Between the 1830s and the 1880s, leading female singers such as Henriette Rossi Sontag, Laure Cinti-Damoreau, Adelina Patti, and Pauline Viardot participated in a widespread custom of inscribing original vocal cadenzas in autograph albums (also known as friendship albums, keepsake albums, alba amicorum, or Stammbücher). The appeal of album cadenzas, along with other compact inscriptions, reflects a wider Romantic fascination with remembering through small keepsakes such as miniature almanacs and annual compilations of poetry, prose, or music. Whether improvised in the presence of collectors or offered as souvenirs of earlier performances, cadenzas functioned as mementos of musical and social encounters while visually representing singers’ musical personae through performative gestures. These florid pieces also allowed female singers to exercise agency as both creative artists and curators of their public images, much like the (mostly male) composers whose musical signatures fill surrounding album leaves. As performance-practical sources, vocal cadenzas preserve rare and revealing traces of singers’ artistry; many, in fact, can be linked to specific concerts or performances of operas by Bellini, Donizetti, Meyerbeer, Rossini, Verdi, and others. In the case of Cinti-Damoreau, such music illuminates the connection between improvisation, performance, and pedagogy. The gradual disappearance of album cadenzas during the last quarter of the nineteenth century is attributable not only to a waning interest in musical improvisation generally, but also to a shift in creative authority away from singers and toward composers, particularly in the operatic realm.

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