She was the daughter of the notable Spanish tenor, composer, and teacher Manuel García (1775–1832), and the younger sister of the mezzo-soprano María Malibran (1808–1836), whose fascinating personality, vocal technique, and stage presence, as well as her tragically early death, would make her into one of the idols of the Romantic generation. Pauline received music lessons very early on from her father, who was keen for her to become a concert pianist. In fact, this was probably her real vocation and as a girl she had a few memorable piano lessons with Liszt, as well as composition classes with Anton Rejcha. She would always remain an accomplished pianist throughout her life, befriending Chopin and Clara Schumann in later years.
After Manuel García's death, however, Pauline's mother, the Spanish actress and singer Joaquina Sitches (1780–1864) increasingly forced her to concentrate on singing, and when La Malibran died four years later Pauline was expected to carry the family tradition on her shoulders. In 1839, she made her professional stage début in London, as Desdemona in Rossini's Otello, and caused a great impression with her masterly technique (which made up for the flaws of her voice) and dramatic interpretation. Under the influence of George Sand, who had taken her under her wing, Pauline was persuaded in 1840 to marry Louis Viardot (1800–1883), a distinguished art critic, publicist, and director of the Théâtre Italien in Paris. Viardot thereafter managed her artistic career. They had four musically gifted children, two of whom would go on to become professional musicians: Louise Héritte-Viardot (1841–1918), a singing teacher and composer, and Paul Viardot (1857–1941), a notable violinist, who would play Tchaikovsky's Sérénade mélancolique at a concert in Saint Petersburg on 3/15 January 1881 .
In the winter seasons of 1843–46 and 1852–53, Pauline Viardot appeared with the Italian Opera Company in Saint Petersburg, where her performance of Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia and other belcanto roles, as well as her choice of arias and songs by Glinka at concerts, won her the affection of Russian audiences. Her admirers included Fyodor Dostoyevsky (who drew on his memories of her interpretation of Rosina for the 1848 story White Nights) and even the literary critic Vissarion Belinsky (1811–1848), who was not otherwise much interested in music! Most fateful was her meeting with Ivan Turgenev, who fell head over heels in love with her and thereafter followed her all over Europe, eventually resigning himself to the role of a family friend in the Viardot household.
As a singer of great dramatic power, and later as a fine teacher and adviser in musical matters, Pauline Viardot was held in great esteem by the leading composers of the time, including Glinka, Meyerbeer (for whom she created the role of Fidès in Le Prophète in 1849), Berlioz (who conducted a memorable production of Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice with her in 1859), Wagner, Gounod, Saint-Saëns (who dedicated Samson et Dalila to her), and Brahms (who wrote his Alt-Rhapsodie for her in 1869). She retired from the stage in 1863, settling in Baden-Baden in Germany, and then in 1870 returning to Paris, where (except for a brief spell in London in 1871) she would remain for the rest of her life. She devoted herself to composing songs and operettas, as well as teaching, her students including Désirée Artôt and a number of Russian singers, amongst them Yelizaveta Lavrovskaya and Aleksandra Panayeva.
Partly thanks to the influence of Turgenev, Pauline Viardot showed a great interest in Russian music and eventually acquired a reading knowledge of the language. She set to music poems by Pushkin, Lermontov, Fet, and Turgenev himself (translated into French and German with the help of the latter). Three albums of her songs were published in Russia in 1864, 1869, and 1871 (mainly at the expense of the quixotic Turgenev), but harshly criticized by César Cui. More importantly, Turgenev, during his regular visits to Russia, would write to her with reports on musical developments in his native country (recording, for example, a memorable meeting with Musorgsky in 1874).
Tchaikovsky and Viardot
She first became acquainted with Tchaikovsky's music in April 1871, because Turgenev was so impressed by two songs from the Six Romances, Op. 6 which he had heard Yelizaveta Lavrovskaya sing at an all-Tchaikovsky concert in Moscow on 16/28 March 1871, that on his return to London, where the Viardots were temporarily staying, he ordered a copy of Tchaikovsky's song album from Russia. On 27 April 1871, Turgenev wrote to Mariya Miliutina to thank her for having sent the album and told her that Madame Viardot had immediately played them through, and that she especially liked None But the Lonely Heart (Нет, только тот, кто знал)—No. 6 of the Six Romances, Op. 6. Turgenev also noted that Madame Viardot intended to perform this song at one of the regular musical matinées held in her house. A copy of Pauline Viardot's recent album of Russian songs was also sent to Tchaikovsky .
In the summer of 1874, Pauline Viardot also became acquainted with the overture-fantasia Romeo and Juliet, as Turgenev had ordered a copy of its arrangement for piano. At the end of 1876, Tchaikovsky had the idea of attempting to organize a concert featuring his works to take place in Paris in March 1877, and he wrote two letters to Sergey Taneyev (who was then staying in the French capital) asking him if he could tactfully find out whether Madame Viardot would be willing to perform some of his songs at such a concert: "Would it be seen as madness on my part if I were to ask Viardot, through Turgenev, to take part in my concert? After all, she has performed my songs, hasn't she? If it's a crazy idea, then just throw away the enclosed letter. But if you think it's all right, then please go to Turgenev and hand him this letter" . This shows that Tchaikovsky was aware of the fact that Pauline Viardot ever since 1871 had been championing his songs, especially None But the Lonely Heart (the last of the Six Romances, Op. 6), at the famous musical matinées which were held in her house in Paris. Although the concert envisaged by Tchaikovsky did not take place because he was ultimately unable to raise the necessary funds, we do know that Taneyev took part in one of Madame Viardot's matinées at some point between January and May 1877 and accompanied her at the piano while she sang None But the Lonely Heart "with her characteristic passion, expressiveness, and impeccable diction", according to a contemporary account .
During the Paris Exposition of 1878, at which Nikolay Rubinstein conducted four "Russian Concerts" between May and November, featuring several works by Tchaikovsky (Sérénade mélancolique and Valse-Scherzo, with Stanisław Barcewicz as soloist), Turgenev also found out that the vocal-piano reduction of Yevgeny Onegin had just been published in Russia. He immediately ordered a copy, and on 27 November 1878 he wrote to Tolstoy from Paris that Madame Viardot had been studying the opera in the evenings and that they both liked it very much . She also received a copy of the score of Aleksandr Borodin's Second Symphony ("Bogatyrskaya") shortly after its first performance in Russia in 1877.
During his brief stay in Paris in January 1876, Tchaikovsky had deliberately avoided visiting Pauline Viardot's musical salon. On 2 March 1879, when he was in Paris again, he attended a performance of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique which featured two of her children: Paul, and Marianne (1854–1919), who two years earlier had been briefly engaged to the composer Gabriel Fauré. Tchaikovsky praised their performance in letter 1116 of 20 February/4 March 1879 to his brother Anatoly, but he added that, despite Nadezhda von Meck's repeated urging, he had no wish to make the acquaintance of Pauline Viardot or Turgenev personally.
In April 1880, Turgenev sent Pauline Viardot a copy of the Six Romances, Op. 38 from Saint Petersburg, where he had just heard Anna Frideburg sing Amid the Din of the Ball (Средь шумного бала) at a private concert. Madame Viardot would often select her favourite songs by Tchaikovsky for the famous musical gatherings on Thursdays at her house on the Rue de Douai. Her performance of None But the Lonely Heart always moved Turgenev to tears, and it is reflected in his last published story of 1883, Klara Milich (Клара Милич), also known as After Death (После смерти), which was inspired by news of the tragic suicide of Yevlaliya Kadmina. In his letter-article The Last Days of N. G. Rubinstein's Life (TH 315), Tchaikovsky noted how Madame Viardot had been amongst the prominent figures from the French musical world who gathered at the Russian Orthodox church in Paris on 26 March 1881 [N.S.] to pay their last respects to the great Russian pianist and conductor. Even after Turgenev's death in 1883, Pauline Viardot continued to take an interest in Russian music, organizing, for example, a special concert in Paris in 1887 at which Balakirev's fantasy for piano Islamey was played.
It was finally during his stay in Paris in the summer of 1886 that Tchaikovsky decided to call on Pauline Viardot (now living at 297 Boulevard St. Germain) for the first time. He did so on 12 June [N.S.], accompanied by the cellist Anatoly Brandukov, and from an entry which Tchaikovsky wrote in his diary that very evening after returning to his hotel, we find out that Madame Viardot had showed him Mozart's original manuscript score of Don Giovanni, which she had bought at an auction in London back in 1855. Although Madame Viardot frequently showed this manuscript to the various distinguished musicians who visited her house, she had particular reason to do so in the case of Tchaikovsky, as at the start of their interview he would probably have told her of his life-long love for Mozart, knowing that her father, the legendary tenor Manuel García, had been a notable Don Ottavio in his time. This is Tchaikovsky's diary entry for that day (the underlining indicates additional emphasis by the composer):
- "We (Brandukov and I] set off for Viardot's house. A storm. We were thoroughly drenched. What a way to make someone's first acquaintance! Still, they wouldn't let us go back to the hotel. This circumstance made it easier for us to become acquainted. Lunch. Old little Viardot enchanted me. Her hanger-on. In the drawing-room. A pupil of hers, a Russian girl, sang an aria from Delibes's] Lakmé. Saw the orchestra score of Mozart's Don Giovanni, written IN HIS OWN HAND!!!!!!!!!!. Back to the hotel…" .
