Lind, Jenny (1820–1887)
Lind, Jenny (1820–1887)
Swedish singer considered to be the greatest soprano of her day. Name variations: Madame Goldschmidt; Jenny Lind-Goldschmidt. Pronunciation: the i in Lind pronounced as in win. Born Johanna Maria Lind on October 6, 1820, in Stockholm, Sweden; died of cancer at home in Malvern Hills, Shropshire, England, on November 2, 1887; illegitimate daughter of Niclas Jonas Lind (a bookkeeper) and Anna Marie Fellborg Lind (a schoolmistress); instructed at her mother's private school for girls in Stockholm and the Swedish Royal Opera School, Stockholm; married Otto Goldschmidt (a pianist), on February 4, 1852; children: Walter Otto Goldschmidt; Jenny Goldschmidt Maude ; Ernst Goldschmidt.
Made first stage appearance at age ten in The Polish Mine; appeared in first operatic role as Alice in Meyerbeer's Robert le diable (1838); made formal operatic debut in Sweden as Agathe in Weber's Der Freischutz (1838); was a regular member of the Swedish Academy of Music (1840); made Berlin debut in title role of Norma (1844); made Viennese debut as Norma (1846); made London debut as Alice (1847); retired as an opera singer (1849); toured U.S. as a concert singer (1850–52); moved to Dresden after her marriage (1852), then to London (1858); appeared in oratorio and concert performances throughout Europe (1852–83); was a professor of singing at the Royal College of Music (1883–87); lived in Malvern Hills, Shropshire (1883–87).
A boisterous crowd converged on the area around the Canal Street pier in New York harbor on September 1, 1850. It was Sunday, and most New Yorkers were off from work. Between 30,000 and 40,000 people took advantage of their day of rest to await the S.S. Atlantic, arriving from Liverpool, England. Around 1 pm, the crowd heard a two-gun salute and the flag went up announcing the arrival of the ship. The excitement built as the Atlantic arrived at the dock and secured the gangway. As people surged forward to get a close look at the celebrity who had brought them to the pier, some onlookers were knocked into the water. Moments later, a gate gave way and dozens of bystanders were trampled, leading to some serous injuries. "Lindomania" had come to American shores, a fever that refused to relinquish its grip for 21 months.
During this period, Jenny Lind, the "Swedish Nightingale," embarked on the most spectacular concert tour in U.S. history, performing for 135 audiences. Countless items were named after the most beloved singer of the age, from pianos to sausages. Schools and streets still bear her name. During the 19th century, no visit by a prominent foreigner prompted more excitement, or had a more lasting effect, than the tour of the Swedish soprano. Even more so than in Europe, which had already experienced its share of "Jenny Lind Fever," America simply went mad over the extraordinary singer.
It is one of the inspiring stories of the 19th century how a rather unpretentious girl from the poor section of Stockholm became one of the most-loved figures of the age. Born Johanna Maria Lind on October 6, 1820, Jenny was the second daughter of Anna Marie Fellborg . Anna Marie had married a young army officer in 1810, Erik Johan Radberg, but secured a divorce on grounds of infidelity two years later. Under her maiden name, she opened a school for girls on the third floor of her house, and struggled to support herself and her first daughter Amelia Radberg . The discovery that she was pregnant with the child of Niclas Jonas Lind, the amiable though notably unambitious son of a lace manufacturer, was not a happy event. She gave birth secretly, then sent Jenny 15 miles away to the home of Carl Ferndal, a distant cousin in Ed-Sollentuna who served as the parish clerk and organist in the church.
By the time she was four, Jenny was back in her mother's home, though her maternal grandmother, Fru Tengmark , played a larger role in raising her. The grandmother also encouraged the girl's interest in music. When Jenny was nine, a dancer at the Royal Opera House heard her sing and helped secure an audition at the Swedish Royal Theater. The brilliance of Jenny's crystal-clear voice immediately won her a position in the Theater School, where she was the youngest ever admitted. Jenny received lessons in acting and dance while court singer Isak Berg helped with her early musical training. Assigned as her singing master in 1831, Berg sang duets with her at various informal and formal events, which helped introduce Jenny to Stockholm society.
Jenny Lind's first appearance on stage was in 1830, as the seven-year-old Angela in the Royal Theater production of the melodrama The Polish Mine. Over the next three years, she appeared in dozens of performances and received excellent reviews for her acting. Though her voice weakened a bit when she was 13, she remained at the Royal Theater School. By 1837, she had appeared on the stage 111 times. More important, her voice regained its strength.
