Back in October 2021, my dear colleagues in the Music Division Concert Office asked me to film a short curator talk about our world famous Nicolò Paganini holdings to coincide with Augustin Hadelich’s virtual violin recital. I felt both daunted and excited by this task. As a flutist, my main contact with Paganini is performing transcriptions of the Violin Caprices in concert and etude study settings. As a diligent student-turned-instructor of music history, I know that Paganini’s legacy looms large over Western music. And, as an information professional, I know that the Music Division is one of the most significant repositories in which to study that legacy. All of these different parts of me needed a unifying plan – and one that would make a substantive video between 10 and 15 minutes!
My primary goal was not to reinvent the wheel. Our blog has many fabulous posts about our Paganini holdings, including “Nicolò Paganini: Virtuosic Rock Star of the 19th Century” from just over a month ago. These blog posts bring together scanned manuscripts, videos of guest lectures, and thoughtful reflections, among other things. The question in the back of my mind was, “What unique spin could I bring to this talk that engages not only our online viewers but also myself during the process?” To me, that answer had a few parts:
- focus not only on Paganini, but also the women responsible for his legacy living on at the Library of Congress;
- highlight lesser-known resources alongside the famous flashy ones to illustrate those stories;
- and sneak in a bit of archives and special collections vocabulary to teach viewers about what we do and why.
The common thread between each of these parts is the Norwegian-born violinist and pedagogue Maia Bang Hohn (1879-1940).
I researched and researched some more. I started at the beginning when the Library of Congress acquired Maia Bang Hohn’s collection of Paganini materials with funds from the Gertrude Clarke Whittall Foundation. As detailed in the finding aid’s front matter and blog posts before me, Paganiniana (1945) by Harold Spivacke is invaluable in this regard. What especially warms my archivist heart is his detailed account of provenance (one of the terms I emphasize in the video).
As I learned more about Maia Bang Hohn, whose widower Charles sold the materials to the Library, I realized that she is more than just a collector in a footnote. In this blog post, I’d like to share some of my findings that couldn’t make it into my brief video as well as reiterate some key ones that did.
Maia Bang Hohn studied violin with Hungarian violinist Leopold Auer (1845-1930) in St. Petersburg, Russia. (Another famous pupil of Auer’s has a legacy in the Music Division’s special collections – Jascha Heifetz.) Auer established the Russian bow hold and a Russian style of violin playing. Auer, and thereby his pupils, are important links to the Austro-Hungarian violinist, composer, conductor, and teacher Joseph Joachim (1831-1907), who also studied with Felix Mendelssohn. After the Russian Revolution, Auer left Russia for New York City in 1918. One year later, Maia Bang, not yet married to Charles Hohn, also emigrated to the U.S. and was later naturalized as a citizen. While researching her early years in this country, I found an advertisement she placed for her studio in the November 2, 1919 issue of the New York Tribune by searching the Library’s online resource Chronicling America. Note the phrase, “Prepares pupils for Prof. Auer,” which indicates a continued working relationship. It gives even more meaning to the title of her Elementary violin method, founded on Leopold Auer’s principles of violin teaching. (Your eye may also catch a recital advertisement for Jascha Heifetz at Carnegie Hall across the page.)
Chronicling America also helped me to find three other items related to Maia Bang. Of special interest to me is the article “Miss Bang, Violinist, Wed” in the March 17, 1922 issue of the New York Herald. In addition to naming attendees and boasting Charles’s European nobility, we learn that Maia Bang was more than a pupil pipeline to her former teacher. “Miss Bang was given away by Prof. Leopold Auer,” the announcement details. Yes, Leopold Auer stood in for her father’s role in a traditional Christian wedding ceremony. This means that not only did they have an important professional relationship, but they were connected in a personal way, as well.
Maia Bang Hohn’s place in the Norwegian American community is evident in a September 19, 1924 article from a Norwegian-language newspaper in Iowa. And, to round out Maia Bang Hohn’s connections to Music Division special collection creators, a January 20, 1935 article in Washington, D.C.’s Evening Star details a visit with Russian-born violinist Elena de Sayn (the Music Division holds some of De Sayn’s correspondence and related materials). This brief article, “Norway’s Diplomats Guests of Miss De Sayn,” says that the gathering was “in honor Mme. Maia Bang, the famous pedagogue and composer. Mme. Bang was decorated by the King of Norway for her services performed along educational lines. She is on a lecture tour throughout the Unites States, and will speak in more than 50 cities.” She died five years later.
In my video, I showcase items that illustrate Maia Bang Hohn’s role as a pedagogue, including letterhead within the Whittall Collection listing her many violin publications in the margin and copies of her method books from the Music Division’s general collections. I adore the glamorous portrait in the 1923 method book supplement where she holds her violin while wearing a long strand of pearls! Her beautiful penmanship is also something to admire; her handwritten catalog of her Paganini collection is perfectly legible and full of vital information about how, when, and from whom she acquired the items.
One of the most frequent questions I receive is, “What’s your favorite item in the Music Division?” I can never answer it! But, I can tell you what my favorite item in the Gertrude Clarke Whittall Foundation collection on Nicolò Paganini is: Maia Bang Hohn’s mock-up of a book jacket design. You’ll see me handle it in the video with some close-up shots. I find it eerie and intriguing, and the object makes me feel wistful because the book jacket speaks so simply about what never came to pass – the Paganini biography Maia Bang Hohn never completed.
My curator talk has been added to the concert page for Augustin Hadelich’s recital. I encourage you to view it there along with the other fabulous musical and conversational content! I’ve also embedded the video in this post. Enjoy, and I hope that this post and my talk together bring you to a new place of appreciation for the women responsible for maintaining Paganini’s legacy at the Library.