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Jenny Lind. Oil on canvas by Alfred d’Orsay, 1847. Given by the sitter’s daughter, Mrs Raymond Maude, 1928. © The National Portrait Gallery, London.

Jenny LIND (1820-1887)

October 2020

LIND, Jenny [Mrs Lind-Goldschmidt] (b.Stockholm, 6 October 1820; d.Wynds Point, Colwall, Herefordshire, 2 November 1887)

Jenny Lind, the 200th anniversary of whose birth falls this month, was one of the most celebrated singers of the nineteenth century.  Known later as the ‘Swedish Nightingale’ after the fairy story ‘The Nightingale’ written by Hans Christian Andersen, she made her debut on 7 March 1838 as Agathe in Weber’s Der Freischütz at the Royal Swedish Opera, Stockholm.  In later life referring to that day, she often said : “I got up that morning one creature, and I went to bed another, for I had found my vocation”.

After numerous performances in Sweden in Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Meyerbeer’s Robert le diable, Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, and Bellini’s Norma among others, her voice began to show signs of strain and she went to Paris to study under the singing teacher Manuel Garcia (1805-1906) who initially told her “It would be useless to teach you, Mademoiselle.  You no longer have a voice”.  He prescribed two months complete silence to give her vocal cords a chance to recover their elasticity.  He went on to teach her perfect breath control.

Now, with her much improved voice back, she added many roles to her repertoire notably Amina in Bellini’s La Sonnambula (1843).  She sang in this opera 98 times, more than in any other opera, with the majority of performances in Stockholm (28) and London (22).  In 1844 she went to Germany and made her debut in Berlin in Norma followed by triumphant debuts in Hamburg, Hanover, Frankfurt and Darmstadt.  Returning to Stockholm the following year she sang Marie in Donizetti’s La fille du régiment for the first time.  In April 1846 Lind made her debut before a Viennese audience as Norma and, so enthusiastic were the public when Lind left the theatre that she had to be escorted by a troop of mounted police.

It is difficult to overestimate the excitement and anticipation that preceded her arrival in England in April 1847.  Her debut as Alice in the Italian version of Robert le Diable took place on 4 May 1847 at Her Majesty’s Theatre opening the Season and was conducted by Michael Balfe (1808-1870).  She received rave reviews, one of which included:

Then came the beautiful air, ‘Regnava un tempo in Normandia,’ which was most tastefully given by Gardoni, and which would, doubtless, have been honoured by an encore but for the impatience of the audience to hasten forward the great event of the evening – the debut of Jenny Lind.  At the conclusion of this air, Jenny Lind, undoubtedly the prima donna of the world entered.  She was received with shouts of applause, and with waving of handkerchiefs, that lasted several minutes.  Of her personal appearance the recently published portraits, which are to be seen in every print-shop window, convey as good an idea as portraits can convey, of the personal appearance of any living being; but there is an intellectual beauty in her animated countenance, a mobility of feature, and a beauty of expression about the eye, which set the limner’s art at defiance, and to which words cannot do adequate justice.  So highly had Jenny Lind’s musical powers been praised, that we went almost prepared to be disappointed.  We expected to find her a second Sontag from the descriptions we had read, but we certainly were not prepared to find, as we did find, the beautiful tones of a Sontag, united to the powers of a Grisi, the compass of a Malibran, the more than flexibility of a Persiani, and the correctness of intonation of the most perfect of musical instruments.  It is impossible by language to convey any idea of what the voice of Jenny Lind really is, because it is so surpassingly beautiful – so superior to any other voice, uniting, as it does, the perfection of all voices, that there is no standard to which it can be compared.  It is, in fact, itself the standard, as being the nearest approach to perfection of any voice ever heard, and hence the difficulty, nay, the absolute impossibility of doing justice by description to the powers of Jenny Lind.  Truly has she been called the nightingale, for she possesses in the utmost perfection the “jug” note of the bird, and also that marvellous power of throwing, as it were, the warble into the distance – now dying away, and now swelling again, even as an organ does – a power possessed by no other human voice that we have ever heard.

