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Jenny Lind. Of Echoes and Traces

Jenny Lind : Échos et traces
Anne Harley et Andrea Zittlau


En septembre 1850, la célèbre soprano Jenny Lind, mieux connue sous le nom du Rossignol Suédois, arriva aux États-Unis pour ce qui devait être sa dernière grande tournée musicale. Son succès retentissant dans la jeune nation fut porté par une campagne de publicité par Phineas Taylor Barnum qui exploita pleinement le talent de la chanteuse, ainsi que divers aspects de son identité. Cet article examine la musique écrite pour Lind et comment le son de sa voix fut perçu non seulement par son public, mais aussi par ceux qui n’eurent pas l’occasion de l’entendre. Il ne s’agit pas de recréer la voix de Lind, mais de marquer son absence en « audiolysant » les genres qu’elle produit. Nous analysons la tension entre la partition écrite trouvée dans les archives et les performances correspondantes de Lind et de ses imitateurs, telles que décrites dans la presse. La voix de Lind fut inscrite par la société américaine dans plusieurs registres simultanément : sa performance vocale est diversement décrite comme un modèle pour la voix des masses, un répondant dans des séances de chant avec le public dans la rue, et aussi comme véhicule indescriptible pour la transcendance spirituelle. Nous retracerons la correspondance de ces identités et espérons ainsi amplifier les paysages sonores populaires de l’Amérique du milieu du xixe siècle.

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Jenny Lind’s Origin Story

  • 1 The story was told by Jenny Lind to her children and is first found in the Biographical Lexicon of (...)

1Born as an illegitimate child in 1820, legend has it that as a young girl Jenny loved to sing and her beautiful voice was overheard by the domestic worker of Mademoiselle Lundberg, a renowned ballet star at the Royal Swedish Opera (Öhrström 3). Biographer Öhrström describes this decisive moment in great detail: little Jenny singing to the cat with her window open, the domestic worker so fascinated by her voice that she persuaded her employer to listen and eventually arrange for Jenny to be enrolled in the Royal Opera singing and acting school.1

2The vignette, recurring in many of Lind’s biographies, is important because it clarifies for her audiences (both listeners and readers) that Jenny Lind did not have a background of privilege. Her mother, though from a middle-class family, struggled to provide for Jenny as a single divorced woman with an illegitimate child in early nineteenth-century Stockholm. Jenny’s life is often told as a narrative in which her voice and her talent opened doors to her that would have remained closed otherwise. The Royal Opera, for example, gave her a scholarship to pursue performance training there, while Jenny lived with her mother, and continued supporting the child prodigy even after she moved out of the parental household when conflicts between them persisted (Öhrström 6). This part of her ‘origin story’ was an important aspect of the public perception of Jenny Lind as someone who moved up the socio-economic hierarchy almost miraculously and as someone who solely lived for her passion: music.

3While Jenny Lind made her first stage appearances in 1830, acting and dancing at the age of ten, she made her formal operatic debut eight years later in Sweden as Agathe in Weber’s Der Freischütz in 1838. From then on she focused on opera where she became a major celebrity in the Europe of the 1840s with roles such as Alice in Meyerbeer’s Robert le diable and Norma in Bellini’s eponymous opera (Foster 8). Her most successful engagement was at Benjamin Lumley’s Her Majesty’s Theatre in London between 1847 and 1849 where she performed Amina in La sonnambula, Maria in La figlia del reggimento, and Adina in L’elisir d’amor before losing her voice, probably due to overuse (Rockstro 12).

4The voice teacher Manuel Garcia, arguably the most renowned bel canto teacher of his time, helped her to recover her voice in the years before her American tour, but she avoided opera from then on. Her contract with circus showman P. T. Barnum tellingly begins by precluding opera from her performance duties while touring for him. Lind’s 18-month concert tour in North America (including Canada and Cuba) was no doubt partly inspired by her teacher Garcia, whose family troupe had toured America twenty-five years before in 1825, as one of the first European companies to tour the young nation. The Garcia family troupe gave eighty operatic and concert performances during their American tour, featuring Garcia’s sister as a 17-year-old primadonna star later known as Maria Malibran (Block 194).

  • 2 Many biographies have been written about Jenny Lind, among them are Öhrström (2000) an excellent ex (...)

