March 8, 2016

A Tribute—Pauline Viardot-García

Katherine Evans von Klenner 

To the Musical Courier: 

When one of the elect departs from us we feel an irretrievable loss. If it is a friend who goes the bitter from of loneliness and sadness is added. 

To me she was a friend, and inspiration, a resplendent example worthy of imitation—an ideal. Not in a selfish way her life was an epitome of fulfillment, in the broadest sense of the word, and the call to "pass on" found her still in the midst of a life filled with activities which might well have exhausted a younger woman. 

The innermost conviction that in her we have lost the last representative of that grand old school of bel canto—Kunstgesang—of singing as an art, only to be gained by years and years of technical studies, adds greatly to the poignancy of our grief. On one occasion she expressed her opinion about modern singing as follows: 

Art at present is a fashion. Good health and good lungs are the requirements for singing the present school of music. Vocally it consists of declamatory sounds. Adieu to trills, scales and arpeggios. They require too much time and work. What is required now is the financial result as soon as possible—and technical proficiency requires years of study. Nevertheless, the singer who has mastered the Italian method—so called—will render the modern Wagner and modern school of composition more easily, retaining the beauty and freshness of voice much longer than those lacking this technical training. 

Madame Viardot-García was not by any means a teacher in the usual sense of the word. She was an ideal pedagogue—an educator in the widest sense. A master of everything in music, she gave to her pupils—especially those who were fortunate enough to be admitted into the inner circle of her home life, and to whom she gave her special courses preparatory for her teachers' degrees—her deepest knowledge and experiences, with a self abandon and enthusiasm remarkable, no detail being too small to receive her strict attention. Her pupils became so impressed with the idea of perfection, their highest test for their work, either in singing or teaching, would be: "What would Madam Viardot say to this: will my work stand the test of her severe analysis and criticism?" 

The analytical nature of this method makes the graduate pupil absolute master of his voice, and no vocal difficulty exists which cannot be easily overcome by a García trained voice. Madam Viardot taught the purest traditions of grand opera—as studied and sung by herself—uniting the knowledge an suggestions of the composers with whom she sang to her own wonderful music inspiration. One who has studied the operas with her knows what cease to be traditions and become facts. As a composter, author and litterateur her name will be among the great. Add to this that charming simplicity and dignity of manner which belongs to the real aristocrat and you hold the key to the irresistible magnetism of her personality, which gathered around her royalty of birth, art, science and literature, and which made her salon famous the world over. As a great statesman once said in my presence. "There are many queens and kings, but only one Viardot." The last years of her life she has spent writing her autobiography, and as her associations go back to a time when Beethoven held her in his arms gave her his musical blessing we may easily imagine the wealth of anecdote and experiences therein contained and the interest all musicians will feel in reading this work when published. 

The world has lost a great artist and musician, but some few of us mourn our truest friend and counselor, whom we loved, not because of her greatness, but because of her love for us and the honor she conferred upon us by allowing us to be one of that "inner circle." Nowadays we hear of pupils recommending teachers. With such as Pauline Viardot-García, to have been her accepted pupil and friend was the greatest honor any teacher could acquire. To live in the hearts and lives of those whom we have inspired to greater and better deeds is in itself immortality. Longfellow's epitaph to Albrecht Dürer may here be applied. 

Emigravit is the inscription on the tombstone where she lies,
Dead she is not, but departed, for the artist never dies.

—The Musical Courier, June 12, 1910: 18.

Note: Pauline Viardot-García died May 18th, 1910. Viardot-García's student Katharine Evans von Klenner was her first certified representative in America, the second being Anna E. Schoen-René. See the labels below for more information. 

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