Viardot, Pauline (1821–1910)
Viardot, Pauline (1821–1910)
French-born singer of Spanish parentage, one of history's greatest opera stars, who was also a composer, teacher, and for 40 years the intimate friend of the Russian writer Turgenev. Name variations: Pauline Garcia; Pauline Viardot-Garcia or Viardot-García. Pronunciation: paw-LEEN VEE-AR-DOH gar-SEE-ah. Born Louise-Ferdinande-Michelle-Pauline Garcia in Paris, France, on July 18, 1821; died of heart failure in Paris on May 18, 1910; buried in Montmartre Cemetery; daughter of Manuel del Popolo Vincente Rodriguez Garcia (1775–1832, an opera singer and teacher) and (Maria) Joaquina Stiches di Mendi (1780–1862, a singer); sister of Maria Malibran (1808–1836); educated privately; married Louis Viardot (1800–1883, a critic, director, and author), in April 1840; children: Louise Viardot (1841–1918); Claudie Viardot Chamerot (1852–1914); Marianne Viardot Duvernoy (1854–?); Paul-Louis-Joachim Viardot (1857–1941).
Was with her family in New York and Mexico City (1825–29); sister Maria Malibran died (1836); debuted in concert in Brussels (1837); made opera debut in London in Rossini's Otello (1839); met George Sand (1839); gave up in Paris and went to Central Europe (1843); made first Russian tour and met Turgenev (1843–44); made second Russian tour (1844–45); had highly acclaimed seasons in Berlin and London (1846–49); debuted at the Paris Opéra in Meyerbeer's Le Prophète (1849); Gounod's Sapho a semi-failure (1851); Turgenev left for Russia, beginning a six-year separation (1850); made third and last Russian tour (1853–54); Turgenev back in Paris, but a sudden change in relations occurred (1856); Ary Scheffer died and a correspondence opened with Julius Rietz (1858–59); debuted in Gluck's Orphée, her artistic summit (1859); debuted in Gluck's Alceste (1861); retired from the Paris opera stage (1863); lived in Baden-Baden (1863–70); fled to London, then returned to Paris (1870–71); ended public career (c. 1875); husband and Turgenev died (1883); went into retirement in Paris but continued to teach (1883–1910).
Beethoven's Leonore (Fidelio); Bellini's Romeo (I Capuleti ed i Montechi), Norma (Norma), Amina (La Sonnambula); Cimerosa's Orazio (Gli Orazi ed i Curiazi), Fidalma (Il Matrimonio Segreto); Donizetti's Alina (Alina, Regina de Golconda), Norma (Don Pasquale), Adina (L'Elisir d'amore), Leonore (La Favorita), Lucia (Lucia di Lammermoor), Mafio Orsini (Lucrezia Borgia), Maria (Maria de Rohan); Flotow's Martha, Lady Harriet (Martha); Gluck's Alceste (Alceste), Orphée (Orphée), Iphigénie (Iphigénie en Tauride); Gounod's Sapho (Sapho); Halévy's Rachel (La Juive); Meyerbeer's Valentine (Les Huguenots), Fidès (Le Prophète), Alice, Isabelle (Robert le Diable); Mozart's Zerlina, Donna Anna, Donna Elvira (Don Giovanni), Papagena, Pamina (Die Zauberflötte); Rossini's Rosina (Il Barbieri di Siviglia), Cenerentola (La Cenerentola), Malcolm Groen (La Donna del lago), Ninette (La Gazza ladra), Desdemona (Otello), Arsace (Semiramide), Tancredi (Tancredi); Verdi's Lady Macbeth (Macbeth), Azucena (Il Trovatore).
First performances, concert repertoire:
soloist, Rossini, Stabat Mater (1841); Brahms, Alto Rhapsody, Op. 53 (1870); title role in Massenet, Marie-Magdeleine, sacred oratorio (1873).
96 songs, 16 chamber and ensemble works; 32 piano pieces; 14 arrangements; Cendrillon, opéra comique (1904); operettas: Trop de femmes (1867), L'Ogre (1868), Le Dernier Sorcier (1869), Le Conte de fées (1879); stage music for a pantomime, Au Japon, and Racine's Andromaque, Phèdre, and Athalie (post-1871).
Ecole classique du chant (Paris, 1861); An Hour of Study: Exercises for the Voice (2 vols.).
Pauline Viardot was born into a household drenched in music and frequented by prominent musicians. "It was my father who taught me music," she recalled. "When I don't know, for I cannot remember a time when I did not know it." Manuel del Popolo Vincente Garcia, who was a leading tenor of his day, and Joaquina Stiches di Mendi , his second wife, sired one of the most remarkable family of musicians of modern times. They had three children: Manuel Patricio Rodriguez Garcia (1805–1906), Maria Malibran (1808–1836), and, much the youngest, Pauline. Manuel, who emigrated to England, is generally regarded as the greatest singing teacher of the 19th century. Maria, who married a French-born American businessman, Eugène Malibran—hence her nickname, "La Malibran"—became almost instantly a legendary opera singer until her untimely death at age 28 from effects of a fall from a horse. Pauline likewise became a brilliant opera star before retiring to become one of the most influential teachers of her time. Manuel and Joaquina's six grandchildren included three singers and a violinist; nine great-grandchildren included two singers and two pianists, and a great-great-granddaughter became a singer.
Viardot was born Pauline Garcia in Paris on July 18, 1821, 14 years after her parents moved there from Spain. (Once in France they had adopted the French spelling of their names, Garcia dropping the accent and Stiches becoming Stichès.) Her mother, from a socially prominent family, probably sang and acted under the name Briones or Brianes until her marriage. She was a calm, good-natured, determined woman, a devout Catholic, and played the organ. Pauline loved her dearly and sheltered her until her death in 1862. But it was her father who exercised paramount influence over her even though he died when she was only 11.
Manuel Garcia was a remarkable man. Born in Seville, he did not know his father but believed him to be a Gypsy (Roma); others thought he was a Jew or Moor. He worked in Madrid as a tenor, producer, director, composer, and teacher until he moved to Paris in 1807 to expand his opportunities, Spain being an operatic backwater. By 1808, he was signed by the Théâtre-Italien and thereafter was its leading tenor, its "soul," until his voice began to decline by the mid-1820s. Meanwhile, he composed at an incredible pace—symphonies, masses, quartets, songs, and at least 43 operas and operettas. In 1811, he went to Italy to study with a master teacher of bel canto style, Giovanni Ansani (?), whom he worshipped. His own teaching, to which he turned increasingly in his last years, would extend Ansani's influence into the 20th century. While in Italy, he also met Rossini, who, much impressed, wrote the role of Count Almaviva for him in The Barber of Seville, which he debuted in 1816.
Manuel was handsome, passionate, charming, and seemingly able to do anything he set out to do. "He believed neither in God nor the Devil," Viardot remembered. "His own religion was life, with all its most ardent passions!" But there was a vulgar side to him and at times a brutality. Rossini once told Pauline, "If your father had had as much sense of tact as he had of musical sense, he would have been the foremost musician of the age." He frequently hit Maria while teaching her to sing, although she later said, "If my father had not been so severe with me, I should never have been very good. I was lazy and intractable." Only once did he slap Pauline, for failing to concentrate. He doted on her; Maria called her "the model of studious girls."
Pauline inherited her father's energy, wide interests, love of travel, and drive: "When I want to do something, I do it in spite of water, fire, society, the whole world." Her industriousness earned a family nickname, "the Ant." Like her father, she was also gay and sociable and liked tricks and games. Unlike him she was self-controlled, calm, and needed periods of solitude. Highly intellectual and, like her mother, aristocratic in bearing, she had none of her father's rough edges. She was precociously bright. By age six, she could speak Spanish, French, Italian,
and English. Later she added German, Russian, Polish, and Swedish, and by age 28 Greek and Latin. At age six, as a student of Maricos Vega, organist of the cathedral of Mexico City, she took first prizes in recitals. At age eight, she was accompanying her father's pupils on the piano.