5So it was that on September 1st, 1850, the celebrated Swedish soprano Jenny Lind, better known as the Swedish Nightingale, arrived in Lower Manhattan in the United States for what would be her last musical tour. Lind’s American tour marked the end of her career and her concert repertoire repeatedly featured a combination of operatic and popular ballad repertoire. Her operatic selections allowed her to impress her audience with her skill in virtuosic coloratura, while her performance of English-language ballads and folk tunes (with titles such as ‘Home, Sweet Home’, the Scottish ‘Auld Robin Gray’, and the Irish ‘Last Rose of Summer’) confirmed the decidedly nostalgic sentiments of American parlor music as worthy of international esteem. At the end of her American tour, Lind married Otto Goldschmidt, her accompanist, who was ten years her junior, and then returned to Europe to officially retire from the stage and to raise her children.2

  • 3 After more than 30,000 admirers greeted her ship’s arrival in Manhattan, Lind was serenaded later t (...)

6In the early age of American celebrity culture, Jenny Lind became legendary, and a pivotal figure for a young nation at pains to construct for themselves a convincing national cultural identity. ‘She [Lind] was evidently unprepared to find such a display of wealth and taste in a land still regarded through the greater part of Europe as having barely reached the standard of civilization’, writes the New York Daily Tribune on September 3, 1850 shortly after Lind’s arrival (Ware 8). Lind’s visit prompted the building of opera houses in many towns, and paved the way for other prima donnas from Europe to tour America (Block 195). When Lind toured the United States, crowds of eager audience members lingered in front of her hotels and populated the places of her arrival. The crowds sometimes serenaded her at her hotel window by torchlight with impromptu group performances of popular American songs such as ‘Yankee Doodle’, ‘Hail Columbia’, and ‘God Save the Queen’.3

7Because voice recorders had not yet been invented, we do not have recordings of Jenny Lind’s voice, but this does not mean that her voice is lost entirely. In this article, we seek to understand where her voice left traces, where it continues to echo, and what can be projected about her vocalism. We shall attempt the reconstruction of her voice by relying on the interdisciplinary methodology of performance studies, historical performance studies, and cultural studies. We will explore how Lind’s American performances buttressed unifying patriotic tendencies during a period of divisive political tensions in antebellum America. We seek to mark the traces and echoes of Jenny Lind’s voice and nineteenth-century performance presence, while making a comment about the ways music has been and continues to be archived.

Of Traces and Echoes

8The Oxford English Dictionary defines traces as ‘non-material indication or evidence of the presence or existence of something, or of a former event or condition; a sign, mark’.4 This non-material, figurative meaning of the word is mirrored by the meaning of a mark or impression left on a face or as a footprint on the ground. In all these concepts, a trace is a mark that does not resemble its original event but serves as evidence of the event’s existence (such as the passing of an animal). It is very obvious that Jenny Lind’s voice is not recreatable, but neither is it completely lost. It left traces in the print media, such as the contemporary press, voice manuals and biographies, in form of the music written for her, music she performed, and echoes in photographs of Lind, as Francisca Vella demonstrates.

9The voice is sometimes understood as the resonance of a vibrating body. In her article ‘Jenny Lind, Voice, Celebrity’, Vella has collected numerous contemporary written references to Lind’s voice as well as photographs. She reminds us that voice is always already connected to processes of mediatization (Vella 242). Her article illustrates that the perception of Lind’s voice has been defined by the printed media that praised her, but perpetually lacked words to describe verbally the transfiguring experience of listening to Lind’s voice.

10As Sherry Linkon points out in her article about ‘Lind Mania’, most print reports that reviewed Lind’s American tour did not stress the singularity of her voice (36). They described the noise the audience made during the concert (Boston Evening Transcript, September 28, 1850, Cook 198), addressed her miraculous fame (The Times of London, October 31, 1850, Cook 199), or commented on her repeated acts of charity, but they rarely made an attempt to describe her vocal performance. When Walt Whitman attended Lind’s concert as a journalist, in the years prior to the publication of the first edition of Leaves of Grass, his critique contrasted sharply with the general adulation of Lind:

The Swedish Swan, with all her blandishments, never touched my heart in the least. I wondered at so much vocal dexterity; and indeed they were all very pretty, those leaps and double somersets. But even in the grandest religious airs, genuine masterpieces as they are, of the German composers, executed by this strangely overpraised woman in perfect scientific style, let critics say what they like, it was a failure, for there was a vacuum in the head of the performer. (New York Evening Post, August 14, 1851, Cook 202)

11Although Whitman insists that he was not touched by the performance, he does praise Lind’s ‘vocal dexterity’ and the perfect technique of her singing. However, he was not touched by a woman who embodied Christian values and mockingly called her a ‘Swedish Swan’ to express a distinct disdain.

