Tag Archives: Chopin

Pauline Viardot – Classical female composers – Part three

Previous post in this series.
Pauline Viardot (1821 – 1910) was a leading nineteenth-century French mezzo-soprano, and composer. Her 13 years older sister Maria Malibran, was one of the most celebrated singers in Europe before her early death at age 28. Pauline made her first appearance (1837) as a singer with Maria’s husband, the violinist Charles de Bériot. In 1839, she made her opera debut in London. Soon she became prima donna for the Italian Opera season in Paris. In Russia she became the hot name of St. Petersburg, both because of her singing and stage presence, and because she sometimes threw in an aria in Russian, pronouncing the language with such skill that many took her for a native speaker.

Besides the fact that she was a famous singer, she was also an excellent pianist, and a complete all-round professional musician. As a composer her work was of such quality, that Franz Liszt declared that, with Pauline Viardot, the world had finally found a woman composer of genius. Her operas was small in scale, however, they were written for advanced singers and some of the music was difficult. She also wrote songs and instrumental compositions, often for violin and piano.

Pauline’s admirers included: Brahms wrote the Alto Rhapsody for her, Saint-Saens wrote Samson et Dalila for her. Schumann, Gounod, Meyerbeer and Faure all composed for her.
She was a close friend of Chopin and his lover Aurore Dupin (best known by her pseudonym George Sand) and got piano instructions from Chopin. Viardot arranged vocals for some of Chopin’s piano pieces.