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Kathleen Parlow - The Parlow String Quartet

Encouraged by the success of this venture, Parlow proceeded, in 1942, to form her third string quartet, entitled simply The Parlow String Quartet. She was joined by Co-founder Isaac Mamott, the principal cellist of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra; Samuel Hersenhoren, second violin; and violist John Dembeck. Parlow handled bookings and business affairs, as well as her duties as principal violinist, while simultaneously continuing with the Trio and her teaching and solo responsibilities. Adopting The Canadian Trio's successful formula, The Parlow String Quartet concentrated on concerts in Canada and did not travel abroad. They debuted in April 1943, on CBC radio and in concert at Toronto's Eaton Auditorium the following month. During the 15 years the Quartet performed, they played in Ottawa, Kingston, Québec City, Winnipeg, London and Hamilton, as well as throughout Western Canada and the Maritime provinces, and appeared frequently in concert series of the Royal Conservatory. Wider audiences were reached via the economical means of radio broadcasts. For example, on March 24, 1946, the CBC made a national broadcast of their performance of the D Minor Quartet by Sibelius, whom Parlow had met in Finland around the time he composed it.

Publicity booklet for the Parlow String Quartet, circa 1946

As always, Parlow's performances received unrestrained congratulations. The Toronto Telegram called the recital by the Parlow one of the loveliest concerts heard in Toronto during years. The paper praised each of the players as a distinguished master of music making and exclaimed that the quartet played to one another with the sympathy of genius. Listeners noted that Parlow expertly subordinated her solo style to the needs of the ensemble.

The Canadian Trio; from left to right: Zara Nelsova, Sir Ernest MacMillan, Kathleen Parlow  

The fact that Parlow was able to lead chamber groups of highly talented performers speaks to the esteem her fellow musicians held for her and to her energy, dedication and organizational ability. She explained her philosophy: "For success in music as in any art there are no rules. My way to what measure of success I have achieved has lain through work -- hard, continuous, systematic" (French, 1967).

Performers came and went from the Quartet, and several of her students, such as Rowland Pack, were drafted as replacements, but it remained Parlow's in name and achievement. The Quartet performed not only the standard repertoire, but also gave Canadian premieres of works by Kodaly, Britten, Glinka, Hindemith and Kreisler, and by Canadian composers John Weinzweig, James Gayfer and Oskar Morawetz. They later made recordings of the Weinzweig quartet and other pieces.

Parlow's successes in chamber music were equaled by her success as a teacher. She was so popular in Toronto that she had to turn applicants away. She taught aurally, expecting students to imitate her movements and interpretation. Lucky was the student who got to see the great Parlow at a private demonstration. Above all, she favoured Auer's teaching approach, often quoting him and his predecessors. Among her many students who enjoyed successful careers were Gisèle LaFleche (known professionally as the singer, Gisèle Mackenzie) and the conductor, Victor Feldbrill. Parlow achieved her best results with students who were as dedicated and ambitious as she, but expressed disappointment in those who chose the security of an orchestral position instead of a precarious solo career.

By her sixties, Parlow had experienced losses and personal disappointments. She had never married, believing firmly that to be an outstanding violinist required complete dedication. "Papa" Auer had died in 1930, but the biggest blow came with the death of her mother in June 1954. From financial necessity, Parlow continued performing, giving a concert series in Toronto in January 1958 with Mario Bernardi as accompanist, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of her first professional concert. In the same year, the Parlow String Quartet ceased to perform. As her career wound down, so did her earning power. She had no pension and by 1959, Parlow, again like Albani and Gauthier, experienced financial straits. For not the first time in her career, she relied on the generosity of others; her friends, among them Godfrey Ridout, established a fund for her support. In retrospect, Parlow summed up her career by saying she had "never a great deal of money, but wonderful experiences" (French, 1967).

In October 1959, some stability came when friends arranged for the 70-year-old violinist to be appointed head of strings at the College of Music of the University of Western Ontario. Then, in April 1960, she fell and seriously injured the humerus bone in her left arm, a disaster for a violinist. After surgery, therapy and six months' recuperation, she recovered sufficiently to demonstrate in class.