12Other authors lacking Whitman’s confidence made written attempts to praise her voice, and rhetorically linked their failure to describe her vocalism as an inevitable consequence of her transcendent, ineffable sound. Sources describe her voice, and the effect her voice had on the audience as projections of an inner purity. ‘Her magnificent voice, always true and firm, and as far beyond any instrument as humanity is beyond nature, seems like the audible beauty of her nature and her character’, writes the New York Daily Tribune on September 14, 1850 (Cook 198). In connecting the sound of Lind’s body directly to a beautiful nature and character, the reviewer directly associated the publicly performing female body with upstanding morality. This represented a decided change in the reception of female performers. Until Lind’s tour in the US, female performers on the public stage were almost always associated with loose sexual morals and prostitution. The press reviews of Lind’s performances on the stage, by contrast, are almost always focused on her perfect fulfilment of feminine gender norms, identifying her as a humble, chaste, and spiritual woman of exemplary charity and morality. Evident here as in many contemporary reports is the insistence that Lind’s voice is not to be separated from her body, as her skill is not to be separated from her personality. ‘The note began soft and timid and scarce audible, as the prayer of Norma might have done; but how it gradually swelled with the influx of divine strength into the soul . . .’, the New York Daily Tribune continues, describing Lind’s American tour (Cook 198). Lind’s choice of the role of a high priestess might have been well calculated to invoke spiritual comparisons.

13Another set of reviewers claim the impossibility of describing her performance, comparing the task to a hyperbolic list of impossible hubristic goals:

To endeavour to give any description of her charms as a singer, and actress . . . would be as vain as to endeavour to represent the brilliance of the sun with a ha’poth of gamboge; or to produce a brick and request the looker on to form from it an idea of such a building as the Colosseum. To say too much is impossible; to say half enough is more impossible still; and to flatter is the most impossible of all; for we might as well send for a pot of paint in order to paint the lily, or cover a sovereign with a layer of Dutch metal, as endeavour to paint Jenny Lind’s splendid achievements in their appropriate colours (Lindiana 38).

14This critic’s self-consciously failed attempt at description recommends instead the wordless state of awe of a mystical experience as the appropriate stance before Lind’s performance. In their narratives, critics such as this one refer to listening to Jenny Lind as a spiritually transformative experience. Her many documented acts of public charity and performance of impeccable humility and modesty outside of the performance hall were as important to her success as her vocalism. Jenny Lind’s singing performance became a vehicle for transcendence into the divine and her concerts were described in the press as secular rituals of spiritual transformation for her audiences. The associations of the Swedish Nightingale with divine transcendence are confirmed visually in the sheet music published and sold in her name. Note the position of the brown nightingale at the apex of this illustrated front cover of Jenny Lind’s Bird Song, in the position normally reserved for the white dove representing the Holy Spirit in Christian sacred friezes. The brightly colored earthbound birds are subordinate to the drab-colored ecstatic songbird, its back arched, and its beak pointed towards heaven, directly beneath the name of Jenny Lind.

Figure 1—Digital photograph of the front cover of the musical score ‘Jenny Lind’s Bird Song’. Composed by M. Taubert, with lyrics by C. C. Rosenberg.

Figure 1—Digital photograph of the front cover of the musical score ‘Jenny Lind’s Bird Song’. Composed by M. Taubert, with lyrics by C. C. Rosenberg.

Published in 1850 by Samuel C. Jollie, New York. From the personal collection of Christopher Reynolds (UC Davis). Photo by Christopher Reynolds used with his permission.)

15Besides the traces Lind left in printed scores, we can also find something we would like to analyse as echoes: the vocal recreation of her songs in modern-day recordings. As is the case with traces, these echoes are sounds that refer to and reflect Lind’s original sound but do not reproduce it. As such, an echo is evidence of something sounding in the past. Just as the trace offers visual evidence connecting present and past, the echo provides us with audio material that is not a recording but a reference of a past vocal existence. As such, an echo is produced when singers perform Jenny Lind’s repertoire in direct or indirect reference to her. The singers who recreated these performances were usually female sopranos, whereas the printed traces, particularly the musical scores written for Lind, and sold under her name, were exclusively composed and published by men. The scores’ publishing rights were often strongly guarded with copyright statements printed boldly on the back page and sold thousands of copies.

