About this Recording
8.573607 - VIARDOT, Paul: Violin Sonatas Nos. 1-3 / VIARDOT, Pauline: Violin Sonatina (Kuppel, Manz)
English  French 

Paul Viardot (1857–1941): Violin Sonatas Nos. 1–3
Pauline Viardot (1821–1910): Violin Sonatina


Pauline and Paul Viardot were members of one of the most famous musical families in 19th-century Europe, the García family. The clan traced its origin to Manuel del Pópulo Vicente Rodriguez. Born in 1775 in Seville, Spain, Manuel was a famous tenor, composer, operatic impresario, and teacher. He took the name of his stepfather (García) and married his first wife in 1798. Both of his famous daughters, Maria Malibran and Pauline Viardot, were born to Manuel García’s longtime companion Maria Joaquina Sitches, a member of his company. In 1807 Manuel and his family travelled to Paris, and Maria was born in 1808 (a brother, Manuel Patricio Rodriguez García, had been born in 1805 and later taught at the Paris Conservatory and the Royal Academy of Music). The family spent time in Naples, London, and Paris, and Manuel (the father) became known as one of the great tenors of the time, excelling in roles written for him by Rossini, among others. Michelle Ferdinande Pauline, Manuel and Joaquina’s youngest child, was born on 18 July 1821 in Paris. In 1825 the family travelled to New York where the troupe presented perhaps the first season of Italian opera in the United States. Maria, Pauline’s older sister, married François Eugène Malibran in 1826 (perhaps a desperate attempt to leave an abusive father), and thereafter Maria Malibran followed her own meteoric star, becoming one of the bestknown divas in the history of music. The rest of the family continued to Mexico City, returning to Paris in 1829. Pauline studied piano and began vocal lessons with her father as Maria had done earlier, but Manuel died when Pauline was eleven years old. Pauline and her mother moved to Brussels and lived with Maria and her companion (later husband), the violinist Charles de Bériot. Pauline’s sister Maria died in 1836 after a tragic equestrian accident.

As a teenager, Pauline sought to perfect her art and began appearing in concerts with Bériot, making her operatic debut in London as Desdemona in Rossini’s Otello in May 1839. There she met Louis Viardot, director of the Italian Theatre in Paris, and he engaged her services, also for Rossini’s Otello. They were married in 1840. Louis Viardot became known as an art historian and as translator of Don Quixote. During her career, Pauline sang works by Mozart, Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, but also sang contemporary mid-19th-century works by Saint-Saëns, Massenet, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Meyerbeer (Le Prophète), Gounod (Sapho), and Brahms (Alto Rhapsody, premiered by Pauline in 1870). Among her admirers were Alfred de Musset, Gounod, Berlioz, and, most extraordinary of all, Ivan Turgenev, who lived in close proximity to Pauline and her family for 40 years. Berlioz stated that ‘her talent is so complete, so varied, she touches so many aspects of the art, she combines so much spontaneity with so much skill, that she produces at once astonishment and emotion…’¹ Pauline’s compositions include operettas, several with librettos by Turgenev, most notably Le Dernier Sorcier; choral works; various vocal works; and several instrumental works, almost always featuring piano. Pauline Viardot died in Paris on 18 May 1910.

Paul Viardot was born on 20 July 1857 at the castle of Courtavenel in France, the fourth child and only son of Louis and Pauline Viardot. The Viardots moved to Baden- Baden when Paul was a young child, and here he studied violin (and quickly became a prodigy) and rubbed shoulders with the political, literary, and musical elite of Europe. He attended boarding school at Carlsruhe, but the Baden-Baden interlude was interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War, which necessitated the family’s moving to France and then England. After the war the family returned to Paris where he continued to study music under César Franck, Théodore Dubois, and Hubert Léonard. Fauré dedicated one of his first masterpieces, the Violin Sonata No. 1 in A major, to Viardot, and it was premiered in January 1877 at a Société Nationale concert. Fauré was engaged to Paul’s sister Marianne in July 1877, but Marianne broke the engagement several months later. In a 1922 article in Le Guide du concert (‘Saint-Saëns gai’), Viardot describes the fabulous intimate Sunday gatherings at the Viardot household. These soirées featured Saint-Saëns singing in drag to the accompaniment of Pauline, or dancing sequences from operas such as Robert le diable. On Friday evenings a more serious spirit reigned, as Saint-Saëns accompanied Pauline on the piano or organ. Paul toured Spain with Saint-Saëns in 1880, traveling to Russia in 1881 (where he experienced the ‘full nihilistic terror’ of the Cossacks), with further engagements in Warsaw and Riga. He made seven trips to Sweden, and travelled to North and South America. In 1899 he travelled to the Transvaal, and in 1902 conducted the premiere of Saint-Saëns’ Parysatis. Though well established in the musical world of his time, he remained in the shadow of his mother and aunt. In a short book of memoirs written in 1910, he describes his feelings: ‘The name of an illustrious father or mother is terribly heavy to carry, as I well know! Nothing is more difficult than to cease being someone’s son.’² During World War I he served as a reserve lieutenant, and was employed as an interpreter. After the war, suffering from bronchitis that made the Parisian climate unsuitable, he accepted an invitation from the Ministry of Fine Arts to serve in North Africa. At first posted to Tunis, he soon moved to the more metropolitan Algiers, where Saint-Saëns now lived. He founded a conservatory and was active in its affairs until past age 80. He died in Algiers late in 1941. Though his death date is sometimes given as 11 December, the obituary in The New York Times is dated 16 October and apparently refers to 15 October.

