Taking note of Jenny Lind | AspenTimes.com

Taking note of Jenny Lind

This year marks the 200th birthday of Jenny Lind, the fabled “Swedish Nightingale,” and, given Aspen’s strong musical identity, it seems only fitting to pause and take notice. For Jenny was like no other artist, before or since.

In her triumphant American tour in 1850-51, Jenny Lind stunned audiences with the angelic purity, the bell-like clarity of her lyric soprano. The critics, dumbfounded, all flailed about, clutching at one superlative after another in a hopeless attempt to capture Jenny’s vocal splendor in mere words.

The general public was stirred by Jenny’s decidedly un-prima donnish ways; like no other artist ever, she possessed the common touch. Though born out of wedlock (a fact she never advertised), and suffering squalor and neglect as a child, she grew into an adult with a rare empathy for others. All during her American tour, Jenny visited hospitals and orphanages, in one instance sitting up all night holding the hand of a dying woman.

Jenny was a born philanthropist, constantly giving money away, either to persons in need or else to schools or other deserving institutions. It is estimated that during her long career, she gave away at least half of her fees (which were, for the day, colossal) to worthy causes.

But Jenny was no spendthrift. Quite the contrary, she was a sort of proto-feminist, ceaselessly fighting for her financial independence. In an era when women had enormous difficulty managing their own money, Jenny negotiated all her fees herself, with remarkable toughness. And, unheard at the time, she even asked for, and got, from her future husband a prenuptial agreement stipulating that during their marriage she keep all her own earnings.

So there we have Jenny Lind: sublime artist, amazing woman, unforgettable cultural icon. Wouldn’t it be grand if the Aspen Music Festival, cognizant of Jenny’s place in American musical history, made her artistry and career a key theme or sub-theme of this year’s festival program?

Donald Wilson

St. Louis

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