She was a student of four voice teachers who have appeared on these pages: Frederick W. Root, François Wartel, Pauline Viardot-Garcia and Francesco Lamperti. But unfortunately, as with so many who studied with eminent voice teachers of the late 19th century and did not become famous, we don't know all that much about her (I have yet to find her dates). The little that we do know of Hope Glenn (see here and here) indicates that she was poised on being the leading contralto of her day, that is, the successor to Annie Louise Cary. However, this wasn't a sure thing. The letter below to American girls indicates how hard it was for a woman - alone in Europe with hardly any support - to forge a career as a singer.
|Hope Glenn c. 1895|
An American Singer
Advice to Ambitious American Girls
In spite of the many years of my life which I have spent in Europe, says Hope Glenn, in a letter from London to the Inter-Ocean, I have never for a moment forgotten that my real home lies across the Atlantic. Had I ever been tempted to do so the splendid welcome which I met with in all parts, when I made my first public appearance in the United States, some five years ago, would be in itself a lasting claim on my affection. As it is, I feel encouraged to hope that some of my friends may still remember me well enough to be interested in the following slight sketch of my professional career in England, which I have been asked to write.
It was a great shock to my people when I first announced my aspirations towards a professional career, and it was only after a prolonged struggle of a year's duration that I won the day so far as to be allowed to settle in Chicago under the care of the well-known teacher, Frederick Root. Encouraged by him I subsequently crossed the ocean and studied for a year under Mme. Viardot-Garcia in Paris, and then at Milan under Lamperti, where it so happened that I fell in with my two compatriots, Miss Van Zandt and Mme. Giulia Valda. I, too, at that time, aspired to the operatic stage, and on the completion of my training I accepted an engagement to sing for a season at the new opera house in Malta, which was successfully carried out. But it must be remembered that I was literally alone in Europe, without friends or protectors of any sort. I was dismayed at the immense difficulties and dangers which inevitably hamper a young artist on the operatic stage, and, changing my plans, I came to London, determined to devote myself to oratorio and concert singing.
At this point the real struggle of my life began, and if I dwell upon a little it is only that I feel American girls should know what they must be prepared for when they hurry over to Europe in the expectation of making an easy and rapid fortune. Unless a girl has a balance at her banker's to draw upon, a professional career is by no means all wine and walnuts, as the saying goes, in its earlier stages, even when success awaits one later on. At the moment of my arrival in London my father was ruined by the treachery of a business colleague, and I was left with barely the traditional half-crown in my pocket. Since that day I have depended on on one but myself. Fortunately, besides having a voice, I was lucky enough to possess two essentials to success- good health and kind friends, and with their help I struggled through the first years. My earliest friend in England was the great conductor, Sir Julius Benedict, the lamented friend and advisor of so many musicians. After hearing my voice he strongly advised me to persevere in my career if I could count on remittances from home, warning me that it took three years to make a reputation in England as a concert singer. Almost the next day I heard of my father's misfortune, but I determined, nevertheless, to stick to my work.
Another piece of encouragement, which I like to look back upon, came to me about that time from America, from our great contralto, Annie Louise Carey. She sent me a present and wrote: "Come home and I'll give you my shoes and my blessing."
One of the most powerful as well as one of the kindest of my musical friends has been- and indeed still is - Sir Arthur Sullivan. In recent times I have often had the pleasure of singing in his great dramatic cantata, "The Golden Legend," while Sir Arthur himself conducted. Another old friend is Sir Charles Halle, who, by means of his wonderful orchestra, which he has conducted and managed for so many years, has turned Manchester into one of the most musical centers of England. Here I have had considerable successes, and I am always happy to retune there.
One of my most delightful professional reminiscences is connect with the visit of the great Abbe Lizst to this country, a visit which unhappily proved to have been beyond his strength. His first reception took place at Sydenham at the really palatial residence of Mr. Lyttleton, of the great music publishing firm of Novello, and himself an enthusiastic love of music. The large music hall was closely thronged with members of the nobility and the leading representatives of music and art in the kingdom, eager to do honor to the revered master; and I shall never forget the thrill of enthusiasm which passed through us as the Abbe appeared in the hall, with his beautiful, dignified face and flowing white locks. To me had fallen the honor of singing one of his own beautiful compositions. "Mignon's Song," and the charming grace with which at its close he pressed my hand and expressed this thanks in a few courteous words made it easy for me to realize the wonderful fascination which all through his life he exercised over the weaker sex. The news of his death, only a few weeks later, came with a terrible shock to all who had enjoyed the privilege of meeting him during his short visit among us.
