PAULINE VIARDOT - GARCIA (1821-1910) was one of the greatest opera singers of the 19th century, achieving huge success with a wide-ranging repertoire, and inspiring some of the greatest composers of the age to write for her. During her long life she met many of the most distinguished musicians and artists, ranging from Da Ponte, Mozart's librettist, to Tchaikovsky. At Wagner's special request she once sang an act of Tristan and Isolde with the composer himself singing Tristan; as a teenager she developed a crush on Liszt, who gave her piano lessons, and later she arranged, with permission, some of Chopin's piano music as songs. She weathered the passionate advances of the love-torn Berlioz, and fell passionately in love herself with Ivan Turgenev, Russia's greatest playwright. She was the inspiration for the heroine of two of George Sand's' novels, and created roles in operas of Meyerbeer and Gounod.

This extraordinary woman, who was mother to four children, and who spoke five languages, was also a hugely gifted composer, and when she died at the age of 88 she left around 140 songs, as well as operettas and a variety of chamber music. And these songs reveal a deep musicianship, a sophisticated compositional technique, and above all a tremendously vivid emotional response to the texts of the poets she set.

Famous in her lifetime as a singer and as a collaborator with Berlioz, Meyerbeer, Gounod, and Massenet, Pauline Viardot-Garcia was also an active composer who published nearly 200 songs between 1841 and 1905. These songs were known and admired by Chopin, Liszt, Schumann, Mendelssohn, and Saint-Saens, among others, and Viardot herself, writing to a friend in 1864, noted "I believe that I am more proud of the money that my little musical jottings have brought me than of that which I have earned as a singer."

The daughter of Manuel Garcia, Rossini's favorite tenor, and the sister of Maria Malibran and Manuel Garcia, Jr., Viardot was born into a family where musical prowess was expected. Her husband Louis Viardot resigned his position as the administrator of the Theatre Italien in Paris at the time of his marriage to the young diva, twenty years his junior, but maintained his active interest in political and cultural affairs. Their artistic and intellectual circle included Ingres, Delacroix, Hugo, Dickens, Heine, Turgenev, Meyerbeer, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Gounod, Berlioz, Rossini, Saint-Saens, Massenet, Faure, Tchaikovsky, and Rubinstein. George Sand considered Viardot her protegee, modeling her novel Consuelo on her. Clara Schumann was a lifelong friend, and her comment, "she is the most gifted woman I have ever known" is widely quoted. It is indicative of Viardot's character that at the age of seventy-seven she described a life so full and active as "quiet and uneventful."

Although the nature of Viardot's relationship with Turgenev may never be fully known, it is indisputable that their emotional and professional ties provided sustenance, from their first meeting, during Viardot's first season with the St. Petersburg opera in 1843, until the Russian writer's death at his cottage adjacent to the Viardot home near Paris, forty years later. Turgenev arranged for the publication of several collections of Viardot songs in St. Petersburg, assisted in the selection of texts, arranged for German translations, and provided the librettos for several of Viardot's operettas.

To her compositions the praise given by one of her great admirers for her performances: "Her talent is so complete, so varied," wrote Berlioz, "it touches on so many aspects of the art, it so unites science and such captivating spontaneity, that it produces at the same time astonishment and emotion; it surprises and moves, it challenges and it persuades."