Posted: 30th November 2022
As part of the Ferens Art Gallery winter exhibition, Queen Victoria and Hull, Hull and District History Research Group have been researching Victorian Hull. This blog is the latest in a series revealing the hidden stories of Victorian Hull; Ethel le Ginska was the first women to conduct a grand opera and a pioneer for women in music. It was in Hull in which she started her career.
Ethel Leginska (nee Liggins) was born to Thomas and Annie Peck Liggins on 13th August 1886 at 22, Pemberton Street, Sutton with Stoneferry.
A musical child prodigy, she studied piano first with Mary Wilson at Tranby Croft, now the site of Hull Collegiate School. She made her debut performance on the piano on her 9th birthday as a pianist at St George’s Hall, Hull, and in the following year she was playing in London’s Queen’s Hall. At 11 she went to study in Frankfurt.
She changed her surname from Liggins to Le Ginska and started performing professionally from 1904, aged 18.
In 1907 she married and had a son the next year. In 1908 whilst touring she disappeared for several days; whether this was due to post-natal stress, professional anxiety or both is not known. In 1913 Ethel and her husband separated and she was living in New York.
She was a concert pianist, conductor, teacher and composer. She established the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, Boston English Opera Company and National Women’s Symphony Orchestra as well as being a director of the Chicago Women’s Symphony.
She was the first women to conduct a grand opera, which she had written herself.
In 1939 she settled in Los Angeles, where, as a piano teacher she built up a large circle of talented students. She continued doing this until her death on 26th February 1970.
Written by Maureen Fox
You can view objects from the Ferens, Wilberforce House Museum, Hands on History, Guildhall and Hull Archive collections in the Queen Victoria and Hull exhibition from 20 October 2022 until 19 February 2023.
References: Gretton Books, Wikepedia/Carnegiehul.co.uk