Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Taglioni, Marie

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TAGLIONI, MARIE (1809–1884), the ‘most prominent danseuse of the century,’ born at Stockholm on 23 April 1809, was the granddaughter of Salvatore Taglioni, a Neapolitan choregraph or ballet-master, and daughter of Filippo Taglioni (1777–1871), who adopted his father’s profession and migrated to Sweden, where he married Marie Karsten, the daughter of a native tragedian (see Boccardo, Nuova Enciclop. Ital. xxi. 841; some accounts give 1804 as the year of her birth). Her brother Paul was also a noted dancer. Having been disciplined with extreme rigour by her father and a colleague named Coulon, Marie made her real début at Vienna on 10 June 1822. Her name was already well known when she appeared at Paris in July 1827, and made in ‘Le Sicilien’ and ‘Le Carnaval de Venise’ the greatest sensation remembered since the reign, fifty years before, of Madeleine Guimard. Her triumph was confirmed in ‘Le Dieu et la Bayadère,’ specially written for her by Scribe and Auber, and by her ‘pas de fascination’ in Meyerbeer’s ‘Robert le Diable’ (November 1831); and her dancing was acclaimed as ‘the poetry of motion’ from St. Petersburg to Madrid. She was first seen in London in 1829, and the zenith of her fame was reached when, for her benefit at Covent Garden, on 26 July 1832, she appeared in ‘La Sylphide,’ the charming libretto of which was adapted from Charles Nodier’s ‘Trilby.’ Thackeray commemorated the Sylphide in the person of Miss Amory in ‘Pendennis,’ and he assured the younger generation in ‘The Newcomes’ that they would ‘never see anything so graceful as Taglioni.’ Edward Fitzgerald in his ‘Letters’ speaks of Taglioni ‘floating everywhere about.’ Her dancing was specially characterised by floating lightness and buoyancy (‘ballon’) in combination with bounding strength; and she is described as representing the decorous or ideal, as opposed to the voluptuous or realistic, school of dancing. Enthusiasm was sustained by a series of new effects, such as her mazurka in ‘La Gitana.’ In 1836 Alfred Bunn engaged this ‘Spirit of the Air’ as a pendant to Malibran at the Italian Opera, and complains that, in addition to 100l. a night, he had to pay large extras to members of her family. In 1845 she was première in the celebrated ‘Pas de quatre’ (Taglioni, Cerito, Grisi, and Grahn), which, first performed in England by command of the queen, created a furore and was followed in 1846 by the ‘Pas des Déesses’ (Taglioni, Cerito, and Grahn), in which the ‘judgment of Paris’ was said to be in her favour. Next year, however, her position as ‘diva,’ which had scarcely been threatened by Fanny Elssler or ‘the Duvernay,’ received an irremediable blow by the advent of the great singer, Jenny Lind. She had come to regard the ballet as the mainspring of opera, and, rather than brook a rival, she retired with the remark, ‘La danse est comme la Turquie, bien malade.’ She had married, in 1832, Comte Gilbert des Voisins, and she now spent some years at Venice; her husband (of whom she saw very little) having died in 1863, and her own resources having vanished, she was reduced to settle in London as a teacher of deportment. She remained in London until 1882, when she went out to her son Gilbert at Marseilles, and there died on 24 April 1884. At the height of her fame ‘la grande Taglioni’ was comparatively free from rapacity, and, though not beautiful, was possessed of a charm which Balzac, Feydeau, Arsène Houssaye, and many other writers have endeavoured to analyse. Chalon executed sketches of Taglioni in five of her leading parts (Flore, La Tirolienne, La Naïade, La Bayadère, La Napolitaine), and lithographs were bound up with verses by F. W. N. Bayley (London, 1831, fol.) In the print-room at the British Museum are also engravings after J. Bouvier, Grevedon, Madame Soyer, and others.

[Times, 25 and 29 April 1884; Era, 26 April 1884; Bunn’s Stage, ii. 91, 233, 239; Encyclopédie des Gens du Monde, xxi. 654; Revue des Deux Mondes, 1 Aug. 1840; Nouvelle Biogr. Générale; Dictionnaire Larousse, xiv. 1398; Encycl. Brit. 9th ed.; Grove’s Dict. of Music, ii. 91, iv. 10; Bernay’s Danse au Théâtre, 1890; Castil-Blaze’s La Danse jusqu’à Taglioni, 1832, chap. xvi.; Vuillier’s History of Dancing, ed. Grego, 1898, 204–6.]

T. S.