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Top 13 Couples of Classical Music

10 September 2017

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Considering how many hours musicians spend on their craft, whether it be composing, conducting or performing, it is no wonder that they fall in love with other musicians. is simply no time to meet people outside of work! From J.S. Bach and Anna Magdalena to Marin Alsop and Kristin Jurkscheit, musicians have often been romantically drawn to one another—for better or for worse! 

Despite, or maybe because of, the prevailing themes of mental illness, incest, adultery and death in these relationships, many artists also found their muse in the form of their loved one. 

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)  and Anna Magdalena (1701-1760)

Let’s start way back with Bach and his second wife, Anna Magdalena. Anna was the daughter of a trumpet player and was herself a soprano at the court of Köthen, where Bach served as Kapellmeister. The two married a little over a year after the death of Maria Barbara, Bach’s first wife. Anna often copied and transcribed her husband’s music, while maintaining her own music career. We have Anna to thank for Bach’s two Notenbüchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach (Notebooks for Anna Magdalena Bach). The couple had 13 children, including Johann Christian, Gottfried Heinrich and Johann Christoph Friedrich. After J.S. Bach’s death, Anna was left penniless and died on the street. She was buried in a pauper’s grave in Leipzig. It is quite possible that some of J.S. Bach’s works were actually the work of Anna.

Robert Schumann (1810-1856) and Clara Wieck (1819-1896)…Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)?

Robert and Clara were quite the 'power couple' in their day. Robert was a famed composer and his wife a brilliant pianist. Robert fell in love with his piano teacher’s daughter, Clara Wieck, much to her father’s dismay. Clara was just 18 years old when Robert proposed to her. Despite her father’s protests, Clara and Robert were determined to marry one another and began a long, bitter legal dispute that lasted three years. Finally, the court ruled in favour of their marriage.

Robert often confessed his love to Clara through his music. In fact, he composed at least 130 songs for voice and piano, all inspired by his love for her. Clara would often premiere and perform his works at her many concerts, which provided the sole income for the family. Often Robert’s music contained secret messages for Clara, such as spelling her name out or using intervals that were special to her. After Robert’s health declined, he was sent to an asylum where he died. After his death, Clara continued to perform and promote the music of her late husband.

While we are certainly thankful that Clara and Robert’s love inspired much wonderful music, we should also acknowledge that Brahms was also inspired by his love for Clara. Their love affair began when Robert became sick—Brahms was always by her side. While they yearned for each other, nothing much ever came of this emotionally messy love affair, apart from wonderful music, of course!

Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) and Nina Hagerup (1845-1935)

No list would be complete without this incestuous couple. Cousins Nina and Edvard Grieg enjoyed a 40-year marriage. They often performed together—she was a lovely singer and he would accompany here. Edvard described her voice as ‘wonderful’ and called her ‘the only true interpreter of my songs’.

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) and Alma Schindler (1879-1964)

This marriage, while in many ways successful, was quite thorny. Alma was a wonderful composer, but Mahler insisted she give up composing to serve to his needs. On the advice of Sigmund, Freud, Gustav agreed to allow Alma to compose again in an effort to save the marriage. After Gustav’s death, Alma destroyed and then forged all her correspondence to him so that she could protect herself from being seen as the cruel woman that she was.

Erik Satie (1866-1925) and Suzanne Valadon (1865-1938)

While Suzanne Valadon was not a musician, she was definitely an artist—a painter and model, and their story is fascinating, so we’ll include it. Both Erik and Suzanne were a bit, let’s say, quirky. While Satie only ate white food (don’t forget grated bone and the fat of dead animals!), Suzanne kept goat in her apartment to eat all her bad paintings. It’s not surprising that this relationship also had a strange ending, with Suzanne leaving suddenly without explanation. The demise of his only intimate relationship led Satie to write Vexations, a piece he wrote on a half sheet of paper, to be repeated 840 times.

Ditta Pásztory (1903-1982) and Béla Bartók (1881-1945)

The great composer Béla Bartók was notorious for his attraction to younger women. Despite his marriage to Márta Ziegler, Béla fell in love with her piano pupil Ditta Pásztory at the Royal Academy of Music. His feelings for his student were so strong that he divorced his wife and married Ditta. At the time of their marriage, Béla was 42 and Ditta 19.