Sheet Music and the (Im)Possibilities of Mechanical Reproduction

16In Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale ‘The Nightingale’, a tale he wrote for Lind (Hetsch 327), the Chinese emperor by reading a Japanese book learns about the miracles of his own empire, among them the marvellous song of a nightingale. He immediately orders the bird to be presented in court while he also receives a gift from Japan, a mechanical nightingale that can produce a song only in a poor resemblance of its living source of inspiration. But due to its rich decoration and the fact that the one song can be memorized and is predictable, the emperor is very much satisfied with his mechanical copy, thus the living nightingale can escape.

  • 5 An early example is E. T. A. Hoffman’s The Sandman (1816) in which an automaton is mistaken for a h (...)

17The tension between the living bird and its eerie mechanical copy has been a common theme during the nineteenth century.5 Andersen’s narrative distilled the social anxiety of a society in the throes of an Industrial Revolution, in which the labor of human workers was being replaced by mechanical reproduction. Read as a parable, Andersen’s fairy tale seems to claim that the copy is more reliable, lacking the complexities of the living bird, yet unsatisfactory to restore life.

18Jenny Lind’s performances can now neither be heard live, nor in recordings. However, we do have sheet music for the songs that she performed that tacitly made the promise to purchasers then, as now, that the magic of her performance can be recreated—in a performance by another soprano. As with the mechanical nightingale in Andersen’s story, the sheet music and descriptions of Lind’s voice cannot recreate her original vocal performance. They barely give an impression and illustrate the difficulties of the archive to capture and preserve something as unique and ephemeral (at least to the human ear) as the human voice.

19In her article ‘Jenny Lind, Voice, Celebrity’, Francesca Vella notes that Lind’s voice ‘has come down to us only in the form . . .  of ventriloquistic detritus; written accounts’ (236). Vella attempts to understand voice through textual representations that remain of Lind. We can gather the reach of her voice and especially the capacity of her singing from music that has been written for Lind. One such song is ‘Jenny Lind’s Celebrated Bird Song’ that was composed expressly for her by M. Taubert (the lyrics are by C. C. Rosenberg) and was a regular part of her North American concert repertoire.


Jenny Lind’s Celebrated Bird Song

Recording by Anne Harley, soprano and Gayle Blankenburg, piano (recorded April 2021 by Scott B. Fraser)

21The sheet music, notated at certain measures with ‘as sung by Mlle Lind’ promises to give the purchaser an idea of Jenny Lind’s vocal capacities. However, as a charismatic performer, Lind probably did not follow this notated ornamentation exactly, but enhanced it with expressive pauses and flourishes. The use of the French courtesy title ‘Mlle’ invoked Continental European cultural prestige as it simultaneously defined Lind as an unmarried woman. Publishers leveraged the contemporary fantasy of a domestic recreation of Lind’s performances in order to sell scores. Seated at the piano, in drawing room performances for prospective suitors, the sheet music associated with Lind would allow young marriageable women to impersonate this new model of female virtue, European style, and desirable musicianship combined.

22The Bird Song includes long coloratura melismas that display trills, staccati, arpeggios scaling the top and bottom of the soprano range, and grace notes of many kinds. These melismatic passages interrupt the singer’s first-person address as a bird, in order to launch instead into long passages of pure untexted vocalism, associated with the birdsong itself. Music, equally capable of ordering sound without text, or in settings of poetry, mediates the transition between human and animal worlds. In the battle staged between human and bird for control over the singer’s utterance, the human clearly wins, as she reverts to text for the closing cadential phrase. However, that intimate contact with the wordless animal world has transformed the singer, it seems, into one who, for better or worse, is liberated from rational restrictions of causality and reason: ‘Nor know I why I’m singing’.

Figure 2—Digital reproduction of the last page of the musical score ‘Jenny Lind's Bird Song’. Composed by M. Taubert, with lyrics by C. C. Rosenberg.

Figure 2—Digital reproduction of the last page of the musical score ‘Jenny Lind's Bird Song’. Composed by M. Taubert, with lyrics by C. C. Rosenberg.

Published in 1850 by Samuel C. Jollie, New York. From the United States Library of Congress. Music Division.

