Academic journal article Journal of Singing

The Life of Pauline Viardot: Her Influence on the Music and Musicians of Nineteenth Century Europe

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

The Life of Pauline Viardot: Her Influence on the Music and Musicians of Nineteenth Century Europe

Article excerpt

PAULINE MICHELLE FERDINANDE GARCIA VIARDOT (1821-1910) is one of the most influential women in the classical music world of nineteenth century Europe. As a singer, her extraordinary opera career, marked by a prodigious talent and charisma on the stage, inspired dedications, premieres, and roles written specifically for her. Her music salon hosted many major composers of the time-Berlioz, Liszt, Chopin, Saint-Saëns, Meyerbeer, Brahms, and Wagner, to name a few, and allowed them to showcase and perfect their compositions. Frequently, she personally helped composers contract performances of their works, particularly operas. Throughout her career, Pauline worked as a composer, as well. Her art songs and operettas are often overlooked and rarely performed; yet a few of them represent musical gems that should not be forgotten. Particularly interesting are her transcriptions of Chopin mazurkas into solo songs and duets for voice. She worked hand in hand with the composer to transcribe twelve mazurkas, a relatively unknown but significant collaboration. It is important to look at the span of Pauline Viardot's life to see how her experiences as a performer, teacher, supporter of the arts, and composer influenced much of the operatic world of the nineteenth century.

Pauline Viardot, born in Paris on July 18, 1821, lived to be eighty-nine years old, passing away in the same city on May 18, 1910. Pauline was born into a family of remarkable musicians. Her father was Manuel Garcia, a famed voice pedagogue, composer, and Spanish tenor. Manuel Garcia is often confused with his namesake son, Pauline's brother. The younger Garcia, while also a singer, is best known for his invention of the laryngoscope, the Garcia Method of singing, and his publications on voice pedagogy. Viardot's mother, Maria Joaquina Stichès, was also a musical influence in her children's lives. She and Manuel pere met while she was singing opposite him at the Madrid opera company where he was the principal tenor.1 Perhaps Pauline's most popular relative was her sister, Maria Malibran, the immensely famous opera soprano who died tragically at the age of twenty-eight.

Viardot was born into a world of music and seemingly had little choice but to embrace it. By age four, she accompanied her family to the United States, as her father led the first opera company to perform fully staged performances of Italian opera in New York-with him and his son as the baritones (Garcia pere was now assuming baritone roles) and daughter Maria as the prima donna.2 Pauline was extremely gifted from a young age, and by eight years old she was already able to accompany singers on the piano in her father's voice studio.

[She was a child] of very marked musical abilities but also of exceptional intelligence of a general order. She had a desire to learn . . . She was able to appreciate her father's qualities without being irritated by his defects, and was consequently able to profit from his instruction and his influence to the full.3

Since her father passed away before Pauline had turned twelve, much of her vocal development was learned from listening to his lessons as a child. For the entirety of Pauline's career she used the exercises, canons, and arias composed by her father specifically for her voice.4

Pauline had developed into an incredible pianist and wanted to focus her career on the piano alone. Fitzlyon reminds us that "in fact, she remained an outstanding pianist all her life; Liszt, Mocheles, Adolphe Adam, Saint-Saëns, and many other distinguished musicians have left enthusiastic accounts of her playing, and some of Chopin's happiest moments were spent making music with her at Nohant."5

At the age of eight, she began her formal musical education, studying the piano with Meysenberg and Liszt, in addition to composition with Reicha. Although Pauline thought of herself mainly as a pianist, after her sister's death in 1836 her mother made her focus on her singing career. …

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