1001 Ways to Die – (10) Ginette Neveu, French Violinist (1919-1949)


Edith Piaf wrote of Neveu in her autobiography, The Wheel of Fortune: “I would have traveled thousands of miles to hear the great Ginette Neveu….”

Ginette Neveu was a French violinist.

The front page with the news of the crash - No survivors
The front page with the news of the crash – No survivors

On 27 October 1949, she boarded an Air France flight en route to a series of concert engagements in the USA.

The flight departed from Paris Orly in the evening of the 27th October at 2006 hrs with final destination New York and a refueling stop at the Santa Maria island of the Azores.

(On a personal note, my mother flew from Paris to New York on a TWA Lockheed Constellation in 1949. They stopped for refueling at Shannon, Ireland and Gander, Newfoundland.)

Lockheed Constellation
Lockheed Constellation

The Air France Lockheed Constellation aircraft with identification F-BAZN had 37 passengers and 11 crew members on board. It was delivered new to Air France on the 28th January 1948. The pilot of the flight, Jean de la Noue, 37 years old, had 6,700 hours flying time and had flown the Atlantic 88 times.

At 0151 hrs on 28th October the airplane reported her position as 150 nautical miles from Santa Maria, giving estimated time of arrival at 0255 hrs, ten minutes later than the original time of 0245 hrs. At 0251 hrs the aircraft sent a signal from an altitude of 3000 ft, with the airport on site, and visual flight rules (VFR) in effect, and asked for landing instructions. Shortly after this last communication the airplane crashed on the peak Varra, of Redondo mountain on the island of Sao Miguel, 100 miles northwest of its intended landing location.

All on board died.

Ginette Neveu (left) and Marcel Cerdan (right), shortly before boarding the fatal flight at Orly
Ginette Neveu (left) and Marcel Cerdan (right), shortly before boarding the fatal flight at Orly

The violonist was travelling with her brother, pianist Jean Paul Neveu, who appears in the middle of the photograph above. The photo was taken minutes before the passengers boarded the fatal flight. Ginette was showing to the boxer Marcel Cerdan (right) another passeger, her Stradivarius violin. Cerdan had become a world champion by knocking Tony Zale out in the 12th round in Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City, New Jersey on September 21, 1948. Although married with three children, he had an affair with the famous singer Édith Piaf. The affair lasted from summer 1948 until his death in autumn 1949. They were very devoted to each other and Piaf wrote one of her most famous songs, Hymne à l’amour, for Cerdan. Cerdan changed his travel plans last minute, as he was to cross the Atlantic by ship. Allegedly he did this after a call from Edith Piaf who was already in New York.

It was the first crash of Air France on the Paris- New York route which started on 1 July 1946 and had successfully completed 1,572 flights without an accident.

Map of the Azores
Map of the Azores

The investigation that followed found that the cause of the accident was controlled flight into terrain due to inadequate navigation by the pilot whilst operating under VFR condition. It was found that the pilot had sent false position reports and that he had failed to identify the airport.

On 10th June 1949, Neveu recorded the Brahms violin concerto with the Hague Residentie Orchestra, under the direction of Antal Dorati.

The Brahms violin concerto is one of the great violin concerti and premiered in Leipzig on the 1st January 1889.

At age 15, Ginette Neveu achieved worldwide celebrity status when she won the Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition over 180 contestants, including the future virtuoso David Oistrakh, who finished second, and Henri Temianka, who finished third.

Poème, Op. 25, is a work for violin and orchestra written by Ernest Chausson in 1896. It is a staple of the violinist’s repertoire, has very often been recorded and performed, and is generally considered Chausson’s best-known and most-loved composition. The clip that follows is a 1946 recording. There is also another one of 1949.

And now the Oistrach recording of the Poeme.

Her performance of the Sibelius Violin Concerto is considered the best ever. Here is the 3rd movement.

Ginette Neveu gave her last concert on 20 October 1949. Eight days later  she would die.

She was only 30 years old. Some people think that had she lived, she would have become the greatest violin player of all times.


  1. Όταν γεννιέται κάποιος καταλαμβάνει ένα μοναδικό και ανεπανάληπτο σημείο του χωροχρόνου, από εκεί αρχίζει την διαδρομή της ζωής του. Και όταν η αρχή είναι μοναδική είναι μοναδική όλη η διαδρομή, είναι μοναδικός και ανεπανάληπτος ο θάνατος. 1001 σημεία του χωροχρόνου να γεννηθείς, 1001 η διαδρομές της ζωής, 1001 οι τρόποι του θανάτου.

    Αφιονισμένο το βλέμμα από την ψευτοπληρότητα του πολιτισμού της τεχνικής δεν βλέπει την μοναδικότητα της κάθε γέννησης – φαίνεται σαν ανώνυμο προϊόν της βιομηχανίας του μαιευτηρίου – δεν βλέπει την μοναδικότητα της κάθε διαδρομής στην ζωή – φαίνεται σαν μια ντετερμινιστική απόρροια κοινωνικοπολιτικών συνθηκών. Βλέπει μόνο τον θάνατο, και αυτόν εκεί που η προ-προβλεψιμότητα και ο προ-υπολογισμός διαψεύδονται: ο πεπειραμένος πιλότος που χάνει τον μπούσουλα και συντρίβεται, ο άριστος χειρούργος που κάνει λάθος αρχαρίου, ο καπετάνιος που ναυαγεί μπροστά από το λιμάνι. Τότε είναι απελπιστικά αργά: η μοναδικότητα της ζωής δεν μπορεί πια να βιωθεί. Ο Heidegger είπε πως η ανθρώπινη ύπαρξη είναι-προς-θάνατον. Μόνο η εσωτερίκευση αυτής της πραγματικότητας κάνει την μοναδικότητα της κάθε στιγμής της ζωής βίωμα μοναδικό και ανεπανάληπτο γιατί αναδεικνύοντας την δυνατότητα του θανάτου, ορίου της ζωής, ορίζει την ίδια την ζωή: τους 1001 τρόπους να την ζήσεις.

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