Pauline Viardot-García was a leading nineteenth-century French mezzo-soprano, pedagogue, and composer of Spanish descent born in Paris on July 18, 1821. By age 6, she was fluent in Spanish, French, English, and Italian; though not fluent in the language at the time, she eventually mastered German and Russian as welll.
She took piano lessons with Franz Liszt and counterpoint and harmony classes with Anton Reicha. Despite her aptitude and love of the piano, she abandoned it in favor of focusing her attention on voice in order to obey her mother’s wishes.
She married Louis Viardot, director of the Théâtre Italien, on April 18, 1840. She composed songs in a variety of techniques and she stayed at the Opera in St. Petersberg, Russia from 1843-1846. She arranged instrumental works by Joseph Haydn, Franz Schubert, and Johannes Brahms into songs and was friends with Clara Schumann. She sang the title role of Gluck's opera Orphée et Eurydice at Théâtre Lyrique in Paris in November 1859, directed by Hector Berlioz, and she sang this role over 150 times. In 1863, Pauline retired from the stage and settled in Baden-Baden, Germany due to her husband’s opposition to Emperor Napoleon III. Brahms was able to convince her some years later to sing in the first performance of his Alto Rhapsody. She and her family returned to France after Napoleon III fell. She taught at the Paris Conservatory until 1883. She died on May 18, 1910 and is interred in Montmartre Cemetery, Paris, France.