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Happy 200th Birthday, Pauline Viardot!

In celebration of Pauline Viardot’s 200th birthday on July 18th, we are sharing three music manuscripts held in Harvard’s collection. The music, L’hirondelle et le prisonnier (The Swallow and the Prisoner), was first published in 1841 in Paris by Bureaux de La France musicale, as advertised in the contents pages from the January 3rd issue of this publication. The text was adapted from the poem by Hector-Grégoire de Saint-Maur (first published anonymously in the Gazette de Sainte-Pélagie in 1834).

Newspaper clipping from Bureaux de La France musicale stating the publication of L’Hirondelle et le prisonnier by Pauline Viardot Garcia.

Paris: Bureaux de La France musicale, 3 January 1841.

Before jumping into the manuscript, let’s take a look at an early publication of this work digitized by Hathi Trust Digital Library.

First page of L’Hirondelle et le prisonnier

First page of L’Hirondelle et le prisonnier, published by Bureaux de La France musicale.

Our first example is a manuscript held in the Pauline Viardot-Garcia papers held at the Houghton Library, and is contained in a notebook owned by Pauline, along with 22 other songs.

Oblong manuscript of song for voice and piano from notebook. One stave of the music has been slightly extended in order to finish a phrase on the same line.

L’hirondelle et le prisonnier. Pauline Viardot-Garcia papers, MS Mus 232 (60) no. 10. Houghton Library, Harvard University.

The next example is a manuscript also in the Houghton Library as part of the Pauline Viardot-García Additional Papers. This edition is part of a Collection of Songs, Autograph Manuscripts and Manuscript Scores containing incipits of works.

Oblong music manuscript, the first page from Collection of Songs for voice and piano.

Pauline Viardot-García additional papers, MS Mus 264 (97). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Our final manuscript is signed and dated Paris, March 18, 1842. It is part of a collection of autographs compiled by Jenny Vény, daughter of oboist Louis-Auguste Vény. The album contains 75 autographs and 120 leaves of music.

In March of 1842, Pauline was three months shy of her 21st birthday. She married Louis Viardot two years prior, and made friendships with Fredrick Chopin and author George Sands, but had not yet met her lifelong friend Ivan Turgenev.  According to The Life and Work of Pauline Viardot Garcia, in March of 1842 the Viardots were visiting family (her sister’s widow) in Brussels at Ixelles to show off their new baby, returning to Paris in April.

A page from an autograph album manuscript with two lines of music for voide and piano and the signature of Pauline Viardot.

Autograph Album: Manuscript, 1841-1880. MS Mus 103. Houghton Library, Harvard University.

For more information on this work, see page 5-6 of Sarah Christine Ballman’s 2021 doctoral dissertation, A Catalog of Mélodies Composed by Pauline Viardot.

Two Works by Joyce Mekeel

Headshot of Mekeel

Mekeel, Harvard University, Radcliffe Archives, W367379.1

The Joyce Mekeel Collection of Musical Scores and Recordings, 1961-1996, which came to the Library by the composer in 1997, contains manuscript scores, compositional materials and incomplete works, correspondence, reviews, theory notebooks, biographical ephemera, and audio materials. From this collection we’ve chosen two pieces to highlight: one for its interesting instructional layout, another for its glowing reviews.

Mekeel’s 1973-74 site-specific work Moveable Feast describes how the three groups in the piece, Jazz Group, Old C, and Feast, are to play music and move their bodies. The collection contains a 1992 letter to an editor at Oxford University Press as a response to numerous questions, a cue sheet from a November 1973 performance at “Mass College” and a March 7, 1974 performance at New England Conservatory, of which NEC holds a recording.

Moveable Feast stage work instructions

Merritt Room, Ms. Coll. 104, Box 18

The following year Mekeel completed a commission by Harvard’s Fromm Music Foundation of Serena, a piece for mezzo-soprano, speaker, and chamber ensemble. It premiered at Tanglewood during the annual Festival of Contemporary Music, which still continues to this day.

Serena speaker and singer instructions

Merritt Room, Ms. Coll. 104, Box 2

The work was positively reviewed by Donal Henahan, a candid opinion writer for the New York Times. He snarkily writes, “It doesn’t often happen that the newest piece on a concert program is also the best, but that is how it was last night at Tanglewood…”

Newspaper clipping with quote.He must have been truly impressed given he also states, “Otherwise, the concert offered the usual assortment of contemporary commonplaces and experimental failures, with an elderly additive to leaven the lump.” Extra kudos to Mekeel, given that Henahan also wrote a provocative piece for the New York Times titled “Let’s Hear It For Composer Persons,” where the first sentence reads, “Everyone knows women can’t compose.”

Newspaper clipping stating women can't compose.

In the same article he writes of Serena, “…Mekeel was powerful and simple in effect though intricately designed.”

newspaper clipping with praise quote

A later review of a 1977 performance held at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City was just as positive, stating “the most arresting item of the evening was Joyce Mekeel’s “Serena,” the sung and spoken duo.” The concert was titled “Hear America First,” and was a premiere for several new works by several composers.

Newspaper clipping withe previous quote

In the spring of 2019, the Loeb Music Library held an exhibit, Toward the Source: Joyce Mekeel, curated by the Keeper of the Isham Memorial Library, Christina Linklater. We also have another Mekeel collection, The Joyce Mekeel Collection of Musical Scores in Graphic Notation, 1952-1969. The Mekeel Collections will be available for research by request in the Isham Memorial Library, which is located on the second floor of the Loeb Music Library, when the Library opens again post-pandemic.

Two exhibit cases containing Mekeel materials.

Exhibit cases from the 2019 exhibition from the Joyce Mekeel collection.


Henahan, Donal. “Music: ‘Serena’ Catches the Imagination.” New York Times, Aug. 13, 1975.
Henahan, Donal. “Let’s Hear It For Composer Persons.” New York Times, Aug. 31, 1975.
Hughes, Allen. “Hear America.” New York Times, Apr. 14, 1977.

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