Although so far I have spoken principally of oratorio singing, I devote myself nearly as much to ballad singing. Indeed, there is nothing I enjoy more than singing a good homely ballad.
I have left for the end all reference to my American tour in 1883, which I made in company of Mme. Christine Nilsson. It is needless to say that under the able management of Mr Abbey we enjoyed every luxury that special railway cars and the best hotels could provide, and I hope it is needless, too, for me to say what an immense joy it was to me to find myself singing once more to a real American audience, while the warmth of my reception quite surpassed all my expectations. During all those months I found Mme. Nilsson a most pleasant traveling companion. She has always had rather a reputation for sternness: so I should like to give a little instance of her real goodheartedness which came under my observation.
One cold day we heard a small child singing in the street under the hotel windows. The prima donna immediately sent for her, and after talking kindly to her and making her promise to go home and take care of her voice she presented the astonished and delighted little girl with a sovereign.
I have also been for concert tours through England with both Albani and Patti. The latter, with all her greatness, still manages to retain a charming simplicity and youthfulness of manner which captivates all hearts.
When my advice is asked, as it is constantly by young girls who are ambitious to shine in the ranks of prime donne, I feel bound to warm them against the almost insurmountable difficulties to be encountered by a young artist without relatives near at hand, and no balance at the banker's. At the same time I can never for a moment regret that I myself acted in contrary to my own theories. Just now, above all others, I feel that fortune is smiling upon me, for it is only a few months ago that I added one more link to my connection with America by my marriage to Mr. Richard Heard, of Boston. On that occasion, Sir Arthur Sullivan, in the inevitable absence of my relations, took my father's place before the altar, while my friend Mme. Nordica took the leading part in the choral service. I have had many offers to engagement in the United States, and before very long we both look forward to crossing the Atlantic together and renewing acquaintance with all my old friends.
The Musical Visitor, a Magazine of Musical Literature and Music, March 1890, page 59.
Glenn's career had its beginnings on the operatic stage, but after touring in England, she decided to make her mark there in oratorio. Unfortunately, Glenn's marriage proved to be difficult, and when she separated from her husband, her career aspirations ended. She remained in London for the rest of her life, occasionally returning to Atlanta Georgia to visit her sister, from whom she received assistance. What went wrong? It is hard to know from our vantage point, but lack of financial resources may have been only one factor. However, it is still the sticking point for many a talented singer who is working as a waitress while taking lessons and going to auditions. Having a career is never easy, especially if you are pursuing it alone without a support system.
And what about Glenn's training? A little digging revealed a letter with a few precepts of François Wartel, one of her teachers. The letter - written by a Mrs. C. I. Baker to Arthurs Illustrated Home Magazine (1877) regarding Glenn's study in Europe - reads like an advertisement for an up-and-coming singer. Baker quotes Wartel as remarking:
For after all, what is singing? Singing is a gymnastic of the lungs. My maxim is to obtain the greatest force by the gentlest means. Above all, there must be no compression whatever of the top of the throat; it must remain open in the very highest notes. Nay, more than this, the higher the voice ascends the more the throat must open. We call that lowering the tone. It gives roundness, a fullness, a depth not to be obtained by any other means, and it preserves the voice intact; it prevents it from wearing out.
We call that lowering the tone? That's an interesting statement.
Wartel also stated that Glenn had a brilliant future ahead of her. From all accounts, she had a very beautiful voice and the training to make it happen. But that wasn't enough. If there is a moment in Glenn's letter which is the most revealing, it is the crossroad she faced in traversing the operatic stage as a single woman. Too bad she couldn't read this book: The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle by Steven Pressfield. It might have given her the gumption and courage to deal with her resistance and accomplish great things on the big bad stage. Would it have helped? Perhaps. And perhaps not. During her time, women didn't have the right to vote, and were trained to be submissive as the 'weaker sex.'
It takes a lot of effort to go against the grain, stand up through yourself and become the person you were meant to be.