The Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind was born in Stockholm on 6 October 1820. When she was nine, Lind was overheard singing by the maid of the Royal Swedish Opera’s principal dancer. The maid returned the next day with her mistress, Mile Lundberg, who in turn arranged for Lind to study at the Royal Dramatic Theatre. Read the exciting story about the Swedish nightingale.
Jenny Lind was a soprano whose voice was admired by Chopin, Mendelssohn and Clara Schumann, no less!
Started performing aged 10
Lind started performing aged 10, went on to sing at the Royal Swedish Opera and was court singer for the King of Sweden. By her tween years she was a renowned professional singer. In 1841-43 she travelled to Paris to rest her voice, before her London debut in 1847 at the Haymarket. She gave a performance so arresting that Queen Victoria threw a bouquet of flowers at her feet. She gave a special performance for the Queen in 1849 at the age of 28. Her last performances were German opera – including work by her admirer Felix Mendelssohn – but there are no known recordings of her singing.
Lind announced her retirement form opera aged 29, but was tempted into touring the US by Phineas T. Barnum in 1850. Lind insisted he deposit USD 200,000 in a bank in London before she would sail.
Jenny Lind’s American Tour
When Jenny Lind disembarked from the steamship Atlantic to begin an American tour on September 1, 1850, the visionary entertainer and entrepreneur P. T. Barnum greeted the singer with a bouquet and waved her into a private carriage in front of nearly 40,000 onlookers who packed the waterfront around Canal Street in New York City.
P. T. Barnum, then riding high on the fame of his American Museum in New York City, longed to elevate his public profile. He promised Lind an unprecedented USD 1,000 per night for up to 150 nights of performances.
The greatest singer we ever heard
People loved her, and she became one of the most adored singers of the 1800s. She was praised for her elaborate ornamentations, impressive runs and ability to sing an incredibly simple tune and make it sound spectacular. The New York Tribune summarized her popularity: “Jenny Lind’s first concert is over; and all doubts are at an end. She is the greatest singer we have ever heard”.
It was, however, the composer Clara Schumann who gave the highest praise of all: “Lind has a genius for song which might come to pass only once in many years,” she wrote. “Her appearance is arresting at first glance and her face, although not exactly beautiful, appears so because of the expression in her wonderful eyes.”
Lind’s partnership with Barnum continued for nearly a year, after which she toured under her own management. Barnum made at least USD 500,000 (now worth around $1.4 billion) from their relationship, while she earned around $350,000, much of which she donated to charity.
The Swedish Nightingale
She kept suitors like Barnum, Frederic Chopin and Hans Christian Andersen at arm’s length while she focused on music and charity work. Her dream was to establish a girls’ music academy in Stockholm. Stung by rejection Andersen pined for Lind in his story The Nightingale, in which a grand emperor is enthralled with a jeweled automaton in the shape of a bird, but can only be saved from death by the singing of a plain brown nightingale.
Moving back to Europe
Near the end of her 1852 tour, she married pianist and conductor Otto Goldschmidt. Goldschmidt was in many ways an unattractive match from a 19th-century public relations perspective; he was significantly younger than Lind, Jewish, and his name had an unpleasantly Teutonic bite to American audiences. But he offered Lind emotional stability and Lind and Goldschmidt moved to Germany and then England in 1855, they had three children. She continued to perform, usually for charity, and became singing professor at London’s Royal College of Music in 1882.
She died on 2 November 1887 and is buried in the Great Malvern Cemetery, western England. She also has a memorial in Westminster Abbey, London.
The Story of Jenny Lind by Kate Dickinson Sweetser was originally published in 1901.
The Swedish Nightingale, written by Tor Kjolberg