November 18th 2021
[Book event-Literary meeting] Sandra Mamboury invites you to share an original, tender and colourful journey. In "Le passé au présent, voyage au 21e siècle avec mon ancêtre Pauline Viardot", the Swiss journalist and novelist brings the great 19th-century composer and singer Pauline García Viardot (1821-1910) back to life during a journey. The author, who is also her great-great-granddaughter, decides to take her to several emblematic places of her past life. On the programme: unusual encounters, moving moments and above all a lot of humour. The Centre européen de musique and its founding chairman, Jorge Chaminé, are even part of the adventure! We went to meet Sandra Mamboury.
Pauline García épouse Viardot ( 1821-1910) painted by Ary Scheffer (1795-1858) in 1840 (Paris, Musée de la Vie romantique).
- If you were to introduce Pauline Viardot to those who don't know her, what would you say?
- She is a great composer and singer of the 19th century. Known during her lifetime, she is unfortunately forgotten today. She was a unique woman who knew how to do everything: compose and sing divinely, draw, create costumes. She received the artistic elite of the 19th century in her salons (Paris, Baden Baden and Bougival): Richard Wagner, Camille Saint-Saëns, Clara Schumann Gustave Flaubert, Guy de Maupassant, Victor Hugo, Eugène Delacroix and many others. She even had a certain Franz Liszt as her piano teacher. Today, on the occasion of the bicentenary of her birth, an attempt is being made to bring her back to life.
- How did the idea for this book come about?
- The starting point is emotional. It is a tribute to my mother, who always talked to me a lot about Pauline. After her death in 2008, I found documents, scores and family writings about my great-great-grandmother. It became a real passion. Every time I go to Paris, I come to greet Pauline, who is resting in the Montmartre cemetery. These moments were also the starting point for the book. I started writing it during the confinement and when my editor became aware of the project we worked together so that it could be published in the year of the bicentenary of my grandmother's birth.
Portrait of George Sand by Pauline Viardot, pencil drawing on paper (Paris, Musée de la Vie romantique. CCO Paris Musées).
- Ces voyages, Pauline les a accomplis de son vivant : elle a chanté à la Scala de Milan, en Belgique où repose sa sœur ainée, la célèbre Malibran. Elle se rendait également à Nohant, chez son amie George Sand. Elle adorait y passer l’été avec ses célèbres amis. Je l’emmène aussi à Bougival, elle y revoit avec beaucoup d’émotion sa villa rénovée. Cette Dame du 19e siècle qui arrive dans le 21e rencontre aussi des personnes que j’admire comme Philippe Geluck, l’auteur de la série de bande dessinée Le Chat. Confrontée aux technologies actuelles, elle pense que Wikipedia est le nom d’un consul et qu’un ‘’selfie’’ est une danse. C’était quelqu’un qui avait, je pense, beaucoup d’humour. Ses compositions ont été interprétées à de nombreuses reprises, mais on ne connait pas le son de sa voix, le phonographe n’existant pas lorsqu’elle chantait. Le but de ce voyage était donc de l’enregistrer à Genève afin qu’il figure dans le patrimoine lyrique.
- Pauline Viardot qui était une féministe avant l’heure est aussi perçue comme un symbole de l’Europe de la culture. Comment cela transparait-il dans votre livre ?
- Elle était profondément féministe. D’ailleurs, elle évoque le fait que son amie, la compositrice Clara Schumann, ne pouvait s’épanouir artistiquement à cause de son mari qui lui mettait des bâtons dans les roues. J’y fais référence dans le livre. Elle était aussi européenne : elle a parcouru tout le continent et y a véhiculé une culture. Pauline parlait six langues et a même chanté en russe. Pour l’anecdote, lors de notre périple, elle utilise ainsi l’italien pour commander son repas au restaurant.
- Lors de son voyage, Pauline Viardot découvre le Centre européen de musique.
- Jorge Chaminé est un passionné de Pauline et je crois savoir que c’est en partie grâce à elle que le Centre européen de musique est né !
- This book is the story of encounters and an itinerant journey with this great 19th century figure. How did you imagine this contemporary journey with her between Paris and Geneva, passing through Brussels, Milan, Nohant and even Bougival?
- Pauline made these journeys during her lifetime: she sang at La Scala in Milan, in Belgium where her older sister, the famous Malibran, is buried. She also went to Nohant, to the home of her friend George Sand. She loved to spend the summer there with her famous friends. I also took her to Bougival, where she saw her renovated villa with great emotion. This 19th-century lady who is coming into the 21st century also meets people I admire, such as Philippe Geluck, the author of the comic strip series Le Chat. Confronted with today's technologies, she thinks that Wikipedia is the name of a consul and that a selfie is a dance. She was someone who had, I think, a lot of humour. Her compositions have been performed many times, but the sound of her voice is not known, as the phonograph did not exist when she sang. The aim of this trip was therefore to record it in Geneva so that it would be part of the lyrical heritage.
- Pauline Viardot, who was a feminist before her time, is also seen as a symbol of European culture. How does this come across in your book?
- She was deeply feminist. In fact, she talks about the fact that her friend, the composer Clara Schumann, was unable to develop artistically because her husband put obstacles in her way. I refer to this in the book. She was also European: she travelled the whole continent and brought a culture with her. Pauline spoke six languages and even sang in Russian. As an anecdote, during our trip, she used Italian to order her meal in a restaurant.
- During her trip, Pauline Viardot discovered the European Music Centre.
- Jorge Chaminé is a fan of Pauline's and I understand that it is partly thanks to her that the European Music Centre was born!
The Villa Viardot in Bougival, inhabited by Pauline Viardot from 1874 to 1883, when her husband, Louis Viardot, died. In this view from July 2021, the villa is being restored.
"Le passé au présent, voyage au 21e siècle avec mon ancêtre Pauline Viardot", by Sandra Mamboury, Les Inédits du chien jaune, 130 pages. Distributed in Switzerland, you can obtain the book in France in its paper version by writing directly to Sandra Mamboury: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sandra Mamboury is a novelist and this is her fourth book. As a journalist, she has worked for the daily newspaper La Suisse and for Radio Suisse Romande. In 1990, she created the daily "Encre bleue" at the Tribune de Genève. She wrote it for twenty years under the pseudonym Julie. Sandra Mamboury has written and performed two one-woman shows in Geneva, at the P'tit Music'Hohl in 2007 and at the Palais Mascotte in 2011.