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Kathleen Lenski's Early Violins and Performance Outfits

Violins played and dresses worn by Kathleen Lenski, ca. 1947-1955

Front Left: NMM 5911. Violin (1/32-size), Markneukirchen and/or Schönbach (Luby),
Bohemia, ca. 1890-1910
Front Center: NMM 5912. Violin (1/8-size), Mittenwald, ca. 1880-1910.
Front Right: NMM 5913. Violin (1/4-size), Mittenwald, ca. 1880-1900.

Rear Left: NMM C-134. Crocheted dress worn by Kathleen Lenski, 1947-1948.
Rear Right: NMM C-133. Dress worn for performances, ca. 1950-1953.

Gift of Kathleen Lenski, Los Angeles, 1995.

Kathleen Lenski poses with 1/32-size violin, 1947-1948

Four violins in the Museum's collections document the story of one little girl who, with parental support and encouragement, would one day realize her dream, playing first violin, in a field long dominated by men, with the Angeles String Quartet.

Born in March 1946, Kathleen Lenski, the daughter of Vladimir Lenski, a North Hollywood violinist who immigrated to America from Russia, played the smallest violin, a 1/32-size instrument, when she was but one-and-a-half years old. A photograph taken in 1947 captures Kathleen as a toddler, dressed in a delicate pink crocheted dress, posing with her tiny violin.

From the ages of two to four, the child prodigy played on a 1/16-size violin attributed to Hornsteiner, an instrument that had been given to her parents two months before Kathleen was born.

Kathleen Lenski plays 1/8-size violin, ca. 1950

According to a May 5, 1950 article in the Los Angeles Times, "Kathleen began reading notes at the age of three."

At the age of four, the young violinist posed for the camera, playing her 1/8-size instrument while wearing her charming green performance dress, hand-embroidered on the bodice with her name and, on the skirt, with snatches of musical notation.

By the age of six, Kathleen played the Mendelssohn violin concerto on the 1/4-size violin.

Some fifty years later, Lenski donated the instruments, along with her earliest performance dresses, to the National Music Museum, where they serve as yet another reminder of the many opportunities that remain open to American children.

According to biographical notes on the Angeles Quartet Website, Lenski is a "graduate of the Julliard School, where she was a winner of the Naumburg and Kreisler awards, [and] a full scholarship student of Oscar Shumsky. In addition, she was a prizewinner in the Pagnini competition, and at the age of 12 was one of five performing members of the first Heifetz Master Class held at UCLA. Ms. Lenski performs on the ex-Joachim J.B. Guadagnini violin, made in 1775 in Turin."

Excerpted from "Violinist Performs on 435-Year-Old Instrument He Values at $100,000," Los Angeles Times, May 8, 1950, Part II, p. 24; André P. Larson, "One Little Girl's Dream," America's Shrine to Music Museum Newsletter 23, No. 3 (April 1996), pp. 6-7; André P. Larson, "Three Small Violins, Mittenwald, ca. 1900," South Dakota Musician 30, No. 2 (Winter 1996), p. 22; and the Angeles Quartet Website.

Kathleen Lenski poses with her 1/4-size violin

Kathleen Lenski poses with her 1/4-size violin, ca. 1955.

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Most recent update:   March 7, 2014

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