Publicity material for Kathleen Parlow, circa 1940

In August 1963, Parlow suffered another fall that resulted in a broken hip, and she died of a heart attack on August 19 while convalescing. Dedicated to her beloved "fiddle" to the last, through her will, Parlow endowed the Kathleen Parlow Scholarship for students of stringed instruments at the University of Toronto, supported by the proceeds from the sale of her Guarnerius violin.

Kathleen Parlow earned her place in music history and not just alongside women violinists, including Wilma Neruda, Marie Hall and Maud Powell. In the eyes of many, she was without rival among violinists of either sex. Those who knew Parlow or heard her perform spoke of her in superlatives: "among the few great artists of the violin"; "among the best violinists of the day", "one of the elect"; and "phenomenally talented" were phrases used to describe her playing. Recognizing her achievements, both CBC Radio (1982) and Radio Canada International (1986) produced programs to revive the virtuoso's work.

Kathleen Parlow, a musician of destiny, had made the long journey from child prodigy, to adult virtuoso, to chamber musician and teacher, to legend in her own time. As her mentor, Leopold Auer, had done, she left her greatest legacy by teaching their shared artistic vision to the next generation of Canadian violinists: "Sing, sing on your violin".

  Kathleen Parlow. Inscription reads: "To Sir Ernest and Lady MacMillan - With much love from their devoted Kathleen Parlow. Toronto, March 1941"

For more information on Kathleen Parlow's recordings, please consult the Virtual Gramophone database.

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Adaskin, Harry. -- "Kathleen Parlow : an appreciation". -- Canadian music. -- Vol. 1, no. 4 (Apr. 1941). -- P. 3. -- AMICUS No. 131034

Auer, Leopold. -- My long life in music. -- London : Duckworth, [1924]. -- xii, [1], 377 p. -- AMICUS No. 12422686

_____. -- Graded course of violin playing. -- 4th ed. -- New York : C. Fischer, [c1926- ]. -- AMICUS No. 12469828

French, Maida Parlow. -- Kathleen Parlow : a portrait. -- Toronto : Ryerson Press, c1967. -- ix, 167 p. -- AMICUS No. 3750455

Hambleton, Ronald. -- "Tea with Kathleen Parlow". -- Music magazine. -- (Feb.1978). -- P. 12-15. -- AMICUS No. 15549

"Hersenhoren, Samuel". -- Encyclopedia of music in Canada. -- Edited by Helmut Kallmann et al. -- 2nd ed. -- Toronto : University of Toronto Press, c1992. -- xxxii, 1524 p. -- AMICUS No. 12048560

"Kathleen Parlow" [vertical file]. -- National Library of Canada, Music Division

"Parlow, Kathleen". -- Encyclopedia of music in Canada. -- Edited by Helmut Kallmann et al. -- 2nd ed. -- Toronto : University of Toronto Press, c1992. -- xxxii, 1524 p. -- AMICUS No. 12048560

Parlow, Kathleen. -- "Student days in Russia". -- The Canadian music journal. -- Vol. 6, no. 1 (Autumn 1961). -- P. 13-20. -- AMICUS No. 123175

"Parlow String Quartet". -- Encyclopedia of music in Canada. -- Edited by Helmut Kallmann et al. -- 2nd ed. -- Toronto : University of Toronto Press, c1992. -- xxxii, 1524 p. -- AMICUS No. 12048560

The Samuel Hersenhoren Collection. -- National Library of Canada

The Sir Ernest MacMillan Collection. -- National Library of Canada

Withrow, John B. -- "Ladies of the Bow". -- Bravo!. -- (May/June 1988). - P. 54-59. -- AMICUS No. 3487772

"Zara Nelsova" [vertical file]. -- National Library of Canada, Music Division


Creighton, James. -- Discopaedia of the violin. -- 2nd ed. -- Vol. 2. -- Burlington, Ont. : Records Past Publishing, [1994]. -- AMICUS No. 13710167

Kathleen Parlow, violinist and teacher (1890-1963)