(Ida Joséphine Phoebe) Eva Gauthier. Mezzo-soprano, teacher, b Ottawa 20 Sep 1885, d New York 26 Dec 1958. She studied piano and harmony with J. Edgar Birch before taking voice lessons with Frank Buels at the age of 13. She was soloist at St Patrick Church in Ottawa and in 1902 made her professional debut as a contralto at the Ottawa Basilica when she participated in a service commemorating the death of Queen Victoria and sang in the first Canadian performance of Charles A.E. Harriss’Festival Mass. With the assistance of Sir Wilfrid and Lady Laurier she left for Europe in July 1902. In London she heard Faust with Nellie Melba and Plançon and soon went to Paris with the intention of studying with Melba’s teacher, Mathilde Marchesi. At the audition she was accompanied at the piano by Lady Laurier but Marchesi warned her of impending voice trouble and the lessons did not materialize. Gauthier studied singing privately with Auguste-Jean Dubulle, Joseph Saucier’s teacher at the Paris Conservatoire. Her lessons were interrupted by an operation for nodules on the vocal cords but she gradually resumed her studies, this time with Jacques Bouhy, creator of the role of Escamillo in Carmen. She later said that Bouhy had been her only teacher.
Career and Studies 1905-1914
In 1905, in London, her compatriot Emma Albani engaged her for a tour of the British Isles and for the 50 concerts of her farewell tour of Canada in 1906. Gauthier studied with William Shakespeare in London, as a protegee of Lord Strathcona, and in 1907 sang the soprano part in C.A.E. Harriss’ Coronation Mass for Edward VII with the Sheffield Choir and the London Symphony Orchestra at Queen’s Hall. That year she left for Milan to study 1907-8 with the tenor Giuseppe Oxilia who guided her towards light soprano repertoire, and she later worked with Carlo Carignani. In Milan, Rina Giachetti, Caruso’s sister-in-law, prepared her for her stage debut, at Pavia in 1909, in the role of Micaëla in Carmen. The critics were favourable, but the four performances left her feeling that perhaps the stage was not for her. She performed with orchestras in Holland and Belgium, including a concert with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in Scheveningen (Holland) where she sang Rossini’s ‘Bel raggio’ (Semiramide), and went back to Paris.
In 1910 she performed with an orchestra at the Royal Palace in Copenhagen. That spring she was invited by Covent Garden to sing the role of Yniold in the English premiere of Pelléas et Mélisande and asked to meet Debussy. After hearing her the composer recommended her for the role of Geneviève, but it had already been assigned. Pelléas was postponed, and she was cast instead as Mallika in Lakmé (18 Jun 1910) with Luisa Tetrazzini and John McCormack. However, she was replaced by another singer just at curtain time because Tetrazzini found her voice too powerful. In spite of being offered attractive compensating roles, she thereupon gave up the stage to devote herself to the more intimate art of recital and concert. Before she left she again sang with the Berlin Philharmonic in Scheveningen.
Gauthier undertook an extensive trip to the Orient, to join her future husband, Franz Knoote (whom she married in 1911 and divorced in 1917), a former student of Oxilia, now working as a plantation manager in Java. She studied the music of the Orient and may have been the first Western classically trained female singer to study with a Javanese gamelan ensemble. She gave solo recitals throughout Southeast Asia 1910-14, and toured in Australia and New Zealand with Mischa Elman (1914). When World War I broke out, she obtained a passage on the last ship leaving Sydney, Australia, together with Elman, the tenor Paul Dufault, and Harold Bauer. She gave a recital with the latter in Hawaii on her way to America.
Premieres of New Works
New occidental music also continued to interest her, and when she made her New York recital debut in May 1915 she showed herself to be something other than a conventional recitalist. A large portion of her programs was dedicated to Ravel, Bartók, Hindemith, Schoenberg, and Stravinsky. She gave the North American premieres of Stravinsky’s Trois Poésies de la lyrique japonaise in 1917 and of Pribaoutki the following year. Her programs showed a rare eclecticism, offering music of lesser-known early masters, songs that she brought from the Orient, and new music such as that by members of France’s Les Six, whom she met in 1920. Established in New York, she presented (1 Nov 1923 at the Aeolian Hall) a recital now considered historical. In the second part she sang music of Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, and George Gershwin with Gershwin at the piano. The press protested against the inclusion of light music in a concert, but it is said that the orchestra conductor Paul Whiteman heard the recital, was impressed by the talent of Gershwin, and commissioned him to write a work for piano and orchestra. The result was to be the famous Rhapsody in Blue. She was instrumental in bringing Gershwin and Ravel together during the latter’s visit to New York in 1928. Each Gauthier recital contained premieres, and it is estimated that she gave no fewer than 184 during her career.