23The vocal scoring of ‘The Bird Song’ confirms contemporary reports of Lind’s vocal signature in performance. ‘The Bird Song’ makes excellent use of what is reported to be Lind’s small-to-medium-sized instrument, her voice, which reviewers described as having extremely even registration, exquisite facility in the necessary bel canto mezza di voce, and to have accurately and easily traversed the most rapid coloratura, from D to high A:

that the nicest ear can discover no difference of quality from the bottom to the summit of the scale. In the great extent between A below the lines and D in alt, she executes every description of passage, whether consisting of notes in ‘linked sweetness long drawn out’, or of the most rapid flights and fioriture, with equal facility and perfection. Her lowest notes came out as clear and ringing as the highest; and her highest are as soft and sweet as the lowest. Her tones are never muffled or indistinct, nor do they ever offend the ear by the slightest tinge of shrillness––mellow roundness distinguishes every sound she utters. As she never strains her voice, it never seems to be loud; and hence some who busied themselves in anticipatory depreciation said that it would be found to fail in power (Rockstro 46).

24Reviewers often reached for comparisons with the spiritual: invocation of the divine safely relegated Lind to a desexualized category of female performer, rather than the ill-reputed actresses usually associated with the public stage:

Mdlle. Lind’s execution is that of a complete musician. Every passage is as highly finished, as perfect in tone, tune, and articulation, as if it proceeded from the violin of a Paganini or a Sivori, with the additional charm which lies only in the human voice divine (Rockstro 46).

  • 6 ‘Alte Musik’ departments such as the one at Hannover Hochschule für Musik, Theatre und Medien, in G (...)

25Historically Informed Performance (HIP) can guide us in the recreation of music from the scores that remain, but we will not be able to restage the magic of her performance. Just like the mechanical nightingale of Andersen’s fairy tale, sheet music is reliable in the transmission of information, but a limited reproduction. In the era of industrialization, Lind’s performances represented a healing antidote to the mechanization of life, and a retreat to the pastoral. The Emperor’s longing for the real haunts our contemporary society especially during the pandemic, despite the proliferation of audio and video recordings. The institutionalization of programs in music departments that are dedicated to Historical Performance studies testifies to the valuation and fetishization of this longing.6

Performed Lyrics as National Identity Formation

26Jenny Lind’s American tour contributed significantly to the formation of an American national identity that was based on white Christian middle class values. In 1850, the year of her tour, the Compromise issued by Congress is considered by scholars to be ‘the last and perhaps most significant act’ before the Civil War (Frost xiii). The Compromise was an attempt to settle disagreements between North and South about territories obtained in the Mexican-American War. Many southerners intended to expand slavery in the new territories, but California wanted to enter as a free state. The tensions between the North and the South were extremely prominent. At this point in the drama of nationhood, P. T. Barnum staged Lind’s tour to include concert stages in both the northern and southern states, as well as in Cuba and Canada. As Linda Frost argues, popular culture had a particular influence on the formation of a (white) nation. Lind’s identity as European marked her as an authoritative ambassador of style from the ‘Old Country’, with whose well-established culture citizens of a young America anxiously compared their degree of sophistication. Her Swedish ethnicity kept her palatable to a public who were only one generation distant from revolutionary war with the English. To please the new immigrant-citizens, her concerts were sprinkled with Scottish and Irish ballads, and her Norwegian ‘Echo Song’, invoking the ideal of the pre-industrial pastoral shepherdess, never failed to bring the house down.

27In this sense, the convening power of the idea of Jenny Lind was more important than the reality of Lind’s vocalism. To boot, Barnum, a master in promotional strategies, had conceived the idea of bringing Lind to the United States in October 1849 without ever having heard her sing (Barnum 296). His instincts for what would draw the greatest number of audience members were correct. More than 5,000 people came to her first concert in the United States in Lower Manhattan. The press excitedly reported: ‘It was . . .  as if all the birds of Eden had melted their voices into one, to rise in gushing song upon the streaming light to salute the sun’ (International Magazine of Literature, Art and Science on October 1, 1850, Cook 197). Interestingly, this quotation does not refer to Lind singing but to the masses that welcomed her. The audience became birds, led by Lind the nightingale, recreating Eden. Her visit was seen as the catalyst to create the utopian American community, formed in the image of Christian white values, in an era rife with political unrest and disputes about slavery and nationhood.

28Barnum sought to leverage Lind’s contribution to this national identity formation to sell tickets. Shortly before her arrival in New York, a public song lyrics contest was announced in the press. The winning poem would be awarded with a cash prize and set to music by Julius Benedict, for Jenny Lind to sing at her concerts. Out of hundreds of submissions, ‘Greeting to America’ by poet Bayard Taylor Esq. was selected in the Daily Tribune contest as the winner (Ware 31):

I greet with a full heart the land of the west
Whose banner of stars o’er a world is unroll’d
Whose empire overshadows Atlantic’s white breast
And opes to the sunset its gateway of gold.

