Lind [married name Lind-Goldschmidt], Jenny [Johanna Maria] (1820–1887), singer
by Carole Rosen

Lind [married name Lind-Goldschmidt], Jenny [Johanna Maria] (1820–1887), singer, was born on 6 October 1820 at 40 Mästersamuelsgränd, Stockholm, the daughter of Niclas Jonas Lind (1798–1858), a bookkeeper, and Anne-Marie Fellborg (1793–1856), a schoolmistress. Her mother had divorced her first husband for infidelity but refused on religious grounds to remarry during his lifetime. Jenny's birth was not legitimized until she was fourteen, when her mother married Niclas Lind, the feckless father from whom she inherited her musical gifts. The happiest years of her impoverished childhood were spent with her grandmother in an almshouse for widows, where she would sit at the window overlooking the narrow Stockholm street, singing to her cat with a voice of amazing agility and heart-rending beauty. She was overheard by a lady's maid employed by Mademoiselle Lundberg, the principal dancer at the Royal Swedish Opera House, who persuaded the mother to allow Jenny to be taught singing. She was awarded a scholarship to the Royal Opera School, where she made her stage début in a dancing and singing role at the age of ten.

On 7 March 1838 Lind created a sensation as Agathe in Der Freischütz, and throughout her life she celebrated that date as the beginning of her phenomenal adult operatic career. She was equally successful in the full range of vocally taxing coloratura soprano roles, including Donna Anna, Euryanthe, Pamina, Lucia di Lammermoor, Norma, and Alice in Meyerbeer's Robert le diable. She was appointed court singer and made a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, but by the time she was twenty her voice was seriously impaired through overwork and faulty technique. Her career was saved from extinction by a gruelling year's tuition in Paris with Manuel García. Initially he informed her: ‘It would be useless to teach you, Mademoiselle. You no longer have a voice’ (Holland and Rockstro, 1.110). His prescription was two months of complete silence, after which her abused vocal cords had recovered sufficient elasticity for him to commence rebuilding her technique. From García she also learned an iron discipline and perfect breath control.

Meyerbeer had originally wished to launch Lind in Paris at the Théâtre des Italiens, but she hated the artificiality and immorality of the French operatic world. ‘What I, with my potato nose?’ she is reputed to have said. ‘No, it would never have done’ (Bulman, 54). She lacked both the beauty and the sophistication of the conventional prima donna. Instead she returned to Stockholm to lead the Royal Opera for a further two seasons. She was also highly acclaimed in neighbouring Copenhagen, where she captivated Hans Christian Andersen with her sincerity and fine grey eyes. She inspired at least partly two of his best-known children's stories, The Ugly Duckling and The Emperor's Nightingale, but when she rejected him as a suitor she became the Snow Queen, whose heart was made of ice.

On 15 December 1844 Lind made her début in Berlin. Meyerbeer had written the principal role in Ein Feldlager in Schlesien (later refashioned as L'étoile du nord) for her to open the rebuilt Berlin opera house, but the première was awarded to an established German singer, Leopoldine Tuczek, though Lind sang the part several days later. She also sang in the first Vienna performance of the work (as Vielka) in 1847. The aria for soprano and two flutes in which Meyerbeer exploited the technical brilliance of Lind's coloratura and the precision of her trills remained one of the favourite showpieces of her repertory.

The year 1845 marked Lind's triumphant débuts in Hamburg, Hanover, Frankfurt, and Darmstadt; in August she was summoned by the king and queen of Prussia to sing for the visit of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert at Schloss Stolzenfels on the Rhine. She returned to Berlin for the winter season to entrance the public with her singing of Donna Anna, Agathe, Julia in La vestale, and Valentine in Les Huguenots. On 4 December 1845 she sang for the first time at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig under the baton of Felix Mendelssohn, who had become a close friend and musical mentor. Such was the demand for tickets that privileges normally enjoyed by Music Academy students were withdrawn, resulting in a student protest led by a red-headed youth from Hamburg, , later to become her husband. The following day Lind gave her services for a charity concert in aid of the Orchestra Widows' Fund. Her generosity in devoting substantial proceeds of her concerts towards the poor and the sick was to become a pattern in her career, which ensured her enduring popularity and fame among a far wider public than merely those who heard her sing. In April 1846 Lind appeared for the first time before a Viennese audience, as Norma at the Theater an der Wien; such was the public enthusiasm that she had to be rescued by a troop of mounted police from the crowds waiting for her to leave the theatre.