Her education essentially began between her fourth and eighth years while she and her family were introducing Italian opera to New York and Mexico City (1825–29). The Garcias and several accompanying singers did everything in mounting their operas. Thus, Pauline found herself utterly immersed in the world of opera at a very early age. She listened to the lessons her father gave her brother and sister and began to receive some herself. While in America, Maria married against her father's will, probably to escape his relentless pressure, and remained largely alienated from him until his death. It is possible that the seriousness of marriage was impressed upon Pauline by her father's rage when Maria shamed the family by bearing a child out of wedlock with the violinist Charles de Bériot. (Maria later married him.) The episode likely affected Pauline's own complex marital life.
She later said she was not born with a good voice but made it good by working hard under her parents' instruction. Her father wrote exercises for her which she used all her life. Maria early recognized her talent and predicted she would "eclipse us all." Maria was devoted to her musical education, but her own meteoric career prevented frequent contact. In old age, Pauline remarked, "I hardly knew my sister. She did not live with us, and was always away." But she idolized Maria all the same, even though she learned that being the sister of "La Malibran" set for herself cruelly high expectations.
She confronted one other obstacle. The French opera stage valued beauty, whereas Viardot was famously homely. Her large black eyes bulged from under heavy, hooded lids, her neck was unusually long, her mouth was much too big and toothy, and her lower lip was extraordinarily large besides. On the other hand, her inborn majesty and grace of movement struck all observers and also made her appear taller than her medium height. She was slender and well proportioned. Her hair was a shining raven-black, and her complexion was smooth. She looked healthy and was always elegantly turned out. Her expression was ordinarily elevated, spiritual; her gaze bright with intelligence.
Viardot never expressed regret over her looks. To the contrary: her father had adored her and that settled the case for her. Her features, in fact, lent an air of exoticism which many people—notably a troop of prominent men—found powerfully attractive. A famous sketch of her by the German poet Heinrich Heine reads in part:
She is ugly but with a kind of ugliness which is noble, I should almost say beautiful…. Indeed the Garcia recalls less the civilized beauty and tame gracefulness of our European homelands than she does the terrifying magnificence of some exotic and wild country…. At times, when she opens wide her large mouth with its blinding white teeth and smiles her cruel sweet smile, which at times frightens and charms us, we begin to feel as if the most monstrous vegetation and species of beasts from India and Africa are about to appear before us.
Said Ary Scheffer (1795–1858), an artist and dear friend, "She is terribly ugly, but if I saw her again, I'd fall madly in love with her."
Pauline's mother took charge of her voice training after her father's death. She was knowledgeable and stern but not cruel. Concurrently, Pauline took intensive piano lessons from Meysenberg—and Franz Liszt. About ten years her senior, he was already acclaimed by many as the greatest pianist of the age. She suffered the pangs of puppy love for him and even late in life called him "a most attractive man." There is no evidence he ever considered her more than a dear friend. Her talent impressed him when she played the two volumes of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier—from memory. She transcribed Beethoven and Bach and Italian opera pieces for him, and he wrote exercises for her. But on her 15th birthday (1836), her mother had her sing a Rossini aria and then announced, "Good, I've made up my mind. Close the piano. From now on you are going to sing." Dutiful daughter that she was, she bowed to Joaquina's pronunciamento, but with anguish. Viardot remained a first-class pianist. Chopin delighted in playing with her, while Camille Saint-Saëns described her and the virtuoso Clara Schumann (1819–1896), who was her friend for 60 years, as peers.
Pauline's first concert experience had been at age 13 as piano accompanist for a tour by her sister and Bériot in 1834. On September 23, 1836, only two months after Joaquina's decision, Maria died, to immense public shock. Pauline did not venture a debut until December 13, 1837: a charity concert with Bériot in Brussels in the presence of Leopold I and Louise d'Orleans , king and queen of the Belgians. It was a grand success. Pauline followed with a concert in Louvain and a tour of Germany with Bériot and her mother in the spring of 1838—Frank-fort, Salzburg, Dresden, Leipzig, Berlin—which established her as a coming artist. The queen of Prussia, Auguste von Harrach , gave her emeralds, and the tsar and tsarina jewels and art works. Most significantly, she moved the tough Berlin critic Ludwig Rellstab, not so much by her voice, which he found unremarkable (not yet 17, she was still developing) as by "a soul, a spirit, or if you will, a physiognomy." It was a prescient observation, for she would always be acclaimed more for her interpretation and musicianship than for her purely vocal gifts.
In late 1838 after the German tour, she sang in a concert or two in Paris drawing rooms filled with important connoisseurs, among them the young (28) but already famous poet and critic Alfred de Musset. The Théâtre de la Renaissance witnessed her formal debut, a recital on December 15. Hector Berlioz was not overly impressed (for now), but Musset and poet Théophile Gautier wrote glowing reviews in important journals. Her opera debut followed on May 9, 1839, at Her Majesty's Theatre in London as Desdemona in Rossini's Otello. A critic called it a "thundering success." H.F. Chorley, who was to be one of her greatest admirers, picked at her voice and other matters in the prestigious Atheneum but concluded, "There could be no doubt with anyone who saw that Desdemona on that night that another great career was begun." She followed with a number of concerts and salon recitals, twice for young Queen Victoria . Reigning stars felt threatened, particularly the beautiful Giulia Grisi (1811–1869), who began a long-running vendetta. The Paris opera debut finally arrived, on October 9 at the Théâtre-Italien, again in Otello. Once more, Pauline scored a triumph.
A most impressive feature was her artistic integrity. She researched her roles, reading Shakespeare for Otello and Beaumarchais for The Barber of Seville, and designed her own costumes throughout her career, being skilled at drawing and well informed on historical settings. In her London debut, she refused to repeat arias, as was the custom, because it would break the flow of the performance. For an 18-year-old debuting singer to take such a liberty was startling. Moreover, she did not merely repeat conventional interpretations or, above all, simply copy La Malibran, which audiences half-expected. Malibran's Desdemona, for example, was an Amazon, boldly expressing love, anger, terror; Viardot's was a naïve, loving young woman, brave only at the moment of her death. Her Rosina (The Barber of Seville) was a playfully mischievous, unspoiled girl, not the currently popular bawdy, deceitful wench. In short, she established her own artistic identity—an important step for the younger sister of the already mythic Malibran.
Not content merely to praise Pauline in print, Musset began to court her. He dreamed of her and the new actress Rachel (1821–1858), whom he also pursued, as the inaugurators of a renaissance of the arts in France. Viardot remained cool, which frustrated him, for he had a reputation as a lothario. The affair grew complicated when George Sand (1804–1876), famed novelist and recently Musset's mistress, weighed in to oppose his suit and counter the effects of his flattering attentions to Joaquina.
Mutual friends, possibly Louis Viardot, had introduced Pauline to Sand (and her current lover Chopin) some time after mid-October 1839. Sand (aged 36) was bowled over by the young singer's artistry, intellectual force, and appearance. "I am fond of genius," she wrote, "but when it is coupled with goodness, I bow before it." In a word, she fell in love with her, "the only woman I have loved with an unmixed enthusiasm," she confided to her diary. In an important article in the Revue des Deux Mondes, February 14, 1840, Sand sounded some of the same themes as Musset: "The appearance of Mlle. Garcia will be a striking fact in the role women have played in the history of art…. It is a prodi gy…. This voice comes from the soul and goes to the soul…. [She] enters the mind of the com posers; she is alone with them in her thoughts."
The most gifted woman I have known.
