Pauline Viardot was one of the most influential women in nineteenth century European classical music. As a singer, her 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—including Berlioz, Liszt, Chopin, Saint-Saëns, Meyerbeer, Brahms, and Wagner—allowing them to showcase and perfect their works.
Throughout her career, Viardot also worked as a composer. She composed over 100 lieder and mélodies, many intended for use as teaching tools for her own students. She also composed five salon operettas mainly intended to be sung by her pupils and children. As word of her operettas spread, she followed with larger stage works, including the very successful Le dernier sorcier, with a libretto by Ivan Turgenev.
Viardot’s later songs often involved intricate piano writing and elaborate bel canto vocal cadenzas. Jamée Ard aptly described them as “dramatic and virtuosic, painting the musical atmosphere with the broad strokes of Bizet rather than the impressionism of Debussy.”
This according to “The life of Pauline Viardot: Her influence on the music and musicians of nineteenth century Europe” by Katherine LaPorta Jesensky (Journal of singing LXVII/3 [January-February 2011] 267–75; RILM Abstracts 2011-21).
Although Gustav Gaul is not mentioned in Wagner’s correspondence or autobiography, he was clearly a part of the social circle that Wagner engaged with when he visited Vienna in the early 1860s and in 1875.
Gaul made a number of sketches of the composer, including three recently found in the Nachlaβ of his papers at the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (A-Wn Autogr. 194/3-1, 3-2, and 3-4); two are from a meeting of October 1861 at the Hotel Kaiserin Elisabeth (above and inset), one of them depicting Peter Cornelius, Karl Tausig, and Gaul himself (far right), as well as Wagner wearing a pince-nez.
This according to “Richard Wagner and the artist Gustav Gaul: Newly discovered drawings in the Austrian National Library” by Chris Walton (The Wagner journal XV/1  43–49; RILM Abstracts 2021-1807).
The harp in its winged-maiden form was the standard symbol of Ireland in the eighteenth century, and with the rise of Romantic nationalism the harp was increasingly personified as a female symbol of Ireland and her struggle for political independence.
The iconography of the harp in the context of the United Irishmen of the 1790s formed the basis for the Romanticization of the harp symbol and the female personification of Erin (Ireland) in the poetry of Thomas Moore. While more realistic forms of the Irish harp emerge in nationalist iconography of the nineteenth century, Moore’s imagery inspired paintings and other illustrations of the harp as a woman by artists including Robert Fagan and Daniel Maclise.
This according to “The female harp: The Irish harp in 18th- and early–19th-century Romantic nationalism” By Barra Boydell (RIdIM/RCMI newsletterXX/1 [spring 1995] 10–17; RILM Abstracts 1995-5656).
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Above, Maclise’s The origin of the harp (1842), inspired by Moore’s poem of the same name. Below, Michelle Mulcahy plays The mountains of Pomeroy, Martin Hardiman’s jig, and The lark on the strand on the Irish harp.
One of the most prolific women composers of her time, Alice Mary Smith produced the greatest number of publicly performed large-scale orchestral and choral works of any of her gender.
The Andante for clarinet and orchestra, Smith’s orchestral transcription of the slow movement of her Sonata for clarinet and piano (1870), was greatly admired by the English clarinetist Henry Lazarus, who performed it multiple times.
The other works included comprise the complete orchestral music from Smith’s grand choral cantata The masque of Pandora, a setting of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem. Designed as independent instrumental movements, Smith fully orchestrated them for a performance in 1879 by the New Philharmonic Society.
The introduction to the edition includes a brief biography of Smith and reproduces numerous reviews and program notes from the various performances of these three works.
Schubert’s early female characterizations stem from the tradition of the poets whose works he set.
Matthisson’s Die Betende and An Laura evoke Petrarch’s Laura, an idealized, unattainable woman who combines chaste purity with erotic beauty, like some of Raphael’s religious figures; Schubert’s settings mix hymnlike elements with irregular phrasing and expressive chromatic features, intertwining spiritual and sensuous emotions.
Another archetype–the lament of a suffering woman whose only salvation lies in transforming sorrow into beautiful song–underlies Schiller’s Des Mädchens Klage, which Schubert dramatizes with an agitated D-minor section that pivots through the relative major into a final epiphany in C major.
While Goethe’s Gretchen is a more profound character than either of these two archetypes, she is related to both in some ways. In Gretchen am Spinnrade she alternates between sorrowful lament and ecstatic reverie, and Schubert’s setting again juxtaposes D minor and C major, but this time the minor key expresses stability and the major key intrudes as a disruptive force. The song’s climaxes convey erotic power in both text and music, underscoring the link between love and death.
