Lisa Cristiani

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Lisa Cristiani
Lisa Cristiani.jpg
Background information
Born(1827-12-24)24 December 1827
Paris, France
Died24 October 1853(1853-10-24) (aged 25)
Tobolsk, Russia
GenresClassical music
Years active1845-1853

Lisa Barbier Cristiani (December 24, 1827 – October 24, 1853), also known as Lise Cristiani or Elise Cristiani, was a French cellist and performer known for being one of the earliest recorded instances of a woman becoming a professional in the field.


Born in Paris, it is believed that Cristiani was of Italian descent, though little more is known of her early years.[1] She did eventually become a cello apprentice to Edouard Benazet and had her concert debut on February 14, 1845 at the Salle des Concerts Herz.[2]


Because of how the cello is played, with the large frame between one's legs, the women's fashion of the era of dresses made playing the instrument directly impossible. Furthermore, having the frame in a side saddle position makes the act of play difficult. So it was not until the development of the endpin to lift the frame off the floor that play by women became more common. It has been claimed in various publications that Cristiani may have been a primary early popularizer of the endpin and led to its increased use in Europe and the rise of a new wave of female cellists in the decades after her death.[3] Cristiani was also well known for the uniqueness of her cello, a 1700 Stradivarius with her name carved into the side.[4][5] Due to this engraving, the instrument eventually became known specifically as the "Cristiani", along with a general style of Stradivari cello inheriting the name.[6][7]

Cristiani was one of the earliest professional female musical performers of this era and began playing numerous concerts in her late teenage years. The early tours she conducted included stops at Vienna, Linz, Ratisbon, Baden-Baden, and Hamburg. The last in Hamburg resulted in such a popular fervor for her that her portrait (shown above) became a highly sought after item.[2] Her level of play caught the attention of and the support of composer Felix Mendelssohn in 1845 during a concert in Leipzig. The piece Song without Words was dedicated to her the same year, though would not be publicly revealed until a posthumous publication after Mendelssohn's death. After this time period, Cristiani began a musical tour of Europe that resulted in further fame and her eventual travel to Russia where she played for a number of concerts.[4] During this time period, the King of Denmark Frederick VII awarded her the title of Chamber Virtuosa.[1]

Several years later, in 1852, while visiting the home of historian Nikolai Markevitch in Kiev, she met fellow cellist Adrien-François Servais. The three of them spent some time in the city practising their music with each other and Cristiani's association with Servais only heightened her fame in the region.[4][8]


Not long after, in the fall of 1853, she began a new trek across the Siberian wilderness to the Kamchatka Peninsula for another tour in the region, being the first European to give public concerts in the remote cities of the North Asian continent.[2] Her original plan was to finish in Kamchatka and then head to the Caucasus for another concert tour.[2] Before that, she performed in the small town of Tobolsk, but resulted soon after with a case of cholera and had to stay in the village where she died on October 24, 1853. The 1700 Stradivarius cello that she played was later obtained by Hugo Becker.[1][4][9] It is currently displayed at the Walter Stauffer Musicological Foundation of Cremona.[10]


  1. ^ a b c MacGregor, Lynda. "Cristiani, Lisa (Barbier)". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Oxford University Press. Retrieved January 24, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d "Lady Violoncellists And One In Particular". The Musical Times. Alfred Novello. 48: 307–308. 1907. Retrieved January 24, 2020.
  3. ^ Mercier, Anita (2017). "Teachers and Mentors". Guilhermina Suggia: Cellist. Routledge. pp. 2–3. ISBN 1351564765.
  4. ^ a b c d Markevitch, Dimitry; Seder, Florence (1999). Cello Story. Alfred Music. pp. 87–88. ISBN 1457402378.
  5. ^ Seebass, Tilman (1988). Imago Musicae IV, 1987, Volume 4. Duke University Press. p. 350. ISBN 0822308258.
  6. ^ "Unbecoming To Females". Classical Music Magazine. Vol. 21. Music Magazine. 1998. p. 14. Retrieved January 24, 2020.
  7. ^ Mairson, Harry (January 29, 2018). "Secrets of Stradivari". Stanford Magazine. Stanford University Press. Retrieved January 24, 2020.
  8. ^ Deserno, Katharina (2018). Cellistinnen: Transformationen von Weiblichkeit in der Instrumentalkunst [Cellists: Transformations of Femininity in Instrumental Art] (in German). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. p. 201. ISBN 3412501123.
  9. ^ "Lise Cristiani, Voyage dans la Sibérie orientale, 1849-1853" [Lise Cristiani, Journey To Eastern Siberia, 1849-1853]. Le Tour du Monde (in French): 385–400. 1863.
  10. ^ "Antonio Stradivari, Cremona, 1700, the 'Cristiani, Stauffer'". Tarisio Auctions. Retrieved January 24, 2020.

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