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PASSAGES FROM THE LIFE OF A GERMAN SINGER OF THE LAST CENTURY
WHILE listening to the magic strains of the listence he had felt to be so sore a burden. A Swedish nightingale, we could but reflect that new happiness, that of a father's pride and she and those dowered with the like gifts in the joy, visited the desolate heart of the poor old same high degree, must frequently mourn over man, and entering softly, he found that the their evanescence. The warrior's laurel and little Elizabeth had managed to reach an old the poet's bay are immortal; while the wreaths violin, whence she drew the sounds which which fall at the feet of a far-famed singer had so unexpectedly greeted her father's ears. scarcely perish sooner than her renown. The
Now began a new life for these two human faded beauty can point out to her friends, and beings-a life of happy companionship. It bequeath to her grandchildren her fair, fresh would have been a fine study for a painter to charms on the “undying canvas;" but what watch the young musician, still almost an echo remains of voices which have thrilled the infant, propped up on her high chair ; her hearts of half the world ? Surely it is a charity features, to which even the commom beauty to consecrate one poor half-hour to the memory of childhood had been denied, lighted up with of a German singer, whose name, now utterly the spirit of harmony, as the violin obeyed the forgotten, was, at the close of the last century, little trembling fingers, and sent forth its familiar as a household word to the lips of sweetest sounds; close by, on the only other all the beauty and fashion of Christendom; seat the room could boast, sat the now happy while, in private life, her virtues, her unsel father, urging on and encouraging the little fishness, and sweetness of disposition, bore a one: at a very difficult passage producing strong resemblance to our favourite Jenny from his capacious pocket a rosy-cheeked Lind, who was, however, born under a more apple, a rare dainty for Elizabeth, with which fortunate star, and we rejoice to think that her exertions were to be rewarded. the gentle heart of Madame Goldschmidt will After a short time, under the high patronnever be wrung as was that of the no less age of the child's godfather, a rich tailor, and gifted, but less happy, Madame Mara.
the sacristan, Schmähling and his daughter In 1749, that year so signalized by the birth gave little concerts at the houses of their of Goethe, Elizabeth Schmähling, the wife of a neighbours, an employment at once pleasant poor music teacher, in Cassel, died in child and profitable. They were enabled to make birth, leaving her husband a sickly infant, the two additions to their household--a servant child of his old age. Contrary to all expecta and a large dog-both accompanied them on tions, the little creature struggled through its their musical expeditions. The little procession early infancy, almost to the disappointment always delighted Elizabeth ; as her weak of her remaining parent, whose paternal feel limbs would not support her weight, she was ings were deadened by poverty, and the reflec carried by her father ; then came the maidtion that this little worthless life had been servant, carrying the violin, and lastly, the purchased by that of his beloved companion. dog, who was entrusted with a little basket As her father was too poor to command attend filled with violin strings, &c. Sometimes their ance of any kind, the neglected child passed auditors required ballads, or country songs, the long hours of his absence in perfect soli and then the servant joined her rustic voice ; tude, locked in an almost unfurnished apart but this always displeased the old man, who ment, and her poor little feet fastened to a was nevertheless compelled to obey the wishes great chair. One evening, just after she had of his audience. completed her fourth year, as Schmähling Gradually, however, Elizabeth's fame spread was returning, weary and heavy of heart, to among the richer citizens, the houses of the his humble abode, his step was arrested on wealthy tradesmen were opened to the childthe stairs by the sound of a scale in music, dis musician, and at length a rich merchant, who tinctly and perfectly played, proceeding from was going to the great fair at Frankfort, the prison-room of his little ailing daughter! offered to convey Schmähling and his daugh
He listened again. Yes! he was not mis- ter there. The poor child, then hardly eight taken-he had the key of the door no one years old, could scarcely bear the jolting of the could be there but the sickly child, whose ex- | carrier's waggon in which she travelled, but that famous little concert-room, at Sans-Souci, pencil by the king :—"Let him go, but you where Frederick was lying, in ill-health, and shall remain." out of humour, on a sofa. He asked her, · Mara was furious against the king, and beroughly, “ They tell me you can sing; is it haved most brutally to his wife, who persuaded true ?"
she rested her aching head on her father's shoulder, and although her limbs were nearly frozen with the cold, he kept her hands warm, by placing them under his coat, upon his heart. But her cold and weariness were forgotten completely when her father, at length, showed Elizabeth the city of Frankfort-thon full of the life and bustle of the great fair-and told her that there she would play before the rich and great, and earn not only money, but fame.
Schmähling and his daughter lived for two years at Frankfort, succeeding so well as to be in comfortable circumstances, while every day seemed to develope the wonderful powers of the child; her health, too, improved, and she could walk, though with difficulty. The old man, whom poverty had bound for so many years to Cassel, loved a wandering life, and went from Frankfort to Vienna, where his success prompted him to take what was then an arduous journey, and the little German child appeared in London in 1760. But here she was not well received; her extreme plainness, the awkwardness of her movements, and the frightful grimaces she made while playing, gave a most unfavourable impression. The disappointed father prepared to leave England as quickly as possible, but one of the first singers of the day had made an important discovery, that nature had given Elizabeth a most magnificent voice. She urged Schmähling no longer to waste the powers of the child on violin playing, but to return to Germany with all speed, and place her under the care of the best masters, and this counsel, backed as it was by funds for the purpose, was followed.
The old Capellmeister, at Leipsic, Father Hiller as he was always called, heard Elizabeth Schmähling sing, and, struck with her wonderful but ill-cultivated powers, adopted the young singer rather as his daughter than his pupil.* Hiller was one of the first musicians of his age, and eminently qualified to fulfil the charge he had undertaken. Elizabeth now entered with heart and soul upon her musical education, which proceeded as an education seldom does; the master unwearied in his teaching, the scholar never satisfied with learning.
He told her that she had not the beauty nor grace so necessary for the theatre, but that her education must prepare her for the envied post of private singer to the king.
Hiller had the satisfaction of watching his pupil's dawning fame. The first token of princely favour she received was a summons from the director of the royal private theatre, at Dresden; for the Electress Dowager, Marie Antonie had heard of the rising star, and wished to judge of her merits herself. Hasse's fine opera of “Semiramis" was chosen, and the principal part assigned to Elizabeth.
Father Hiller was almost in an agony of fear. “My child !” he exclaimed, “it will never do; you cannot—you must not be a queen; every one will laugh at us both."
Elizabeth herself gives a full account of the affair. She says: "I suffered patiently all that they liked to do with me. They painted my face red and white, and put a great patch on my chin. As this operation was being performed, in came the director, who, I saw, could hardly help laughing at my appearance. He said, he was commissioned to conduct me to her Highness, who wished to see me before I went upon the stage. I hastily threw my purple mantle round me, and followed the director through some dark passages, to a little cabinet hung with crimson velvet. Here stood the electress, and behind her some young ladies, who looked anxiously at me, as I stood in my splendour, like a doll under a Christmas tree. I held my sceptre behind me, to hide my red, coarse arms. What have you there at your back?' asked the royal lady. At this question, I produced my sceptre, and in doing so, unfortunately hit the director a violent blow on the nose, which made it bleed. You must not carry your sceptre so,' said her Serene Highness, with an involuntary smile; 'it should always be held before you; but I would advise you to lay it down—a queen does not always carry her sceptre.' After this little lecture, I had permission to leave, which, you may be sure, I did very speedily. As soon as I reached the stage, the instruments struck up, and I had to commence my recitative immediately; so that, fortunately for me, I could think of nothing but the music. I forgot my false hair, my crown, my purple mantle, and crimson velvet train, that I was Queen Semiramis, and only remembered that I was a singer."
