A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Milder-Hauptmann, Pauline

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MILDER-HAUPTMANN, Pauline Anna, a celebrated German singer and tragic actress, the daughter of Milder, a courier in the Austrian service, was born at Constantinople in 1785. She lived afterwards at Vienna, where, having lost her father, she was compelled to enter the service of a lady of rank as lady's-maid. Her fine voice and handsome person attracted the notice of Schikaneder, the well-known Viennese manager, who urged her to enter the profession, offering to be responsible for her musical education and to superintend her début on the stage. The offer was accepted, and she became the pupil of an Italian singing-master named Tomascelli, and subsequently of Salieri. She made her first public appearance on April 9, 1803, as Juno, in Süssmayer's opera 'Der Spiegel von Arkadien.' As an artist, she seems to have profited but little by instruction. With the kind of Oriental indolence that always distinguished her, she was content to rely for success on her splendid natural gifts, which were such as to procure for her, almost at once, an engagement at the Imperial Court theatre. That the part of 'Fidelio' should have been written for her is sufficient testimony to the capabilities of the organ which caused old Haydn to say to her 'Dear child, you have a voice like a house!'

Her fame spread rapidly, and in 1808 she made a brilliantly successful professional tour, obtaining, on her return to Vienna, a fresh engagement at Court as prima donna assoluta. In 1810 Anna Milder married a rich jeweller named Hauptmann. Her greatest series of triumphs was achieved at Berlin, where she appeared in Gluck's 'Iphigenia in Tauris,' in 1812. After singing with equal éclat in other great German towns, she contracted, in 1816, a permanent engagement with the royal theatre of Berlin, where for twelve years she reigned supreme. She played in all the principal rôles in the repertoire, but her great parts were those of the classical heroines of Gluck—Iphigenia, Alcestis, Armida—for which she was pre-eminently fitted, both by her imposing presence, and by her magnificent soprano voice, full, rich, and flawless, which both in amount and quality seems to have left nothing to desire. It was, however, unwieldy, and this natural inflexibility so little overcome by art as to be incapable of the simplest trill or other florid embellishment. At times, especially in her later years, she attempted some lighter parts, such as Mozart's Donna Elvira, and Susanna, but her lack of execution prevented her from succeeding in these as she did in Weigl's opera 'Die schweizer Familie' (made celebrated by her impersonation of Emmeline), or in the broad declamatory style of Gluck. Although 'Fidelio' became one of her principal rôles, her performance in this opera was never either vocally or dramatically irreproachable. Thayer (Life of Beethoven, ii. 290) relates a conversation with her, in 1836, when she told him what 'hard fights' she used to have with the master about some passages in the Adagio of the great scena in E major, described by her as 'ugly,' 'unvocal,' and 'inimical (widerstrebend) to her organ.' All was in vain, however, until in 1814 she declared herself resolved never again to appear in the part, if she had to sing this ungrateful air as it stood—a threat which proved effective.

Her manner in society is described as cold and apathetic, and her degree of musical culture so small that she could only learn her parts by having them played to her over and over again. In spite of this (in which indeed she is not singular), she was as much admired by composers and critics as by the court and the public. Zelter describes her golden voice as 'positively belonging to the class of rarities,' and herself as 'the only singer who gives you complete satisfaction.' There is no doubt that her success and steady hold on the public favour had a most important influence in upholding German opera and the classical style, and in counteracting the frivolous fashion for foreign talent of every kind which reigned at Berlin.

Chorley tells an amusing story, on the authority of an eye-witness, of an occasion when Mme. Milder's stately calm was for a moment overcome during one of her magnificent impersonations of Gluck's heroines. 'At the moment where Blum, the bass singer, who used to strengthen himself for the part of Hercules upon champagne, was carrying off the colossal Alcestis from the shades below, Queen Milder, aware of the risk she ran in arms so unsteady, and overpowered with sudden terror, exclaimed, "Herr Jesu! Ich falle!" This exclamation elicited a simultaneous roar from all parts of the theatre. And from that day forward, Milder was led, not carried, from the stage by the God of Strength.' (Modern German Music, vol. i. p. 186.)

In 1829 she abdicated her sceptre in Berlin, owing to misunderstandings and differences with the opera-director, Spontini. She then visited Russia, Sweden, and Denmark, but her voice was failing fast. Her last public appearance was at Vienna in 1836, two years before her death, which happened at Berlin on May 29, 1838.

[ F. A. M. ]