During this period, troubles with her mother plagued the young artist. Anna Marie possessed a fierce temper and demanded perfection from those around her, especially young Jenny. When she was 14, Jenny left Anna Marie's home to live at the Opera House. After her parents finally married in May 1835, they sued the school for custody of their only daughter, a decision they won in court in the summer of 1836. Returning home against her will, Jenny found her mother prepared to make amends for some of the neglect and ill-treatment of the past. Older sister Amelia had died suddenly in 1835, shortly after being married. Jenny was the only daughter Anna Marie had left, and she seemed committed to treating Jenny with more kindness and respect. Though the relationship between mother and daughter remained better than before, disagreements often pushed the two apart. "Papa" Niclas was a decent man who tried to patch up differences, but the unassertive Swede was unable to exert much influence over his strong-willed wife.
Even before the ten years was up on her original contract, the Royal Theater placed Jenny on salary as an actress in January 1837. She appeared in 92 roles in that year, including as Daphne in Victor Hugo's Angelo Malipieri and as the Second Genius in Mozart's Magic Flute. When the Theater decided to present the fourth act of Giacomo Meyerbeer's opera, Robert le diable, Jenny was chosen to sing the part of Alice and received rave reviews from excited audiences. This led to her appearance as the lead soprano, Agathe, in Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischutz, and a resulting meteoric rise to prima donna status in Sweden.
Between her first appearance as Agathe on March 7, 1838, and the summer of 1841, Jenny Lind became the new idol of Swedish opera. In addition to Alice and Agathe, she also sang the title role of Weber's Euryanthe, Julia in Spontini's La Vestale, Donna Anna in Mozart's Don Giovanni, and Lucia in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. The natural brilliance of the soprano's voice, particularly its spectacular top register, brought her fame. She was also hailed as a fine actress. But it would be Jenny's unpretentious
and unsophisticated personal style that made her a star—first in Sweden, and later outside her homeland. She stood a very thin 5′4", with rather plain, though very expressive, facial features. Emphasizing her youthfulness, she wore her ash-blonde hair parted in the middle, with tight curls on the sides of her forehead. She attended social events without cosmetics, attired in simple dresses. In conversation, she spoke honestly and directly, often revealing a natural timidness. Jenny Lind hardly proved to be the typical prima donna.
After a grueling schedule of performing, by 1841 Jenny Lind's voice began to deteriorate from fatigue. Her friend, the Italian baritone Giovanni Belletti, convinced her to seek the assistance of the great voice teacher Manuel Garcia. In July, Jenny went to Paris to meet with Garcia, who concluded that her voice was, indeed, badly damaged from overuse at a young age. After prescribed rest for three months, Jenny began an intensive ten-month period of training. She lived in a boarding house and paid for two lessons a week. Garcia believed that Jenny had never learned to breathe properly, a flaw that would destroy her voice if not corrected. As Jenny wrote to a friend: "I have to begin again, from the beginning; to sing scales, up and down, slowly, and with great care; then, to practice the shake—awfully slowly; and to try to get rid of the hoarseness, if possible. Moreover, he is very particular about the breathing."
It was not her wonderful execution, her pathos, varying expression, subtle flexibility, that surprised me, but the pure timbre which so vibrated and thrilled my very soul that tears came into my eyes.
—John Addington Symonds
Upon her return to Stockholm, she sang the title role in Bellini's Norma on October 10, 1842. Following the intense training with Garcia, her voice ranged two and three quarter octaves, from B below the stave to C on the fourth line above it. Both audiences and critics hailed the improvement. She added new roles, including Valentine in Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots, Susanna in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, and Amina in Bellini's La sonnambula. The latter role, first performed on March 1, 1843, would quickly become a favorite with audiences.
