Neruda, Wilma (c. 1838–1911)

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Neruda, Wilma (c. 1838–1911)

Czech violinist who was a well-known concert violinist and teacher. Name variations: Wilma Maria Franziska Neruda; Norman-Neruda; Lady Hallé. Born Vilemína Maria Franziska Neruda in Brünn, Moravia, on March 21, probably in 1838 (some sources cite 1839); died in Berlin, Germany, on April 15, 1911; daughter of Josef Neruda (an organist and teacher); sister of Amálie Nerudová (a pianist) and Viktor Neruda (a cellist); married Ludwig Norman (a Swedish conductor and composer), in 1864 (died 1885); married Sir Charles Hallé (German-born pianist and conductor), in 1888 (died 1895).

Born around 1838 into a family of distinguished violinists and musicians dating from the 17th century, Wilma Neruda played the violin before she walked. Her father, a professional violinist and organist, was her first teacher, and she later studied with Leopold Jansa. Wilma often played with her sister Amálie Nerudová , a pianist, and her brother Viktor Neruda, a cellist. When Wilma was nine, the children debuted in London, where critics called them a "remarkably clever trio." Although she was the youngest, Wilma was the featured performer. A month later, she was engaged to play at the Philharmonic Society's Concert. Writing of the performance, William Bartholomew commented in a letter to a friend:

A little girl, a child in years and person, but a perfect miniature Paganini, played last night to the Philharmonic audiences a concerto of de Bériot's on the violin. Her tone, her execution, especially with the bow hand, were all perfect—the latter is beautiful: her graceful and elastic wrist produced some of the most sparkling staccatos by up and down bowing that I have ever heard.

In 1864, when Wilma Neruda was 25, she was dubbed "The Queen of Violinists" in Paris and considered to be the female counterpart of Joseph Joachim, the famous violinist. Said Joachim, when he recommended her to conductor Charles Hallé for consideration, "Mark this, when people have given her a fair hearing, they will think more of her and less of me." In addition to her solo concert career, Neruda also played first violin with the London Philharmonic Quartet and with the Joachim Quartet.

In 1864, Neruda married Ludwig Norman, the Swedish Opera conductor, and became professor of violin at the Stockholm Royal Academy of Music. She left Norman in 1869 and lived in London, appearing in concerts with the Philharmonic Society and the Monday "Popular" series. After his death in 1885, she married Sir Charles Hallé in 1888 and was known as Lady Hallé. Neruda was a pioneer at a time when women violinists were still a relatively rare commodity; symphony orchestra positions were not yet open to women and they could play only in concert. She was among the first to enter a field dominated by men, and her undisputed talent enabled her to achieve great success.


Campbell, Margaret. The Great Violinists. NY: Doubleday, 1981.

John Haag , Athens, Georgia