The land of the mountain, the land of the lake
In rivers that roll in magnificent tide
Where the souls of the mighty from slumber awake
And hallow the soil for whose freedom they died.

Though cradle of empire! Though wide be the foam
That severs the land of my fathers and thee
I hear from thy bosom the welcome of home
For song has a home in the hearts of the free.

And long as thy waters shall gleam in the sun
And long as thy heroes remember thy scars
Be the hands of thy children united as one,
And peace shed her light on thy banner of stars.

  • 7 Notably among these songs, Francis Scott Key’s Star-Spangled Banner poem was written in 1814 and ev (...)

29The song was later published as ‘Jenny Lind’s Greeting to America’, and copyrighted by agreement, along with many reproductions of her concert repertoire, Jenny Lind’s sheet music, to Samuel C. Jollie. Both the text and its setting project the aura of a national anthem praising the United States as an indestructible force and the home of the free, echoing many patriotic poems and songs at the time.7


Recording of verse 1 of Jenny Lind’s ‘Greeting to America’

Anne Harley, soprano and Gayle Blankenburg, piano (recorded April 2021 by Scott B. Fraser)

31The music for the four verses provided by Taylor are set in duple meter, and ‘Allegro marziale’ tempo, indicating the military march genre. Encoded in Taylor’s lyrics are empire-building ambitions (‘thou cradle of empire!’) rationalized by the memory of revolutionary struggle (‘And hallow the soil for whose freedom they died’), as well as the lucrative capture of western territories (‘And opes to the sunset its gateway of gold.’): California would enter the union as the 31st State within a week of Lind’s arrival.

32Singing Taylor’s poem, Lind delivered a tuneful message of unification to the Northern and Southern states, at a time of rising tensions regarding slavery that resulted in the Compromise of 1850, and the Fugitive Slave Act. The Fugitive Slave Act reinforced Southern slave owners’ rights of recovery, requiring Northerners by law to return runaway slaves who had escaped to northern states. The Act, considered by many Northerners to be a pragmatic betrayal of their ideals, was passed just months before Lind’s tour began. The lyrics Lind sang in her ‘Greeting to America’ encouraged audiences in both the North and the South to remain unified: ‘Be the hands of thy children united as one, / And peace shed her light on thy banner of stars’. In this phrase that ends the last verse of the song, according to notation in the music (‘As sung by Mlle Lind’) Lind apparently interpolated a high B-flat, the climactic note of the song, on the word ‘light’. The ornamentations attributed to her make the smallest of alterations to what is essentially a male-produced score. In this song, therefore, Lind’s resonating female body became the vehicle for uniting two men’s lyrics and music, for creating the musical handshake between the Old World and the New World, and even for advancing the peaceful union of the Northern and Southern regions of a young empire.

33This notion of united nationhood is illustrated on the cover of the sheet music:

Figure 3—Digital photograph of the front cover of the musical score ‘Jenny Lind’s Greeting to America’. Composed by Julius Benedict, with lyrics by Bayard Taylor.

Figure 3—Digital photograph of the front cover of the musical score ‘Jenny Lind’s Greeting to America’. Composed by Julius Benedict, with lyrics by Bayard Taylor.

Published in 1850 by Firth, Pond & Co., New York. From the personal collection of Christopher Reynolds (UC Davis). Photo by Christopher Reynolds used with his permission.

34The Phrygian cap of revolutionary struggle and liberation from slavery, transposed across the Atlantic from the French Revolution, ornaments the highest central point of the cover illustration. The implication is that this struggle now nobly continues in America. However, the ‘freedom’ for which the patriotic heroes in these lyrics died is only for white Americans: thousands of African Americans remained enslaved, and their images do not appear here on the cover.

35Lind became a musical ambassador from Europe, bringing Continental style, but also confirming cultural confidence in the young nation. While her songs praised the United States in the concert hall, her audience filled the streets with their voices, collectively chanting patriotic and nostalgic songs. They waited in front of her hotel room, singing to her about the country she was visiting. As they sang, they transformed themselves from a community of Northern European immigrants into an idealized collective of white American citizenry.

Voices and Their Echoes

36A lot has been written about traces of Lind in the music of male artists such as Frederic Chopin and Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, and about the shadow that she cast in the tales by Hans Christian Andersen. Composers wrote specifically for her, such as Meyerbeer (the role of Vielka in Ein Feldlager in Schlesien (1844)), Verdi (the role of Amalia in I masnadieri (1847)) and Balfe (in his scena and aria ‘Ah! Forse in tal momento’ (1847)) (Vella 236 n. 19). Lind’s own influence as a performer is also credited with clearing a path for many European sopranos to subsequently tour in America (Block 145).