The Sun, 5 May 1847

Altogether Lind sang in 40 performances in the season which ended with the last of 11 performances of La Sonnambula on 21 August having also included 10 performances of La fille du régiment and the premiere of Verdi’s I Masnadieri on 22 July in which she sang Amalia.  The first two of the four performances of this opera were conducted by the composer himself.

After a second season at Her Majesty’s Theatre she went on a tour of Britain.  On 15 December 1848 she performed gratis (her first appearance as an oratorio singer) in Mendelssohn’s Elijah at Exeter Hall conducted by Julius Benedict (1804-1885).  Though the composer had written the part specifically for her, she had not been available to sing it at its first performance on 26 August 1846 at Birmingham Town Hall as part of the Birmingham Musical Festival.  The proceeds of the Exeter Hall performance went towards funding the Mendelssohn Scholarship which still exists today.  Throughout the rest of her life she often generously sang in aid of charities.  A third triumphant season at Her Majesty’s Theatre followed which ended on 10 May 1849 with what was announced as ‘Last Operatic Performance of Mdlle. Jenny Lind.’  It was Roberto il Diavolo, the very opera that she had made her debut in nearly two years earlier.  From then on she was only to sing in concerts and oratorios.

In August 1850 she set out in the company of Julius Benedict as accompanist and the baritone singer Giovanni Belletti (1813-1890) having been invited by the American showman Phineas Barnum (1810-1891) to do a tour through the United States.  Again, with the additional publicity from Barnum, she arrived already a celebrity and the tour was an outstanding success.  Benedict, however, had to return to England in 1851 and handed over the role of accompanist to Otto Goldschmidt (1829-1907), pianist, composer and conductor.  In February 1852, Lind and Goldschmidt were married in Boston and in May the couple returned to Europe. They lived in Dresden until 1855 when they returned to England and decided to make their permanent home there in 1858.

They lived first in Roehampton, then on Wimbledon Common, then in Oak-Lea in Wimbledon Park (a house specially designed for them by the firm of Messrs Cubitt & Son since demolished) and finally in South Kensington also acquiring a house in the Malvern Hills in 1883 in which they spent their summers.  They had three children. Mme Lind-Goldschmidt (who “was desperately offended if addressed otherwise”) carried on singing in numerous concerts, many for charity.  Her husband, who was now naturalized, formed a private choir which expanded to 65 amateur voices. This was the founding of what we know as the Bach Choir.  Mme Lind-Goldschmidt “coached the ladies” and on 26 April 1876, Goldschmidt conducted the very first performance in England in its entirety of Bach’s Mass in B minor at St. James’s Hall, London.

In 1883, at the request of the Prince of Wales, “she accepted the post of first Professor of Singing in the Royal College of Music”.  The last time Mme Lind-Goldschmidt sang in public was on 23 July 1883 “when arriving by train for her summer holiday the porter who handled her luggage calmly asked her if she would sing at the annual Railwaymen’s Benefit Concert.  Mme. Goldschmidt was so much amused at the manner of the request that she accepted and actually did sing to an overflowing audience.”  The concert took place at the Royal Malvern Spa Hall on 23 July 1883. “Madame Lind-Goldschmidt came on to the platform between Miss Hilda Wilson and Miss Mildred Scott Tait” and “When silence was restored the three ladies sang in a manner that greatly affected the audience the trio ‘Lift thine Eyes'” from Elijah.  She “spent her last summer on earth with her family round her at Malvern, and she passed away on All Souls’ Day”.

She is still remembered in countless ways.  There is a memorial to her in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey beneath that of Handel.  There are numerous institutions, streets and pubs named after her here and abroad.

“Truly it may be said : Jenny Lind began as a fashion and remains as a tradition.”

Except for the Manuel Garcia quote and the review extracts from the Malvern concert of 1883 all quotes are taken from The Life of Jenny Lind by her daughter, Mrs Raymond Maude.  London, 1926.