Tchaikovsky also wrote about this visit to Madame Viardot in various letters to relatives and friends the following day, but for some reason he did not yet mention the fact that he had been shown the original score of Don Giovanni. To his sister-in-law Praskovya he wrote on 1/13 June: "Yesterday I had lunch with little old Viardot. She is such a wonderful and interesting woman that I am wholly enchanted by her. In spite of her seventy years, she manages to come across as a woman of forty; she is lively, merry, kind, and courteous, and she made me feel quite at home from the very first minute" . On the same day he completed a letter to Yuliya Shpazhinskaya which he had started writing a few days earlier: "Of all the new acquaintances I have made, it was Madame Viardot who produced the most enchanting impression on me. She is a little old woman of 70, so full of energy; she is literally sparkling with life, takes an interest in everything, knows about everything, and is exceedingly kind!" . To his brother Modest he wrote of how annoying it was to have to make so many new acquaintances in Paris, but added: "There are, though, pleasant moments as well. Yesterday, for example, I went, with the greatest reluctance, to have lunch at Madame Viardot's place, but she turned out to be such a sweet and enchanting little mother [мамаша], that during the three hours I spent at her house I must have kissed her hand about ten times, and the day after tomorrow I will go to have dinner at her house with great pleasure" .
However, this dinner on 15 June [N.S.] to which Tchaikovsky had been invited by Madame Viardot did not take place due to some "misunderstanding" . On that day, though, Tchaikovsky reported to Nadezhda von Meck his impressions of that first visit to the famous singer: "Of the new acquaintances I have made here, the most agreeable was getting to know Viardot, who produced the most gratifying impression on me thanks to the genuinely cordial sympathy and interest which she has manifested towards me" . On Friday, 18 June, Madame Viardot would herself write a small note to Tchaikovsky, again inviting him to dine at her house the following Monday (21 June) . Unfortunately, on that day she unexpectedly had to travel to Fontainebleau, just outside Paris, in order to visit a friend of hers who was ill, and she wrote to Tchaikovsky asking if he could come to her house the following day instead . The composer's stay in Paris was, however, coming to its end, and it seems that due to other pressing commitments he was unable to accept this new invitation. He left for Russia on 24 June, taking with him his three-year-old nephew Georges-Léon.
Once he was back in Maydanovo, where he would spend the rest of the summer and early autumn, Tchaikovsky received a letter from Nadezhda von Meck, who was keen to find out about his impressions of Paris. She asked him, amongst other things, whether Pauline Viardot still remembered Turgenev . This is what Tchaikovsky replied to his benefactress on 28 June/10 July 1886: "With regard to your question as to whether Viardot still remembers Turgenev, I can assure you that not only does she remember him, but we spent almost all the time talking about him, and she told me in detail how together they wrote The Song of Triumphant Love. Did I mention to you, dear friend, that I spent two hours at Viardot's house looking through an original score by Mozart (Don Giovanni), which some thirty years ago Viardot's husband acquired by chance and quite cheaply, too? I cannot describe the feeling which came over me when I looked through this musical holy of holies [святыня]! It was as if I had shaken hands with Mozart himself and talked with him" .
Clearly, this meeting with Pauline Viardot on 12 June 1886 [N.S.] was one of the most memorable and agreeable events during his short stay in Paris that summer, and it is very likely that her account of how Turgenev had written The Song of Triumphant Love induced Tchaikovsky, in February 1887, to read this mysterious story. A diary entry for 1/13 February 1887 records the "strong impression" it had made on him, and also that he had had a "strange dream" about Madame Viardot . Even more significant is the fact that at around the same time Tchaikovsky made some sketches for a vocal work based on Turgenev's story — unfortunately Tchaikovsky's own Song of Triumphant Love (TH 227) was not realised. On the other hand, the unforgettable experience of seeing Mozart's autograph score of Don Giovanni at Madame Viardot's house may have directly encouraged him to complete his work on Suite No. 4 ("Mozartiana"), which Tchaikovsky had intended as his contribution to the festivities that were to be held all over Europe later that year to mark the hundredth anniversary of the premiere of Mozart's masterpiece in Prague on 29 October 1787 [N.S.].
