Wilma Neruda

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Wilhelmine Maria Franziska Neruda (1838-1911), also known as Wilma Norman-Neruda and Lady Hallé, was a Moravian virtuoso violinist, chamber musician, and teacher.

Wilma Neruda
BornMarch 21st, 1838
Brno, Moravia (Czech Republic)
DiedApril 15th, 1911 (Age 73)
Berlin, Germany
Madame Norman-Neruda
Lady Hallé

Life and Career[edit]

Born in Brno, Moravia, then part of the Austrian Empire, Neruda was born into a musical family. Her father was Josef Neruda (1807–1875), the organist of the cathedral of Brno. He introduced her to the piano and gave her lessons, but apparently caught his daughter playing on her brother's violin, and allowed her to study violin instead. Neruda, like many other influential musicians of the 19th century, was a child prodigy. There were five Neruda children, all of which were talented musicians and themselves child prodigies in their own right.

The family moved to Vienna, where she studied with Leopold Jansa (1795–1875), a professor at the University of Vienna. She made her first public appearance as a solo violinist in Vienna at the age of seven, playing a violin sonata by Bach.

At the age of 11, Neruda made her solo debut with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, performing a violin concerto by Charles August de Bériot.

Neruda married the Swedish musician Ludvig Norman (1831–1885) in Stockholm in 1864 and had a son, Ludwig Norman-Neruda [de], who became an alpinist. Four years later, she moved to London with her son. The remainder of their marriage would be spent apart. After Norman died in 1885, she married the German-English musician Charles Hallé in 1888. When he was knighted later the same year, she became known as Lady Hallé. Given a Palazzo in Asolo, Italy, after her husband's death, she moved there to live with her son, who died in 1898 climbing in the Dolomites.

At the age of sixty, Neruda decided to retire from concertizing and start a teaching career in Berlin. In an interview, she revealed she only studied with one master, Leopold Jansa, and discouraged anyone from seeking study with multiple teachers: "I thoroughly disapprove of the system of changing schools so prevalent just now. One master should only train and develop the flexible, impressionable growth of interpretation, so that the young shoots in the form of impressions may not wander adrift in the ocean of infinity."[1]

Neruda spent the last years of her life traveling between London and Berlin. Queen Alexandra appointed her Violinist to the Queen in 1901.[2] She died in 1911 in Berlin, aged 73.


Joseph Joachim was a great admirer of Neruda's violin playing; in 1870 he wrote to his wife "I like her very much...Her playing is more to my taste than that of any other contemporary - unspoilt, pure and musical".[3] Also regarding Neruda's playing: "People will think more of her, and less of me." Joachim and Neruda performed Bach's Double Violin Concerto together at a St James' Hall Monday Popular Concert in April 1892.

Due to Neruda's tremendous success as an international soloist, the subsequent 20th century saw a explosion in the number of female violinists.

Henri Vieuxtemps, Pablo de Sarasate, James Scott Skinner, and Niels Gade dedicated compositions to her.

In A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes (himself a violinist) attends a solo performance given by Neruda, which afterwards he raves about her bow control[4].

Dispute over age[edit]

During her career as a child prodigy, Neruda's birth year was reported in different years, between 1838 and 1840. It was a common practice to lie about the age of a child prodigy, giving the appearance of being younger made their talents seem more impressive.


  1. ^ Cassell's Family Magazine. Cassell. 1894.
  2. ^ "Court news". The Times (36620). London. 23 November 1901. p. 11.
  3. ^ Letters from and to Joseph Joachim. Trans. Nora Bickley. London: Macmillan, 1914. Reprint New York: Vienna House, 1972.
  4. ^ Doyle, Arthur Conan, 1859-1930, author., A study in scarlet, ISBN 9781974945290, OCLC 1103931512, retrieved 2019-10-02CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)


Robert W. Eshbach, "Wilhelmine Maria Franziska Norman-Neruda, Lady Hallé, in Die Tonkunst, April 2011, Nr. 2, Jg. 5 (2011), ISSN 1863-3536, pp. 191–195.

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