Katherine Mansfield, cellist

People who know me well know that I’ve been a bit obsessed with Katherine Mansfield since I was a schoolgirl. It wasn’t just that she was New Zealand’s most famous writer and I wanted to be a writer, it was also something to do with her rebelliousness. I liked to imagine that I would one day become New Zealand’s second most disobedient daughter. (Didn’t really work. KM was far more impressively disobedient.)

When I was about 15, I read in Claire Tomalin’s biography of KM that she was a cellist of near-professional standard, and this excited me a lot. No recordings of her playing were ever made, but she must have been really good when you look at some of the things she was playing — nineteenth-century showpieces by Adrien Servais and Léon Boëllmann, and pieces of greater intellectual heft like the Chopin sonata. Her love affair with the instrument appeared to coincide with that most turbulent of times, adolescence.

I was flipping through the Katherine Mansfield Notebooks today when I came across a poem she wrote to her cello during her teens. For some reason I’d never noticed it before. I was really taken with it, so I made this Canva image with a stanza from it together with a photo of Mansfield herself from her Queen’s College years.

I think she has a pretty nice set-up and bow-hold, don’t you?

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