Pauline Viardot-García (b. 18 July 1821, Paris; d. 18. Mai 1910, Paris) was a singer, composer, piano player, singing teacher, influent event organizer and editor of significant classical works. A sheer limitless musicality combined with her great assiduity and her gift for languages, as well as her humor and ease, shaped the creative work of the influential musician. Pauline Viardot is considered down to the present date a pioneer of the European thought, as she linked, like no other artist of the 19th century, various cultures, the especially expressive musical language of the Classics, as well as other art domaines with one another.
Pauline Viardot: a life dedicated to Art
Pauline Viardot is considered, without a doubt, one of the most significant musicians of her time, even if her name doesn’t come up so every so often nowadays.
Born in the summer of the year 1821 in Paris, the daughter of the Spanish tenor and singing teacher, Manuel del Pópulo Vicente García (1775 to 1832), and her sister, Maria Malibran (1808 to 1836), received from a young age a broad musical education, for example, piano lessons by Franz Liszt and composing classes by Anton Reicha. This excellent education allowed Pauline Viardot a profound base for her later, much diverse life work.
After the early passing of her famous sister Marila Malibran, opera singer, known as “La Malibran”, Pauline ended her promising career as a pianist to follow her sister’s footsteps, due to family pressure. Subsequently, her unique mezzo-soprano and her particularly captivating art depiction caused a sensation in the artistically interested audience: between 1839 and 1863 Pauline Viardot-Garcia celebrated an overwhelming success throughout renown European opera houses.
Especially defining was Pauline Viardot’s acquaintance with the Russian writer Ivan Turgenev, whom she met in 1843 for the first time. Viardot was just 22 years old and she was making her first guest appearance in Sankt Petersburg, Russia. She has long been considered a celebrated singer in all Western Europe. In addition, Viardot was at this point married for three years with the much older writer, art critic, translator and director of the Parisian Théâtre-Italien, Louis Viardot, who made himself a name as a promoter of the Spanish and Russian literature in France. The married couple had four children. The writer Turgenev is 25 years old and is still at the beginning of his career. He develops a great admiration - he once summarized his love for Pauline Viardot in the following quote: “Since that instant, since that fateful minute, I belonged only to her”. Turgenev followed the Viardot couple to Paris and then also to Baden-Baden, where they lived for a few years in a love triangle. Pauline Viardot acted as the first reader of the writer’s manuscripts, while he promoted her work as a composer and translated significant writings of Russian literati in collaboration with the husband Louis. At the same time, the relatively unconventional relationship between the Viardots and Turgenev as ménage à trois sparked quite a lot of gossip and tittle-tattle.
After the end of her active stage career, Viardot led a parlor in Baden-Baden, whose guests were central representatives in the contemporary art and culture scene.
Here is one of her famous ballads call Mazurka:
The years in Baden-Baden
Pauline Viardot had now settled in a representative mansion in Baden-Baden Fremersberg at the western edge of the northern part of the Black Forest. Here she entered the stage intermittently with matinees and soirees, in front of a distinguished audience. The public included well-known figures of the high aristocracy as well of the cultural scene, such as Theodor Storm, Richard Wagner and always the Grand Duke and Duchess of Baden-Baden.
The nearby Karlsruhe court theater was considered starting the 1850s to be one of the leading stages of Germany – so it was only natural that it won the famous solist Pauline Viardot for selected guest engagements: Viardot performance could thereupon be expreienced in some of her earlier star roles in 1864 and 1865, under the musical direction of Josef Strauß and Hermann Levi. This included an involvement as “Orpheus” in the opera with the same name by Christoph Willibald Gluck and as “Norma” in Vincenzo Bellini’s opera with the same name. Pauline Viardot celebrated triumphs with her tragic interpretation of the mother figure in “Fides”, in the opera “The Prophet” by Giacomo Meyerbeer, as “Rosina” in Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” or also as “Desdemona” in Gioacchino Rossini’s “Othello”.
Both the audience and the press honored Viardot’s emotionally charged representations in front of an always fully booked house with an exuberant enthusiasm, although voices, which noticed losses in Viardot’s extraordinary voice’s brilliance, started to increase. With this, her years as a composer and singing teacher came closer.
Probably also due to her relationship with Turgenev, Pauline Viardot avoided the limelight. She focused much more on the creation of her compositional oeuvre, including many piano pieces, songs and song adaptations as well as various chamber music works, to which, for example, the piano solo “Deux Airs de ballet – Malicieuse” a.o. belong.
At the same time, Pauline Viardot also focused on her activity as a singing teacher. From her group of students, the influential diseuse mediated among others Aglaja Orgeni and Magdalene Murjahn, as well as Désirée Artôt to the renowned Karlsruhe court theater. When her daughter, Claudie, was planning a career as a painter, Pauline Viardot and her children moved to a city apartment in Karlsruhe. There, as well, she welcomed significant music writers, painters, and art historians of the time.
In 1870 Viardot-García’s years in Karlsruhe came to an inglorious end: a show performance of her operetta “Le Dernier Sorcier“ (“The Last Sorcerer”), in honor of the Grand Duke, has been maliciously torn – most probably this was also influenced by the Franco-German War from 1870/71. As a result, the Viardot left Germany. She never returned there until her death.
Back in Paris
Pauline Viardot-García resumed in Paris her successful art patronage. At the then famous address 50 rue de Douai in Paris Arrondissement de l'Opéra, her musical salon became a venue for contemporary personalities such as Hector Berlioz, Gabriel Fauré, Charles Gounod or Camille Saint-Saëns. She helped, for example, the opera composer Jules Massenet have a breakthrough – Viardot sang the title role in the world premiere of his oratorio “Marie-Magdeleine”. When her loyal companions Louis Viardot and Ivan Turgenev died shortly one after another in 1883, Pauline Viardot moved to a small attic apartment in Champs-Élysées. She continued to teach and compose until her death in May 1910.
The legacy of the Viardot does not only include the reminiscences of numerous much lauded performances as a singer, pianist, and patron. Also, her dedication as an especially competent singing teacher and her numerous music works are still being rediscovered and appreciated.
As we celebrating her anniversary we have here an edited new edition of some of her interesting works :
Deux Airs de Ballet ‒ Malicieuse
Deux Airs de Ballet ‒ Malicieuse