In 1865 Theodora Cormontan left her musical studies in Copenhagen to return home to Arendal, Norway, almost certainly in response to the death of her mother on March 5 of that year. She remained at home with her father and older sister, almost certainly to provide a level of support previously provided by her mother. Theodora’s father, Provst Even Cormontan, held an important position in the Lutheran State Church of Norway that would have required an efficiently run home to enable him to effectively execute his duties. This domestic support appears to have been beyond the ability of Theodora’s older sister Eivinda, who already lived at the residence. Eivinda never left home, so she may have had some special needs that also required attention. The responsibility fell to the next oldest daughter, Theodora. Her younger sister Marie would eventually marry and immigrate to the United States.
Theodora (standing) with her sister Eivinda and her father Even. This picture probably dates from the latter 1860s.
Though needed at home, Theodora’s father clearly supported her aspirations to be a professional musician, as he had supported her musical education. Theodora initially engaged in local performances but, toward the end of the decade, she would be a concertizing soprano soloist well beyond Arendal.
The book “Til glede for byen: Konsertvirksomheten I Kristianssand 1780-1900” (“To the delight of the city: concerts in Kristiansand 1780-1900”) by Frank Høgberg, notes a concert offered by Cormontan in Kristiansand, Norway on March 7, 1869. The March 6th local newspaper (Stiftsavis og Adressecontors Efterreninger) announced the program and the location of the concert:
Presents on Sunday, March 7th at 7:30 p.m.
At Klubselskabet “Foreningens” Lokale [Club Company “Association” Location]
1. Gounod. Jewel Aria from “Faust,” sung in concert version.
2. Beethoven. Overture to “Egmont” on Piano.
3. Verdi. Cavatina from “Il Trovatore,” sung in concert version.
4. Beriot. Air Varié No. 6 for Violin and Piano.
5. Arditi. “L’Ardita [Magnetic Waltz], ” sung in concert version.
6. Composition for Piano
7. Pacius. Ballade, sung in concert version.
Ticket price 40 Sk. Tickets will be held at the entrance, which opens at 7:00 p.m.
The announcement does not identify the other musicians who would be performing with the soprano soloist. It is quite possible that Theodora’s sister Marie accompanied her; Marie served as a collaborative pianist for Theodora when she performed in Minnesota shortly after arriving there in 1887.
The March 6th edition of the paper also ran the following announcement:
Let us remind you of the concert announced for tomorrow evening featuring Miss Cormontan that will be given at the “Association.” We have been told that Miss Cormontan offered several concerts in Copenhagen last year, where she previously received a fine education. She has received a glowing reception for fine concerts in Arendal and Grimstad, where they reported that she is a singer of more than ordinary talent.
This last sentence alludes to the beginning of a concert tour by Theodora Cormontan in 1869. Grimstad is between Arendal and Kristiansand on the southern coast of Norway. Cormontan would continue along the coast to present a concert in Stavanger in April of 1869 and one in Bergen on May 4 of that year.
A review of the Kristiansand concert appeared in the paper on March 9th. Not unlike many reviews today, only a portion of the article addressed the actual performance. The anonymous author spent the first part of the review expressing disappointment that only about 70 people attended Theodora’s concert. The author wrote:
When a guest artist comes to our city to give a concert, it is seldom that the performer is rewarded by a full auditorium. It is usually only a solid, little band of Music Friends who arrive, since they would not neglect any opportunity to enjoy a musical performance, something that escapes the everyday crowd; the large crowd seems to consider concerts as something that are irrelevant, and stays away. Only when someone with a great reputation and great fame performs do large audiences appear. They don’t attend when someone less well known performs.
The reviewer eventually discussed Theodora’s performance, and wrote:
The concert featured a singer in possession of a full, rich and sonorous soprano voice of a rare and pleasant character. Her singing reflected favorably upon her training; we would particularly note her beautiful and correct intonation. Of the numbers presented, her performance of the Cavatina from Il Trovatore and the Magnetic Waltz brought special joy. The Ballade by Pacius seemed to us, however, to be less beautifully sung. All the numbers were received with lively applause that was so powerful that the singer visibly shuddered, and at the end of the concert was moved to tears.
1869 appears to be the only year Cormontan concertized extensively outside of Arendal. Perhaps her extended absence from home proved incompatible with her domestic responsibilities. Perhaps Theodora decided she did not enjoy touring. Or perhaps the tour was only intended to further establish her credentials as a professional musician, facilitating her career arc into the areas of music rental, music publishing and, most importantly for her legacy, music composition.