Kathleen Parlow | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Kathleen Parlow

Parlow, Kathleen. Violinist, teacher, born Calgary 20 Sep 1890, died Oakville, near Toronto, 19 Aug 1963; honorary MA (Mills) 1933.

Parlow, Kathleen

Parlow, Kathleen. Violinist, teacher, born Calgary 20 Sep 1890, died Oakville, near Toronto, 19 Aug 1963; honorary MA (Mills) 1933.

Violin Studies

She was taken by her mother to San Francisco in 1894 and there took primary lessons in violin with a cousin, Conrad Coward. She gave her first recital at 6 and continued studies until 14 with an expatriate Englishman, Henry Holmes, a pupil of Spohr. Through Holmes' connections she gave concerts at 15 in England, appearing at Bechstein (which became Wigmore) Hall, at Buckingham Palace in the presence of the royal family, and with the London SO. Wishing to study with Leopold Auer, and assisted financially by Canada's High Commissioner Lord Strathcona, she travelled in 1906 with her mother to St Petersburg (Leningrad). In October Parlow became the first foreign student to enrol at the St Petersburg Cons. Glazunov was then the director, and her classmates included Zimbalist and Piastro. While still a student she gave nine solo recitals in St Petersburg and learned Glazunov's Concerto in A Minor, which became a staple of her repertoire. She made five appearances in Finland with the Helsinki Orchestra under Robert Kajanus and met Sibelius.

Parlow later wrote "Students Days in Russia" (Canadian Musc Journal vol 6, 1961) about her experiences.

Debut and Concert Tours

After her professional debut, in 1907 in Berlin, Parlow began the strenuous life of the travelling virtuoso, touring in Europe and meeting Auer each summer to prepare the next season's repertoire. She gave some 375 concerts between 1908 and 1915. She was a favourite performer in the Netherlands and Scandinavia and was given her famous violin, the 'Viotti' Guarnerius, by the wealthy Björnson family of Norway. In 1907 she was chosen by Glazunov to play his concerto at the Ostend International Music Festival.

Parlow's first North American tour began in November 1910 and by year's end had included New York, Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa, Kingston, and Philadelphia. Concerts in Regina, Moose Jaw, Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, and Victoria followed in 1911, and a March performance with the New York SO under Walter Damrosch preceded her return to England. During her tour she met the pianist Ernesto Consolo, with whom, in New York in 1912, she gave the first of many recitals in North America and Europe.

Residing 1912-25 at Meldreth, near Cambridge, Kathleen Parlow continued to tour. Despite World War I she was able to perform several times in Holland and Scandinavia and even visited (again) the USA. After a 1920 US tour which included her first radio broadcast (Seattle) and ended in San Francisco she toured Honolulu, Japan, Java (Dutch East Indies), Singapore, China, and the Philippines.

Teaching and Chamber Music

In 1926 Parlow left Europe permanently, to reside (1926-36) in San Francisco, and (1936-40) in New York. After a nervous collapse in 1927 she turned from touring to teaching and quartet playing, making only an occasional appearance in a concerto with orchestra and a final tour (in Mexico) in 1929. She taught 1929-36 at Mills College, Oakland, and summers 1935-41 at Pittsfield, Mass, where she formed the South Mountain Quartet.

In April 1939 Parlow gave a series of lecture-recitals in Toronto. A second series in January 1940 resulted in an invitation to teach at the TCM. She joined the faculty in 1941. While based in Toronto she appeared with orchestra in concerto performances, played duos with Sir Ernest MacMillan, and gave concerts with the Canadian Trio (MacMillan and Zara Nelsova). She also formed the Parlow String Quartet and gave duo recitals with Leo Barkin and, later, with Mario Bernardi.

Although her work was affected by the long illness and death (1954) of her mother, to whom she was devoted and who had been with her on all her travels, Parlow continued her activities. In 1956 she received the University of Alberta National Award in Music (see Awards). In 1959 she became head of the string department at the London (Ont) College of Music. After breaking the humerus in her left arm in 1960 she recovered to make a memorable return to performance 23 January 1961 in London, Ont.

As a performer Parlow was very great indeed. She had a big, pure tone, a suave legato ('as if she were playing with a nine-foot bow,' as one admirer put it) and effortless technique. Her repertoire was enormous: there was probably no work in the great violin repertoire that she had not played. As a teacher she was most successful with those for whom technique was no longer a problem, finding it difficult to systematize and explain mechanics of playing which to her were instinctive. Her pupils in Canada included Andrew Benac, Charles Dobias, Victor Feldbrill, Sydney Humphreys, Gerhard Kander, Morry Kernerman, Jack Montague, Joseph Pach, Rowland Pack, James Pataki, Clara Schranz, and Erica Zentner. Among her US pupils were Marilyn Doty, Marjorie Edwards, and Miriam Solovieff.


The Kathleen Parlow Scholarship at the University of Toronto was established in 1965 with funds from her estate, and available to violinists, violists, and cellists registered in the faculty's Bachelor degree in performance or Artist Diploma programmes. Parlow's career was the subject of a three-part CBC radio program broadcast in 1982 titled 'Kathleen Parlow, a virtuoso's life,' and RCI prepared a documentary in 1986 which included an interview with Parlow and many of her early recordings. A collection of clippings relating to Parlow's career from 1898 to 1908 was acquired by Brigham Young U in Provo, Ut.

Parlow's many recordings were originally all 78s. A listing can be found on the website of the Library and Archives Canada's Virtual Grammophone, and available for listening and download.

Further Reading