Posted 12 Sep 2012
On 20 January 1857 Carl Rosa, not yet fifteen years old and billed as 'the astonishing' violinist, played the Trades' Hall in Arbroath. One critic commented that he "acquitted himself in such a manner that electrified the whole audience. His "Auld Robin Gray," with variations, was so exquisitely given that a person in an adjoining room would deem it to be sung by a rich soprano voice instead of coming from the violin and the bow."
Readers of our website will know of our admiration for Carl Rosa, the German who founded and ran the company which introduced so many operas to the UK and Scotland. We are currently researching and writing a book about him, his opera company and their performance history in Scotland. Rosa was a German, born in Hamburg on 22 March 1842, as Karl August Nikolas Rose. He proved to be a child prodigy with the violin, playing in public for the first time aged eight. From 1859 he studied at Leipzig Conservatoire with colleagues including Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert and Sullivan fame, following which he played in the orchestras of operatic companies. He quickly became involved in opera management, at one stage running two companies in the USA, and showing remarkable entrepreneurial talents. Around this time, he changed his name to Rosa, in order that English-speaking folk would pronounce his name properly, and soon founded the Carl Rosa Opera company in Britain, an enterprise that was to become his life's work.
But what about the years prior to Leipzig? Is it true, as suggested by obituaries in UK newspapers, that as a precocious youngster aged twelve he played in the UK - and even in Scotland?
For some considerable time the Opera Scotland archivist and others were unable to pin down any such visit. But now persistence and a chance breakthrough have brought results. Rosa seems not only to have lived in the UK for some years as a youngster, but to have been based in Edinburgh - his father took him there. And he did indeed play in a variety of UK towns and cities, before going off to pursue his studies in Leipzig.
He gave a concert in the Hopetoun Rooms, Queen Street, Edinburgh on 26 November 1855, when he was aged just twelve and a half. We have traced some of his other youthful performances - in Dundee (Saturday 17 January and Monday 19 January 1857) "the chief attraction being the young German violinist... whose charming personal appearance, and graceful handling of the instrument were enough to ensure him a warm and hearty reception. He is greatly improved since his first visit to this town, and bids fair to be one of the finest violinists of the day." Rosa played in Arbroath on 20 January (see above), in Waterston's Hall in Forfar on Wednesday 25 February, then again in Dundee's Bell Street Hall in one of the "People's Concerts" on Saturday February 28.
By the following year, of a further performance in Dundee on Saturday 11 December 1858, it could be said "The boy is a great genius, and since his last appearance here has improved immensely in power and purity of tone and execution. But what is most surprising in one so young is the feeling - the amount of soul he throws into his playing. He has no claptrack tricks, but gives us music pure and unalloyed, each sound instinct with fervour and beautiful as a pearl."
In 1859, he gave a concert in the Music Hall in George Street, Edinburgh, on January 22. We also have a report of Rosa playing in the Mechanics' Hall, Brechin, on 8 February when he "...did not disappoint the high expectations entertained of him. Indeed we heard a musician remark that it was almost incredible that such sounds could be drawn from the violin."
Before long he was in Leipzig for the opening of the Conservatoire's academic year, not yet eighteen years old.
Where else had he been? Here is a project for the future - unearthing the performance history of this remarkable man Carl Rosa as a solo violinist.
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