Sand did not rest content with warnings about Musset, who probably had proposed. She found another candidate, a friend, Louis Viardot, who had known Pauline since childhood. Sand probably saw in him both a husband and, what Pauline needed now, a manager. He was a wealthy, 40-year-old critic, director of the Théâtre-Italien, author of works on foreign literature, European museums, the Moors in Spain, and an excellent translation of Don Quixote, and was a passionate radical republican. His knowledge and connections would be of inestimable help to Pauline, who knew it. On the other hand, he lacked "the child-like element, freshness of mind," as she put it, was far from colorful, was, in short, on the boring side. He also had three older unmarried sisters who could (and did) make life difficult for her. Pauline took awhile deciding to marry him once her mother had succumbed to Sand's warnings against "that libertine" Musset. Louis, for his part, loved her profoundly: a selfless love which never wavered for the rest of his life.
Louis Viardot and Pauline Garcia married on April 18, 1840, in a civil ceremony. (His anti-clericalism ruled out a church wedding.) She felt true affection for him—she called him "Papa"—but confessed 20 years later that despite her best efforts she had never been able to match his love by anything beyond warm friendship. As for Musset, he brooded about her for several years. She probably hurt him more than she realized and did not sufficiently appreciate his importance to her, for his artistic judgment was sound and his opinions carried weight. Privately, he dubbed her "Pauline the Ungrateful."
Following her marriage, Pauline Viardot experienced much frustration in building a career. Louis, exceedingly scrupulous, felt obliged to resign as director of the Théâtre-Italien because his marriage posed a possible conflict of interest. His successors, pressured by the Grisi cabal, refused to sign her. At the Opéra, the prima donna, Rosine Stoltz (1815–1903), blocked her. The Grisi cabal also kept her out of London until the spring of 1841, when she was given secondary or trouser roles—Tancredi and Arsace (Rossini) and Romeo (Bellini), in which she played to Grisi's Juliet. (Women in male roles were by no means unusual, and her great vocal range made them possible for her.) She appeared occasionally in concerts: soloist in Mozart's Requiem for the interment of Napoleon at the Invalides, December 15, 1840; charity concerts in England in 1841; the debut of Rossini's Stabat Mater, October 31, 1841; and February 20 and 21, 1842, at the Conservatoire and with Chopin.
Between these engagements, on December 14, 1841, she gave birth to Louise Viardot . Talented in her own right, Louise became an unhappy, difficult person who claimed her mother had "abandoned" her at birth. The charge was unjust, but it was true that Pauline seldom put her career in second place.
Friendships were immensely important to Viardot. Visits to Sand at Nohant brought her contact with Chopin and Eugène Delacroix (who was much impressed by her drawings). Through 1841–42, Sand wrote a long novel, Consuelo, whose title character is a singer closely modeled on Viardot. Ary Scheffer, a prominent painter, entered her life via Louis, his biographer, and became a mentor and father-confessor. He fell in love with her but did not tell her until shortly before he died.
Frustrated in Paris, Pauline toured Spain with Louis from mid-April to August 1842 to revive Italian opera by using local professionals and amateurs. It was there that she first sang in Bellini's Norma, which she regarded as the supreme test. Although she was happy, at Sand's urging she returned for a "re-debut" in Paris. It did not work out well; again, she got only secondary roles, save one, and on December 1 Sand's enemies attacked her in the Revue des Deux Mondes. So in 1843, after publishing an album of six songs, illustrated by Scheffer, Viardot quit Paris for central Europe. Her debut in Vienna on April 19, 1843, as Rosina was sensational and was followed by similar successes in operas and concerts in Prague and the Germanies until her return to Paris and Nohant in mid-August. In Berlin, she met Mendelssohn, of whose vocal music she became a great interpreter; but also, above all, she met Giacomo Meyerbeer, the current king of opera composers, who was so enthralled that he forbade the Paris Opéra to perform any new work of his until she could sing there. Meyerbeer's support was a major help for her at this critical time. Back in France, she signed on for a season in St. Petersburg. The German and Russian tours marked the turning point in her career—and her life, for in Russia she met a budding writer, Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev (1818–1883).
Viardot, Louise (1841–1918)
French contralto. Name variations: Louise Héritte-Viardot or Louise Heritte-Viardot. Born Louise-Pauline-Marie on December 14, 1841; daughter of Pauline Viardot (1821–1910) and Louis Viardot; died in 1918; married a diplomat; children.
Louise Viardot married a diplomat, then separated from him and became a professor at the St. Petersburg School of Music and later at Frankfurt, Berlin, and Heidelburg. In 1864, she made her 43-year-old mother Pauline Viardot a grandmother.
Héritte-Viardot, Louise. Une Famille de grands musiciens: Memoirs de Louise Héritte-Viardot. Paris: Stock, 1923.
In her peak years, Viardot was a natural mezzo-soprano who by "immense effort and skill" extended her range to contralto and soprano. Estimates differ, but her range at its best, around 1843–53 (aged 22–32), was three octaves plus two to four notes beyond (e.g., D below middle C to F above high C). To land the top roles one had to be a soprano. In time, Viardot lost on the high end, and by age 40, when most singers are reaching their prime, her voice was obviously fading. As she told her pupils after retiring, "Don't do as I did. I wanted to sing everything and spoiled my voice." To achieve the effects she did, she displayed a variety of timbres. Gounod thought her intermediate octaves, her chest voice, extraordinarily suave and sonorous. Over the whole range there was a continuity from chest to head voice, a smooth transition, with tones round and clear. "Freshness" and "vibrant warmth" were often noted, but one finds disagreement as regards tone, some saying "silvery," others (e.g., Saint-Saëns) noting a harshness, not velvet or crystal, still others some "Spanish" combination of harshness and sweetness (Musset). Many just gave up and spoke of it as "a voice à la Viardot." Most admitted that it grew on one, whatever its imperfections, and was above all moving.
There was no dispute about her mastery of bel canto technique—learned from her father, who greatly admired the art of the 18th-century castrati. Bel canto requires a light, fluid, effortless delivery with equal tone through the range. Viardot had full command of its demands: trills, arpeggios, leaps, and runs like strings of pearls. Some thought her bravura passages too florid; in any event they were original and informed by musicianship. No technical challenge daunted her.
The voice alone comprised, if anything, less than half of Viardot's art. As noted before, she projected deep feeling, a "soul." Wrote Musset, "She possesses … the great secret of artists: before expressing something, she feels it." As she matured, she became more the actress-singer than the singer-actress. To say she was the originator of character acting in the bel canto tradition would be a disservice to Giuditta Pasta (1797–1865), Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient (1804–1860), and Malibran. But she brought it to its peak, paving the way for the "realistic" style, musical and dramatic, developed by Verdi and Wagner which succeeded bel canto as the dominant mode. Her original interpretations became models for her successors. She once compared her mind to a little theater, where her roles, as it were, "unfolded," making it unnecessary to practice them before a mirror. So much the actress was she that she admitted she gave recitals mostly because they paid well. Baritone Sir Charles Santley, a pupil of her brother's, said simply, "[N]o woman in my day has ever approached her as a dramatic singer." Among later singers, Maria Callas (1923–1977) has most often been compared with her: "unclassifiable," with some vocal imperfections, but using even these to bring to bel canto roles dramatic intensity of the highest order.
Viardot was near the best she would ever be in high soprano roles when she arrived in Russia in October 1843. Italian opera in Italian had been missing from St. Petersburg for a generation; only a German company singing it in German and a mediocre Russian company performing it in Russian were on the scene. When the great tenor Giovanni Battista Rubini scored a major success in concerts there early in 1843, he was asked to return in the fall with a company. He chose reigning baritone Antonio Tamburini and Viardot to star with him. The public, on the brink of a new cultural awakening, greeted them with feverish anticipation. She debuted on November 3 as Rosina to roaring applause and nine curtain calls. It only built from there: Desdemona, Lucia di Lammermoor (Donizetti), and her greatest triumph, La Sonnambula (Bellini), which drew some 15 curtain calls, Empress Charlotte of Prussia (against regulations) throwing her a bouquet after the 7th. The single most emotional moment came on November 27 when as Rosina Viardot sang a Russian song—with flawless pronunciation—in the music-lesson scene. She was the first foreigner to sing Russian music in Russian. The house exploded; Tsar Nicholas I was observed cheering "like a madman." Night after night the theater was packed; crowds hailed her in the streets. As if she needed more to do, she also gave 20 concerts in 21 days to benefit retired Russian singers.