This according to “Feminine voices in Schubert’s early laments” by David P. Schroeder (The music review LV/3 [August 1994] 183–201; RILM Abstracts 1996-16685).
A widely reported incident in relation to this trip concerns an impostor named Listmann, a historically unidentified character, who supposedly passed himself off as Liszt in Istanbul and received valuable presents from the Sultan under this pretext. According to some accounts, Listmann almost caused Liszt to be arrested upon his arrival.
Herr Listmann of the Liszt–Listmann incident was in fact a German Tonkünstler and a man of letters named Eduard Litzmann who toured Spain and the Orient, and was apparently a competent pianist. The sources indicate that—notwithstanding Liszt’s own letter to his cousin Henriett—numerous colorful aspects of the incident as reported in the literature result from self-perpetuating transformations of fiction and cannot be substantiated.
This according to “The Liszt–Listmann incident” by Ömer Eğecioğlu (Studia musicologica XLIX/3–4 [September 2008] 275–93).
Inset, a plaque marking the location where Liszt stayed in Istanbul; below, Liszt’s variations on a theme by Giuseppe Donizetti, composed for one of his performances for the Sultan.
Gustav Mahler’s attachment to the idea that art is a mirror of nature can be found echoing throughout his works, including performance indications that refer both to nature in its broadest sense and to specific elements of the natural world.
Yet the pastoral element in Mahler is often presented through a language of brokenness, as in the third movement of his third symphony, where the appearance and disappearance of the posthorn can also be likened to the processes of memory depicted in Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, notably the madeleine episode in Du côté de chez Swann.
This according to “In search of lost time: Memory and Mahler’s broken pastoral” by Thomas Peattie, an essay included in Mahler and his world (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002 185–98; RILM Abstracts 2002-7257).
Today is Mahler’s 160th birthday! Above, the composer in Fischleintal in 1909; below, the movement in question.
Until now, the success of Louise has eclipsed the output of a composer who wished to be in touch with the working class without remaining isolated in a purely artistic dimension. Charpentier was in fact among the first artists to adapt his works to the new communication media of radio and cinema, experimenting with a method of composing closely connected to them. His works reveal a world in which music and social history are inextricably associated, illuminating the contradictions that enlivened fin de siècle France.
This according to La dramaturgie de Gustave Charpentier by Michela Niccolai (Turnhout: Brepols, 2011; RILM Abstracts 2011-13384).
Robert Schumann’s 1831 review of Chopin’s op. 2 variations depicts enthusiastic friends breathlessly emoting over a musical work, commenting upon it in nonlinear and sometimes borderline incoherent phrases. In Schumann’s commentaries—the most prominent examples of the burgeoning nineteenth-century tradition of music criticism—there is often no critical distance whatsoever; intensity and immersion are the driving force of these essays.
Similarly, Beavis and Butt-head’s intense interaction with music is what most clearly defines their daily activities; and, as depictions of critics whose interpretive and even artistic operations are an integral part of life, they reveal themselves to be cut from the same cloth as Schumann’s critical personae Florestan and Eusebius.
This according to “Florestan and Butt-head: A glimpse into postmodern music criticism” by Andrew Dell’Antonio (American music XVII/1 [spring 1999] 65–86; RILM Abstracts 1999-2733).
Today is Schumann’s 210th birthday! Above, the composer in 1850; below, a grouping of four movements from his Carnaval, beginning with his musical depictions of Eusebius and Florestan.
A legendary instrument whose sonorities reputedly have no equal anywhere, praised by musicians such as Liszt and Saint-Saëns, the Siena piano is surrounded by an aura of mystery due to its astonishing history.
Its soundboard was supposedly made of wooden pillars from the ancient Temple of Solomon in Israel. Stolen by German soldiers during World War II, it was discovered half buried in the sands of the African desert.
The instrument was saved from destruction in the nick of time and restored by an Israeli craftsman; subsequently it aroused enormous media attention before being largely forgotten.
This according to La légende du piano de Sienne: Récit instrumental by Florent Ploquin (Plouharnel: Menhir, 2017).
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In 1947 Ella Fitzgerald, already an acclaimed singer of jazz standards, toured with Dizzy Gillespie, immersing herself in the new style known as bebop. Like Dizzy, Ella responded to bebop’s complex harmonies with an infallible ear, and easily translated its … Continue reading →
Gertrude “Ma” Rainey’s Prove it on me blues affirms her independence from orthodox norms by boldly celebrating her lesbianism. Rainey’s sexual involvement with women was no secret with both colleagues and audiences. The advertisement for the song (above, click to … Continue reading →
The American traditional song Go tell Aunt Rhody originated as a gavotte composed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau for his opera Le devin du village (1752). An English version of the opera was produced in London in 1766; subsequently the melody attracted … Continue reading →