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The Armless Violinist
and the battle of the brains
Violin World does not tolerate left handed violinists, if you are one of the 10% of the population so orientated, then you will have to bottle your preference or go without the standard job options - ever seen an orchestra with a left handed violinist?

So left is difficult, armless and handless considered the world of perversity, if not impossibility, until violinist Carl Unthan stepped into violin world consciousness. Unthan was born in East Prussia in1848, without arms, and died in 1919 - wealthy after a career on the stage playing violin - left footed! In fact playing violin hardly covers his skills.

He was a first rate marksman with a rifle, performed card tricks, rescued drowning damsels in distress, un-corked countless bottles of wine, changed his costume in the twinkling of an eye, changed broken E strings mid-concert, often with a cigar in his mouth - most of which entered into his popular stage acts over the years.

The violin playing of Carl was so impressive that Johann Strauss got him engagements playing in front of some heavyweight orchestras in Vienna and St. Petersburg. Apart form Europe, he toured Central and South America, before joining the vaudeville circuit of the USA. The transference of a subltle integrated haptic feedback to his feet would have assured Carl Unthan a unique position in violin history, but his transformation of handicap to a feat of feet made our hero arguably the greatest violin player of all time.

Posterity has sold us short (yet again) of a recording of Unthan but he has left us his memoirs The Armless Fiddler, a pediscript (typed with two upside down pencils, one held in each foot) published by G. Allen & Unwin Ltd. 1935. They wouldn't let me take it out of the library as it is a collector's item. This book is a must for anyone wanting a first hand account of the world-wide vaudeville and freak show circuits of the 19th and early 20th century.

Contemporary political correctness would have prevented a career like Unthan's today. Pity, neurolisgists would have been queuing up to scan his brain, but who to ask as a control subjects? An armless violinist could have been the ultimate cognitive conundrum to confuse the current orthodoxy of the left and right hemispheres. For a control group, I would pick the cockatoos in my garden (all left handed as far as I have observed). As the toilet wall says 'If the brain was simple enough that we could understand how it works, then we would be so simple that we couldn't'.

Music supplied by The Rosenberg Foundation - Tenor Violin undergoing a PET Scan.

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