A few months after this adventure, Frederick the Great was told of the young German singer, and commanded that she should be brought before him. She was conducted into
* The portrait of Father Hiller is given at full length in his pupil's life, and it is a somewhat grotesque picture. A real old German face, full of kindliness and wrinkles, a red cap drawn down over his ears, and a large pair of spectacles in pinchbeck frames, on which almost every student in Leipsic, including Goethe himself, had written an epigram.
him in vain to keep a prudent silence; he “ If it please your Majesty, I can try.” complained loudly of Frederick's tyranny, and * Very well then, sing."
even wrote ridiculous pamphlets upon his When Elizabeth had finished the piece wrongs. assigned her, the king, without any token This was, perhaps, the most miserable period either of satisfaction or displeasure, took up a of Madame Mara's unhappy married life. The music-sheet, containing a very difficult bra king showed his displeasure openly against her, voura of Graun, which he knew she could and she shared the odium with which her husnever have seen. “Sing this, if you can," band was universally regarded ; anxiety, grief, again commanded the imperious monarch. and distress, threw her into a dangerous fever, The young singer obeyed, and then withdrew, Just at this juncture, the Grand Duke Paul of the king only remarking, “ Yes, you can sing." Russia, a great admirer, almost a worshipper, But this interview decided Elizabeth's fate. of the “Colossus of the century,” as he styled A proposal was made to her to become the Frederick, arrived at Berlin. Among the festiking's private singer, with an annuity of three vities arranged for the occasion was a great thousand dollars secured to her for life.
opera, by Tomelli, in which Madame Mara In 1772, Elizabeth's evil fate brought her
was to sing the principal part. On the morninto contact with one of the most fascinating ing of the day on which it was to be performed, and most unprincipled men of his time--Mara, it was announced that Mara was very ill. the violoncellist to Prince Henry of Prussia. The king sent her a message, to the effect that In vain did her friends warn her; in vain were she could be well if she pleased, and it was his anonymous letters sent from every part to ex pleasure that she should be. She returned a pose the true character of her pretended lover; respectful answer, saying, that she was really she listened only to the protestations of her | very ill. All Berlin was in commotion, and handsome fiancé. On her twenty-fourth birth eagerly watched the result of a battle between day, Elizabeth laid a petition for the royal Frederick the Great and his first singer. No assent to her marriage before Frederick. The other entertainment was arranged for the answer, which she found written in pencil evening; the king commanded the preparaupon the margin, was more characteristic than tions to be completed. Evening approached ; courteous; it was—“You are a fool, and must the director, in despair, hastily donned his be more reasonable. You shall not make that court dress, and repaired to the king, to whom fellow your husband.” After repeated en he represented that he had seen Mara ; that treaties, and the delay of half a year, Frede she was really ill, and could not be induced to rick was brought to give a most unwilling per leave her bed. Frederick, who either really mission. The marriage was solemnized, and thought, or affected to believe, the indisposinow, in the midst of her success and honour, tion feigned, merely said, “Do not disturb began the secret sorrows and shame of the yourself, she will be present;" and, half an unhappy Elizabeth Mara.
