You know that Mozart lived about the same time as Haydn, but really, how close were they? Did they even meet? Who was older? How did they view each other and their music?
The world of classical music, musicians, and composers is amazingly connected. Today I want to explore these connections and talk about a few of the relationships between famous classical musicians. Also, because classical music was a major part of life back in the 1700s and 1800s, I’ll be discussing some important non-musical figures who listened to the music of and were friends with great composers.
Buckle up, because musical relationships can get complicated!
First up on the list is Mozart and his relationship to Haydn. Mozart probably first met Haydn in Vienna, 1783, when Mozart was around 28 years old and Haydn 52. They became friends and often played in string quartets or quintets together. Haydn wrote about Mozart that “posterity will not see such a talent again in 100 years”.
Many people wonder what relationship Mozart had with Beethoven. Well, we don’t actually know if they even met. There is one account which claims that Beethoven played and improvised on the pianoforte for Mozart, who was duly impressed, but the account dates from the 19th century and there is no proof that it is true. Nevertheless, even if they never met, Beethoven was influenced by Mozart—who was 14 years older than him. Beethoven did study under Haydn, though, and dedicated a few of his piano sonatas to him.
Telemann—J.S. Bach—C.P.E. Bach
Georg Philipp Telemann, a very productive composer who was born 1681, applied for a job as Thomaskantor (music director) in Leipzig. He decided that he didn’t want it, however, and after another candidate declined the post, none other than Johann Sebastian Bach took it. Telemann and Bach became good friends in time, and Bach even named Telemann as the godfather of Bach’s second son, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, who shared Telemann’s second name.
Carl Maria von Weber—Michael Haydn—Mozart
Carl Maria von Weber was born in 1786, the son of Franz Anton von Weber. Carl Maria von Weber is now a moderately well-known composer with several claims to fame. Firstly, he studied with Michael Haydn, the younger brother of Joseph Haydn. However, being in the thick of the Classical period, he had a tie to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as well. Carl’s half-uncle, Fridolin—the half-brother of Franz Weber—was father to four daughters, Josepha, Aloysia, Constanze and Sophie. They were all famed singers, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed several pieces for Aloysia in the hope of wooing her. After she rejected his suit, Mozart went on to marry Constanze. So we may say that Mozart was in some sense Carl Weber’s “half-cousin-in-law”.
It’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty stuff. Richard Wagner, as my research has revealed, was in the middle of everything. He was connected, if only loosely, to people such as Adolph Hitler, Friedrich Nietzsche, George Eliot, Robert Browning, Edvard Grieg, and Carl Maria von Weber.
Probably the closest tie Wagner had to a musical figure, however, was that of son-in-law to Franz Liszt. Liszt was father to three daughters, one of whom was musical. Indeed, Cosima Liszt followed in her father’s footsteps as a composer herself. She first married Franz Liszt’s pupil, Hans von Bülow, who actually conducted the premiere of Wagner’s opera, Tristan und Isolde. However, soon after Cosima fell in love with Wagner, divorcing Hans von Bülow and marrying Wagner. Doesn’t it tickle you to think of Wagner, the respected Wagner, having Liszt as a father-in-law? That’s a lot to live up to! To make their relationship even more strange, consider that Liszt was only 2 years older than Wagner. Another tidbit that really tickles me about the situation is the fact that Liszt was never informed of the marriage between Cosima and Wagner. He learned of it in the newspapers afterward – and what a shock that must have been for him!
Wagner was also very indirectly connected to Richard Strauss, another famous composer who was partially influenced by Wagner (though Strauss’s musically conservative family discouraged the influence). Strauss reached his mature style after meeting and being influenced by Alexander Ritter, yet another composer of the day, who was at that time married to one of Wagner’s nieces.
The Schumanns—Brahms—Johann Strauss II
Probably the most famous classical musical couple is the Schumanns. Clara Schumann (formerly Clara Wieck) began her glittering career as a concert pianist at the age of 11. Clara was rigorously taught by her father, Friedrich Wieck, from a young age; she learned piano, violin, singing, composition, theory, and counterpoint daily. Friedrich Wieck also taught Robert Schumann, who could have been, according to Wieck, the finest pianist in Europe. However, Schumann’s pianistic career was doomed after he sustained a hand injury which was supposedly caused by the use of a finger-strengthening mechanical device. Schumann focused on composition instead. In 1840, he married Clara, though Wieck was opposed to the match. As a young couple, Robert and Clara were blissfully happy. Music proved to be, in some sense, their mutual love language; Robert wrote pieces for Clara, many of which were dedicated to her or composed using the letters of her name. The two were so close that they kept a mutual diary together.
Tragically, Robert eventually attempted suicide—which was unsuccessful—due to his declining mental health (some say he suffered from bipolar disorder while others believe he was schizophrenic). He later asked to be taken to an asylum and died there two years later.
The Schumanns were close friends with Johannes Brahms. After Robert’s confinement in the asylum, Brahms took care of business matters for Clara. Furthermore, while Clara was unable to visit Robert, Brahms was; he was then able to act as a go-between for her. Indeed, Brahms developed a romantic attachment to Clara, but the two remained only close friends up to and after Robert’s death.
Fun fact #1: Brahms was also very close to Johann Strauss II (composer of The Blue Danube waltz). The photo on the left is of Strauss (left) and Brahms (right) in 1894. Strauss would have been 69 years old at the time and Brahms 61.
Fun fact #2: Brahms was recorded speaking and playing the piano, making his recording the earliest by a major composer. The sound quality isn’t great, but you can still hear the voices and the piano fairly well. Listen to it .
Berlioz—Important Contemporaries—The Great Trinity
Another Romantic who was surrounded by great artists of all types is Hector Berlioz, born 1803. His most popular work, Symphonie fantastique, was played in a concert where a few of the attendees included Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Heinrich Heine, Niccolò Paganini, Frédéric Chopin, George Sand, and Franz Liszt. When Berlioz was married, Liszt was a witness at the wedding. (He must have been a very busy man.) Furthermore, Berlioz knew Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Mikhail Glinka, all three of them famous composers.
A final fun fact: Berlioz, Wagner, and Liszt came to be called the “Great Trinity of Progress” of Romanticism, and Wagner once wrote humorously to Liszt that “we, Liszt, Berlioz and Wagner, are three equals, but we must take care not to say so to him.”
As you’ve just seen, famous composers and musicians didn’t live in their own little bubbles all their lives; they developed friendships with their contemporaries and listened to their music. They didn’t always like it—for example, Clara Schumann detested the music of Liszt and described Wagner’s music as “horrible” and “repugnant”—but they listened to it and were influenced by it.
It was fascinating to me when researching this post to find so many links among classical musicians. Really, though, it makes sense, for the interaction of musicians (composers in particular) is how we developed a sophisticated style of music – the classical style. The best classical music is full of outside influences, whether originating from its composer’s homeland, a revered composer’s music, or non-musical things.
In my opinion, the more obscure a connection is, the more intriguing it is! I find these dense histories and musical heritages absorbing. I hope you found this post just as interesting as I did!