Volunteer Sally continues her musical journey through the John Johnson Collection with a post on the Swedish soprano Jenny Lind.
Continuing with the musical theme of recent blogs (see pianolas and the rock harmonicon), this time I’m featuring a performer. Not just any performer: one of the musical megastars of her time, the Swedish soprano, Jenny Lind (1820 – 1887). There are a number of items associated with Jenny Lind in the John Johnson collection, the digital images of which are freely available online in the UK (and by institutional subscription elsewhere).
Jenny Lind, born Johanna Maria Lind, was a Swedish opera singer. Her voice was reportedly remarkably pure toned and pitched at the higher end of the soprano range. She was a coloratura soprano, which indicates a voice of peculiar lightness and agility, and often able to sing the very highest notes for a human voice. Her range was reported to be two octaves – d’ to d”’ with a few extra higher notes on occasion. It was the beauty of her voice that earned her the familiar name the ‘Swedish Nightingale.’
Jenny Lind was a diva, the Victorian equivalent of a rock star, appearing in many operas including the main role of Amina in the opera La Sonnambula (the Sleepwalker) by Bellini. The high range and the difficulty of the role that enabled her to exhibit the extend of her phenomenal voice.
Two items in the John Johnson collection show her as Bellini’s Amina. The first, a steel engraving portrait of her by Benjamin Holl from around 1840-50. The portrait is ‘signed’ by Jenny Lind. One noteable feature is the length of her hair which is fashioned in two phenomenally long plaits. The title is spelled ‘la somnambula’ which is probably a mis-spelling conflating the Italian for sleepwalker (la sonnambula) with English (the somnambulist).
The other lithograph image is from the sheet music of “The Somnambulist’s song composed for and sung by Madlle. Jenny Lind,” published in 1848 and priced at 2/- (two shillings). The statement that the song was written for Mlle Lind, is unclear to me – it has been claimed Bellini originally wrote it for the Italian soprano Giuditta Pasta (Wikipedia). Perhaps the reference to Jenny Lind refers to Jeffery’s English translation. In this version, the English words are by Charles Jeffreys of 21, Soho Square, London. The enterprising Mr Jeffreys was clearly making the most of Mlle Lind’s fame and popularity. He proclaims that he is “Publisher of Jenny Lind’s song of ‘Fatherland’ by Felix Gantier – with the best portrait published of the illustrious vocalist”
This ‘best portrait’ shows Ms Lind, this time without the lengthy plaits, dressed in a calf-length dress, presumably sleepwalking on a rickety wooden plank, which looks like a health and safety nightmare.
The publisher and composer, Mr Charles Jeffreys crops up again having written the English words for “England, home of friends, farewell!” This sheet music, again from 1848, states that it was for “Jenny Lind’s last night in England.” Jenny is dressed in glossy satin or silk, her hair decorated with flowers, and looking dreamily into the distance. This piece was priced 2/6 (two shillings and sixpence). The original German words are printed on the title page:
“Nimm dies kleine Angedenken. / Freundschaft, Liebe reicht es dir!” / Konnte ich das Shicksal lenken / Immer bliebest du bei mir.”
[Take this little keepsake / Friendship, love is enough for you / I could steer destiny / you always stayed with me]
The original image is a lithograph by John Brandard and the sheet music was published in 1848. Jenny Lind returned to England later in her life, living her final years in Herefordshire, and she is buried in Great Malvern cemetery.
Featuring the famous singer on the front cover of sheet music of the time must have been intended as a sales draw. The images of her on most of the items are somewhat exaggerated. Tiny feet and a minute waist, probably the result of that most tortuous of Victorian fashion paraphernalia, the corset or stays. One wonders if she did succumb to such fashion pressures – it would have been a miracle if she ever managed to have enough breath to sing wearing such a garment. Compare the images of her on the copies of sheet music to the daguerreotype of her taken in 1850
Another piece of sheet music featuring Jenny Lind and by engraver or lithographer John Brandard is La figlia del reggimento polka (The daughter of the regiment) published in 1847. The image is a “Portrait of Madlle Jenny Lind in the character of Maria in Donizetti’s opera La Figlia del Reggimento.” Jenny is portrayed again in a calf-length dress, this time in black and red, with military-like epaulettes, and a smart hat with red ribbons. Yet again she is depicted with impossibly tiny feet and waist. Her rosy complexion is enhanced with pink colouring on her cheeks. She has obviously attracted the attention of the three soldiers posing behind her, looking on admiringly as she salutes onlookers. The polka is ‘composed on the most admired melodies from Donizetti’s opera by Jullien,’ who is also the publisher of the music (Jullien & Co, 214 Regent St London). I presume this is an arrangement of Donizetti’s original, but Jullien is keen to take the credit having labelled the work ‘Jullien’s celebrated Polkas, No 16.
Jenny Lind appears on the title page of another piece from the same work “The songs in La figlia del reggimento” translated by Charles Jefferys who appeared to be doing well out of Ms Lind’s fame. This item is a chromolithograph printed in colour with gold embellishment. The songs are from the second act of the opera, and Jenny has foregone her military outfit for a spectacular pale blue dress with ruching, lace and decorated with pink roses. Looking like the belle of the ball, a satin clad toe peeps out from under the hem, and she holds a large white handkerchief trimmed with lace.
Such was Jenny’s fame that her name was used to attract purchasers to buy ‘Two fantasias for the pianoforte on the favourite airs sung by Madlle. Jenny Lind.’ The fact that the melodies were Jenny’s favourites was enough to attract people to buy this piano music.
Jenny was reported to be friends with the composers Mendelssohn and Chopin, but was famous in her own right. She topped the bill on a booklet listing the programme of events for 1847 at Her Majesty’s Theatre above ‘that great composer The Chevalier Meyerbeer’ and even above the planned visits by composers Mendelssohn and Verdi.
She sang to Queen Victoria, and her likeness was added to the spectacle of Madame Tussaud’s waxworks alongside other new additions, William Shakespeare and Sir Francis Bacon. According to the advert held by the John Johnson collection, if one visited the exhibition between 12am and 10pm there was ‘Increased orchestra.’ In 1882 Jenny Lind was appointed professor of singing at the Royal College of Music in London.
Jenny Lind went on tour to the USA, a visit arranged, somewhat surprisingly given her choice of repertoire, by the famous circus impresario, P. T. Barnum. Sadly there are no surviving recordings of Jenny Lind singing – we can only imagine the beauty of her voice. She is commemorated by a marble monument in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey, London.
To see the items featured above together with a number of other works that feature Jenny Lind, go to ProQuest’s The John Johnson Collection: an archive of printed ephemera http://johnjohnson.chadwyck.co.uk/geoLocSubscription.do.
Hint: open the ProQuest database before clicking on the hyperlinks.
There you can discover plenty of images for other ephemera too – for inspiration try clicking on the ‘select from a list’ links.