“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.