Henriette Sontag, married Countess Rossi (1806–1854)

Henriette Sontag, ca. 1830 (engraving, cf. StadtMuseum Bonn, SMB 2014/184)

Henriette Sontag was a very famous and celebrated singer in her time, who is still remembered today. She was born in Koblenz as Gertrude Walpurgis Sontag; the Berlin newspaper Haude- und Spenersche Zeitung reported that her first names “[mean as much as: much-loved enchantress]” (quoted after the Vienna cultural journal Allgemeine Theaterzeitung, p. 4). Being the daughter of the actor couple Franz and Franziska Sontag, she performed for the first time in public as early as the age of five, was trained at the Prague Conservatoire between 1817 and 1821, and sang at major theatres and opera houses throughout Europe, inter alia, in Vienna, Berlin, Paris, and London until the age of 24. Carl Maria von Weber composed for her the title role of his opera “Euryanthe”, in whose premiere Henriette Sontag took part at the Kärntnertortheater or Carinthian Gate Theatre in Vienna in 1823. In Beethoven’s last concert at the same theatre on 7th May 1824, she was also involved and sang the soprano solos at the premiere of Symphony No. 9.

In 1828, Henriette Sontag married Count Carlo Rossi (1797-1864) and thus had to end her successful stage career for the time being, befitting her husband’s status. Despite her withdrawal from public life, however, she still performed occasionally before courtly or private audiences and also organised music gatherings, especially later in Berlin, which then led to the formation of the “Stern Choral Society” in 1846/47. Count Rossi was in the diplomatic service of the Kingdom of Sardinia and therefore the couple had to change its place of residence several times, first living in The Hague, then in Frankfurt am Main and St Petersburg, and between 1841 and 1849 in Berlin.

In February and March 1847, Clara and Robert Schumann were also staying in Berlin: Robert Schumann conducted the Berlin premiere of his oratorio Paradise and the Peri, Op. 50, on 17th February, and Clara Schumann gave two concerts at the concert hall of the Singakademie music society, and a joint morning performance was also organised at Hôtel du Nord on Unter den Linden boulevard. Apart from that, the Schumanns were invited to numerous private and semi-public music gatherings, such as a morning performance on 1st March at the house of Countess Henriette Rossi, whom they met several times again in the following days. Clara Schumann noted in her diary about that morning performance: “[I was most delighted by her so exceptional singing! […] her pianissimo is so exquisite I have never heard anything like this before, and at the same time her singing is perfectly natural and far from exaggeration; her voice is still very beautiful and she herself looks absolutely lovely, and especially when she sings, her eyes acquire a very nice shine, as they express great charm and grace altogether … I have never been more relaxed when listening to a singer, and everything she sings gives the impression of the highest satisfaction.]” (Litzmann, Clara Schumann, Vol. 2, p. 160).

Henriette Sontag-Rossi resumed her singing career in 1849 at the age of 43, as the family had lost a large portion of its wealth due to the Revolution of 1848, and Count Rossi had been dismissed from the service of King Charles Albert of Sardinia (1798-1849) in 1849. Count Rossi now accompanied his wife on her numerous concert trips to England and Scotland, Paris and a variety of German towns where she was able to draw on earlier successes. In 1852, they went on a concert trip to America, inter alia, to New York, Philadelphia and Boston. Only a few days after her last performance in Mexico City on 11th June 1854, Henriette Sontag-Rossi died of cholera. Numerous posthumous writings kept the memories of her unique voice, a brilliant coloratura soprano within the range of A to a high E, and her charming stage presence alive.

Cf. Allgemeine Theaterzeitung und Unterhaltungsblatt für Freunde der Kunst, Literatur und des geselligen Lebens, No. 1 of 1st January 1828, p. 4.

Cf. Cordula Heymann-Wentzel: Das Stern’sche Konservatorium der Musik in Berlin. Rekonstruktion einer verdrängten Geschichte, Doctoral Thesis at the Berlin University of the Arts, 2014, p. 84. Online at: https://opus4.kobv.de/ [13.9.2020].

Cf. Karl-Josef Kutsch and Leo Riemens: Großes Sängerlexikon, Vol. 6, 4th edition, expanded and updated, Munich, 2003, pp. 4464–4465.

Cf. Amélie Pauli: “Henriette Sontag”, in: MUGI. Musikvermittlung und Genderforschung: Lexikon und multimediale Präsentationen, edited by Beatrix Borchard and Nina Noeske, Hamburg University of Music and Theatre, 2003 ff. (as at 25th April 2018). Online at: https://mugi.hfmt-hamburg.de/ [30.08.2020].

Cf. Schumann-Briefedition, Series II, Vol. 17: Briefwechsel mit Freunden und Künstlerkollegen (Briefwechsel Clara Schumanns mit Korrespondenten in Berlin 1832 bis 1883), edited by Klaus Martin Kopitz, Eva Katharina Klein and Thomas Synofzik, Cologne, 2015, pp. 623–626, here p. 623.

Cf. John Warrack: “Sontag [Sonntag], Henriette (Gertrude Walpurgis) …”, in: The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, edited by Stanley Sadie, Vol. 23, 2nd edition, London/New York, 2001, pp. 727 f.

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

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