Marie Pauline Hall, Famous Violinist (1884 - 1956)
Very few people realise that the internationally famous violinist, Marie Hall, spent some of her childhood years in a cottage not far from the church at Guarlford and that she played for pennies at the kerbside in Church Street in Malvern.
Marie was the daughter of Edward Felix Handley Hall, a harpist who played at times in the Carla Rosa opera orchestra. She was born 1884 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne where it is said that Hildegarde Werner gave Marie her first violin lessons as a very young child. Marie's family moved around the country with her father and spent some years in Guarlford where they occupied a cottage in Rhydd Road not far from the church. This cottage is now part of the house known as Maywood. In Marie Hall’s day this house was three very small cottages, and the fact that her family lived in such a humble dwelling indicates the circumstances of her early days. There are stories of help being given to the family by neighbours in the village.
According to one resident who lived in the cottage in the 1920s, it was a humble dwelling. When the ditch outside was full, the kitchen could be 2-3 inches deep in water, the floor bricks having been laid on bare earth. The two small bedrooms were in perpetual semi-darkness and the stairs were of the farm building type: a broken step being supported by a short piece of hazel wood.
The Hall family played in the homes of music lovers in the Malvern area, and to eke out the family budget, Marie sometimes played her violin in Church Street, Great Malvern, while her mother collected pennies from passers-by.
Then, so the story goes, when she was just nine years old, Marie was discovered by the French composer Emile Sauret, a professor at the Royal Academy of Music in London at that time. He recommended that the young musician should attend the Academy, but finances made this impossible.
Instead, she continued to take lessons with local teachers, one of whom was Edward Elgar, who gave violin lessons in Malvern each week. Marie became a pupil of Elgar at the beginning of the summer term 1894, but this association was to last only a short time. Meanwhile, her skill with the violin earned her a scholarship to the Royal Academy, but she was still unable to take up her place, presumably because of straitened family finances.
She did eventually, at the age of sixteen, go to London to study under Johann Kruse. A year later she was heard by the eminent Czech violinist, Jan Kubelik, on whose advice she went to the Prague Conservatory to complete her musical education with the tutor Ottakar Sevcik. Marie made her concert debut in Prague in 1902 to enormous acclaim, repeating her success the following year in Vienna and London. Marie Hall’s reputation was now firmly established. At just 19 she toured the world, playing in Germany, Canada, America and Australia.
In 1916 her association with Elgar was renewed. By this time, Elgar was no longer an obscure violin teacher but an internationally-acknowledged composer. In 1910 Elgar had composed a Violin Concerto. This was "a big work, lasting for nearly an hour, and calling for a soloist with great technical virtuosity, combined with deep emotional sensitivity". Marie Hall took the work into her repertoire, and in 1916 Marie and Elgar came together to record the Concerto for the HMV Gramophone Company. Because of the technical limitations on recording at that time, the music had to be specially abridged by Elgar so as to fit on to the 78rpm discs.
Perhaps the greatest tribute paid to Marie Hall was by another English composer, Ralph Vaughan-Williams. He wrote and dedicated one of his principal works to her: “The Lark Ascending”, which she performed in London in 1921 with Adrian Boult and the British Symphony Orchestra.
Marie Hall’s name is listed in both “The International Cyclopaedia of Music and Musicians” and “The New Grove Dictionary Of Music and Musicians” which says: “In the standard repertoire she was considered one of the finest violinists of her time in the world.”
In 1911 Marie married her manager Edward Baring; they settled in Cheltenham and had one child, Pauline. For the last years of her life she lived in Cheltenham in a large Victorian villa, “Inveresk”, in Eldorado Road. Marie has been described as “a very charming woman, very small and jolly and with a great sense of humour. She was also extremely generous.” Marie Hall died in Cheltenham on November 11th 1956, aged 72. The 1709 Stradivarius violin, which she had played for over 50 years and which became known as the Marie Hall Stradivarius, was sold at Sotheby’s in April 1988 for a record £473,000 to an anonymous South American bidder.
Who would ever have thought that a girl playing for pennies at the kerbside in Church Street, Malvern, would one day be regarded as one of the finest violinists of her time and own a violin worth nearly half a million pounds?
In 2015, in memory of Marie Hall, Malvern Civic Society placed a plaque on the north wall of the Post Office near the top of Church Street (see photo opposite). The plaque reads:-
As a child Marie Hall (violinist 1884 - 1956) played for pennies on Church Street.
She was a pupil of Elgar and became one of the foremost violinists of her age.
Vaughan Williams dedicated 'The Lark Ascending' to her.