Pauline Viardot (1821-1910) was an internationally acclaimed singer and composer, and inspired more than one great artist during her lifetime.
Born in Paris to Spanish parents, both of whom were musicians, Viardot’s musical ability was encouraged from a very early age. Her first love was piano, even taking lessons with a young Franz Liszt, but her mother insisted that she instead focus her talent on developing her voice, and she obeyed.
She was a highly acclaimed mezzo-soprano and was great friends with many of contemporary composers, including Chopin, Saint-Saëns, Gounod, and Berlioz (and reportedly on “friendly terms” with Clara Schumann). Viradot had a long and well-regarded stage career, and taught at the Paris Conservatory after she retired. She composed throughout her life, though never with any intention of becoming a “serious” composer; many of her pieces were completed in her retirement. However, her works were highly praised: Franz Liszt even referred to her as a “woman composer of genius.” She composed several small operas and many songs, sometimes arranging music from Haydn, Brahms, Schubert, or Chopin. She also wrote several chamber pieces, often for piano and violin.
Viradot’s daughter, Louise Héritte-Viardot, was also a composer.
Visit www.pauline-viradot.de for a more complete biography—well worth the read!
Here is an example of her vocal writing: