The Life of Emma Thursby    (Richard McCandless Gipson)
Item# B1449
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The Life of Emma Thursby    (Richard McCandless Gipson)
B1449. THE LIFE OF EMMA THURSBY, 1845-1931 (Richard McCandless Gipson). New York, N.Y. Historical Society, 1940. 470pp. Index; Exhaustive Chronology; Photos. Handsome edition w.marbled endpapers. Superb, ex-lib copy.


"She is hardly remembered today, but at one time Emma Thursby (1845-1931) was the most famous singer in America. Known as 'The America Nightingale' in homage to Jenny Lind, 'The Swedish Nightingale' who took the country by storm a generation earlier courtesy of P.T. Barnum, Thursby was a soprano sfogato, with a brilliant, pure and effortless voice. Like Lind, she appeared only on the concert platform at a time when American audiences deemed the operatic stage too risqué a place for a woman of her social/religious standing.

Thursby's principle studies were with Achille Errani, a tenor who had toured with Adelina Patti, and then with the Ukranian dramatic soprano Erminia Rudersdorff, who, according to Anna E. Schoen-René in her book AMERICAN MUSICAL INHERITANCE, was Manuel Garcia's first representative in America (Rudersdorff's previous studies had been with Giovanni Marco Borgdoni, Rubini, Luigi Lablache and Cavaliere Micheroux).

But before Thursby arrived at Rudersdorff's studio in Wrentham MA, Errani encouraged Thursby to study in Milan, so she journeyed to the Continent on a Grand Tour, traveling first to England, then Germany and France, finally arriving in Italy where she studied with Antonio Sangiovanni, a well-known pedagogue of the time, after first gaining entry into Francesco Lamperti's studio. Lamperti was Thursby's first choice, but the august maestro frequently failed to meet at their appointed lessons, so Thursby shifted her attention to Antonio Sangiovanni who was teaching several of her friends and had the recommendation of Errani. In the end, Thursby took a total of 8 lessons with Lamperti and 26 with Sangiovanni before a traveling companion contracted typhoid and died, which necessitated a return to America.

All this and a great deal more is recorded in Thursby's biography - THE LIFE OF EMMA THURSBY - which was written by Richard McCandless Gibson on behalf of the New York Historical Society in 1940. It was commissioned by Emma's younger sister Ina, with whom she lived and traveled. Both remained unmarried, and traveled widely together, from Norway to Japan.

It was a very curious experience to sit and read through the Thursby archives. Thursby didn't concern herself with singing alone. She also had an avid interest in Eastern Philosophy and Spiritualism, as many did during the first decades of the 20th century. Most curious are the spirit photographs taken of a pet mynah bird, which was stuffed after death and included in the Thursby collection. Apparently, the bird was quite opinionated about Thursby's students. Unfortunately, this one item has not survived.”

- Daniel James Shigo