December 19, 2014

Maintaining the Vocal Tradition of the Garcías

TTo have talked with someone who heard Beethoven conduct, who heard Malibran sing and who was a member of the cast of the first Italian opera given in New York, would almost seem to take one into the realms of spiritualism, for Beethoven died in 1827, Malibran in 1836, and the 'Barber of Seville" was first sung at the Park Theater in 1825. Manuel Patricio Rodriguez García did all of these things, for was he not the son of Manuel del Popolo García, one of the most famous operatic figures of the early years of the last century, and hence a brother of the lovely Maria Felicita García Malibran and Michelle Fredinande Pauline Viardot-García? And, furthermore, did he not sing in that historic performance of "The Barber"? 

They are all dead now, however, García having passed away at the age of 101, and his sister, Pauline Viardot-García, in Paris four years later, aged eighty-nine. Nevertheless, the royal line of García is not extinct, at least as far as the vocal tradition is concerned, and New York, which was a place for such storm and stress for the Garcías has the honor of possessing one of the exponents of the García tradition in Mme. Schoen-René. 

"I had been associated for twenty-five years with Pauline-Viardot-García," says Mme. Schoen-René," and she had been my only teacher. I had been forced to give up my singing in opera because an attack of asthma had left me with trouble in my breathing, and so I had devoted my time to teaching. My pupils had all been women but the question arose of my teaching a man, and I went straight to Viardot with my difficulty. I told her I knew nothing about the male voice and asked her advice. "Go to Manuel," she said. "No one living knows more about the voice than he!" 

Meeting with García

"Accordingly, armed with a letter from her, I crossed to England and made my way to García's little house at Cricklewood on the outskirts of London. While I was waiting, I heard two young men talking in the next room. I could not distinguish what they were saying but could hear only the two youthful voices, so I sat in the room looking at some pictures of Jenny Lind, Lablache, Pauline Viardot and other great ones who had been only memories for many decades. In spite of all these famous folk, I was touched by the simple but cozy interior of the house. 

"Presently the door opened and the two men entered. One was young as the world counts years but the other was Manuel García, then in his ninety-fourth year, yet although bent like an old man, talking with the voice of a boy. 

"When the other man had gone I gave García my letter and told him my story. Coming so highly recommended by his sister, he was naturally interested at once. We discussed the situation and finally he said he would like to hear me sing. I told him I had been unable to sing for several years. He lost interest at once. "If you cannot sing," he said, "and sing perfectly, you cannot teach!" This was said with such an air of finality that I felt that the conversation was closed. As he looked at me he said, 'You have been going to Pauline every summer; what's the matter with you?'  I told him then of the nervous condition that had resulted from asthma, but he finally prevailed upon me to sing for him, with the result that he took me as a pupil.

"I went to García simply to learn from him how to train the male voice, but my own singing and my general health were restored so completely that when I went back to Viardot-García she said. "No more teaching! You go back upon the stage!" 

Forsakes the Stage

"You can imagine how this upset me, but I determined to continue teaching for a while at least and later to consult García. When I took my first man pupil for him to hear, I told him that his sister wanted me to go back upon the stage, but he advised against my doing so. 'If you are very selfish,' he said, 'you will do it, but I think it would be unwise. First and foremost, you have pupils singing in grand opera and you would be competing with them. But much more than this, because our science is dying out, singers are now demanding to be made artists in three years. Isn't it better to bring out ten singers than to sing yourself?' I asked him what Viardot would say and he replied, 'Pauline is a García. She will understand!'

"So, that is why I did not go back on the stage and sing, but continued teaching, and I must say I have never regretted it. When you speak of any of the Garcías, you speak of the ancien régime of singing. 'We have no method, we have no school,' he once said to me, 'we only have science, the science of singing which my father and I worked out!'

"I have often been asked whether I have improved the method and my reply is invariably that I couldn't if I tried, and, what is more, I don't want to. The further back I can go, the better, because García was the founder of the art of singing through the perfect knowledge of technic and control of the voice. That is why I have never attempted to 'improve' on what García taught me. I have all the exercises and the cadenzas which he and Viardot-García wrote for me and they go everywhere with me. 

"I could write a book about García and his wonderful personality, as well as about his teaching. Never a day passes but but that I remember some quaint phrase that he used in talking to me. I remember once when we were in his garden, for he was a passionate lover of flowers, he lifted a particularly beautiful rose on its stem and said: 'The rose is the most grateful of all my pupils. You search for a perfect tone: here it is!' He was disappointed in many of his pupils. He was very intense in teaching and gave his heart and his life to them for art and art alone, so that when he died he felt only about $11,000 and his little house. 

García and Wagner

"García and his sister were a proof of the fact that singing Wagner's music does not injure the voice. I do not mean that either of them appeared in Wagner opera but many of their pupils did. Wagner claimed that his music required more vocal study that the Italian music because a great technic was necessary. After all, the ultimate limits of expression such as Wagner demands can be reached only by singers whose technic is prefect. Wagner, you know, could not find a German baritone for Wotan in the premiere of 'Walküre' so he chose García's pupil Scaria, to whom he also confided Gurnemanz in the world premiere of 'Parsifal' at Bayreuth. After the first rehearsals of the Bayreuth Festival in 1876, a number of the artists went to Viardot-García for lessons, amongst them the great Wagnerian tenor Neimann, who was afterwards heard at the Metropolitan in the first season of German opera there. Viardot-García was said to have been the greatest musician of the Nineteenth Century. The old Emperor William established scholarships for all artists singers of his royal opera houses to go to her and practically all the great singers of note of that era were either García or Viardot pupils. 

"When Pauline Viardot-García died in Paris in 1910, the last of the royal line of García passed away. Manuel died in 1906, but at the celebration of his hundredth birthday he said that his greatest sorrow was that Pauline would not sing for him. 'But I cannot sing any more!' she protested. 'Ah, my dear,' he said, 'if you had practiced every day you would still be singing!' She was then eighty-four years old!

"And so, it is the greatest honor, I can assure you, that I am able to carry on the work of this great family of teachers. Pauline once said to a pupil of mine who is now singing in the Metropolitan, 'You may consider yourself my artistic grandson!' So, that is what I tell my pupils, that they are privileged to consider themselves the grandchildren of the Garcías!"  —John Alan Haughton 

Musical America, May 10th, 1924. 


*****


Anna E. Schoen-René joined the faculty of the Juilliard School of Music in 1924, the same year in which this article appeared. Her student, who appeared at the Metropolitan Opera and is referred to as Pauline Viardot-García's musical grandchild, was undoubtedly George Meader. 

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