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UpBeat Blog | Summer French Discoveries: Pauline Viardot and Francois Devienne

I have been enjoying my BSM summer lecture class on French Music. There is a treasure chest of wonderful repertoire to discuss and enjoy from Rameau to Ravel and beyond. In addition to these great composers, I have recently discovered two special and relatively unknown figures in music that I would like to share with you.

In a wonderfully written recent article in the New York Times, I learned about Pauline Viardot, an accomplished French pianist, singer, and composer from the nineteenth and early twentieth century. She took piano lessons with Franz Liszt and played duets with Frederic Chopin. As a singer, she premiered works by such composers as Berlioz, Brahms, and Gounod. An article published in a London journal in 1848 said “The principal feature which characterizes her is the dramatic warmth of her impersonations. She throws herself, heart and soul, into a part.”

In addition to her impressive performing career, Viardot was also an accomplished composer. Her output includes songs for solo voice and piano, operas, solo piano pieces, and chamber music. Clara Schumann referred to her as “ the greatest woman of genius I have ever known.” Some of her works have been published and recorded. I listened to a few excerpts of her music and especially like her song settings of various Chopin Mazurkas. You may consider listening yourself and even learning one of her compositions.

One morning in early July I decided to tune into WCRB, a wonderful Boston classical radio station. The selection they were playing was a beautiful sinfonia for woodwinds. I listened attentively and was convinced it was Mozart with its elegant phrasing and inspired melodic writing. I waited for the announcer to say the name of the piece so I could make note of it in case I wanted to listen to it again.

To my surprise, it was not Mozart at all but François Devienne, a French composer and professor for flute at the Paris Conservatory. I never heard of this composer and went on my iPad to read his biography. Devienne composed 300 instrumental works that are mostly written for wind instruments including flute concertos, bassoon concertos, sinfonias for woodwinds, and several operas. He was active in Paris as a flutist, bassoonist, and composer, and played bassoon at the Paris Opera. In his lifetime he was known as the “ Mozart of the Flute.”

It’s always fun to make discoveries like these! Our world of music is varied and vast. Keep your ears open to your own discoveries and if you want to share any with me, feel free to send me an email at


Practice Tip

Sometimes in the summer, it’s easy to feel like you would rather go outside and enjoy the summer weather rather than practice. I recommend making short-term goals. Maybe in the next two weeks, you can complete a piece or start something new. Sometimes small steps lead to big results along the way,

I often have big goals such as preparing a recital program or learning a large new work. There are also times I make smaller goals for myself so that I don’t get practice fatigue. This helps to keep practicing interesting and fun.