37The highlight of Jenny Lind’s American concerts was her performance of the Norwegian herdsman song. The song is from a traditional Scandinavian genre of echo songs that had travelled with Scandinavian immigrants to the United States. The original folk tune was associated with the shepherdess’s call to bring the cattle back home. The commercialized printed version issued attributed to Lind, could be performed in Swedish or Norwegian, as well as in English poetic translations. During ‘The Echo Song’, as it was dubbed, Lind dismissed her pianist, and accompanied herself on the piano. We sense P. T. Barnum’s instinct for showmanship in this, the closing flourish of almost all of her concerts:

Here Jenny Lind ‘turned from the Pianoforte towards the audience, facing it, and singing straight towards the length of the room (having in view the production of the Echo) until the final notes, when she slowly turned back towards the Pianoforte, and struck the Chord of D to the same note in the voice part.
(Jenny Lind Concert Program, Madison, Ind., 1851)

38The song evokes a contrast to the urban centers in which Lind performed. It creates the notion of fields, a romantic landscape, especially by the echo that stresses the sublime. Here, Lind is exoticised, her performance dreamy and otherworldly, almost magical as she accompanies herself. ‘The Echo Song’ made its way into the repertoire of female sopranos after Jenny Lind such as Florence Macbeth, Mabel Garrison, and Frieda Hempel in the 1920s. These later singers took the song into their repertoire in reference to Lind, but none of them attempted to play the piano while singing. Nevertheless, their take on ‘The Echo Song’ can be seen as an echo, a direct reference to Jenny Lind, especially when they also dressed in white or drab colors as Lind used to during her performances. With the echo, another form of archive was created that does not resemble the music sheets and other print sources. The echo, the singing of Lind’s songs, makes a reference to the experience of her voice and departs from an analytical understanding of her vocal capacities to point to the unique setting of each and every performance that is an interaction between performer and audience.

39The sopranos performing Jenny Lind’s repertoire in the 1920s could not count on the audience’s memory of having seen an actual performance by Lind. Rather, their reference to Lind reveals the immortality of her presence as they could count on their audience members having heard about the legendary nightingale. In that sense, we can go back to the opera roles that have been composed for her and perceive them likewise as echos as each performance references Lind and is a fragment and belated shadow of what she created.

The Unique Song of the Nightingale

40As the nightingale never repeats the same song twice, Jenny Lind’s performances were each a unique event. We have the printed copy of the instructions (the musical sheets), as we have a copy in the early twentieth century performances of other sopranos but Lind herself cannot be recreated.

  • 8 In the early twentieth century, Lind inspired a biography that focused solely on her Christian valu (...)

41In her article, Vella concludes that Lind’s vocal purity ‘gets caught up in broader Victorian ideals of bourgeois femininity’ (Vella 239) and that her voice was felt to house a purity that reflected her personality. Many contemporary reports speak of a felt shyness and modesty that even during a single concert transforms into a transmitted sense of self-empowerment. Silke Borgstedt stresses that Lind almost consciously linked herself to the figure of the Virgin Mary by wearing a white dress on stage and by her almost shy public performance (Borgstedt 223).8

42A fascination with Lind remains, and most recently has emerged in the Hollywood blockbuster The Greatest Showman (2017), which details P. T. Barnum’s life. In the film, the barely recognizable figure of Lind has again been reshaped to appeal to the maximum number of ticket-buying audience members. Meanwhile, the music scores and historical reports provide the framing for new voices to create an echo that indefinitely repeats itself: even to those to whom Lind is not known, her voice will have a significance as it will sneak itself into every performance as an echo.

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Anon. Lindiana. An Interesting Narrative of the Life of Jenny Lind. With a Portrait by Linton. Arundel, Sussex: Mitchell & Son, 1847.

Andersen, Hans Christian. ‘The Nightingale’. 1843. Hans Christian Andersen. The Complete Fairy Tales. London: Wordsworth, 1997. 238–47.

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1 The story was told by Jenny Lind to her children and is first found in the Biographical Lexicon of Sweden. A detailed description quoting Jenny Lind can also be found in Memoir of Madame Jenny Lind-Goldschmidt by Henry Scott Holland and William Smith Rockstro published in 1891.

