The Romantic period in Europe is generally regarded as between the years 1830-1900. For music and literature this was an era of heightened reality, full of emotion, colour and drama; a time of intense feeling and attitude that was widely popular, especially in Germany and France, and even in time affected the U.K. where poets and gothic writers more than musicians gave vent to their imagination.
Although of Spanish origin, the soprano and composer Pauline Viadot-Garcia was born in France of a musical family (her father was Rossini’s first Barber of Seville). A gifted and evidently powerful woman, her life almost personifies the period. She inspired Chopin, Berlioz, Meyerbeer, Gounod, Saint-Saens, Liszt, Wagner and Schumann who dedicated his cycle of Heine songs to her. She appeared in London, Berlin, Dresden, Vienna and St. Petersburg, where she met the novelist Ivan Turgenev who fell in love with her and lived ‘in close proximity’ (NGDM) to her and her husband for the rest of his life.
In 1863 at the age of 42 she retired, leaving France for political reasons (her husband was a republican at a time when it was dnagrous to be one), and the family settled in Baden-Baden where she taught singers from around the world. There she built an art gallery and a small opera house where the family performed some of her works, including little operettas and ‘pantomimes’. She transcribed twelve of Chopin’s mazurkas (with his approval), setting them to poems by Louis Povey, and other works by Schubert and Brahms. A collection of her songs has recently been issued by the Canadian label Analekta on AN 2 9003, sung by Isabel Bayrakdarian, and enthusiastically reviewed.
A Berlin critic said of Viadot-Garcia, that she was ‘ truly the daughter of Kings descended from the gods’. The picture of a rather dumpy, sober woman in N.
G.D.M. hardly bears that out, but she must certainly have been some lady!