Chapter 10.4 – Madam De Goni (1815 -1892)

Madam De Goni (1813-1892)

For C. F. Martin Sr., Madam De Goni was one of the most important celebrities to play Martin guitars in the early years of the company. Her influence on Martin was profound and lasting. Martin even created a De Goni model in the 1840's that survived, as the 1-26 model, until at least 1895. C. A. Zoebisch & Son, Martin's master distributor until the mid-1890's, even used Madam De Goni's name in advertisements until 1893, the year after her death.

Madam De Goni's maiden name was Maria Dolores Esturias y Navarres. She first appeared professionally as Madam De Gone in France in 1837. At different times in her career Madam De Goni's name was spelled De Gone or De Gony.

By 1840 Madam De Goni was giving concerts in the United Kingdom, where she was well received. Late in 18401 she and her husband emigrated to the United States seeking opportunities in a country where all things Spanish were still the rage.

The New York Herald wasted no time in announcing her arrival in the United States in an article published on November 7, 18402:

"Musical - the Spanish guitar

'The light guitar - the light guitar'

A distinguished female, professor of the Spanish guitar, has just arrived from Europe. Her name is Dona Dolores de Goni, a Spanish lady of exquisite beauty, and still more exquisite accomplishments in Spanish music. During the last spring and summer she gave many exhibitions before the royalty and nobility of England, that brought forth great applause. She purposes, we understand, to give a concert here next week."

The article went on to document some of her successes in Europe, copy certainly provided by Madam De Goni herself.  The press clippings are all presumably from 1840:

"The following extracts from London papers:

CONCERT ROOMS, HANOVER SQUARE - Madame Nevares De Goni's evening Concert took place on Thursday evening at these rooms, and was brought forward under the patronage of the Marchioness of Hastings and the Baroness Grey de Ruthyn. The selection of music was most judicious and afforded a very high treat to the lovers of harmony and song. A fantasia on the Spanish Guitar by Madame De Goni, exhibited the power of the artist on this instrument, but it was the beautiful air 'Jota Aragonesa', that she displayed her own power of execution, and the capability of the instrument in the hands of a skilful performer. Her execution was exquisite, transfusing into the performance the soul and poetry of harmony, expressing at one moment the zephyr tones of the aeolian harp, and in the next, the deep notes of the most refined expression of musical harmony. Any one who has not heard the performance of Madame De Goni can form no conception of the effect which can be produced upon this instrument, which is likely to become fashionable, through the executions of this highly talented lady. - London Morning Advertiser.

DONA DOLORES DE GONI - On Friday night the celebrated Dona Doloris de Goni, the most exquisite guitarist in Europe, had the honor of performing before the Queen Dowager. - Court Journal

MADAME NEVARES DE GONI'S CONCERT - Under the immediate patronage of the Marchioness of Hastings and Baroness Grey de Ruthyn, the celebrated Spanish guitarist, Madame de Goni, gave a concert yesterday evening at the theatre of the Polytechnic Institution in Regent street. A numerous and most fashionable company attested, by their presence, the favor which the performances of the beneficiaire are regarded in high life. Madame de Goni is a performer of the highest order upon that most difficult instrument, the guitar, which in her hands, becomes the medium of transferring to the senses of her pleased auditors, a correct notion of the romantic and most charming music with which the loves and lovers of Spain are traditionally connected. We recognized with much pleasure that no attempt was made at a display of outrageous execution, which is altogether opposed to the nature and construction of the instrument. The guitar is only pleasing when it becomes the interpreter of sentiment, or the support of the voice, for which latter its illimitable powers of modulation peculiarly adapt it. Madame de Goni appears to be fully aware of this, for her performances on the instrument were marked throughout by her confining herself to its legitimate application; but this application was characterized by a tone of deep pathos, such as, we believe, a woman can only feel and express. This lady played three airs of her own composition, which were very beautifully  written as well as executed; she also accompanied Signor Echarte in a characteristic Spanish song by Gomez, in a way to induce us to listen more to the instrument than the voice. - London Morning Post."

Although the advertisement suggested Madam De Goni would give a concert by mid-November her first recorded stage performance took place on December 23, 1840 at the annual benefit for the St. George’s Society at the National Theatre in New York. On December 29 Madam De Goni performed with her husband at the City Hotel.

Very soon after landing Madam De Goni began to frequent music stores in New York as captured in the following book excerpt3:                  

“The fashionable music stores and lounges for musical people, at the date I am writing, were Atwill's Music Saloon, at the sign of the Golden Lyre, 201 Broadway; Millett's, Broadway (Mr. Millet still remaining in the same store); Firth and Hall, Franklin square; and Davis and Horn, of Broadway.

