Rediscovering Alma

The violin prodigy from Mount Morgan

Alma Moodie’s story is remarkable, which makes it all the stranger that she has been so thoroughly forgotten. A frail child prodigy from central Queensland, she became Carl Flesch’s favourite pupil and a renowned concert violinist in Germany after World War I, friend and performer of most of the great figures of international contemporary music, from Max Reger to Igor Stravinsky. As no recordings survive, we have to guess how she played, but it was evidently a style that suited the new music of the time – crisp, rhythmic, and intense, without the overt emotionalism of an Ysaÿe or a Kreisler. She was the dedicatee of violin concerti by Hans Pfitzner and Paul Hindemith, as well as Ernst Krenek, who drew on aspects of her personality as the basis for Anita, the musician who has a brief love affair with the black jazz band leader in Jonny spielt auf, the controversial opera that made his name. Moodie’s story ends sadly with artistic and personal decline before her death in Frankfurt at forty-four, probably by her own hand. But it is the vitality, ebullience, and courage of the earlier years that leaves the strongest impression.

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Published in February 2014 no. 358

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