Though reluctant to sing outside of Sweden, Jenny performed at the Danish Royal Theater in 1843. While staying in Denmark, she spent a good deal of time with children's author Hans Christian Andersen, who fell in love with her. Though she rejected Andersen's frequent marriage proposals, the writer penned three stories inspired by his friendship with her: "The Angel," "The Emperor's Nightingale," and "The Ugly Duckling." Andersen helped introduce Jenny to the rest of Europe by suggesting to Giacomo Meyerbeer that Jenny Lind would be right for the part of Vielka in his new opera, Ein Feldager in Schlesian. Meyerbeer agreed—he had heard her sing while she studied in Paris with Garcia—and Jenny journeyed to Berlin and Dresden to prepare for the role, an effort which included perfecting her German. After a controversy involving a demand by her understudy to create the role of Vielka, the opera closed down in five days, before Jenny could sing the part. The Berlin public demanded to hear the Swedish soprano sing, however, and she made her triumphant debut on December 15 in Norma. Signed to a six-month engagement by the Prussian Royal Opera, she finally got to sing Vielka, and a wonderful performance of the part written for her revived Meyer-beer's composition. The rest of her German tour of 1844 was received with great excitement. By year's end, the simple Swedish girl from modest beginnings was Europe's new sensation.
During 1845 and 1846, Jenny forged a close friendship with the great composer and pianist Felix Mendelssohn. She sang to a frenzied crowd at one of his Gewandhaus concerts in Leipzig on December 4, 1845. Recognizing her genius, he subsequently provided guidance in important career decisions for the emerging star. It was Mendelssohn, for instance, who convinced Jenny to travel to London in the spring of 1847. It was no easy task to get her to Britain, however, as Jenny harbored a terrible fear of performing for English audiences. Finally, after rumors circulated that she would never sing again, she agreed to a date for her debut.
The resulting spectacle was a first for London's theatergoers. When the doors to Her Majesty's Theater opened on the evening of May 4, the crowd surged forward in a mad crush. Men were knocked into walls and the gowns of respectable ladies were crumpled, ripped, and, in some cases, torn off. In the presence of excited fans, as well as Queen Victoria , Prince Albert, the Queen Dowager (Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen ), and the Duchess of Kent (Victoria of Coburg ), Jenny performed Alice in Robert le diable. The audience continued to act wildly, barely letting the performance conclude. They were there to hear Jenny Lind, and seemed completely disinterested in anyone else singing. The queen wrote in her diary: "The great event of the
evening was Jenny Lind's appearance and her complete triumph. She has a most exquisite, powerful and really quite peculiar voice, so round, soft, and flexible[,] and her acting is charming and touching and very natural." The Illustrated London News reviewed her performance in glowing terms and may have captured the essence of Jenny's natural appeal. "Were it even possible to detect a flaw in her voice," its critic noted, "her singing would still be resistless, for it reaches the heart, and touches the deepest chords of human feeling."
During the 1847 opera season in London, Jenny sang Amina, Norma, and Susanna. She also created the role of Amalia in Verdi's I masnadieri, which was well received. After the season, she toured Great Britain, including visits to Brighton, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, Exeter, and Bath. As she arrived in each city for a concert, the church bells rang and an adoring public turned out to see the "Swedish Nightingale," as she was commonly known by this point. They loved her voice, but they also adored the simple, honest, pure woman who sang so beautifully.
After a triumphant year in England and Scotland, Jenny Lind returned home to Stockholm, welcomed as a national hero. What should have been a happy and restful time for the 27-year-old star turned tragic quickly, however. On November 4, her professional and personal guide, Felix Mendelssohn, died suddenly of a stroke at age 38. His death, coupled with her acceptance of a marriage proposal from her long-time friend, Julius Gunther, a German tenor of Swedish family background, accelerated Jenny's not-so-secret desire to leave the stage. Nonetheless, she would go to England for the 1848 season, where she sang Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor, and Elvira in I puritani, among other roles. She also took another tour of the provinces at the end of the season, including a stop in Dublin. Many of her 1848 concerts were charity events for hospitals, scholarships, and similar causes. For a second year, Great Britain remained under the spell of Lindomania.
The public's fear that Jenny Lind would fulfill her wish to leave the stage came true the following year. The singer broke off her engagement to Gunther as their relationship soured, and accepted a new one from a 23-year-old captain in the British army, Claudius Harris. A deeply religious man, the puritanical Harris and his controlling mother condemned "the theater [as] a temple of Satan, and all the actors priests of the Devil," as Jenny herself described their views. Looking for reasons to reinforce her own desire to leave the rigors of the stage and live a more settled life, Lind consented. She agreed to give six farewell performances at Her Majesty's Theater in 1849. On May 10, Jenny Lind sang in Robert le diable as Alice. It was her 677th performance. The Swedish Nightingale had sung operas in her native tongue, German, Italian, French, and English for ten years, five as a star known throughout the world. After that evening, she never appeared again on the operatic stage.