hour afterwards, one of the royal carriages, She soon discovered how fatal a step she accompanied by eight dragoons, stopped before had taken; her husband lavished her earnings Madame Mara’s door, and the officer announced on the lowest, both of his sex and her own; to the terrified servants, that he had orders to he was almost always in a disgraceful state of bring their sick mistress by force to the intoxication; and, not content with heaping theatre. We will detail the story in Madame every neglect on his patient wife, he openly Mara's own words to Goethe. She says: reproached her with her want of beauty
“I rose from my sick-bed, and dressed, with Now, too, she began to experience that her the soldiers standing at the door of my apartposition at court was only a gilded slavery; ment. Ill as I was, only thoughts of the direst for the king, who hated the worthless hus revenge filled my soul. As I placed the dagger band, made the innocent wife feel his anger. of Armida in my girdle, I wished with all my A request she made, to be allowed, on account heart that I could slay my pitiless tyrant with of her health, to visit the Bohemian baths, it. Yes,' I said to myself, as the heavy diadem was refused ; and on the edge of a petition her was pressed on my poor aching head, “yes, I husband compelled her to present for leave to will obey the tyrant; I will sing, but in such accompany him on a tour, she found written in / accents as he has never heard before; he shall
listen to the terrible reproaches I dare not utter in words.' In this mood I went to the opera: the common people showed their sympathy, when they saw my guard of dragoons, my face wet with tears, and wan with sickness. Some even rushed forward to rescue me, but they were driven back by the soldiers. The officer had orders to accompany me to the sidescene, and stand there until I was called upon the stage to sing my part. I felt sick unto death as I stood waiting, and my physician, who accompanied me, has since said, that he feared the worst. I looked on the stage once, as the ballet-dancers swept past; it seemed to me as if they were dancing on my grave. Now, I had to appear; I sang the bravoura in a weak, trembling voice; but I felt very much vexed that I could only sing so feebly, for ambition awoke in me. When, in the second act, I had to sing the “Mi serame," I poured out the whole sorrow and oppression of my heart. I glanced at the king, and my looks and tones said, “Tyrant I am here to obey your will, but you shall listen only to the voice of my agony.' As the last piteous tones died on my lips, I looked round; all was still as death. Not a sound escaped the audience ; they seemed as if they were witnessing some execution. I saw my power, even in my weakness; this gave me strength; I felt my illness yield for the time to the power of melody within me. Vanity, too, came to my assistance: she whis- | pered that it would be an eternal disgrace if I allowed the grand duke, who had heard of my fame in a foreign land, to suppose that I was not equal to my renown. Then came that magnificent duet, in which I had to address Rinaldo, “Dove corri, O Rinaldo ?' and then I raised my voice, but did not put forth all my power, until I had to sing those burning words, • Vivi felice? Indegno, perfido, traditore!' My audience seemed overpowered; the grand duke leaned over his box, and testified his delight in the most evident manner. For some moments after I had finished, there was a breathless silence, and then came the full thunder of applause. I was sent for to appear again, and receive the plaudits; but no sooner had I got behind the scenes, than I fell into a fainting fit. I was carried home, and for many days my life was despaired of.”
Such was Madame Mara's account of this singular act of despotism-one worthy of Nero himself. “The Colossus of the age" certainly behaved like a petty tyrant to his principal singer. In vain she pleaded ill-health, and begged to be allowed to resign her honourable post ; the answer was always the same—“You
are to remain here.” At length, urged by her husband, and heart-sick of her slavery, she attempted to fly with him; but the fugitives were discovered, and brought back as state prisoners.
Frederick, who desired nothing more than praise from the French press, had been rather mortified at the view taken by the Parisian journals of his barbarous violation of Mara's sick-room; they expressed, in the strongest terms, the deepest indignation at his conduct, and the most heartfelt pity for the sufferer. The voice of public opinion, added to a secret consciousness that he had gone too far, determined the king to inflict no punishment on Madame Mara herself; but he indemnified himself for this forbearance, by making her husband feel the whole weight of his anger. The luxurious, pampered, royal musician was forthwith ordered to repair to Kustrin, in the capacity of drummer to a fusilier regiment! Forgetful of her many wrongs, the faithful wife wished to throw herself at the king's feet, and beg that the sentence might be revoked. He would not see her; and sent her a large portfolio of music, with the following note :-“Study these, and forget your goodfor-nothing husband : that is the best thing you can do."
The unhappy drummer wrote the most piteous letters to his wife ; touching her heart by complaints of absence from her, which he professed to find unspeakably bitter; and vowing that he had never felt his love for her till now, that absence taught him how dear she was. Poor Mara, unaccustomed to words of affection, and willing to be deceived, made the most urgent efforts to obtain his recal, and succeeded at last, when all appeals to Frederick's generosity, honour, and clemency had failed, by an appeal of a different nature, which was far more likely to weigh with the parsimonious monarch. She offered to purchase her husband's freedom with the resignation of half her annual salary; and the great hero of the eighteenth century was nothing loth to comply on these terms.
