The 200th Birthday of Pauline Viardot on 18 July 2021

Christin Heitmann

Thursday, July 15, 2021

This guest post is by Christin Heitmann (author of the Systematisch-bibliographischen Werkverzeichnisses Pauline Viardots), Beethoven-Haus Bonn.

July 18, 2021, marks the 200th birthday of the French singer, pianist, and composer Pauline Viardot (1821–1910). It was a nice coincidence that just a few months before this anniversary, in November 2020, Pauline Viardot’s autograph manuscript of her composition Chanson d’autrefois VWV 1129 for voice and piano came up for purchase from Kotte Autographs. The Research Centre for Music and Gender in Hanover, Germany acquired this rare item and it is now kept in its special collections department. The identity of the seller is unknown, but a famous prior owner was the soprano Maria Callas (1923–1977), according to Kotte.

Pauline Viardot is one of the most significant representatives of European culture of her time. She was not only one of the most famous opera and concert singers of the 19th century, a renowned voice teacher, and a very good pianist. She was also a productive composer, whose compositional oeuvre was far more extensive than generally realized. Over a period of more than six decades, she wrote ca. 250 pieces in various genres, the most significant being songs for one or more voices. In addition, she composed chamber music, piano pieces, and scenic works, including opérettes de salon for voices, choir, and piano, which she staged with her pupils. Beyond this, she created arrangements and editions of works by others as well as arrangements of traditional songs from various nations (see also here).

Both handwritten and printed works by Pauline Viardot have survived in large numbers and are preserved in libraries and archives around the world. Some collections have a special significance because of their size or they represent portions of the composer’s personal archive. Harvard University’s Houghton Library (RISM library siglum: US-CAh acquired large portions of the former Archives Le Cesne in 1999 from Martine Le Cesne, great-great granddaughter of Pauline Viardot, and her husband André Le Cesne. The material is cataloged as the Pauline Viardot-Garcia Papers, 1836–1905 (shelfmark MS Mus 232). Houghton has continued to add to these holdings by acquiring additional documents and smaller collections related to Pauline Viardot, culminating in 2011 with the comprehensive Bonynge-Sutherland Collection. All acquisitions from 2005 to 2011 can be found together in the Pauline Viardot-García Additional Papers, 1838–1912 (shelfmark MS Mus 264).

The archive of Pauline Viardot’s third daughter Marianne Duvernoy, the Fonds Viardot-Duvernoy, is available at the Médiathèque Hector Berlioz of the Conservatoire national supérieur de musique et danse de Paris. It contains numerous autograph manuscript by Pauline Viardot as well as copies in other hands, including one likely by the archive’s creator. A comprehensive collection of contemporary printed editions is also part of it. These written and printed documents from the Fonds Viardot-Duvernoy are freely available digitally through the Médiathèque’s online catalog (see the Fonds Viardot-Duvernoy).

More about this as well as smaller collections in libraries and archives in Europe and the United States can be found here. An overview of the holding institutions included in the catalog of works can be found here.

The autograph manuscript that turned up in November 2020 is a fair copy of “Chanson d’autrefois” VWV 1129, one of eight songs by Pauline Viardot after texts by Victor Hugo (1802–1885). His poem “Chanson d’autrefois” is part of the collection Les quatre vents de l’esprit (Pauline Viardot incorrectly writes this title as “Les 4 vents du ciel“ in her manuscript; see below for more). It is a bifolio that was folded once across in the middle. Pages 1 to 3 each contain four systems for voice and piano in ink. The fourth page is blank except for a pencil remark of unknown origin and whose meaning is unclear (“CARN-5177”, written vertically on the right-hand edge of the page). Pauline Viardot noted the title over the first system as “Chanson d’autrefois. / (Les 4 vents du ciel).” and in the upper right corner “Victor Hug[o]” – the right-hand edge was apparently trimmed, which is why the “o” is missing. A different hand wrote and underlined “Pauline Viardot” in pencil in the upper left corner. Viardot herself did not sign the manuscript, not even below the score. The manuscript is undated.

The “Chanson d’autrefois” can also be found in two other documents, which contain the same version (if with a few small differences). One is a manuscript that was presumably made by Pauline Viardot’s daughter Marianne Duvernoy (“M. D.” is in the upper right on the title page). This is part of the Fonds Viardot-Duvernoy in the Médiathèque Hector Berlioz in Paris, shelfmark Msc 108 (a digitized version can be seen online. In addition, Pauline Viardot published her composition in a printed song collection, which she did quite often. The volume entitled Six Mélodies pour une voix suivies d’un Duo pour 2 voix égales avec accompagnement de Piano par Mme. Pauline Viardot was published in 1892 in Paris by J. Hamelle. Only three known copies of this edition are extant. One is in the Houghton Library and one is in a private collection. The F-Pc A. 31592 copy is available online through Gallica.

More about the Pauline Viardot autograph of “Chanson d’autrefois” can be read here in German.

Image: First page of the autograph manuscript of “Chanson d’autrefois” by Pauline Viardot. © Archiv fmg

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