Perhaps no singer has ever had a season of triumphs to equal Viardot's first in Russia. Years later a contemporary recalled, "She was an extraordinary phenomenon upon our stage; she aroused us from our lethargy, brought to life new artistic perceptions, tuned us to an elevated pitch, and set our nerves a-tingling. Her name … should be inscribed in gold in the annals of our opera."
Viardot first met Turgenev at her St. Petersburg residence on November 13. She paid no particular attention, but for him it was love—a lifelong love, an obsession—at first sight. She later said he was introduced to her as "a young Russian landowner, a good shot, an agreeable conversationalist, and a bad poet." He was an aristocrat, a handsome, blue-eyed, chestnut haired giant with an odd, squeaky voice. At 25, three years her senior, he was only beginning to write seriously while vegetating in a minor government job. He was intelligent, cultured, highly imaginative, unpredictable, a neurotic and hypochondriac, extremely kind and generous, a mesmerizing raconteur, but something still of a young, snobbish show-off. His high artistic sensibility responded above all to music: even in old age, Viardot's singing could drive him to such a state of excitement that he would jump up from his seat humming and gesticulating.
Viardot had a covey of male admirers, which left Turgenev frustrated. He incessantly proclaimed his love to one and all, making himself ridiculous and annoying her. So ardent was he, however, that she could not help but take an interest in this strange fellow. Rivers of ink have flowed describing their ensuing relationship, "one of the most enigmatic ménages à trois in literary and musical history," writes Henry Pleasants. For the next 40 years, Turgenev lived near or with her or corresponded, often daily, while Louis played the understanding, self-effacing husband to a point beyond imagining. Astonishingly, the two men remained friends, spending countless hours conversing or hunting. (Both were passionate hunters, Louis madly so.) Did Viardot and Turgenev ever have sexual relations? Probably, although some authorities have denied it given the absence of conclusive proof. Turgenev had numerous sexual encounters throughout his life; he could separate sex from love, but not love from sex or at least the desire for it.
What he beheld in Viardot was not a mistress but the embodiment of the Beautiful, which he revered. Love is never fully requited and happiness never fully attained, his works proclaim, but, as he wrote to her early in their relationship, "Beauty is the only imperishable thing … [and] nowhere does it shine with such power as in the human personality: it is here that it speaks most clearly to the human mind, and that is why I always prefer a great musical talent served by an imperfect voice to a good voice which is stupid, the beauty of which is only material." Notes Richard Freeborn, Viardot also embodied "the glamour of things European, the epitome of civilization and culture and a living symbol of the free flight of music, detached and remote from terrestrial cares, which was to be the poetic ideal of his art."
Viardot's attraction to Turgenev is harder to decipher. She always needed close friends to whom she could confide her deepest thoughts and feelings: "I love my friends with the sacred flame of passion, and could not live without them." His all-too-obvious devotion coupled with his profound understanding of human beings and music encouraged her to find in him a soulmate. She never returned all his passion. She was too independent, too disciplined, too ambitious to surrender her life to him, much less marry him. She dominated the man she had married and risked losing control if she were to become Turgenev's wife, given all that 19th-century law and custom conferred on husbands. Moreover, she was a bit strait-laced and in her sister's example (and her father's anger) had learned a lesson in the pains and scandal of infidelity. "If you want to be an artist," she once told a pupil, "try to be indifferent to everything except your art." She sought to live by the maxim, obviously not always successfully. Reflecting on her struggles, she once characterized love as a destructive force: "Love kills when it cannot inflame." If it does burn, "it dies out only with time, inflicting on its victim the daily torture of a terrible agony."
The first Russian season finished, Viardot returned to France. For several years she sang only abroad, the Opéra "lockout" continuing. In October 1844, she returned to Russia and stayed until early May. After the opera season in St. Petersburg, she gave concerts there and in Moscow. The season was a fine success but, inevitably, could hardly match the first. Audiences were becoming more discriminating, and Viardot found a pretty and competent rival in Jeanne Castellan (1819–1858). After singing in a festival in Coblenz in August 1845 organized by Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer to honor Victoria and Albert and the king of Prussia, she arrived in October in Russia once again. By now the vogue was over, abetted by managers who overbooked and overcharged. She appeared in only three of eight operas mounted, and her voice showed signs of strain. She and daughter Louise fell ill with whooping cough and Louis with cholera, which won her permission to leave early, on February 24. In the fall and winter of 1846–47, Viardot was in Berlin for a highly successful season, following up with performances elsewhere in Germany and in London. She returned to Germany for the 1847–48 season in Dresden, Hamburg, and Berlin.
In 1844, she and Louis had bought a château, Courtavenel, near Paris at Rozay-en-Brie (Seine-et-Marne). Dating from the 16th century, complete with towers, moat, and drawbridge, it was Viardot's first real home of her own, although she was often away. They converted a large room into a miniature theater, and the place became a magnet for guests from the artistic world. She proved a splendid host—simple, friendly, gracious, and attending to quality in all things.
Her private life experienced some serious strains in these years. She hurt Sand's feelings by putting off invitations to Nohant. She was more independent now, and Sand probably felt she was slipping away. Sand's problems with her children and her painful breakup with Chopin contributed to the stress. Viardot tried, unsuccessfully, to mediate between Sand and Chopin. To top it off, Sand's young (21) son Maurice Dudevant fell in love with her. How tempted she was by him is unclear.
Meanwhile, Viardot's relations with Turgenev followed a meandering course, in the long run tending to tighten. After the second Russian season, during which he continued her Russian lessons begun the year before, he resigned his post to follow the Viardots west. He spent a short stay at Courtavenel in the summer of 1845, "the happiest time of all my life," he later called it. He simply adored her in her surroundings, asking for nothing more. During her third Russian season, they saw a good deal of each other and on New Year's Eve exchanged a kiss, a serious matter. He remained behind, however, when she left in February 1846. He wrote to her continually, always asking if she would return. She, probably fighting her feelings, did not resume corresponding until her German tour of 1846–47. Already he had begun submitting drafts of his work to her for approval, which he did for the rest of his life. In return, she sought his advice on music. He joined her in Berlin by early February, followed her to Paris, spent the summer of 1847 at Courtavenel, and remained now in France until June 1850.
During the Paris and London seasons of 1848–49, Viardot at last received the acclaim she had experienced elsewhere. Audiences seemed more accepting of her "intellectual" approach to her work. She had arrived at full artistic maturity. The London season of 1848 witnessed a three-way "war" between Jenny Lind (1820–1887) at Her Majesty's Theatre and Viardot and her rivals at Covent Garden. Grisi persuaded two tenors (including the great Mario, her lover) to report "ill" for Viardot's debut in Les Huguenots. She had to settle for a singer who knew only the French version (the work was being sung in Italian). She learned that version backstage and astounded the audience by shifting into French during the performance. Grisi's ploy had failed, but she repeated it and again in 1850. Also at the Garden were Marietta Alboni (1823–1894) and Fanny Persiani (1812–1867), formidable rivals. Bur Viardot more than held her own. She gave several concerts, too, including in them her own transcriptions of some Chopin mazurkas, which he warmly approved. She later published 15 of them. Sadly, a year after the London engagements she would be singing a solo from Mozart's Requiem at his funeral (October 30, 1849).
Eighteen forty-nine was the year of Le Prophète. Meyerbeer, hugely popular in Paris for a quarter century, had not produced a new opera in 13 years. Nevertheless, he stood by his vow to force the Opéra to accept Viardot. He was obliged, in fact, to reshape the opera around her rather than the title role because the tenor could not handle it. She had a great deal to do with both the writing and production of this work, which required 52 rehearsals before its heralded debut on April 16, 1849. She sang Fidès, a mother who must renounce her son in order to save his life. The role is infamously demanding vocally and dramatically, combining bel canto style and a huge range with the forceful, sustained singing being introduced by Verdi. The dramatic range of acting is likewise daunting. (The difficulties of the role, in fact, contributed greatly to the opera's disappearance from the standard repertoire after a few years.) The critics gave the work mixed reviews but lauded Viardot to the skies. She sent a note to Sand: "VICTOIRE!" Fidès became a signature role for her for a few years; she sang it over 200 times, in French, German, and Italian. In St. Petersburg in 1853, she earned a phenomenal 21 curtain calls. When Berlioz heard it in Berlin, he wrote: "Madame Viardot is one of the greatest artists … in the past and present history of music."
Charles Gounod's Sapho proved a different story. She had met him briefly in Rome in 1840 on her honeymoon. In 1849, he was contemplating taking Holy Orders when she "discovered" him. She was not easily impressed, as a rule, but his talent and charm dazzled her, leading her in a letter to Sand to put him in "the same elevated sphere" as Mozart, no less. She encouraged him to write an opera and promised to perform it. She opened doors at the Opéra for him while he wrote passionate letters to her. It appears unlikely they became lovers, but when he and Turgenev spent several months alone together at Courtavenel in the spring of 1850, the latter understandably grew morose because she wrote to Gounod but not to him. Sapho debuted on April 16, 1851, but ran only a mediocre nine performances. The London run in August likewise proved disappointing. The critics praised Viardot, but Gounod blamed her for the failure. A year later, in May 1852, they broke off after he treated her in an insulting manner in connection with his marriage. His behavior reeked of "selfishness and vanity and calculation," she wrote to Sand. The estrangement lasted until 1870.
From 1848 to 1850, her relationship with Turgenev underwent severe strains. She and Louis built a house at 48, rue de Douai, Place Vintimille, on the (then) outskirts of Paris. Turgenev, seldom far away, took rooms nearby. Despite ups and downs, they very probably became lovers on or soon after June 26, 1849. She was evidently torn and so was he, for differing reasons. Finally, he left for Russia in late June 1850, beginning a six-year separation. Why he went remains a matter of dispute. The most obvious reason was that his dying mother had called him home. He also probably felt a need to reconnect with Russia for the sake of his writing. Had there been a scene with Louis? Had she told him to go? (He wrote promising to return only if she called him.) It is clear, however, that she under went a crisis. It was Scheffer who helped her through. Years later she wrote, "without Ary Scheffer I would have committed a great crime—for I had lost my willpower—I recovered it in time to break my heart and do my duty…. I did not commit a sin." Scheffer, she wrote, had given her strength by showing her "Art in its most consoling, its most divine aspect…. I almost went mad, but his great wisdom restored the balance of my distracted mind."
She left the "great sin" unexplained. It might have been to forsake her art and career for love. The separation did not mean that ties were broken. She lamented the absence of "so precious a friend." Most revealing is a surprising sequel. When Turgenev returned home he found that his mother had been coldly mistreating his eight-year-old illegitimate daughter, Pelageya Turgenev , whom he had fathered a year before he met Viardot. He now wrote to her revealing the child's existence, and she replied with an offer to take her into her home as a daughter. In October 1850, he shed tears of joy and sent "Paulinette," as he renamed her, to Paris, instructing her to look upon Viardot as her mother now. All but inevitably, the child came to hate her with a passion, and joined Louise as an unhappy, ungovernable presence in the household. She grew up there, supported financially by her father.
Viardot settled into a smoother domestic life. Louis, ever faithful, stood by her. On May 21, 1852, she gave birth to Claudie ("Didie," later Mme. Chamerot)—a "reconciliation child"? Temperamentally, Didie proved to be Louise's opposite: a happy person. Turgenev, meanwhile, had numerous sexual encounters, corresponded with other women, and considered marrying a kinswoman, Olga Turgenev . But he wrote to Viardot almost daily. She sent friendly replies now and then. His longing haunted him: "Oh God! I wish I could spend my whole life, like a carpet, under your dear feet, which I kiss a thousand times." And his torture: In his play A Month in the Country, written in 1849–50, a character says, "You will learn what it means to belong to a skirt, what it means to be enslaved, infected—and how shameful and oppressive this slavery is."
Viardot's career suffered a setback when in August 1851 her Opéra contract was cancelled. Politics had always figured in her troubles there, for Louis was an outspoken republican. He (and she) rejoiced at the founding of the Second Republic during the Revolution of 1848, but by 1851 the political climate had changed, with President Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleon III) preparing the coup which in December effectively ended the republic and paved the way to the proclamation of the Second Empire a year later. Consequently, until the Third Republic arrived in 1870–71, her principal engagements usually were outside France. In the autumn of 1851, in fact, their home was searched for subversive materials. They went off to spend the winter in Scotland, where she at least did some composing.
After a year mostly of domesticity, including Claudie's birth, Viardot returned to Russia, opening in St. Petersburg on January 15, 1853, as Rosina, to great acclaim. Soon Mario again tried to sabotage her by pleading "illness." Rather than cancel, she appeared—without rehearsal—in La Cenerentola, which she had not sung in at least seven years, and triumphed once again. After that she experienced no further trouble from Grisi and Mario. She went on to Moscow and an even bigger success.
While she was in Moscow, Turgenev slipped from his estate, Spasskoye, some time between April 3 and 12 to be with her. (Louis had had to leave Russia because of illness.) He had been arrested for political libel in April 1852 and exiled to Spasskoye, where he would remain until December 1853. What transpired in Moscow is not known, but after the tryst the relationship again appeared past rescue.
She returned to St. Petersburg for concerts which included music by Russian composers Glinka and Dargomyzhski. She also began a long friendship with pianist Anton Rubenstein. For the rest of the century, Viardot served as one of the most important agents in making Russian composers known in Western Europe, among them Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Tchaikovsky. She was, however, never to return to Russia after the 1853 tour.
During the London season of 1853, she gave 36 concerts in 42 days, and then returned to Paris to await the birth of a third daughter, Marianne (later Mme. Duvernoy), on March 15, 1854. From June 8 to August 10, she appeared at Covent Garden, and again the next year when on May 10 she sang the part of Azucena, a Gypsy mother, in the first London performance of Verdi's Il Trovatore. She went on as a substitute with only three days and one rehearsal to learn the role—another astonishing feat. (Her Fidès is said to have helped inspire Verdi to use a tragic-mother figure as a principal.)
Between tours abroad and public and private recitals in Paris, she and Louis hosted frequent dinner parties for a crowd of prominent artists, writers, musicians, foreign visitors (notably Charles Dickens), and left-wing politicians and exiles. Many were invited to Courtavenel for meals, hunting, and amateur theatricals, usually plays by Racine, Molière, and Beaumarchais. Sand was still a close friend, but they saw little of each other, leading separate lives. Scheffer was often present, although he had married a widow in 1850. Hector Berlioz began spending time at Courtavenel; besides music, they shared similar literary tastes—Shakespeare, Goethe, Virgil, and (her favorite) Homer. Rossini, her father's old friend, long retired in Paris, came by sometimes, and she visited him frequently. He regularly marked scores and gave advice. One memorable day he fell on his knees and kissed Mozart's manuscript of Don Giovanni, which she had just acquired. Constanze Mozart had sold the score in 1799 to the André d'Offenbach family. When museums in Berlin, Vienna, and London judged it too expensive, Viardot sold her best jewels and bought it. (On July 6, 1893, she gave it to the Paris Conservatoire on condition that it never leave the premises—and there it remains.)