Lind's London début was delayed on account of contractual difficulties. She had made the mistake of signing contracts with two rival impresarios, promising first to sing for Alfred Bunn at Covent Garden and then preferring to appear under Benjamin Lumley's management at Her Majesty's Theatre. When she finally sang as Alice in Roberto il diavolo on 7 May 1847, the Haymarket was packed from early afternoon with a solid line of carriages and the colonnade of the theatre thronged with society figures in full evening dress waiting for unreserved seats in the pit. The performance was the most overwhelming operatic success London had ever experienced. At its conclusion, the apogee of public appreciation was reached when Queen Victoria threw her bouquet down from the royal box to land on stage at Lind's feet. Enthusiasm for Jenny Lind increased to fever pitch when Lind sang two more of her favourite roles: Amina in La sonnambula and Marie in La figlia del reggimento. Her portrait was on snuff-boxes, matchboxes, and pocket handkerchiefs; there was Jenny Lind soap, Jenny Lind scent, and Jenny Lind candle snuffers in the shape of the singer's body topped with the head of a nightingale. The duke of Wellington sat in a stage box for all her performances, and on three occasions the House of Commons had no quorum to vote as so many members had gone to hear ‘the Swedish Nightingale’, as she was known.

Lumley had rashly promised to crown the season with an opera specially composed by Mendelssohn: The Tempest with Lind as Miranda and the bass Lablache as Prospero, but the composer was too exhausted and overburdened to fulfil the project. Instead Lumley secured the première of Verdi's I masnadieri, based on Schiller's drama Die Räuber. The role of Amalia was written for Lind but failed to exploit the full scope of her voice. Verdi travelled to London to supervise rehearsals and conduct the first two performances. The heroine was rapturously received, but the opera soon fell into neglect.

In February 1848 the suit of Bunn v. Lind was heard in the Queen's Bench Division. Lind's plea of not being able to learn English in time to fulfil her contract was dismissed and damages of £2500 were awarded to the plaintiff. Lumley assumed full financial responsibility, but the moral stain, singularly bitter for someone of Lind's high moral principles, remained hers alone. Lumley persuaded her to return to London for a second operatic season, which was to prove even more successful than the first. She confided in Queen Victoria that it would be her last: although she was only twenty-seven, she was increasingly physically and emotionally exhausted from the intensity of her performances. As she became more deeply religious, she found the artificiality of the operatic world ever more distasteful and wished to dedicate what she saw as her God-given musical gifts to singing sacred oratorios and raising money for worthy causes. She had been encouraged in these aims by her friendship with Edward Stanley, the bishop of Norwich, and his family. Lind had been devastated by the premature death of Mendelssohn in November 1847 and waited more than a year before she felt able to sing for the first time the soprano part in Elijah, which he had written specially for her. The performance in the Exeter Hall raised £1000 to fund a Mendelssohn scholarship, the first holder of which was Arthur Sullivan.

