Friday, November 04, 2005


I've been working on some notes and a pre concert talk for Stravinsky's
Symphony in C. The composer writes that this was written in the early 1930s, during a terrible period of his life. His wife Catherine had been hospitalized for many years with tuberculosis. She died, as did their daughter, of the same illness.
It got me to thinking about the children (and spouses) of famous composers. There don't seem to be a lot of happy families in the history of western music. Is every unhappy family really unhappy in its own way? Verdi, Puccini, Mahler and Richard Strauss were artists and businessmen, and these roles overlapped. Why no large families? Would Verdi have written Aida if he had been raising a houseful of kids?

Here's a list I've made in my head. No reference material used, so bear with me:

Johann Sebastian Bach 1685-1750

Two wives. Twenty children. Yikes! Those were cold and long nights in Leipzig. Several of Bach's sons followed him in music: Johann Christian, Wilhelm Friedemann, Carl Phillip Emmanuel. His daughter Anna Magdalena was immortalized by a book of keyboard exercises dedicated to her.

George Friedrich Handel 1685-1759

Never married, no children. Died old and rich.

Franz Joseph Haydn 1732-1809.

Long and unhappy marriage. No children.

W.A. Mozart 1756-1791

Of the six children born to Mozart and his wife, Constanze Weber, between 1784 and 1791 only one, Franz Xaver, born shortly before his father's death, outlived the composer.

Beethoven 1770-1827

Never married. Several miserable love affairs. No children.

Gioacchino Rossini 1792-1868

Two marriages, the first to contralto Isabella Colbran (divorced) then to his long time mistress, Olympe Pellesier. No children.

Franz Schubert 1797-1828

Never married, no children.

Robert Schumann 1810-1856

Six children born to Clara Wieck Schumann. By all accounts this was a boisterous and happy family until Robert went mad, probably from tertiary syphilis. After several attempts at drowning himself, he was institutionalized, and starved himself to death.

Johannes Brahms 1833-1897

Never married, no children

Richard Wagner 1813-1883

Two marriages, the first to Minna Planner. Began a liaison with Cosima von Bulow, the daughter of Franz Liszt and the wife of Wagner's protege, conductor Hans von Bulow. Three children were born to Wagner and Cosima while she was still married to von Bulow. Cosima and Wagner did eventually marry. The dynastic miseries of the Wagner family are well documented, and on going.

Giuseppe Verdi 1813-1901

Two children born from his marriage to Margherita Barezzi. Mother and babies all died duirng a typhus epidemic 1839-1841. By 1842 Verdi was livving with the soprano Giuseppina Strepponi. She had several children by previous lovers, all of whom were raised in orphanages from birth. No children with Verdi. The two did not marry until 1859 and remianed together until Strepponi's death nearly forty years later.

Gustav Mahler 1860-1911

Married Alma Schindler in 1900. Two daughters, Anna (1902-1907) and Maria Anna, who died in 1988.

Giacomo Puccini 1858-1924

Unhappy marriage with Elvira Casazza, who left her husband when she became pregnant with Puccini's only child, Tonio.

Richard Strauss 1865-1949

Long and stormy marriage to Pauline de Ahna. She was a general's daughter who swore all her long life that she had married beneath herself, and that her husband should write commercial music, like Gilbert and Sullivan. Strauss reportedly adored her. One son.

Igor Stravinsky 1882-1971

Four children from his first marriage, to Catherine. All but Milenka lived long lives. Took up with painter Vera Soudeikeine while Catherine was hospitalized, married her after Catherine's death. A long and devoted marriage. Stravinsky seemed an absent minded father. Late in his life one of his granddaughters bore a child out of wedlock, which, according to biographer Lillian Libman, the composer "could not understand"


Well, I can't imagine a slew of Father's Day cards for any of these guys. Only Bach and Schumann seemed to have had a happy family life.
You can hear this in a lot of Schumann's music, especially the lieder and the piano works he wrote for Clara. We don't seem to have any drunks or wife beaters in the bunch, and public health being what it wasn't years ago, one can hardly hold a touch of syphilis now and then against them.

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