zino Francescatti my vote – and then, what about Jacques Thibaud ! Ginette Neveu is much better in the Brahms Concerto, Chausson Poème, Tzigane and Debussy Sonate (even though it’s much too romantic !)

    • Novagerio says:

      I wouldn’t ignore Christian Ferras when talking about the great french violinists.

    • Jan says:

      Don’t agree at all. Ginette Neveu had *everything*. Francescatti is great too. But Ginette Neveu simply is greater. For me, the greatest violinist of the 20th century (and still the greatest if compared with the greats of the 21th century). It’s all a question of degrees, and Ginette Neveu is the only one who had everything to the highest degree.

  • muslit says:

    The greatest French violinist? That’s a stretch. And who wants to hear from the Hahn?

  • Alexander Tarak says:

    I first heard of Ginette Neveu over forty years ago from my piano teacher who was French.
    A phenomenal violinist; one of the greatest ever.
    Her recordings are a must have for any serious music lover.
    She is buried at the Père Lachaise cemetery, as is Chopin.
    Her early death was a terrible tragedy and was an enormous loss to music. RIP

  • Donald Hansen says:

    I just finished listening to the Sibelius concerto on my early model i-Pad. What a wonderful performance, with Susskind and the Philharmonia right with her. Brought tears to my eyes listening and thinking of her far too short life. If you know a better performance please let me know.

    By the way, Ida Haendel is still living and is 90. Also, the Ginette Neveu performance is available on Spotify.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    My comment is superfluous, but….
    Ginette Neveu was one of the finest violinists and musicians ever to pick up a bow.
    Thinking of her tragic early death breaks my heart every time I play one of her superb recordings.
    Happy 100th birthday, dear angel Ginette!

  • Ruben Greenberg says:

    Fortunately, we have full recordings of major works played by Ginette: not just snippets or lollipops as is often the case with some legendary violinists of the past who also died at a tragically young age. They sometimes didn’t live long enough to record the major pieces of the repertoire.

  • Ruben Greenberg says:

    I highly recommend the book-in French-“Constellation” by Adrien Bosc, which was published fairly recently. It is an in-depth inquiry into the plane crash that took the life of Ginette Neveau. Several chapters are devoted to Ginette, but the book is not just about her (the boxer Marcel Cerdan was also on the plane). The book is absolutely fascinating and reads like a gripping novel. Get your A-level French out and read it, as I don’t think it has been translated. By all means, somebody out there translate it!

  • Jaime Weisenblum says:

    Arthur Grumiaux also recorded all 3 Brahms violin/piano sonatas playing both parts.
    In 1968 he told me that although the recording was fine, he was upset because he had recorded the violin parts first and later added the piano parts and that was a mistake!!
    I agree that Neveu was an outstanding performer and at a very young age a true artist but I also feel that the greatest is always open to each one’s own feelings as some readers
    have mentioned Zino, Ferras and others.

  • Esther Cavett says:

    Just imagine Neveu playing sonatas with Dinu Lipati who died (from different reasons, of course) at a similarly tragic age.

    • Edgar Self says:

      Esther Cavett: I think Lipatti recorded a violin sonata with someone, perhaps Georges Enescu. 20th-century work as I recall.

      Other female violinists: the great Ida Haendel has been mentioned. I forgot Johanna Martzy in an earlier post today.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Arthur Grumiaux certainly recorded Mozart’s violin sonatas accompanying himself on piano by over-dubbing, and he and Clara Haskil once exchanged instruments to play something. There’s a photo.

    I can’t thinkof another female French violinist by name, and had to be reminded of Francescatti. I mentioned earlier heifetz playing both parts of Bach’s double concerto.

    Now I’m thinking of other female violinists. Norman Neruda (Lady Charles Halle) was admired not only by her conductor-husband but also by Sherlock Holmes.

    Then there’s triple-threat Teresa Careno who performed one programme in all three capacities. Joseph Joachim’s gfnd-nieces Jelli D’Aranyi and Adila Fachiri, of course,–the latter recorded a Beethoven sonata with Sir Donald Francis Tovey, who spoke on it at the end of the exposition: “Repeat from the beginning. Second time …” before crossing the bar.

    Maud Powell, Frances Magnes, Erica Morini, Giaconda de Vito, a Russian wtth qhom Marina Yudina recorded, Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg, Midori, Hillary Hahn, and Lara St. John as we have seen. There must be many more. I won’t mention Evelyn and Her Magic Violin.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Lipatti did record a violin sonata with someone, perhaps Enescu? It was 20th century.

    I can’t think of another great French female violinist besides Neveu.

    Otherwise: Norman Neruda (Lady Charles Halle), admired by Sherlock Holmes. Joseph Joachim’s grand-nieces Jelly D’Aranyi and Adila Fachiri, who recorded Beethoven’s G-major sonata with Sir Donald Franis Tovey. Maud Powell, Frances Magnes, Giaconda De Vito, Ida Haendel, Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg, Hillary Hahn, Midori, Lara St. John, and a Russian who recorded with Maria Yudina, but whose name I can’t remember.

  • JJ says:

    Did Lipatti really play something with Neveu?