“The only love affair I have ever had was with music.”
The history of classical music, however, is full of fabulously gifted individuals with slightly more earthy ambitions. Love stories of classical composers are frequently retold within a romanticized narrative of sugarcoated fairy tales. To be sure, happily-ever-after stories do on rare occasions take place, but it is much more likely that classical romances lead to some rather unhappy endings. Johannes Brahms had an overriding fear of commitment, Claude Debussy drove his wife into an attempt at suicide, Francis Poulenc severely struggled with his sexual identity, and Percy Grainger was heavily into whips and bondage. And that’s only the beginning! The love life of classical composers will sometimes make you weep, or alternately shout out with joy or anguish. You might even cringe with embarrassment as we try to go beyond the usual headlines and niceties to discover the psychological makeup and the societal and cultural pressures driving these relationships. Classical composer’s love stories are not for the faint hearted; they are heightened reflections of humanity at its best and worst. Accompanying these stories of love and lust with the compositions they inspired, we are able to see composers and their relationships in a completely new light.
Pierre-Joseph Zimmerman was well established on the Parisian musical scene as a retired Conservatoire piano professor with many accomplished students to his credit. Together with his beautiful wife Hortense and their four daughters, the family entertained a lively salon that
Upon departing from Italy, Mikhail Glinka stopped in Berlin and took some counterpoint lessons from Siegfried Dehn. The study of counterpoint fueled his desire to write a national opera, as he wrote to a friend, “I have a project in
The most prestigious artistic scholarship in France, the “Prix de Rome,” was created in 1663. It originally was awarded in painting, sculpting and architecture, with music and engraving added in 1803 and 1804, respectively. The fortunate recipients, selected via a
As far as women were concerned, Claude Debussy was a bastard! “There was a woman at each crossroad of Debussy’s life,” Marcel Dietschy writes. “Certainly women of all ages seemed fascinated by him, and they attached themselves to him like
The Scottish operatic soprano Mary Garden, who sung the part of “Mélisande” in the original production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande in 1902, was to later write about the composer, “I honestly don’t know if Debussy ever loved anybody really.
Luise von Sonnenthal (1900-1962) was born into a dynasty of ennobled actors. Her grandfather Adolf Ritter von Sonnenthal was not only Vienna’s most popular classical actor and matinee idol at the Burgtheater, he was also one of the first Jewish
The soprano Margarethe Bernbrunn, née Lang, who frequently performed under the stage name “Adalbert Prix,” was described in the following terms. “Gretchen possessed a little plump seductive form, was about twenty years of age, and, in addition to her undoubted
Claire Delbos was the daughter of a Sorbonne professor, a member of the prominent new music society “La Spirale,” and an accomplished violinist and composer. Predictably, she studied at the Paris Conservatory and quickly crossed paths with another highly talented