Early in 1993 Yo-Yo Ma surprised the string world by playing and recording Bartok’s Viola Concerto on an alto violin, part of a violin octet constructed by Carleen Maley Hutchins and others in the 1950s and 1960s. Although this was only the most recent mention of the octet in the musical press, some of those writing about Ma’s concerts in Toronto, Baltimore, and Rotterdam were unaware of the earlier history of the octet or its role in the work of Carleen Hutchins and her associates.[FN 1] One could not expect Hutchins to take the central role in press reports on the concert, but Ma’s very ability to play Bartok’s Viola Concerto in its normal range and with viola fingerings was based upon his use of her alto violin, held like a cello. Some dismissed Ma’s performances as a stunt, but those familiar with Hutchins and the violin octet know that none of Hutchins’s work has been a stunt, and through the octet and many other projects she has increased our understanding of the construction and physics of the violin family, developments that deserve their own telling, not just as part of a “rediscovery” of the violin octet. In this article Hutchins’s remarkable life and career will be considered, demonstrating the continuity of her work and its contributions to violin physics and construction.
Hutchins has worn many hats in this work-luthier, acoustician, writer, editor, teacher of the building of string instruments, facilitator of others’ work, permanent secretary of the Catgut Acoustical Society, and amateur string player. Until the age of 40, she would have considered herself an unlikely candidate to play any of these roles, but many of the talents that she has brought to them were developed during her childhood and young adulthood when she worked with the Girl Scouts of America and as a teacher of science and wood-working in New York City private schools.
Her Life Before Violas
Early Study As a Luthier
Work With Saunders
Study With Sacconi
The Catgut Acoustical Society
The Violin Octet
Other Research and Collaborations
For String Players
This article by Paul R. Laird was published in Ars Musica Denver, Vol. 6, No. 1, Fall, 1993. It is available from Ars Musica Denver, University of Denver, Denver, CO 80220.