Henriette Grabau, married Bünau (1805-1852)

Henriette Grabau (portrait cf. http://www.bremerfrauengeschichte.de/)

The singer Eleonore Henriette Magdalena Grabau was born into a musical family and took her first singing and piano lessons from her father, the Bremen organist Johann Christian Lebrecht Grabau. Her father organised subscription concerts in Bremen and founded the Grabau Singing Society in 1811. Her siblings also embarked on a music or artistic career, her sisters Adelheid and Maria became concert singers as well, her brother Christian became a painter, and her brother Andreas, who was also friends with Robert and Clara Schumann, became a cellist.

In Dresden, Henriette Grabau was taught by Johann Aloys Miksch (1765-1845) where Clara Wieck also took some singing lessons in 1834 and subsequently noted down some interesting details about his tuition in her diary. Miksch paved the way for Henriette Grabau to perform at the Leipzig Gewandhaus concert hall in 1826. Her appearance, where she sang an aria from Gioachino Rossini’s opera Zelmira, was so successful that she was engaged for the next concert season and became a singer at the Leipzig Gewandhaus until 1839 (as a main singer until 1837). In 1828, she performed in Clara Wieck’s first public concert, in 1830 in her own debut concert, and then together with Clara in other Gewandhaus subscription concerts at the beginning of the 1830s. Henriette Grabau also performed at the soirées of Raymund Härtel, as revealed in the diaries of Clara Wieck and Robert Schumann. Especially Felix Mendelssohn, the conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra from 1835, highly appreciated the singer and even dedicated his watercolour drawing of the old Gewandhaus building with an excerpt from Luigi Cherubini’s opera Ali Baba, notated by him, to her in memory of their first joint Gewandhaus concert. In the 1830s, Henriette Grabau was allowed to be the first to perform many of his song compositions in public, and she also took part in the premiere of his oratorio St Paul in 1836.

Robert Schumann met Henriette Grabau in Leipzig in the 1830s; because of her “Marian voice” which stood out with its “[purity and truth in voice and expression]” (quoted after the magazine Grenzboten, p. 32), he gave her the name of “Maria” from the fictitious music society League of David. At the premiere and new performance of Schumann’s oratorio Paradise and the Peri, Op. 50, in Leipzig on 4th and 11th December 1843, she took on the alto solo part, played the harp and also directed the rehearsals of the women’s choirs.

When the Leipzig Conservatoire was founded in 1843 on Mendelssohn’s initiative, Robert Schumann and Henriette Grabau, married Bünau, were amongst the first teachers, along with Ferdinand David, Carl Friedrich Becker, Moritz Hauptmann, and Ferdinand Hiller; Henriette Grabau, married Bünau, was even the first and, at the time, the only female teacher at the Conservatoire.

In 1837, Henriette Grabau married the Leipzig merchant Julius Alexander Bünau (1809-1871) and in 1838, their daughter Helene was born. She gave her last public performance in the Gewandhaus subscription concerts in 1839 but appeared several more times in the 1840s, such as in 1843 on the occasion of the unveiling ceremony of the Bach monument in Leipzig, or in 1847 in the memorial concert for the deceased Mendelssohn at the Leipzig Gewandhaus concert hall.

Cf. Grenzboten, Year 48, First Quarter, 1889, p. 32.
Cf. Doris Mundus: Article “Grabau-Bünau, Henriette Eleonore”. Leipziger Frauenporträts, website of the town of Leipzig, 2015. Online at: https://www.leipzig.de/ [01.09.2020].
Cf. Music Album (1836–1852) of Henriette Grabau-Bünau, estate of Helene Bünau, Gertrude Clarke Whittall Foundation Collection of the Library of Congress. Online at: https://www.loc.gov/resource/ [01.09.2020].
Cf. Brigitte Richter: Frauen um Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Leipzig, 1997, pp. 98–102 [also new edition, 2014, pp. 147–153].
Cf. Schumann-Briefedition, Series II, Vol. 20: Briefwechsel mit Freunden und Künstlerkollegen (Briefwechsel Robert und Clara Schumanns mit Korrespondenten in Leipzig 1830 bis 1894), editorial direction: Thomas Synofzik and Michael Heinemann; editors: Annegret Rosenmüller and Ekaterina Smyka, Cologne, 2019, pp. 409–415.

(Theresa Schlegel, 2020, translated by Thomas Henninger, 2020)

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