After a third triumphant London season ending as she had begun with Alice in Roberto il diavolo, Lind accepted a contract with the American impresario Phineas Barnum for 150 concerts in America and Cuba. He promised these would earn her enough money to provide for the rest of her days and for all her charitable concerns; 30,000 people lined the streets of New York to welcome her arrival, the first great European singer to be heard there in her prime. After ninety-three concerts she decided to dispense with the self-styled ‘Greatest Showman on Earth’ and complete the tour under her own management. When her music director, Julius Benedict, had to return to London, she invited the young Otto Goldschmidt (1829–1907), Mendelssohn's pupil and the son of a wealthy Jewish banking family in Hamburg, to travel to America as her accompanist. On 5 February 1852 they married quietly in Boston, shortly after Goldschmidt had been baptized an Episcopalian. On their return to Europe they settled in Dresden, and despite all blandishments Lind refused to return to the operatic stage. Although only in her early thirties, she appeared middle-aged; her voice had already lost its bloom, as the excessive strain of the earlier years had taken its toll, and the top notes no longer had their brilliance and freedom. However, she still excelled all other singers in her spiritual qualities, which evoked a unique emotional response in the hearts of her listeners.

When Lady Westmorland heard that Jenny Lind-Goldschmidt had lost her voice, she retorted: ‘If she has still got her soul, she is better worth hearing than all the other singers in the world’ (Bulman, 291). When in Handel's Messiah she sang ‘I know that my redeemer liveth’, the emphasis she placed on the second word was a radiant testimony of her religious faith. She continued to raise enormous sums of money by singing without fee for the benefit of hospitals throughout Great Britain, including £1872 to help Florence Nightingale's Nursing Fund at the end of the Crimean War.

In 1858 the Goldschmidts decided to make their permanent home in England, where they enjoyed a tranquil family life in Surrey with their two sons, Walter Otto and Ernest, and their daughter, Jenny, first in Roehampton and then in Wimbledon. On Otto's appointment as professor of piano and vice-principal of the Royal Academy of Music under their friend Sir William Sterndale Bennett, the Goldschmidts moved to 1 Moreton Gardens, South Kensington. When Otto formed the amateur Bach Choir, Jenny coached the sopranos in their drawing-room for the first English performance of Bach's B minor mass, on 26 April 1876 in St James's Hall. The last significant event of Jenny Lind-Goldsmidt's professional life was her appointment by the prince of Wales as the first professor of singing at the newly founded Royal College of Music in 1883. Her pupils included Liza Lehmann and Amanda Aldridge, the daughter of the American actor Ira Aldridge, known as the Black Othello. Her final public appearance was at a concert given for the Railway Servants' Benevolent Fund, at the Spa Hall, Malvern Hills, in 1883. She and her husband spent their last years together there at Wynd's Point, where she died of an inoperable cancer on 2 November 1887. Otto Goldschmidt lived until 1907; they were buried together under a simple stone of Swedish granite in Great Malvern cemetery, Worcestershire.

Jenny Lind is honoured in Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey, with a plaque placed under the statue of Handel. Round her head are the words inextricably associated with her legendary purity of voice, generosity of spirit, and unwavering religious conviction: ‘I know that my redeemer liveth’. Perhaps the best summation of her life and career was given by Oskar II to the Musical Academy of Stockholm: ‘She was like a meteor, blazing its trail above the heads of a wondering world’ (Bulman, 318).



H. S. Holland and W. S. Rockstro, Memoir of Madame Jenny Lind-Goldschmidt, 2 vols. (1891) · J. Bulman, Jenny Lind (1956) · Grove, Dict. mus. · J. M. C. Maude, The life of Jenny Lind (1926)


Royal Library, Stockholm · University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee · Westervelt and Hildebrand Collection, New York |  BL, letters, MS VI.1985 [index] · CKS, letters


E. Magnus, oils, 1846, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin; replica, NPG · Count D'Orsay, oils, 1847, NPG · W. E. Kilburn, daguerreotype, 1848, Royal Collection [see illus.] · E. Bieber, carte-de-visite, NPG · D. Maclise, drawing, V&A · H. Murray, photograph (with her husband), NPG · K. Radinitsky, medal, Barcelona Museum, Spain · daguerreotype, Royal Collection · prints, BM, Harvard TC, NPG · prints, NPG

Wealth at death  

£40,630 13s. 8d.: probate, 9 Feb 1888, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

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Jenny Lind (1820–1887): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/16671