The first establishment, being next door to my place of  business, I quickly became acquainted with its proprietor, Mr. Joseph F. Atwill, (now and for a long time past a resident of California), and many a delightful hour was passed by me there, and I was thus brought into immediate connexion, if not intimacy, with numbers of musical people.

Among the celebrities that in the year 1840 flashed for a while upon the musical horizon, and who were daily to be seen at Joe Atwill's, were…Madame Dolores de Goni (guitarist)”.

From 1841 to 1842 Madam De Goni gave concerts in New York and Philadelphia. By early 1842 De Goni had begun to perform with George Knoop4, a noted cellist from Germany. From about this point in time no more is heard of Senor De Goni.

Madam De Goni and George Knoop toured together from 1842 to 1844 and during their travels gave concerts in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, Cincinnati and even once in Hamilton, Ontario (known as Upper Canada at the time). Madam De Goni also occasionally appeared in concerts with John B. Coupa during the period when Martin & Coupa had the Martin sales agency for New York city. It can be safely assumed that Martin became aware of Madam De Goni through John Coupa and was probably introduced to her in 1841 or 1842 on one of his visits to New York.

De Goni and Knoop settled in Cincinnati in 1844 where they gave concerts and established themselves as teachers. They were married in April 1845. Madam De Goni had several children with Knoop but little can be discovered of them5. Knoop continued to give concerts until 1847 and toured this other musicians in 1847 and 1848. Madam De Goni continued to give occasional concerts until 1848. From 1848 to 1849, Knoop appear to have been on the road constantly, performing along the Eastern seaboard either alone or with other musicians. Knoop's marriage to De Goni appears to have been in trouble during this time as Coupa wrote to C. F. Martin on October 15, 1849 with shocking news:

"Mrs. Degoni has gone to Mexico, she has left her children behind, and a baby 4 months old."

George Knoop died on December 25, 1849 in Philadelphia at the age of 46.

De Goni married the Spanish Consul in New Orleans about 1850 and seems to have the rest of her life in that city. She continued to publish guitar music until at least 1866, but always as "Mrs. Knoop".

"Madam De Goni" died in Orleans parish in New Orleans in Louisiana on Nov, 7, 1892. The parish death registry recorded her name as Maria Ysturias Navarres Labord (Volume 102, page 1156).

Two portraits of Madam De Goni are known. One is in a private collection and was painted by Alenson G. Powers. Although supposedly painted in New Orleans in 1840, Powers began painting in northern Ohio around 1842 and was painting portraits in Cincinnati during the summer of 1844, so this painting was probably executed during 1844 or slightly later as Madam De Goni and George Knoop lived in  Cincinnati to from 1844 to 1848. In this painting Madam De Goni is playing a guitar of European design.

The second portrait of Madam De Goni was painted by James Hamilton Shegogue (1806-1872).  It was displayed at the 1844 Exhibit of the National Academy of Design in New York but its current whereabouts are unknown.


Guitars Played by Madam De Goni

Madam De Goni would undoubtedly have brought a European guitar, possibly of Spanish design, with her when she emigrated to the United States. The guitar illustrated in the first of two portraits if De Goni mentioned above confirms this.

Madam De Goni gave a concert in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in the summer of 1842 and probably followed up with another concert in 1843, as will be shown below. In a book published in 1855 by James Ballard6 is a comment on the type of guitar played by Madam De Goni:

"In 1843 Madame De Goni brought to New York a large pattern Spanish guitar, from which a number have been made, and distributed over the United States, by Martin, of Pennsylvania, and Schmidt and Maul, of New York."

A "Professor Ballard", possibly the same James Ballard mentioned above, appears in Martin's early ledger books as having purchased "a Spanish guitar" on August 16, 1838 for $35.00. The price suggests this was a guitar made by C. F. Martin.

Several years ago a remarkable silhouette portrait of Madam De Goni with a guitar was sold at auction in the UK. It has a hand written description at the bottom of the portrait that reads "Madame Delores De Goñi Philadelphia 7th F(eb)ry 1843" and is also signed and dated "Delores De Goñi 7 de Enero de 1843" at the top.


Figure 407

1843 Silhouette Portrait of Madam De Goni


A 1913 biography of C. F. Martin Sr. by one of his granddaughters7 charmingly described an event that probably occurred in the summer of 1843. It also provides a clue to the type of guitar Madam De Goni was playing at that time and a description of the guitar that C. F. Martin made and presented to her while she was a guest at his home in Cherry Hill:

"He took pleasure in having musicians and poor teachers boarded free at his house, which was roomy and comfortable, during their summer vacations. In the day-time, they often strolled into the orchards, read and amused themselves and in the evenings they gave little family concerts to grandfather’s infinite delight.