2 Many biographies have been written about Jenny Lind, among them are Öhrström (2000) an excellent example for a recent biography commissioned by the Swedish Academy for Music and classic examples such as the one by Lind’s daughter Mrs. Raymond Maude (1926).

3 After more than 30,000 admirers greeted her ship’s arrival in Manhattan, Lind was serenaded later that day at midnight at her hotel by 200 musicians of the New York Musical Fund Society (Ware 6–8).

4 OED. [accessed January 7th 2021]

5 An early example is E. T. A. Hoffman’s The Sandman (1816) in which an automaton is mistaken for a human being. The story was also taken up into music in Olympia’s scene in Contes d’Hoffman (1880), the last opera by Jacques Offenbach.

6 ‘Alte Musik’ departments such as the one at Hannover Hochschule für Musik, Theatre und Medien, in Germany in Europe, and the Boston University School of Music’s Historical Performance program in the U.S. are but two of many examples.

7 Notably among these songs, Francis Scott Key’s Star-Spangled Banner poem was written in 1814 and eventually became the national anthem in 1931, set as a contrafact to an English drinking song.

8 In the early twentieth century, Lind inspired a biography that focused solely on her Christian values (Wilkens).

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1—Digital photograph of the front cover of the musical score ‘Jenny Lind’s Bird Song’. Composed by M. Taubert, with lyrics by C. C. Rosenberg.
Crédits Published in 1850 by Samuel C. Jollie, New York. From the personal collection of Christopher Reynolds (UC Davis). Photo by Christopher Reynolds used with his permission.)
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,5M
Titre Figure 2—Digital reproduction of the last page of the musical score ‘Jenny Lind's Bird Song’. Composed by M. Taubert, with lyrics by C. C. Rosenberg.
Crédits Published in 1850 by Samuel C. Jollie, New York. From the United States Library of Congress. Music Division.
Fichier image/jpeg, 148k
Titre Figure 3—Digital photograph of the front cover of the musical score ‘Jenny Lind’s Greeting to America’. Composed by Julius Benedict, with lyrics by Bayard Taylor.
Crédits Published in 1850 by Firth, Pond & Co., New York. From the personal collection of Christopher Reynolds (UC Davis). Photo by Christopher Reynolds used with his permission.
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,4M
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Anne Harley et Andrea Zittlau, « Jenny Lind. Of Echoes and Traces »Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens [En ligne], 94 Automne | 2021, mis en ligne le 01 janvier 2021, consulté le 23 juillet 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Anne Harley

Anne Harley teaches, researches, and agitates as associate faculty of music at Scripps College, Claremont, California. Her commissioning, premiering, and recording project Voices of the Pearl sets texts by and about female esoteric practitioners in new classical contemporary musical compositions: Working at the intersection of performance and scholarship, Harley is extremely interested in the creation of interdisciplinary and intercultural performance projects that engender new and diverse forms of community.
Anne Harley conduit ses activités d’enseignement, de recherche, et de militantisme en tant que professeure associée de musique au Scripps College de Claremont, en Californie. Son projet de commande, de création et d’enregistrement Voices of the Pearl met en scène des textes de et sur des femmes pratiquantes ésotériques dans de nouvelles compositions musicales classiques contemporaines : Travaillant à l’intersection de la performance et de l’érudition, Harley est extrêmement intéressée par la création de projets de performance interdisciplinaires et interculturels qui engendrent de nouvelles formes de communauté.

Andrea Zittlau

Andrea Zittlau teaches literature and cultural analysis in the American Studies department at the University of Rostock, Germany. Her publications include the monograph Curious Exotica on ethnographic museum displays and the edited volume Exploring the Cultural History of Central European Freakshows and Enfreakment (together with Anna Kérchy) on the exhibition of othered bodies. She frequently crosses the boundaries between academia and art. Her artwork combines poetry, images and performance art and deals with political, social and environmental concerns. Numerous community projects have resulted in artbooks published by the pink gorilla press.
Andrea Zittlau enseigne la littérature et l’analyse culturelle au département d’études américaines de l’université de Rostock, en Allemagne. Ses publications comprennent la monographie Curious Exotica sur les expositions ethnographiques et le volume Exploring the Cultural History of Central European Freakshows and Enfreakment (coédité avec Anna Kérchy). Elle franchit souvent les frontières entre le monde universitaire et celui de l’art. Ses œuvres combinent poésie, images et performance et traitent de questions politiques, sociales et environnementales. De nombreux projets communautaires ont donné lieu à des livres d’art publiés par les éditions des Pink Gorillas.

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