During Tchaikovsky's first tour to Western Europe (January–March 1888) as the conductor of his own works, one of the stops on his itinerary was Paris, where he gave three concerts. On 2 March 1888 [N.S.], two days before the second of these concerts, he paid a visit to Pauline Viardot . Despite the fact that Tchaikovsky's schedule was very busy, with receptions in his honour almost every evening, rehearsals, and meetings with such eminent French colleagues as Charles Gounod, Jules Massenet, and Léo Delibes, he still accepted another invitation to Madame Viardot's house on 9 March. This is what he recorded in his diary: "Dinner and soirée at Viardot's. Her son-in-law. Singing. A wonderful song by Viardot" .
The last time that Tchaikovsky saw Pauline Viardot, as far as we can tell, was during his second concert tour to Europe (January–March 1889), when he stayed for almost three weeks in Paris. Although Tchaikovsky did not actually conduct any concert there on this occasion, Madame Viardot must have found out from mutual acquaintances that he was in town, for she sent him a letter on 29 March [N.S.] inviting him to come to her salon on 8 April to attend a private performance of her operetta Trop de femmes (1867) . The revival of this comic work, with a libretto in French by Turgenev, was reportedly a success, and among the audience were Ambroise Thomas, director of the Paris Conservatoire, Brandukov, and Tchaikovsky, who had postponed his departure to London (the last stop of his concert tour) by one day in order to be able to attend the performance . In a letter which he sent to his nephew Vladimir Davydov from London two days later, Tchaikovsky shared his impressions of Trop de femmes: "The day before my departure [from Paris] I was at a soirée in Viardot's house. There was a performance of an operetta of hers, which she composed twenty years ago to a libretto by Turgenev. The cast featured her two daughters, as well as her students, amongst whom one Russian girl performed a Russian dance, to the great delight of the audience" .
Correspondence with Tchaikovsky
4 letters have survived from Tchaikovsky to Pauline Viardot, dating from 1886 to 1889, all of which have been translated into English on this website:
- Letter 2964a – 4/16 June 1886, from Paris
- Letter 2968a – 9/21 June 1886, from Paris
- Letter 3507a – 25 February/8 March 1888, from Paris
- Letter 3824a – 18/30 March 1889, from Paris
3 letters from Pauline Viardot to the composer, dating from 1886 and 1889, are preserved in the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art in Moscow, and a further 2 letters from Pauline Viardot to the composer, dating from 1886, are preserved in the Klin House-Museum Archive.
- Fitzlyon, A. The Price of Genius: A Life of Pauline Viardot (London, 1964)
- Žekulin, N. G. The Story of an Operetta: 'Le Dernier Sorcier' by Pauline Viardot and Ivan Turgenev (Munich, 1989)
Notes and References
- See Kamenka at the time. Paul Viardot had added the Sérénade mélancolique to his repertoire thanks to Turgenev, who had been greatly impressed by the piece when he heard it at one of the Russian Concerts during the Paris Exposition Universelle in the summer of 1878 (for more details, see the entry on Turgenev). (1940), p. 247. Tchaikovsky was not present at this concert, since he was in
- See also Turgenev's letter to Mariya Milyutina, 15/27 April 1871, sent from London in И. С. Тургенев. Полное собрание сочинений и писем ; том 9 (Leningrad, 1965), p. 77. Mariya Ageyevna Milyutina (née Abaza; 1834–1903) was the sister of the civil servant Aleksandr Ageyevich Abaza (1821–1895) and thus the sister-in-law of the amateur singer Yuliya Fyodorovna Abaza (née Stubbe; 1830–1915), with whom Tchaikovsky had taken some lessons in piano accompaniment in the 1860s and at whose house in Saint Petersburg a private performance of Yevgeny Onegin (sung from the vocal-piano reduction) took place on 6/18 March 1879 (with Aleksandra Panayeva singing Tatyana). It seems that the copy of Pauline Viardot's song album(s) was forwarded to Tchaikovsky by Pavel Annenkov, one of Turgenev's friends who was then living in Saint Petersburg.
