Last week we finally managed to get our hands on the new Collectible Minifigures and picked up the new violin piece. We love getting new minifig parts because it often opens up new possibilities for subjects that would otherwise be a bit unsatisfactory. So with the new violin in our pockets (sort of) we knew we just had to come up with a blog to use it in! So today, following a wee bit of researcher around British violinists of the 19th and 20th centuries we bring you a blog on the violinist, pianist and composer Ethel Barns, who is little remembered today, but was recognized in London between 1895 and 1928 as a virtuoso who performed her own and others' works in chamber music concerts and occasionally in orchestra concerts as a violin soloist.
Barns was born in London on December 5th 1874 and at the age of thirteen went to the Royal Academy of Music. During her time there she studied the violin with Emile Sauret, the piano with Frederick Westlake and composition with Ebenezer Prout. One of her earliest performances was at the Royal Academy’s St James Hall in 1890 where she played two movements from Louis Sphor’s violin concerto. In the following year one of her earliest compositions, Romance, was published – a piece for the violin and piano. In September 1982 she became a sub-professor in violin.
In 1895 she graduated and became a substitute teacher at the Royal Academy of Music while remaining a student of Emile Sauret. By now she had shown that she was an adaptable musician and was well sought after, performing both others and her own work across the concert halls of London. Along with performing she published her own compositions with Stanley Lucas. Her compositions were for the violin, piano and voice and including “A Fancy” and “Waiting for Thee”.
Now in her 20’s she married Charles Phillips in 1899. She had meet Charles eight years before at one of her concerts. At this point in history, it was normal for a wife to take her husband's name and leave your career, Emily however kept both. The couple founded the Barns-Phillips Chamber Concert Series at Bechstein Hall.
Her compositions were in keeping with the time and popular tastes and she wrote fifty-three short pieces for the violin and piano, nineteen short pieces for the piano and thirty-seven songs. Her larger works included five pieces for violin sonatas, two piano trios, two suites for the violin and piano, a Fantaisie-Trio for Two Violins and Piano, and three works for violin and chamber orchestra. Today eighty-seven pieces of one-hundred and twenty attributed to her are still available.
She was also active in encouraging women in music being a member of the Society of Women Musicians, which was founded in 1911. In the years before World War One Barns and Phillips suffered marital problems leading to their separation; following this her musical career seems to have significantly reduced. Barns did not agree to a divorce. Between the two world wars she continued to give reduced performances, compositions and publishment of her works compared to her more active years up until 1913. It is considered by some that her last performance may have been in 1927. She died on New Year’s Eve, 1948, in a nursing home in Maidenhead.
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