This sacrifice, for so unworthy an object, was the wonder and admiration of Berlin. It happened that the first time Mara appeared afterwards was in a little opera, called "The Galley Slave." The audience applied a scene, in which the singer, unbinding the chains of the galley slave, was addressed by him in these words : "Ame tendre et généreuse, tu brisas mes fers,” to their favourite herself. In spite of the royal prohibition, garlands, bouquets, and even costly jewellery, fell at her feet, as these words were pronounced. One of the fairest trophies of her public life was a fine engraving of this scene, from a sketch taken on the spot, by Chodowiecki. Madame Mara preserved it carefully, and loved to contemplate the picture even to her dying day.
At length, in 1779, after having resided at the Prussian court, as first singer, for nearly ten years, Elizabeth Mara obtained her most welcome dismissal. “Now," she wrote to her friends, “the imprisoned bird is let loose, and can fly everywhere." She went to Vienna, where an incident occurred, of which she always spoke as the most gratifying and exciting she had ever known. We will give the full particulars of an example of the power of harmony, only equalled by the story in Holy Writ, of that sweet singer of Israel, who charmed by his melody the gloomy demon from his royal master.
Count S- , a powerful Hungarian noble, had lost, under the most distressing circumstances, his only child, a beautiful girl, who was on the eve of marriage. Although two years had elapsed since this bereavement, the unhappy father remained in the most melancholy condition. From the hour when he had looked his last on the dead body of his child, he had remained in the same room, shedding no tears, and uttering no complaints, but in a speechless melancholy and despair. The most celebrated physicians had been consulted, and every means which could be thought of used, to awaken Count from his lethargy of grief'; but all was in vain; and his medical attendants at length despaired of his recovery, Most fortunately, a member of the sufferer's family had heard Mara sing, and entertained a firm belief, that if any sound on earth could reach the heart which was already buried in his daughter's grave; that voice, which seemed more like that of an angel than a human being, would have power. The other relatives, though hoping little from the experiment, yielded to the solicitations of this sanguine friend, and every arrangement was made to give full effect to the singer. An ante-room, opening into that where the count sat, was prepared. The choir for an oratorio was placed in a concealed gallery; Mara alone stood in the foreground, yet in such a position that she could not be seen in the next room, which was hung with black, and a faint shadowy twilight only
admitted, excepting a few golden rays from a small lamp, which burned in a niche before a beautiful Madonna. Suddenly, upon the solitude and silence of that sick-room, there broke a wonderful harmony. Elizabeth had chosen Handel's “Messiah," and took her place, deeply moved with the singular circumstances under which she was to exert her talents. At first, the music and that heavenly voice all seemed to be unheeded; but, by degrees, the desolate parent raised himself on his couch, and glanced with earnest longing towards the spot whence those soul-moving sounds proceeded. At length, when Mara sang those words-"Look and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow," she appeared inspired by the sympathy she felt; and the relatives of the count, who listened with beating hearts, could not restrain their tears. Nor did these alone bear witness to the singer's power: heavy sighs escaped the sufferer-large tears stood in those eyes which the very extremity of grief itself had long forbidden to weep. Crossing the room with feeble steps, he prostrated himself before the image of that Heavenly One, who “bore all our griefs;" and when the full choir joined in the hallelujah chorus, his voice of praise and thanksgiving mingled with those strains. The recovery was not only complete, but lasting, and was at the time the marvel of Germany.
In 1784, she again visited England, where she had not been since, as an ugly sickly child, she was despised for her excessive plainness. Now, however, full justice was done her, and she was welcomed as the queen of song. George III. and his graceless son were at least agreed in their admiration of Mara's voice. During her stay in England, those bonds which she had, twelve years before so eagerly embraced, and found such galling fetters, were broken, and she separated from her worthless husband, pensioning him off so amply as to satisfy the selfish debauchee.
After this separation, her days were calm, if not happy. She retired early from public life, and settled at Reval, where, on her eighty. third birthday, she received a copy of verses from Goethe, who, on the same day sixty years before, had, as a student at Leipsic, sung her praises as Mademoiselle Schmähling.
Madame Mara died at Reval, on the 20th of January, 1833, having nearly completed her eighty-fifth year.