Gian Carlo Menotti (1911-2007) and Samuel Barber (1910-1981)

These two talented men were college sweethearts that met at the Curtis Institute. They would share not only their lives, but also their musical pursuits for four decades.

The Relationship eventually soured as Menotti lost interest in his aging partner. The couple’s separation had a terrible effect on Barber, who wrote only three pieces after they were forced to sell their house ‘Capricorn’. Menotti went on to pursue relationships with men half his age, which pained and embarrassed Barber greatly. It was also around this time that he fell into a deep depression, turning to alcohol. Barber’s final, and most disastrous opera (Antony and Cleopatra), was the only one that Menotti hadn’t collaborated on. Menotti later revised the libretto with great success.

The two seem to have made peace as several years later, Barber was diagnosed with cancer and Menotti stayed by his side until the end. After Barber’s death, Menotti became his biggest public advocate. 

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) and Peter Pears (1910-1986)

The relationship between composer Benjamin Britten and tenor Peter Pears spanned nearly four decades and helped each artist reach their respective potential musically. The relationship sparked works like Peter Grimes, Winter Words and the War Requiem. Leading roles in Britten’s works were often created for, and by, Peter Pears. Their intimate relationship was a long-kept secret and revealed through the publication of their correspondence to each other. Britten had asked his publisher to release the 365 letters between the two men, just before his death in 1976. In the letters, text such as, ‘I don’t think you ever realise how much you help me…you give me a loving critical confidence in every way’. 

John Cage (1912-1992) and Merce Cunningham (1919-2009)

Dance prodigy and brilliant choreographer Merce Cunningham was composer John Cage’s second wife. They met while collaborating on a project and soon became lovers. Many of Cage’s letters to his partner have been preserved. The two collaborated on many more projects, revolutionizing both dance and music, throughout their partnership, which lasted until Cage’s death in 1992.

André Previn (b.1929) and Anne-Sophie Mutter (b.1963)

The German violin virtuoso Anne-Sophie Mutter was conductor André Previn’s fifth wife! Mutter was previously married to Detlef Wunderlich, who tragically passed away. Previn and Mutter divorced in 2006, but still work together on a regular basis. Together they have recorded and given many wonderful concerts.

Daniel Barenboim (1942) and Jacqueline DuPré (1945-1987) ........Daniel Barenboim and Elena Bashkirova (b.1958)

Daniel Barenboim’s story is one of young success, true love, tragedy, deception and triumph.

Child Prodigies Daniel Barenboim (piano/conductor) and cellist Jacqueline DuPré met early on in their careers, and became unstoppable on and off the stage. They were soon married and enjoyed a success concert career together, until Jacqueline began suffering from a mysterious illness that would much later be identified as Multiple Sclerosis. As Jacqueline’s health deteriorated, she became confined to a wheelchair and required round-the-clock care. Barenboim continued to work, though he continued to care for his wife when he was home. During the 20 weeks a year he spent in Paris with the Paris Orchestra, Barenboim began an affair with Russian pianist Elena Bashkirova. He never told his wife because he didn’t want to hurt her, and believes she never knew. Before his wife’s death, he had fathered two children with Bashkirova, with whom he is now married.

Sir Simon Rattle (b.1955) and Magdalena Kozena (b.1973)

Sir Simon Rattle’s third wife, Czech opera star Magdalena Kozena, is 18 years his junior and the mother of three of his children. The two often perform together, with Rattle accompanying his wife. The two met during a production of Mozart’s Idomeneo at Glyndebourne. Rattle was taken by her physical and musical beauty.

Marin Alsop (b. 1956) and Kristin Jurkscheit (b.1966)

Marin Alsop became the first female Music Director of a major American symphony orchestra with her appointment to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Her partner has been horn player Kristin Jurkscheit since 1990. Together they have a son. While conducting the Colorado symphony, Alsop encountered controversy, as Jurkscheit was a member of the orchestra.

Melanie Garrett


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