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Cristiani and Her Cello

Dr Kate Kennedy explores the life of pioneering 19th-century cellist Lise Cristiani and investigates the profound bond she developed with the instrument she called 'husband'.

Dr Kate Kennedy explores the life of pioneer 19th-century cellist Lise Cristiani and investigates the profound bond she developed with the instrument she called 'husband'. Perhaps the first female cello virtuosa, Dr Kennedy finds out what makes her a trailblazer from her playing position to the extraordinary journey she undertook through some of the most remote areas of Russia.

Very little is known of Lise Cristiani's life, but tantalising references remain. She is the person to whom Mendelssohn's Song Without Words for cello and piano was dedicated, and her 1700 Stradivarius still bears her name. Dr Kennedy travels to Paris, the city of Cristiani's birth, and to Cremona, the city of her cello's birth, to help piece together the life and artistry of this remarkable woman.

Dr Kennedy, herself a cellist, speaks to Julian Lloyd-Webber and Natalie Clein, as well as to the luthier Charles Beare. In Paris, the cellist Marie-Thérèse Grisenti and the journalist Dominique Boutel, who have become fascinated by Cristiani, explore her life and also her repertoire. In conjunction with the pianist and Mendelssohn historian Prof. Larry Todd, they discuss the power and the significance of Mendelssohn’s Song Without Words, and thanks to Larry Todd, we hear for the first time another piece, still unpublished, that is dedicated to her. Throughout the programme we hear a wide variety of music from Bach, Chopin, and Mendelssohn, to Delius and Bloch.

We hear Cristiani’s voice through her letters, and Dr Kennedy tries too to find the voice of her cello, asking whether an instrument can tell us anything about the player who spent so many emotional and life-changing experiences with it.

Producer: Philippa Geering

A 7digital production for BBC Radio 3

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44 minutes

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