Andrew Rosthorn follows up on our RNCM archive article with a Stradivarius story
In February this year writer Ellie-Jo Johnstone wrote a piece about the special collection at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM). Here Andrew Rosthorn continues the story focussing on a recent aquisition to the RNCM archive which involves love, achievement and a Stradivarius or two.
The Royal Northern College of Music’s most recent acquisition is an archive of documents, books and music that marks a lifelong love affair between two violinists.
Jenny returned to Bolton to live near the family home where she had first heard a violin being played by her older brother
Endre Wolf [1913-2011] first came to Manchester from Sweden in 1951 as Sir John Barbirolli’s soloist for a celebrated performance of the Brahms Violin Concerto, staged by the Hallé Orchestra in the King’s Hall of Belle Vue Zoo, in place of the bomb-damaged Free Trade Hall. Wolf, born Jewish in Budapest, had survived the Second World War thanks to his appointment in 1936 as soloist to the Gothenburg Orchestra in neutral Sweden. He was later knighted by the King of Denmark after using his Swedish passport to perform in German-occupied Copenhagen, with German officers in the audience.
Thanks to Barbirolli’s influence, Wolf became a teaching professor at the Manchester college between 1954 and 1964 and performed a celebrated Brahms Double Concerto with the cellist André Navarra for Barbirolli and the Hallé.
Jennifer Nuttall [1938-2020] was a Bolton schoolgirl who had played the violin since she was seven years old, taking lessons twice a week at the Tonge Moor home of Martin Milner, a future leader of the Hallé Orchestra. She won an open scholarship to the Royal Manchester College of Music at the age of 14 and in July 1955 rode her pony in a show jumping competition at the Mottram Horse Show just two days before playing solo violin for Sir John Barbirolli at the Whitworth Hall in Manchester.
In 1959, with a Manchester soloist diploma with distinction, she took a post performing and teaching at the Swedish Radio Music School, later known worldwide as the Edsberg Institute of Music.
In 1964, Jenny’s mother, Mrs Eileen Nuttall, bought for her in Switzerland a now-famous violin known as the Fau 1716, created in that year by Antonio Stradivari in Cremona. Jennifer played the Strad in the Bach Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor with the Polish-Mexican maestro Henryk Szeryng during the 1964 Carl Fleisch master classes at Baden Baden in Germany. Szerying remarked on Jenny’s ‘remarkable developed gifts’ for penetrating to the true heart of the music.
Jenny married Endre Wolf in Sweden and performed as Jennifer Nuttall-Wolf in Scandinavia, Switzerland and Germany for nearly 50 years. The couple were both teaching professors and never separated from their remarkable instruments. Professor Wolf was a technical expert on the construction of violins and owned a 1740 violin by Omobono Stradivari, the youngest son of Stradivarius.
The couple often performed together in works by J.S. Bach, Béla Bartók and the mischievous but spiritually religious Swedish composer Sven-Erik Back, who had known Endre Wolf during the Second World War when Wolf’s Swedish radio performances of music by Jean Sibelius were being picked up on a radio set at the aged composer’s remote home in war-torn Finland.
Soon after Endre Wolf died at the age of 97 at the couple’s ancient farmhouse near Lund, Jenny returned to Bolton to live near the family home where she had first heard a violin being played by her older brother.
When she died at 80, during the pandemic lockdown, she was buried in a woodland grave near her home in Lostock. Neighbours listened from a distance as Alexandra Stemp, a Hallé Orchestra violinist born in Blackpool, played the opening for the Sibelius Violin Concerto in D Minor Op. 47 over the grave.
Apart from the two treasured and timeless Strads, which are both destined for twenty-first century soloists, the entire musical archive from the ancient farmhouse in Southern Sweden has been donated to the Royal Northern College of Music.