When Madame Viardot’s voice began to break, she was advised to devote herself to the piano. If she had, she would have found a new career and a second reputation. But she did not want to make the change, and for several years she presented the sorry spectacle of genius contending with adversity. Her voice was broken, stubborn, uneven, and intermittent. An entire generation knew her only in a guise unworthy of her.
Her immoderate love of music was the cause of the early modification of her voice. She wanted to sing everything she liked and she sang Valentine in Les Huguenots, Donna Anna in Don Juan, besides other roles she should never have undertaken if she wanted to preserve her voice. She came to realize this at the end of her life. “Don’t do as I did,” she once told a pupil. “I wanted to sing everything, and I ruined my voice.”
Happy are the fiery natures which burn themselves out and glory in the sword that wears away the scabbard.
We know, or, rather we used to know—for we are beginning to forget that there is an admirable edition of Gluck’s principal works. This edition was due to the interest of an unusual woman, Mlle. Fanny Pelletan, who devoted a part of her fortune to this real monument and to fulfill a wish Berlioz expressed in one of his works. Mlle. Pelletan was an unusually intelligent woman and an accomplished musician, but she needed some one to help her in this large and formidable task. She was unassuming and distrusted her own powers, so that she secured as a collaborator a German musician, named Damcke, who had lived in Paris a long time and who was highly esteemed. He gave her the moral support she needed and some bad advice as well, which she felt obliged to follow. This collaboration accounts for the change of the contralto parts to counter-tenors. It also accounts for the fact that in every instance the parts for the clarinets are indicated in C, in this way attributing to the author a formal intention he never had. Gluck wrote the parts for the clarinets without bothering whether the player—to whom he left a freedom of choice and the work of transposition—would use his instrument in C, B, or A. This method was not peculiar to Gluck. Other composers used it as well, and traces of it are found even in Auber’s works.
After Damcke’s death Mlle. Pelletan got me to help her in this work. I wanted to change the method, but the edition would have lost its unity and she would not consent. It was time that Damcke’s collaboration ended. He belonged to the tribe of German professors who have since become legion. Due to their baneful influence, in a short time, when the old editions have disappeared, the works of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, even of Chopin, will be all but unrecognizable. The works of Sebastian Bach and Handel will be the only ones in existence in their