- Letter 535 to Sergey Taneyev, 12/24 January 1877. In an earlier letter to Taneyev of 25 December 1876/6 January 1877 (letter 528), Tchaikovsky had asked: "I kindly ask you to find out in a tactful fashion whether Viardot might like to perform two or three of my songs". Unfortunately, the message enclosed for Turgenev in the later letter to Taneyev seems to have been lost.
- From the reminiscences of Turgenev by Yelena Blaramberg (1846–1923), in Fridliand, V. G. and Petrov, S. M. Petrov (eds.). И. С. Тургенев в воспоминаниях современников, том 2 (Moscow, 1983), p. 192. The Russian revolutionary German Lopatin (1845–1919), who was in Paris in the 1870s, also recalled one of these matinées at which Pauline Viardot performed None But the Lonely Heart: "She was an old woman. But when she uttered: 'I am suffering' (Я стражду) it made my flesh creep. How much expressiveness she put into it. Her eyes, those pale hollow cheeks. You should have seen the audience!" Quoted in (1970), p. 103.
- Letter from Ivan Turgenev to Lev Tolstoy, 15 November/7 December 1878, in И. С. Тургенев: Полное собрание сочинений и писем, том 12, кн. 1 (Leningrad, 1966), p. 383–384.
- Diary entry for 31 May/12 June 1886, in (1993), p. 64.
- Letter 2961 to Praskovya Tchaikovskaya, 1/13 June 1886.
- Letter 2960 to Yuliya Shpazhinskaya, 28 May/9 June–1/13 June 1886.
- Letter 2962 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 1/13 June 1886.
- See also the diary entry for 3/15 June 1886: "Misunderstanding with regard to Viardot. He [i.e. Brandukov] went to her house to explain." See (1993), p. 66.
- Letter 2964 to Nadezhda von Meck, 3/15 June 1886.
- Letter from Pauline Viardot to Tchaikovsky, 18 June 1886 [N.S.]. See (1970), p. 208, p. 103.
- Letter from Pauline Viardot to Tchaikovsky, 21 June 1886 [N.S.]. See (1970), p. 209, p. 103. See also Tchaikovsky's diary entry for 9/21 June 1886, in which he records the receipt of this letter, as well as the fact that he had sent a reply. See (1993), p. 69.
- Letter from Nadezhda von Meck to Tchaikovsky, 22 June/4 July 1886.
- Letter 2988 to Nadezhda von Meck, 28 June/10 July 1886. Turgenev started writing The Song of Triumphant Love in November 1879, while in Bougival, but he did not complete it until his last stay in Russia, on his family estate at Spasskoye, in the summer of 1881. So it is possible that he sought Pauline Viardot's advice during the initial stages of his work on this short story, which was eventually published in the November 1881 issue of the journal Herald of Europe (Вестник Европы). According to (1940), p. 374, Tchaikovsky wrote a letter to Yuliya Shpazhinskaya on the same date, 28 June/10 July 1886, also describing what this opportunity to see the original score of Don Giovanni had meant to him, but unfortunately this letter has not been traced.
- Diary entry for 1/13 February 1887 in (1993), p. 125.
- See also diary entry for 19 February/2 March 1888 in (1993), p. 201.
- Diary entry for 26 February/9 March 1888 in (1993), p. 202. The son-in-law referred to here was evidently Victor Alphonse Duvernoy (1842–1907), who was married to Pauline Viardot's youngest daughter Marianne (1854–1919). Duvernoy was a pianist and composer of some repute.
- Letter from Pauline Viardot to Tchaikovsky, 29 March 1889 [N.S.]. Quoted from (1970), p. 209, p. 104.
- In a number of publications it was assumed that the operetta which Tchaikovsky saw at Madame Viardot's salon on 27 March/8 April 1889 was Le Dernier Sorcier (also dating from 1867, and also with a libretto by Turgenev), but Nicholas Žekulin, in his monograph The Story of an Operetta. 'Le Dernier Sorcier' by Pauline Viardot and Ivan Turgenev (Munich, 1989), p. 71, 75–76, was able to show conclusively that it was in fact Trop de femmes.
- Letter 3830 to Vladimir Davydov, 29 March/10 April 1889. Both of Pauline Viardot's youngest daughters Claudie (1852–1914) and Marianne (1854–1919) were musically gifted, but they did not take up a career in music, unlike their elder sister Louise and their brother Paul.