Besides the three violin sonatas represented on this recording, Paul Viardot composed a sonata for cello and piano, two sets of six pieces for violin and piano, a string quartet, several sets of violin etudes, and various short works for violin and piano such as Danse slave, Sicilienne, Rêverie, and Berceuse. He also edited the works of others, including Kreutzer, Rode, and Viotti. His several books include Histoire de la musique (with a preface by Saint-Saëns), an ‘official report’ on an artistic mission concerning the music of Sweden, and a 1910 memoir.

Pauline Viardot’s Violin Sonatina in A minor was published in 1874 and is dedicated to Hubert Léonard. It begins with a dreamy Adagio, the violin spinning long melodic lines throughout. The following Allegro in 3/8 time features a jaunty opening section, a contrasting section, and then the return of the opening material. The main rondo theme of the Allegro finale in 2/4 time alternates with more melodic material before the sonatina is brought to a vigorous close.

Paul Viardot’s Violin Sonata No. 1 in G major, Op. 5, dates from 1883 and is dedicated to Grand Duke Charles Alexandre of Saxe-Weimar. The opening 3/2 Allegro presents a dotted quarter and eighth notes motif, and this pattern is the motive engine of the movement throughout its various developments. The following Andante in 6/8 time begins quietly but soon works to greater intensity; this opening section leads without pause to a dotted rhythmic section marked Allegro in 9/8 time, before the return of the 6/8 material of the opening; the movement ends with the violinist holding a high A for seven measures as the piano gradually diminishes. The finale, Allegro assai in 3/4 time, features flowing dolce themes which are developed and reworked before returning in nearly identical form. A vigorous Vivo coda in 2/4 time, which features chords in the violin, ends the sonata.

The Violin Sonata No. 2 in B flat major was composed in 1902 and dedicated to fellow violinist and composer Henri Marteau. The opening movement is marked Moderato, the violin entering after a one measure introduction with a theme that is repeated and transformed throughout the movement, and which ends quietly with a high sustained B in the violin. The Andante is an expressive sad song in 3/4 time, with contrasting sections in various keys. The coda recalls the opening theme, but now only by allusion, finally ending on a sustained high B, much as the ending of the first movement. The finale begins with a theme similar to the main theme of the first movement; eventually the first movement theme returns, and these materials end in a Presto coda that concludes fortissimo in D minor.

The Violin Sonata No. 3 in A minor was composed in 1931 and consists of four movements. The opening Allegro molto moderato movement begins with legato sixteenth notes in the piano over which the violin sings the melody that is the foundation of the movement. The theme is reworked and elaborated, and the movement ends quietly. The Andante is marked recueillement (‘meditation’) and begins with a brief introduction on the piano, followed by a quasi-recitative section for violin alone. The atmosphere is nostalgic, emphasised by the piano’s bell-like grace notes throughout. The Scherzo in 5/8 time is marked La Méchante boiteuse (‘The Wicked Lame Woman’) and is in A-B-A form, with the outer ‘limping’ scherzo sections contrasting with the dolcissimo middle section. The 3/4 finale is marked Tristesse, Colère, Résignation (‘sadness, anger, resignation’) and is quite different from the usual rondo or fast ending. The movement begins calmly and sadly, eventually reaching a section of ‘anger’ marked Sombre and featuring fast repeated arpeggios in the violin, the piano following with a fortissimo section in chords. This section winds down to a final ‘resignation’ section marked calme et grave. The violin ends pianissimo on the G string, the piano slowly diminishing its accompaniment.

Bruce Schueneman

¹ Berlioz, Hector. A travers chants, études musicales, adorations boutades et critiques. Michel Lévy Frères, Libraires Éditeurs, 1862. p.116. [In the chapter entitled L’Orphée de Gluck]

French original: Son talent est si complet, si varié, il touche à tant de points de l’art, il réunit à tant de science une si entraînante spontanéité, qu’il produit à la fois l’étonnement et l’émotion; il frappe et attendrit; il impose et persuade.

² Viardot, Paul. Souvenirs d’un artiste, pp. 297–298, Paris: Librairie Fischbacher, 1910.

French original: Le nom d’un père ou d’une mère illustre est terriblement lourd à porter, j’en sais quelque chose !

It continues:

(Rien n’est plus difficile que de cesser d’être le fils de quelqu’un. Combien de fois m’est-il arrivé de rentrer dans le foyer des artistes, épuisé par l’exécution d’un concerto interminable ou de quatuors fatigants, et de me voir entouré par des amateurs qui commençaient aussitôt à me féliciter… d’être le fils d’une pareille mère. « J’ai entendu madame votre mère dans Orphée ou dans La Juive, ou dans La Somnambule, etc. C’était à telle époque… Quel talent ! Quel génie ! » etc., etc. - Ayant joué un jour dans une petite église du Dauphiné, le bon curé, un érudit, monta en chaire et se mit, pour me remercier de mon concours, à raconter à ses ouailles l’histoire de ma famille ; il récita même et par coeur les Stances à la Malibran, ma tante ! (Musset ne se serait pas attendu à celle-là !) Dans la sacristie, où j’allais le remercier à mon tour, il me dit combien je devais être heureux d’avoir connu une femme pareille ! Halte-là ! monsieur le curé ! La Malibran est morte en 1836, et vraiment je ne pousse pas l’amour de la famille jusqu’à me vieillir d’un quart de siècle !)

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