APM: Composers Datebook

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Jul 17, 2017 Today we pay tribute to a 19th century superwoman—Pauline Viardot-Garcia, born on today's date in Paris in 1821. Her father was Manuel Garcia, the famous Spanish tenor for whom Rossini had written the role of Count Almaviva in "The Barber of Seville." Her older sister was the legendary 19th century operatic diva Maria Malibran, a famous interpreter of operas by Bellini and Donizetti. Little Pauline wanted to be a piano virtuoso, and took lessons from Liszt, but at age 15 her mother decided she, too, should become a singer. Chopin adored her voice, and together they arranged some of his mazurkas as songs, which they performed together in concert. Meyerbeer and Gounod wrote operatic roles with her remarkable lower range in mind. In 1860, with the composer himself at the piano, croaking out the tenor part of Tristan, Pauline sang the role of Isolde at the first private reading of music from Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde," and it was she who gave the premiere performance of Brahms' "Alto Rhapsody" in 1870. She married Louis Viardot, the director of the Theatre Italien in Paris, and at their home one was just as likely to meet Charles Dickens or Henry James as Berlioz or Tchaikovsky. Although hardly a conventional beauty, Pauline attracted a bevy of smitten male admirers, most famously the Russian writer Ivan Turgenev, with whom she may or may not have had an affair. She was also a composer, her works including a chamber opera titled "Cinderella." She died in Paris in 1910 at the age of 88.

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