Relations with Turgenev went their usual tortuous way. They waned or waxed solely at her discretion. Their correspondence had been fitful from 1852 to 1856. She confided in Scheffer, while Turgenev confided in Countess Lambert , the middle-aged wife of an aide-de-camp of the tsar. When, however, he told Pauline about his aborted marriage project to Olga Turgenev, she showed some jealousy. In July 1856, he suddenly turned up in Paris, having against his better judgment left Russia and hope of a settled, married life there. He went to Courtavenel in the fall and was never happier. He adored Didie, sent angry Paulinette off to a boarding school, and got along as usual with Louis. But in November came a sharp change. Pauline had conceived again and now shut him out once more, throwing him into a spiritual crisis from which he emerged into his most productive years as a writer. He told Tolstoy he loved her "more than ever," but the affair was now conducted like a passionless friendship.
At the news of her son Paul's birth in July 21, 1857, Turgenev wrote a letter overflowing with hurrahs, and in August and September he was back at Courtavenel for a calm stay. Was he Paul's father? He may have thought so at first, but he was quoted at least twice later as regretfully denying he had any children with Pauline. Paul himself—tall like Turgenev, not short like the Viardots—several times told his son he was uncertain. The weight of scholarly opinion rests uneasily with Louis as the father, and much more decisively in Didie's case, which has also been mooted.
Turgenev traveled a good deal in 1857–58 before settling in Russia from June 1858 until April 1859. Relations with Viardot continued cool at brief encounters in Leipzig and London in 1858—although, interestingly, she began (unsuccessful) negotiations for another Russian tour. She suffered a great shock when Scheffer died on June 15, 1858. She needed a new psychiatrist (so to speak) and by the end of the year found Julius Rietz (1812–1877), a German conductor, minor composer, and musicologist. Almost daily for a year she wrote long, passionate, revealing letters, although the correspondence petered out by 1864. Turgenev meanwhile was unburdening himself to Countess Lambert, not Viardot.
Viardot reached the artistic pinnacle of her career in 1859–61 in productions of Gluck's Orphée and Alceste. During another strenuous tour of the English provinces (50 concerts) and Dublin (3 weeks of opera with Grisi and Mario) in February and March 1859, she sang Lady Macbeth (Gruoch ) in the English debut of Verdi's Macbeth, with great success. Returning to Paris, she won such acclaim at the Théâtre-Lyrique singing extracts from Le Prophète and Otello that the manager proposed reviving Gluck's Orphée. She loved Gluck and found this opportunity to end her eight-year absence from the Paris opera stage tempting. She accepted, scarcely dreaming that a hoped-for succès d'estime would become a towering popular success. To do this with an opera as dated, serious, and static as Orphée constituted an artistic tour de force.
Berlioz, long a friend, became much involved with her in these years. On August 4, 1859, she and a tenor, Lefort, gave the first performance of extracts from his Les Troyans, a work in progress which greatly impressed her. He promised her a lead in it. (He would break this promise some four years later, believing her voice no longer up to the part; crushed, she would sever their relations permanently.) By the end of August, when they were at the Baden-Baden festival, where he directed, she discovered he was in love with her. She smoothly kept him at bay until he finally realized his love was hopeless. Nevertheless, they remained collaborators through the revival of Alceste in 1861. She gave him her moral support (he was intensely unhappy and ill) and worked so closely with him on Les Troyans that he referred to it as "our opera."
Orphée, also starring Marie Constance Sass (1834–1907) as Eurydice, debuted at the Théâtre-Lyrique on November 18, 1859. Berlioz, the conductor, had transposed Orpheus from a tenor (originally a castrato) to a contralto role. Young Camille Saint-Saëns also assisted. Despite a throat condition which robbed her of some power and quality, she scored an immense success. Wrote George Sand, "This is, no doubt, the purest and most perfect artistic expression that we have seen for half a century, this Orpheus of hers—understood, clothed, played, mimed, sung, spoken, and wept through in the way that she interprets it." Of the bravura aria ending Act I, Chorley wrote, "The torrent of roulades, the chain of notes, unmeaning in themselves, were flung out with such exactness, limitless volubility, and majesty as to convert what is essentially a commonplace piece of parade into one of displays of passionate enthusiasm to which nothing less florid could give scope." And so it went. The crown jewel aria, "J'ai perdu mon Eurydice," provoked an ovation lasting a full two minutes. By June 21, 1860, Viardot had sung the role 121 times and in three years some 150 times. Her daughter Louise testified she heard it 34 times and "was deeply moved each time. Her Orpheus was never the same twice running, there was always some new and unexpected touch."
While continuing Orphée in 1860—amazingly, fighting bronchitis through most of the run—she gave 11 performances as Leonore in Beethoven's Fidelio—not a good choice, as the role was too high for her now. She performed Orphée privately in London in July, sang at the Baden-Baden Festival in August, then toured England, with Orphée excerpts much in demand. In 1861, she "warmed up" at the Opéra with Le Prophète, Les Huguenots, and Il Trovatore, and then debuted in Alceste on October 21, Berlioz conducting. It was her last triumph on the grand stage. Inevitably, it could not match Orphée. On May 12, 1862, Viardot sang her last Alceste at the Opéra but continued in Orphée at the Théâtre-Lyrique until, on April 24, 1863 (although she had to repeat the performance), she deliberately bade farewell to the Paris opera stage. She would continue for many years to give concerts and, in provincial cities, perform in some operas. But she was wise enough to know when her voice no longer had the quality for premier venues.
She continued to play the host in these crowded years of her greatest celebrity, and to encourage others. In February 1860, Richard Wagner (whom she had met in 1839) came to her home to give his patron, Mme Kalergis , a preview of Act II of Tristan und Isolde, then in preparation. Berlioz and a pianist were the only others present. Viardot and Wagner sang the parts. Her sight-reading and perfect German left him awe-struck. He later asked her to be an adviser for the Bayreuth festivals, but she declined because of her summer teaching demands. Given his titanic ego, his praise of her as "the greatest artist and musician of the century" is arresting, to say the least. He is said to have told singers, "Go to Viardot and learn how to sing Mozart. Then you will be able, without harm to your voice, to sing my operas." In contrast, although she greatly respected his musicianship, for years her opinion of his music was not high, but as she aged she came to appreciate it, beginning with Die Meistersinger (1868).
On the whole, her relations with Turgenev from 1859 to 1863 were at their most distant. Not, of course, by his choice. He had none save to admit that his dream of happiness would not be fulfilled, that he would, as he aptly put it, spend his life "perched on the edge of another man's nest." Depression dogged him: "I just go on existing," he wrote to Countess Lambert in January 1861. In July and August 1859, he stayed at Courtavenel, and after a year returned from Spasskoye to live in Paris from May 1860 to May 1861, with visits to Courtavenel in July and September 1860. Often while he was there, she was away. They met in Paris a few times, and he did some hunting and translating with Louis. Concerns with Paulinette, who no longer lived with the Viardots, gave him excuses to stay in touch. Correspondence, however, nearly ceased. But when son Paul nearly died of bronchial pneumonia early in 1860, Viardot called him from Russia to help her in her distress. He obeyed the "command," only to find her cool once he arrived. Still, the relationship changed once again when in late 1863 the Viardots moved to Germany, to Baden-Baden.
Since 1862 they had been building a Swiss chalet there on three acres near the Black Forest. Louis could no longer stomach Napoleon III's regime; she had never liked Paris and its constant intrigues and had always found the Germans more attentive and informed about music than most Parisians, among whom Offenbach was now the rage. Their property eventually included a small concert hall with an organ (which she loved to play) and a Temple of Art to display their collection—Velázquez and Dutch masters, including Rembrandt. Louis was wealthy, while she commanded top fees. Some accused her of greed, noting that she even charged 2,000 francs for singing at Chopin's funeral. She viewed the matter differently, once telling a pupil, "Never sing for nothing! You are not going to make yourself into an artist just for pleasure. I hope that it will give you pleasure, but you must also earn your living." In recompense, she gave large sums to charities and needy fellow artists.
