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Estelle Liebling

1880 – 1970

by Charlotte Greenspan

A member of a very musical Jewish family, Estelle Liebling, soprano and one of the most influential teachers of singing in America, was born in New York City on April 21, 1880, to Matilde (de Perkiewicz) and Max Liebling. Her father and her uncles, George, Emil, and Solly Liebling, all studied with Franz Liszt and had significant careers as pianists and composers. She had three brothers, Otto, Leonard, and James; Leonard and James were also professional musicians. At first, Liebling was trained as a pianist but, as she stated, “Fortunately, they found I had a voice.” She studied in Berlin with Selma Nicklass-Kempner, serving also as her teacher’s accompanist during lessons with other students. She also studied in Paris with Mathilde Marchesi.

Liebling made her operatic debut at the Dresden Royal Opera House at age eighteen, singing the title role in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. Other roles she sang in Dresden were the Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute and Rosina in The Barber of Seville. She also appeared at the Stuttgart Opera and at the Opéra-Comique in Paris. Back in the United States, her unofficial debut at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York came in 1902, when at a few hours’ notice she filled in for an ailing singer in the role of Marguerite in Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots. Liebling sang her role in German, the language in which she had learned it for performance in Dresden, while the rest of the cast sang in French. She also appeared at the Metropolitan in the roles of Musetta in La Bohème and the First Boy in The Magic Flute.

From 1903 to 1905, Liebling was the soprano soloist for John Philip Sousa’s band, which toured throughout the United States and Europe. She sang some sixteen hundred times with Sousa, never missing a performance—a testament to her strength of will, strength of constitution, and reliable vocal technique. Critics praised the great facility and flexibility and the extraordinary range and sweetness of her voice.

In 1905, Liebling married Arthur Rembrandt Mosler, an engineer and inventor, the son of the American painter Henry Mosler. The wedding announcements in the newspapers stated that marriage would not mean the end of Liebling’s musical activities, and this was true, although in the course of the next two decades Liebling devoted less time to performing and more to teaching. The marriage, which lasted until Mosler’s death in 1953, produced one son, Arthur Mosler, Jr.

Liebling taught and coached singers for more than half a century. She was on the faculty of the Curtis Institute for Music in Philadelphia from 1936 to 1938, but for most of her career she taught at her studio in New York. The unusual range and flexibility that marked her singing also characterized her teaching. She prepared singers not only for the concert or operatic stage but also for careers in popular music. Among the singers she taught, coached, or advised were Amelita Galli-Curci, Frieda Hempel, Titta Ruffo, and Beverly Sills in the operatic field and Jessica Dragonette, Adele Astaire, Gertrude Lawrence, and Kitty Carlisle in the popular field. The Metropolitan Opera singers she trained or coached numbered close to eighty, leading one wit to dub her “the power behind the throat.” In interviews in the 1930s, she enthusiastically described training singers to make effective use of their voices on the radio. She was also willing to take on students as young as eight years old.

Liebling influenced the art of singing not only through teaching but also through books, including The Estelle Liebling Vocal Course and The Estelle Liebling Coloratura Digest. She also published a revised edition of vocalises written by her teacher Mathilde Marchesi, and a revised edition, with new piano accompaniments, of a collection of eighteenth-century arias. In addition, she wrote some compositions for piano and for voice.

After suffering a heart attack in her eighties, Liebling reluctantly reduced her teaching load to eight students a day. She died on September 25, 1970, at age ninety, having outlived her brothers, husband, and son.

Bibliography

DAB 8; Eaton, Quaintance. “First Lady of Voice.” Opera News 33 (March 1, 1969): 26–28; Fowler, Alandra Dean. “Estelle Liebling: An Exploration of Her Pedagogical Principles as an Extension and Elaboration of the Marchesi Method.” D.M.A. diss., University of Arizona, 1994; International Encyclopedia of Women Composers (1987); J.V. “Heeding Musical ‘Handwriting on the Wall.’” Musical Courier (October 1, 1937): 19; Kutsch, K.J., and Leo Riemens. Grosses Sangerlexikon (1987); Monson, Karen. “Estelle Liebling.” New Grove Dictionary of American Music (1986); Obituary. NYTimes, September 26, 1970, 33:2.

8 Comments

I also studied with Ms. Liebling from 1958 to mid 1960's. I learned so much from her and still use some of her vocalizes with my students. . She knew almost everyone in NYC who was important in the music world and would call them up to get an audition for me for opera and musicals. She was a wonderful pianist/accompanist. She was also very elegant and her studio always smelled of roses as she used Joy Perfume - a combination of Jasmine and Roses. I cherish my time with her.

Anne Nunnally

Estelle Liebling was my godmother. My father and mother, Hulda & Luigi Rossini met at her studio. With Estelle's encouragement they founded the Rossini Opera Workshop in the late 1930's to teach singers acting for the operatic stage. Beverly Sills was one of the many students she sent them. I believe I remember your name and perhaps meeting you in the 1950's or 60's. I would love to hear any reminiscences of aEstelle's studio and whether you might have known my parents.

Carlotta, I have found reminiscences of your father in London in the early years of the 20th century.

Carlotta, that's wonderful! Do you have any photos of Estelle? We'd love to add one to this entry.

I fear that Ms. Liebling's influence was noxious in many respects. Her way of ornamenting the music of Rossini, for example, turned the role of Rosina into a coloratura's dream part, when Rossini wrote quite a different piece. No singer until near the end of the nineteenth century would have dreamed of the kind of acrobatics she printed for that role in her famous book, still used in today's Conservatories. But we are by no means required to follow her teachings, despite the model of Beverly Sills.

I had the privilege of studing with Madame Liebling for 2 years in the middle 60's. What a marvelous woman and teacher, sitting at her grand looking up at me, and with love saying those famous words,"once again with feeling, young man". She is certainly a one of a kind, an ICON in the vocal instruction arena. I was saddened at death, but the memories of her and our time will last until that final curtain.

I studied with Estelle Liebling in 1969 and 1970. She was frail, but her hearing was perfect and she still played piano for students. She wrote cadenzas that were perfect for my voice and was one of the most memorable people I've me. An amazing woman.

Perhaps one of you knew my mother-in-Las w JoyJohnson who also studied with Ms. Leibling late 60's

How to cite this page

Greenspan, Charlotte. "Estelle Liebling." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 21, 2017) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/liebling-estelle>.

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