British female pianists and teachers: Arabella Goddard

Last week I started a ‘themed’ blog post; highlighting British female pianists and teachers over the past 200 years. Women have always been less prominent in the profession than their male counterparts, so it’s wonderful to be able to write about them.

Last week’s post focused on Lucy Anderson, who was the first important female pianist and teacher in Britain. This week I am focusing on her pupil, Arabella Goddard.

Arabella Goddard (1836 – 1922) achieved great success as a pianist during the middle to late 19th century. She was born and died in France but mostly resided in Britain. Aged just six, she went to Paris to study with  Friedrich Kalkbrenner and was feted as a child prodigy. Arabella played for the French Royal Family as well as Frédéric Chopin, George Sand  and Queen Victoria.

Family financial problems during the 1848 Revolution forced Arabella and her parents back to England where she took further lessons from  Lucy Anderson and the great pianist, Sigismond Thalberg. Her first public appearance was in 1850, under the conductor Michael William Balfe, at a Grand National Concert at Her Majesty’s Theatre.

Thalberg sent her to be tutored by James William Davison, the influential conservative chief music critic for The Times whom she eventually married in 1859; she was 23 and he was 46.

She made her formal debut on 14 April 1853, in Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata, the first time the work had been performed in England. She spent 1854 and 1855 in Germany and Italy. She played at a concert at the Leipzig Gewandhaus and was very favourably received by the German critics.

Goddard was one of the first pianists to play recitals from memory, although her concerto appearances were with the score.

In England, she gave concerts with the Philharmonic Society, at the Crystal Palace, and at the Monday Popular Concerts. In 1857 and 1858 she played all the late Beethoven sonatas in London, most of which were still complete novelties to her audiences.

In 1871 she was in the first group of recipients of the Gold Medal of the Royal Philharmonic Society. George Bernard Shaw commented on Goddard’s ability to master the most complex works, describing the esteemed Venezuelan pianist  Teresa Carreño as a ‘second Arabella Goddard’, and she was dubbed ‘Queen of Pianists’ by the New York Times.

From 1873 to 1876 she conducted a major tour of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore and Java. In America, the critics were less impressed by her playing of Romantic music, but generally liked her classical playing.

Goddard was appointed a teacher at the Royal College of Music in 1883. This was the RCM’s first year of operation and Goddard was its first female professor, which was a landmark for women piano teachers.

A number of composers dedicated pieces to her, including William Sterndale Bennett’s Piano Sonata in A-flat, Op. 46 “The Maid of Orleans”. She herself composed a small number of piano pieces, including a suite of six waltzes.

After the birth of her two sons Henry and Charles, she separated from her husband, who died in 1885.  On retiring from the concert platform in 1880, she died at Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, on 6 April 1922, aged 86,

Arabella Goddard was considered England’s leading pianist during the late 19th century and will be remembered for her performances of Beethoven’s piano sonatas as well as  her astounding technique.

Main Source: Wikipedia


Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.

For more information, please visit the publications page, here.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Good posting Mel.
    To see a picture of Arabella Goddard has a young girl and pictures of other female and male musicians and singers, please go to:

    Anna Regan (1841-1902)

    Also, to read an article on the musician John Ella (1802-1888) in connection with the other website, please go to:

    Kind regards,
    Ray & Marie.

  2. Sandra Westfield says:

    Yes, I also found your article very interesting.
    I have read Mr.R.Ella’s very good and precise article on the musician John Ella (1802-1888) via The Hector Berlioz Website and such great pictures. – I have also read other articles on Arabella Goddard and John Ella.
    One article on J.Ella is via Wikipedia and they get the musician J.Ella’s birthplace wrong. It was not Thirsk but Leicester has Mr.R.Ella correctly points-out.
    Wikipedia seem to “take the thunder of others”. Instead of doing their own research. They mainly quote from old and out-dated publications and by doing so any mistakes are repeated and become “the norm”. They are also making money by “thunder taking from others”, so to-speak; whereas most of use try to freely share what we know.


    1. Thank you Sandra…..I guess Wiki has good and bad points. Thank you for reading my blog 🙂

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