Save for an interlude (1868–70) in Karl-sruhe for the children's education, they lived in Baden-Baden until October 1870, with infrequent short visits to Paris. When the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71) erupted, Viardot helped briefly in German women's auxiliary services; but with Napoleon III's fall and the proclaiming of the Third Republic, their patriotic sentiments finally led them to decamp to London. The Baden-Baden years had proved quite happy on all counts. She gave concerts in Strasbourg, Karl-sruhe, Vienna, Breslau, Berlin, et al., recitals in homes, and occasional opera performances. She composed and taught a great deal, attracting pupils from all over Europe, notably Russia, including Désirée Artôt (1835–1907) before the Baden years, and Anna Aglaia Orgeni (1843–1926), Marianne Brandt (1842–1921), and Antoinette Sterling (1843–1904). Viardot was demanding but warm and generous, giving students a weekly dinner party and encouraging them to develop their own selves and not merely imitate her.
Composition had always attracted her. As a girl, she studied under Antoine Reicha at the Conservatoire (as did Berlioz). She published several song collections in St. Petersburg and Leipzig in the 1860s and early 1870s, e.g., Twelve Poems by Pushkin, Fet and Turgenev (1864). Turgenev, unbeknown to her, subsidized some and importuned embarrassed friends to promote them. Her music won praise from Liszt, Clara Schumann, Anton Rubenstein, and important critics but did not sell well. Sometimes in recitals she would slyly announce one of her own songs as written by "Mozart," at which, to her amusement, the audience would beam. With Turgenev furnishing the librettos (to the dismay of his Russian worshippers), she also wrote four operettas for performance by her children and pupils. Liszt helped get Le Dernier Sorcier performed professionally at Weimar on April 8 and 11, 1869, before the king and queen of Prussia, but it earned mixed reviews. She learned that long compositions strained her capabilities.
Her entertaining continued apace, with "at homes" on Saturdays becoming an institution among the elite and crowned heads at this famous resort. She was gay, lively, and always interesting, but Louis had become a virtual recluse. Clara Schumann visited often. Despite temperamental differences (Latin vs. German), they remained fairly good friends while admiring each other's talents unreservedly. Brahms became a casual friend and a huge admirer, calling her a "most remarkable and superior woman and the greatest artist of the century." He once wrote a serenade for her birthday, and on March 3, 1870, at Jena she premiered his great Alto Rhapsody.
As for her family, Didie was talented in painting and Marianne in singing, while little Paul was already on his way to becoming a concert violinist. Louise became a professor at the St. Petersburg School of Music. In 1864, to Viardot's great sorrow, her mother died in Brussels, where she had gone after the move to Baden-Baden. They had always been close and affectionate, and Turgenev likewise was very devoted to her.
The relationship with Turgenev experienced its most settled phase in these years. He had already considered moving to Germany and was only too glad to take rooms in Baden-Baden for four years while building a villa next door to the Viardots. Her attitude toward him softened. When he returned to Russia at intervals, he wrote daily and passionately and she warmly and almost as often. They appeared to have reached a kind of modus vivendi now that they were, as he put it, tied up "to the pier of old age" (old age being here a relative term). During a chance encounter in Berlin in 1867, they were blissfully happy. As usual, happiness only made him more pessimistic than ever about life. She, on the other hand, while since childhood not a practicing Catholic, believed in the immortality of the soul, "a divine spark in us which never perishes, and which will end by being part of the great light." As for Louis, gossip about the two perturbed him enough to cause her to continue to guard appearances and treat her husband with more open affection. Meanwhile, Turgenev's Russian foes and friends blamed him more strongly than ever for becoming her "toady," and her for "seducing" him away from the Motherland.
Upon their flight to London in 1870, the Viardots took residence in a fine Georgian house at 30 Devonshire Place, with Turgenev nearby. But cash was low. Although she sang in concerts and oratorios, especially in the provinces, bronchitis limited her success. So she had to accept as students all who applied. Her brother Manuel, long settled in London and a famous teacher, was a welcome presence. Not wanting to leave her family for seven months a year, she turned down offers wangled by Turgenev from the Moscow and St. Petersburg conservatories. In July 1871, with the war over, they moved back to Paris. The harsh terms levied on France had made them very anti-Prussian now. Besides, France again was a republic.
They lived at the 48, rue de Douai house until 1874, when they moved to a larger place at number 50. In both houses Turgenev took rooms upstairs; keeping up appearances no longer seemed important. He rigged a long tube to the downstairs so he could hear her sing. Courtavenel having been demolished after they had moved to Baden-Baden, Turgenev in October 1874 financed purchase of a villa, "Les Frênes" (The Ash Trees), overlooking the Seine at Bougival, an hour or so from central Paris. Rich and famous now, he built a Swiss chalet for himself on the grounds. Thereafter they spent summers in Bougival, winters in Paris.
It was too late for her to rejoin the Opéra, but she contracted with the Conservatoire, where she taught until October 13, 1875. She also gave lessons privately. A fine teacher but not in love with the profession, she found too many pupils preferred comic opera to high tragedy, and she disliked sharing them with other teachers. Her own voice returned for a time, although less bright. She sang in popular concert-series at the Cirque d'Hiver and in recitals at soirées. Gluck, Pergolesi, Marcello, Paisiello, Schubert, Schumann, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, and Spanish songs were standbys. She took a lively interest in young Jules Massenet and gave his career a boost at a critical juncture when she sang the lead in his oratorio Marie-Magdeleine at the Odéon on April 11, 1873. It was her last premiere performance. Saint-Saëns wrote Samson et Delila for her but took so long composing that she could no longer handle it. To his delight, however, in August 1874 she (as Delila and playing the piano), her pupils, and others performed the first two acts for him with homemade costumes and scenery. (The Opéra finally mounted it in 1892.)
By 1875, her public career was over. In private life, she reserved Thursdays for a strictly musical gathering featuring performances by her children and pupils and new talents. Sunday soirées were for family and old friends, with games, music, and conversation. Didie, the apple of Turgenev's eye, married a master printer in 1874. In 1876, Viardot nursed Louise back to health and a (temporary) reconciliation after a railway accident. As for Marianne, Gabriel Fauré, aided by Viardot, became engaged to her. To his intense shock, she broke off to marry a second-rank composer, Alphonse Duvernoy. Viardot herself suffered a shock with the death on June 8, 1876, of her closest woman friend, George Sand.
Her relations with Turgenev entered their final chapter. The two were happy, if less so than at Baden-Baden. She spent hours in his apartment. He would read to her in the mornings, and she would help with criticism, proofreading, and translation. He would join the family for dinner and evening pastimes.
Passion had subsided, even on his side. His fame drew crowds of friends, refugees, and favor-seekers. The Russians in particular could be a noisy nuisance. She had to act as gatekeeper, for he was never organized. Caring for two aging men now, she felt the strain, becoming more domineering, difficult, and bad-tempered. Louis, nearing 80, was slowly failing. Turgenev had always been hard to cope with: forgetful, unpunctual, superstitious, neurotic, often depressed, and a hypochondriac with increasing real ailments. She compared him to a child who constantly needs a nanny. His decline shocked his friends, who blamed her for it. His condition, however, did not prevent him from returning to Russia regularly and from ridiculous infatuations, unconsummated, with Baroness Julia Vrevskaya (1841–1878) and actress Maria Savina (1854–1915). They could only be might-have-beens for him now. The attraction Viardot exerted did not fade, but he felt a bitterness over what it had cost him. Savina said he wrote a poem he never published, "To Her," with the line, "You have plucked all my flowers and you won't come to visit my grave."