Activities and Honors 1927-1949
Gauthier sang in Ottawa in 1927 for the 60th anniversary of Canada’s Confederation. In 1936 she gave three retrospective recitals at Gotham Hotel, including highlights from the programs of some 50 New York recitals. The same year she spoke the title role in the New York and Boston premieres of Stravinsky’s Persephone. Later she devoted herself mainly to teaching (at the American Theater Wing, a professional training school), giving master classes, and serving on juries for important competitions. The American composer Ned Rorem was her accompanist for a short period and he has referred to her in his diaries and articles as an invaluable pedagogue. She also was a founding member of the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA). Honoured by the governments of Denmark and Canada she also, in 1949, received a citation from the Campion Society of San Francisco for her contribution as an interpreter and teacher ‘to the study, performance and teaching of the best in song literature in all its phases.’ After her death her library and her personal documents were acquired by the New York Public Library. Subsequently other Gauthier documents and photographs were deposited in the National Library of Canada.
To celebrate the centenary of her birth in 1985, Joan Patenaude-Yarnell performed a program of Gauthier’s repertoire at the University of Montreal for the fourth symposium of ARMuQ, and at the Maison française of New York University following another symposium that included a panel consisting of Ned Rorem, Philip Miller, Will Crutchfield, and Nadia Turbide. In 1987 RCI issued a cassette (RCI 642) featuring the mezzo-soprano Linda Bennett (Maguire), with Michael McMahon at the piano, in a recital recreating part of Gauthier’s 1923 recital at Aeolian Hall.
Eva Gauthier was the sister of Juliette Gaultier (sic) de la Vérendrye, the violinist and folksinger. Eva Gauthier’s voice, whose range extended from contralto to coloratura, was celebrated not only for its technical security but also for an expressive intensity that gave to each song a particular colour. During her farewell tour of Canada in 1906 Emma Albani declared, ‘As an artistic legacy to my country, I leave you Eva Gauthier.’
Gauthier recorded as early as 1914 for Columbia. In 1917, for Victor, she recorded several French-Canadian folksongs, sometimes assisted by a vocal quartet. She also recorded songs of Duparc (‘Chanson triste’), Debussy (‘Romance’ and ‘Fantoches’), Février (‘La Lettre’), and Dessauer (‘Le Retour des promis’). Her only incursions into opera are ‘Viens avec nous, petit’ from La Vivandière (Godard), ‘Souvenirs du jeune âge’ from Le Pré aux clercs (Hérold), ‘Les Larmes’ from Werther, and, with the tenor Orville Harrold, the duet ‘Depuis longtemps’ from Louise. In 1938 the label Musicraft undertook a retrospective of Gauthier’s art with the assistance of the pianist of her later years, Celius Dougherty, but most of the recordings never were released. However, a few songs (‘Seguidilla’ by de Falla, ‘Mein Bett ruft’ by Bartók, and ‘La Chevelure’ by Debussy) electronically recorded may be heard on Eva Gauthier (New York 1966, Town Hall TH-003), along with other titles acoustically recorded before 1920. In the USA the International Record Club revived on a 78 disc (IRCC-127) ‘Nina Boboh,’ a Malayan and Javanese lullaby, and Dessauer’s ‘Le Retour des promis.’ Gauthier is a featured artist on the first volume of Great Voices of Canada (Analekta AN 7801). Her recordings for Victor and Columbia are listed in Roll Back the Years.
‘Reminiscences of Maurice Ravel,’ New York Times, 16 Jan 1938
‘Singing lessons from the great of the past,’ Musical America, vol 59, 10 Feb 1939
‘Were my songs with wings provided,’ Repertoire, Nov 1951
‘On the edge of opera,’ Opera News, vol 19, 31 Jan 1955
‘The roaring twenties,’ interview with Henry W. Levinger, Musical Courier, vol 151, 1 Feb 1955
Éva Gauthier wearing a Javanese headdress