Madame De Goni, probably the finest professional guitar-soloist of her time, in the South, was also there. It was she, I think, who clung to her Spanish guitar and would have no other. One evening, when all were gathered together, grandfather brought her a guitar that he had made in the exact shape of her Spanish guitar but with his thin sounding-board and other Martin characteristics.

Quite casually, he asked her to try it. Madame De Goni took the instrument but displayed little interest. She struck a few chords, played a piece or two, then got up, took her Spanish guitar and set it in a corner. “I’m through with that”, she said, 'I don’t care to it anymore. This is the guitar I want.'

That must have been a great triumph for grandfather."

The guitar C. F. Martin made for Madam De Goni in 1843 has survived and is on display in the Martin Guitar Museum. The guitar is remarkable for several reasons.

1) This guitar has a type 7 Martin & Schatz label with the endorsement “Made for Madam De Gone (sic)”. The late usage of the Martin & Schatz label is a bit of a mystery. The second Martin & Schatz partnership had ended in early 1840 so maybe it was the only label Martin had on hand. Based on comparison with the writing in letters in the Martin archive, the endorsement on the label was penned by John Coupa himself. The fact that Coupa signed the label should not be a surprise because of his close association with both De Goñi and C. F. Martin. Madam De Goni used several spellings of her name and "de Gone" appeared in newspaper advertisements during 1842 and 1843.

2) The guitar has the early type of X-bracing and is also the earliest datable guitar with X-bracing. The guitar proves that Martin was experimenting with this type of bracing by 1843.

The Martin archive has a letter from John Coupa, dated November 29, 1849, containing the following excerpt:

“I have a guitar to be repaired, it is broke in the back, can you tell me how I can send it, or if you can do it when you come in the city. It is a fine guitar, one you made for Mrs. Degoni. I had it here more than one month.”

This description fits well with the current condition of the De Goni guitar, which has two repaired cracks on the back. The back was removed at some point although the repair appears to be very old. The back purfling and binding match that of the top and also appear to be of the same age. This would appear to be a very rare example of a repair that can be attributed to C. F. Martin Sr. himself.

The Martin & Schatz “De Goni” guitar is a remarkable historic instrument. It firmly establishes that C. F. Martin had developed an early form of X-bracing by July 1843.


Figure 408

1843 Martin & Coupa Guitar Made for Madam De Gone



Figure 409

Daguerreotype of Madam De Goni


Finally, the engraving below appeared in the May 1851 edition of “The Ladies Depository”8 and, although only described as "The Guitar", may well be Madam De Goni and her Martin guitar. “The Ladies Depository” was published in Cincinnati and the engraving company was located there as well. It is known De Goni was in Cincinnati from 1845 and lived there until about 1848. The odd shape of the head stock is illustrating a rolled up “ribbon” or guitar strap. The engraving was probably created using a Daguerreotype as a model.


Figure 410

Steel Engraving Entitled "The Guitar" from May 1851 Edition of The Ladies' Repository


The Morning Oregonian had an article entitles "The Rise of the Guitar" in its  Saturday, November 15, 1902 edition with an interesting comment on Madam De Goni:

"It is often asked "Why is the Martin Guitar better than others?" This can be answered in one word only, by saying that it partook from the first of the conscientious nature of its founder. Quiet, retiring Mr. Martin lived for his art, and was satisfied with nothing unless it was as nearly perfect as he could make it. In keeping with his character, he moved to a quiet settlement in Pennsylvania in1839 and there worked -until his death In 1873, when he left a well-established business to his descendants. Here Madame de Goni and other famous musicians visited him, with the result that, his guitars became known as artists' models."



1) "Senor and Madam Gonie" landed in New York on November 2, 1840 aboard the ship Sheffield out of Liverpool.  There ages were listed as 30 and 25 respectively and both are recorded as having Spanish nationality.

2) The New York Herald, November 7, 1840

3) Massett, Stephen C. Drifting About. New York, Carleton, 1863,  Pg. 27

4) George Knoop arrived in New York, September 10, 1841, from Hamburg aboard the bark "Washington". His first name was not recorded but he was listed on the ship's manifest as being 38 years old.  His occupation was noted as "Musician".

5) First District Court for the Parish of New Orleans, Marriage license for Georgina Knoop, February 16, 1874

6) Ballard, James.  A History of the Guitar : From the Earliest Antiquity to the Present Time.  New York : W. B. Tilton, 1855

7) Whittaker, Clara Ruetenik, hand written “Biography of my Grandfather, Christian Frederick Martin” pages 15-16, December, 1913

8) The Ladies' repository: a monthly periodical, devoted to literature, arts, and religion, Volume 11, Issue 5, May 1851

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