In early March 1882, Louis suffered a stroke, and in April Turgenev fell ill with cancer of the spine. Viardot gave up teaching momentarily after Louis' stroke, but that alarmed him so much about his condition that she resumed. For 18 months, she nursed and taught, a grinding existence. Fortunately, Didie and Marianne were there to help. Louis died on May 5, 1883, leaving, Viardot said, "a great void in my existence." She could not have asked for a more upright, unselfish, wise, and capable husband, and she knew it. Turgenev's last months were terrible. Pain devoured him. His mind often became unhinged; in a rage he once threw an inkwell at her. At news of his illness, visitors came by in droves. She usually had to send them away because he was too sick. The Russians in particular resented her for it. His last words to her were touching: "Here comes the Queen of Queens! How much good she has done!" He died on September 3, 1883. Didie and Marianne accompanied his funeral train to St. Petersburg, where huge crowds attended the rites. Viardot stayed behind because he had asked her not to visit his grave but instead to read now and then a few pages which had been dear to them and think of him. Viardot suffered Turgenev's loss greatly. She told friend Ludwig Pietsch, "I am just like a grain of sand in the sea! So lonely, so sad, so unhappy. So endlessly alone!"
Turgenev left everything to Viardot except for 100,000 francs to Paulinette. Years of legal wrangling followed. Paulinette's estranged husband sued but lost. Viardot inherited the Bougival chalet and all its contents. In Russia, the court ruled that his estates were "patrimonial" and hence could not be held outside the family; they went to distant relatives. He left her all papers and literary rights, but shortly before his death he had sold the copyrights. Not all the money had been paid, however. Eventually, she received at most c. 85,000 rubles—less lawyers' fees. As for the papers, she destroyed his diary as he had requested. He had named Pavel Annenkov his literary executor. Viardot turned over papers to him but probably destroyed most of her letters to Turgenev, or else they have been retained by her descendants unseen. After Annenkov finished examining the huge mass of papers, some of which he published, he returned them to her, and she destroyed some, both unimportant and important. The tale of his letters to her is exceedingly tangled. Suffice it to say, she probably destroyed all post-1870 letters, but there remained some 150 which she had left behind at Baden-Baden in 1870 and which came into other hands. A few were stolen. She allowed publication of some during her lifetime after she had expurgated them, and apparently gave permission for publication in entirety after her death. After partial publications between 1898 and 1912, the complete known surviving correspondence was published in 1972.
Viardot lived for 27 years after Turgenev's death. She spent them well despite the loneliness that would overtake her at the loss of friends. Clara Schumann, her last remaining girlhood friend, died in 1896, and her brother, Manuel, in 1906 at age 101. Saint-Saëns was about the only intimate from her glory years who survived her. In 1884, she sold the rue de Douai and Bougival homes and moved into a fine apartment at 243, boulevard Saint-Germain, with views of the Palais-Bourbon and the Place de la Concorde. She continued to teach for many years, giving free lessons to those who could not pay. One of her pupils was Anna Eugénie Schoen-René (1864–1942), later a professor at the Juilliard School in New York and teacher of Risë Stevens (b. 1913), Margaret Harshaw (1909–1997), Thelma Votipka (1906–1972), Charles Kullman, and Paul Robeson. She also composed, including the libretto and music for a comic opera, Cendrillon (1904), which was revived at Newport in 1971, and stage music for a pantomime, Au Japon, and Racine's Andromaque, Phèdre, and Athalie. Viardot won critical esteem but little popularity. The growing popularity of Russian music pleased her since she had had much to do with it. When not teaching or composing, she drew and painted and traveled, especially to Switzerland. Her health flourished for many years, and her hair turned gray only very late in life. When Tchaikovsky visited her in 1886 and 1889, he emerged marvelling at her vitality. In time, most of her visitors were not musicians but journalists and writers seeking information about Turgenev and other famous people she had known. Experience taught her caution in dealing with them.
Her sight and then her hearing started to fade around 1900. From 1906 on, she was nearly blind from cataracts, and bronchial and kidney ailments recurred. She began to fail seriously around Christmas 1909. On May 16, 1910, two months shy of her 89th birthday, she announced to her startled intimates that she had two days to live. She fell asleep in an armchair and died without waking at about 3:00 am on May 18. Her last spoken word was "Norma"—the role she had always considered her greatest challenge. That she spoke not of her family or Turgenev but of her profession reveals much about how she viewed her life.
Her funeral on May 20 was buried in the press by the funeral of England's Edward VII the same day. The rites were held at the Basilica of Sainte-Clotilde. Soloists sang Carissimi's O vulnera doris and Fauré's Pie Jésu. Saint-Saëns, Massenet, and a government representative spoke. (She had received the Legion of Honor in 1901.) Burial followed at the Montmartre Cemetery. Fauré wrote a fine tribute in Le Figaro; but she had been off the stage for 40 years and could have been at best a dim memory for most people.
Extravagant praise was the norm when contemporaries spoke of Pauline Viardot's skill as a singer and actress. She herself, nevertheless, was modest and praised and encouraged others. Needless to say, she had a very acute sensibility. She described herself once: "My romantic soul expressed in my Southern temperament perhaps is wrongly understood in the cooler atmosphere of the North, but in my Southern land the heart beats quicker and emotions mingle with the warmth of the character." Before she went on stage her heart would pound and she would turn pale and lose her breath: "I feel the presence of the enemy." Professionally, writes Pleasants, she established "the prototype of the modern mezzo-soprano." In Richard Mohr's words, she "lifted the mezzo-soprano in opera from the handmaiden to prima donna rank." Arguably, no singer before Callas infused bel canto roles with such emotional power and believability. She could clothe the pyrotechnics with dramatic meaning; display pieces were never simply displays. Moreover, her service to Russian music was huge. As Alexander Herzen wrote, "After Liszt and Berlioz, no foreigner did more valuable work for [our] Russian music than Pauline Viardot."
Her relationship with Turgenev will provide fodder for scholars forever. She poured into friendships all the characteristics of love. Because she was so sensitive, she often forced herself to be cold and indifferent to protect herself. She described her will as "the insuperable sister" of her conscience. She also protected her career. Love threatened it. Fearing the loss of her career and self-esteem if she wholly surrendered, she took refuge in passionate friendships. Turgenev helped her career greatly: by encouraging her at every step, by introducing her to literature which would enhance her interpretations, and by being a perceptive, informed critic.
His debt to her was enormous, beginning with the encouragement she gave him to be a professional writer. In 1867, he wrote to her, "[Y]ou are the sovereign judge and umpire…. I don't know what success my [latest] work will have in Russia, but I have success—the only kind I aspire to: your approval." In 1876, she spoke to a visitor about this "saddest of men," as she once called him: "Not a single line of Turgenev has appeared in print for a very long time without his first acquainting me with it. You Russians don't really know how much you are indebted to me that Turgenev goes on writing and working." Lacking in self-confidence, he needed the support of strong personalities. Her specific influence on plots and characters will be debated endlessly, but it is clear that his repeated use of strong women and weak men owed much to his relationship with her. He also owed her a great debt in matters of style and imagery. More than anyone or anything, she helped "fuse" his life and works. And not least of all, it was through her that he completed his Westernization, putting him in contact with artists and writers outside Russia.
Viardot's memory, sad to say, survives almost wholly through her connection with Turgenev. Such is the fate of performers before the invention of the phonograph and the motion picture: their art vanishes in an instant, discernible now only dimly in yellowing, crumbling reviews and memoirs. By contrast, in both senses of the word, Turgenev's works are immortal.
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David S. Newhall , Pottinger Distinguished Professor of History Emeritus, Centre College, and author of Clemenceau: A Life at War (1991)