Maria Malibran

The Spanish diva Maria Malibran was born Maria Felicità née García, and became Maria Malibran after wedding the Franco-American merchant named Eugène Malibran – She is known as one of the most important operatic figures of the 19th Century. She could sing, play many different instruments, compose, and paint. Daughter of the Spanish tenor and composer Manuel García, and sister of the mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot, she was born in Paris, France, on March 24th 1808, and died in Manchester, United Kingdom, on September 23rd 1836. Her life became a subject of interest of many researchers as well as singers, including actual ones as Cecilia Bartoli, who presides a foundation named after Malibran. Interestingly, this foundation provides supports for research in music, which includes collection, organization, performance and promotion of music from 17th and 18th Centuries. Furthermore, it supports “young composers to composing for the voice of today”.[1]


This report has as purpose to compare the approach given on Malibran’s biography in Encyclopedias and Dictionaries, basically, on The New Grove II, New Harvard dictionary of Music, Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart (MGG), The International Cyclopedia of Music and Musicians, and Baker’s Biographical dictionary of Musicians (Centennial Edition). However, there is no mention of Malibran on The New Harvard Dictionary of Music, which leads me to have four sources of information to work with.

Besides the general facts that we expect to find on someone’s biography, I may say that each one of these sources adds some information, or details about her life. Nonetheless, I chose to point out only two major discrepancies that I found among them: one regarding her voice, and the other about her cause of death.


Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians states she was a mezzo-soprano who had an extraordinary range, and says that her medium register was quite weak. For The Grove II, she is also a mezzo-soprano, but it claims that her voice had extraordinary flexibility and power, without saying anything about possible deficiencies. On the other hand, The International Cyclopedia of Music and Musicians classifies her as contralto that had soprano high notes. Finally, even though it is written in German, MGG might have a more accurate statement, because it doesn’t try to classify her voice right way. Instead, it says that she could sing alto roles as well as dramatic soprano ones, so that she might be better classified as mezzo-soprano coloratura, with strong, “darkly colored chest”.

Another issue is regarding her cause of death. New Grove II as well as Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians says she fell from her horse while in England for the Manchester festival. Because she was pregnant, she had some complications, dying a couple of days later. By contrast, The International Cyclopedia of Music and Musicians says she injured her head after falling from her horse, reason why she died, without saying anything about her pregnancy. At least but not last, MGG only says that she died because of a riding accident, without describing further details.


Even though The New Grove II has comprehensive information about her life, including how hard she was pushed by her father, who was also her voice teacher, and made her opera debut happens when she was only fifteen - She sang the role of Rosina (Il Barbiere di Seviglia) at King’s Theater, in June 1825 - the most complete set of data about Maria Malibran among my four sources was found on MGG.

By 1831, she was living with the Belgium violinist Charles de Bériot. They had already built a villa at Ixelles, near Brussels, place where their son Charles Wilfred was born in 1833. After her marriage to Malibran was annulled, she married Bériot in March 1836, six months before her passing.

The great Maria Malibran was buried in Manchester, but her remains were later removed to Brussels.

Cited Bibliography

Finscher, Ludwig. Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Allgemeine Enzyklopadie

der Musikbegründet von Friedrich Blume. 26 Bände in zwei Teilen. Personenteil

11.  2004, Seite 912.

Google Translate.

Sadie, Stanley. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. 2 ed. v.15. New

York: 2001, pg. 696-697.

Slonimsky, Nicolas. Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians. Centennial Ed. V.4.

Schirmer Books. New York: 2001, pg 2248.

Thompson, Oscar. The International Cyclopedia of Music and Musicians.11 ed. New

York: 1985, pg.1314-1315.

[1] Bartoli about Malibran.