Jenny Lind did not retire from public performances in 1849, of course, nor did she make the mistake of marrying Claudius Harris. For the rest of her career, she preferred to perform as a recitalist and oratorio singer. Near the end of 1849, she agreed reluctantly to meet with John Hall Wilton, sent by the American promoter Phineas Taylor Barnum to bring the Swedish Nightingale to the United States. Barnum had never heard Lind sing, but he wished to transform his own image from that of crass showman and promoter to a man who brought culture across the Atlantic. As he said in his memoirs, "Inasmuch as my name had long been associated with 'humbug' and the American public suspected my capabilities did not extend beyond the power to exhibit a stuffed monkey, I [committed to] bringing to this country, in the zenith of her life and celebrity, the greatest musical wonder in the world."
Lind shrewdly negotiated her own contract for $150,000 for at least 100 concerts, plus a salary for a secretary, accompanist, and male singer. She insisted the supporting artists be Jules Benedict and baritone Giovanni Belletti. The total payment of $187,000 was deposited in a London bank before Jenny set sail on the Atlantic. Barnum struggled mightily to promote his European celebrity to a somewhat uninformed, initially apathetic American public. The commotion on the docks when Jenny disembarked signaled that he had achieved some measure of success—and the excitement mounted rapidly.
Ten days after her arrival in New York, Jenny performed at Castle Garden, next to Battery Park. The doors opened three hours before the scheduled concert, 8 pm. Entrance to the event was orderly, and the program went off on time. After the preliminary musical program, Benedict led Jenny, dressed in white with a blue belt, to the stage. To the enthralled audience, she sang a number of her favorite operatic pieces, then some Scandinavian folk songs. The applause was thunderous as she left the stage. When Barnum announced to the crowd that Jenny was giving the proceeds of the concert to charity, her place in the heart of Americans was fixed. Lindomania hit great heights in the coming weeks.
Even more so than in England, all sorts of commodities came to bear the name "Jenny Lind" during her lengthy tour of the United States. Cakes, gloves, bonnets, chairs, cigars, tea kettles, chewing gum, and pianos were named after her. A clipper ship, the Nightingale, designed and built by Samuel Hanscomb, Jr., of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, was completed in 1851 in honor of the Swedish visitor. In San Francisco, which suffered from extreme "Lind fever" though she never considered a West-Coast trek, a 65-ton bay steamboat was named in her honor. Unfortunately, this vessel suffered a terrible explosion in April 1853 that killed or severely injured nearly all on board.
On a more positive note, Lind received an avalanche of gifts from American admirers. She also spent an hour at the White House with President Millard Fillmore before her much anticipated first concert at the new—in fact, unfinished—National Theater on December 16, 1850. With most prominent national politicians in attendance, Jenny began the program with "Hail Columbia." When she reached the chorus, Secretary of State Daniel Webster rose to his feet and with his grand bass voice joined in. The crowd loved the unplanned duet. Jenny had wished to end the program in Washington with an American song, and Barnum suggested "Home, Sweet Home," by lyricist John Howard Payne and composer Henry R. Bishop. "Home, Sweet Home" was an old staple with wide international circulation that dated back to 1823. It had been written for a long forgotten opera, Clari, and Payne and Bishop had received little money and less recognition from the piece. But Payne sat in attendance that night in Washington, and when Jenny began singing she directed her voice toward the aging Bostonian. When she finished a spectacular rendition of his song, the patrons sat in awe, wiping tears from their eyes. No one clapped. Only when Payne stood and bowed did the audience stand to cheer wildly. "Home, Sweet Home" became the most popular song in America. Lind sang it at every subsequent concert, usually more than once.
After a series of triumphant appearances in New York, Boston, and Washington, Jenny Lind gave concerts throughout the South, including Richmond, Wilmington, Charleston, New Orleans, and in cities along the Mississippi. She went to Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia, then back to New York in late spring 1851. Most of these engagements were sold out, and the excitement generated by her appearances proved unprecedented. All this would change, though, during the second half of the tour. Tired of the flamboyant publicity that often accompanied her concerts and concerned about the high price of tickets, Lind terminated her contract with Barnum on June 9 by paying a $7,000 forfeit fee. She continued to tour at a more leisured pace, visiting cities in New England, New York State, Ohio, and Canada during the rest of 1851 and early 1852. Without the work of the master publicist Barnum and his professional staff, Jenny rarely sold out her remaining concerts, about 40 in all.
