This week we remember the life and work of Pauline Viardot (1821-1910). A French composer, educator, and mezzo-soprano of Spanish descent, Viardot had an extensive performing and compositional career beginning at a young age.
Lucky enough to find family support in her talents, her first music teachers were her parents who were both professional musicians. Viardot traveled with her family internationally – including London, New York, and Mexico. She made her stage debut at age 16 in Brussels. Also an acclaimed pianist, and student of Liszt, she gave up piano to focus on her voice to follow her mother’s wishes. However, she continued to play throughout her lifetime, including duets with her friend Frédéric Chopin.
Viardot never had aspirations of being an acclaimed composer, instead composing for herself or her students. Her works include several arrangements of pieces by Chopin, Brahms, Haydn, and Schubert, as well as works on original themes. Liszt reportedly praised her talent as a composer and believed she would have found great success if she had devoted more time and attention to the craft.
Her compositional output included many songs, works for piano, and chamber works. Notable in Viardot’s oeuvre are five salon operas. Though small in scale, they were written for advanced singers and demonstrate her talent in both composition and performance.
Viardot’s papers and manuscripts are held at Harvard University. Several works are also available in the public domain through the Petrucci Music Library. Luckily, many of her works are not only extant but often performed and recorded. Have a listen to a sampling below!