After the break with Barnum, her orchestra director and accompanist, Jules Benedict, returned home for health reasons. Jenny needed to hire a new accompanist, and turned to Otto Goldschmidt, a young German who had worked with her in Europe on occasion. A Mendelssohn student at the Leipzig Conservatory who worshiped Lind from afar, Otto was hardly without talent. But he was prone to playing long classical piano solos and had a stiff, tepid stage presence which American audiences found dull. Jenny believed he was a great musician, and grew closer and closer personally to the 21-year-old pianist as they performed together. On February 4, 1852, Jenny and Otto were married in Boston at the home of businessman Samuel Gray Ward. The union caused quite a stir in the newspapers because the wedding was a shock to all, and because Otto was such an uncharismatic figure.
The Goldschmidts resided in Northampton, Massachusetts, during most of the time they remained in the United States. Lind gave a few concerts in New England and New York before her departure on May 29, making her final appearance at Castle Garden on May 24. The final concerts had not been received with the interest of two years before, and only 2,000 fans saw Jenny off at the docks as she left for England, again on the Atlantic. The tour had been a great success in many ways; other European performers began touring the United States regularly, American musical tastes were forever transformed, and Jenny Lind and P.T. Barnum each made a great deal of money. Lind's departure from the United States, however, proved somewhat anticlimactic. Lindomania had already run its course.
After the exhausting American tour, Jenny rested for a lengthy period in Dresden. Her mother had died while Jenny was in America, so she saw little reason to return to Sweden. She did not perform again for a year and a half, taking extra time away from singing during her first pregnancy and the subsequent birth of her son, Walter Otto, in September 1854. Two other children would follow: Jenny in 1857 and Ernst in 1861. For the rest of her life, Jenny lived with her family in Germany and England, the two places where she delivered most of her musical performances. Having amassed considerable wealth in the brief period of 1846 to 1852, she often dedicated performances to charity. Her tours were less frequent and usually limited in duration.
Though she continued to sing arias and duets from selected operas at some concerts, she increasingly limited performances to the famous oratorios of Hayden, Mendelssohn, and especially Handel. Most critics agreed that her voice was at its greatest between the mid-1840s and her return from America. But she still impressed listeners with her beautiful singing for many decades afterward. Her voice never lost the qualities that moved audiences to heights of emotion. As Lady Frederick Cavendish observed in 1863, "I suppose her high notes are a little gone, but the matchless expression and heart-feeling can never go out of her voice, and there is a ringing purity of tone unlike anything else." For years, people continued to remark that one of their life's most treasured moments was hearing Jenny Lind sing.
Jenny and Otto transplanted the family to London in 1858 and, after a few years moving from apartment to apartment, built a lavish home overlooking Wimbledon Park in 1864. Ten years later, they bought a large house in South Kensington, where they remained until 1883 when Otto and Jenny, the children grown, moved into a country cottage in Malvern Hills, Shropshire. That same year, Jenny gave her last public performance, at age 63, and "retired" to become professor of singing at the Royal College of Music in London. Her health remained relatively good until she was diagnosed with cancer and suffered a stroke in the fall of 1887. She died at home in Malvern Hills on November 2.
Over a hundred years after her death, the name "Jenny Lind" is still associated with singing greatness. Perhaps no performer of the 19th century had a more lasting impact on European and American society. Thousands of visitors to Westminster Abbey still pause at the site of her memorial in the Poet's Corner, beneath that of Handel. They gaze at the plaque that shows the head in profile of the simple and decent artist, wishing they were privileged to hear for themselves the awe-inspiring voice of the great "Swedish Nightingale."
Shultz, Gladys Denny. Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale. Philadelphia, PA: J.B. Lippincott, 1962.
Wagenknecht, Edward. Jenny Lind. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1931.
Ware, W. Porter, and Thaddeus C. Lockard, Jr. The Lost Letters of Jenny Lind. London: Victor Gollancz, 1966.
Barnum, Phineas Taylor. Struggles and Triumphs, or Forty Years' Recollections of P.T. Barnum. Buffalo, NY: The Courier Company, 1875.
Maude, Jenny. The Life of Jenny Lind by Her Daughter. London: Cassell, 1926.
John M. Craig , Professor of History, Slippery Rock University, Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania, author of Lucia Ames Mead and the American Peace Movement and numerous articles on activist American women