We continue our look at some of the women connected to composers this week with Paula Voit, the mother of Bela Bartok. Paula was her son’s first music teacher. He displayed an interest and talent for music from a very young age and she started teaching him piano at the age of five.
Paula was born in 1857 to parents Moritz and Terezia in what is now Slovakia. Her parents both died when she was young and by sixteen she was on her own. She trained as a teacher and was a pianist as well. With her teacher training complete, at the age of 19 she moved to the south of Hungary to take a teaching position. Her decision to move there was partly influenced because her brother lived near to where she would be teaching.
Bela senior was the director of an agricultural school and connected with Paula’s brother. Paula taught piano lessons to Bela Sr. sisters. At the age of 23, in 1880, Paula and Bela senior were married. Eight years later, in 1888, Bela senior died. At 31 years of age, Paula was left to raise two young children on her own, the oldest being Bela junior at the age of 7. An influential figure in young Bela’s life, she would impress upon her family the importance of personal integrity and modesty.
This resilient woman lived until 1939, passing at the age of 82 in Budapest.
As we approach Mother’s Day, why not look at a few women behind some of the composers. This week we will continue with our recent Lizst theme and look at Countess Marie d’Agoult.
In 1805, Marie was born into a wealthy family in Germany. At the age of 21 she was married to Charles Louis Constant d’Agoult, Comte d’Agoult and became Comtesse. This was an arranged marriage and produced 2 children.
The 1830’s were an intense time for the Countess. 1833 saw her start a relationship with Liszt. In 1834, her eldest child died. In 1835, she decided to move to Geneva to live with Liszt, their first child was born, and she and the Count were officially divorced.
Marie and Franz never officially married. Together they had three children – Blandine (married to a future French prime minister), Cosima (who would eventually become the wife of Richard Wagner), and Daniel (a talented young pianist who died at the age of 20). In 1844, Franz and Marie parted ways and officially separated. Relations had been strained since 1839 when Franz had returned to touring full time and Marie and the children moved back to Paris. It was here in Paris in 1839 that Marie started her writing career under the pen name of Daniel Stern. She published several works starting in 1841 and continuing until a few years before her death in 1876. Two additional works were published after her death. She seems to have lived a full life and has left us with many insights into the world of her time.
We left Liszt last week in the early 1830’s. In 1832, about 6 months before he turned 21, Liszt attended a concert given by Paganini. At this point Liszt decided to refocus his attention to performing and becoming a virtuoso pianist.
By this time in his life he had spent years performing and learning as a young child, had experienced the heartbreaking loss of his father, had fallen in love but had the relationship crushed by her father, had spent time teaching to support himself and his mother, and had struggling with trying to decide what he really wanted to do with his life to the point of considering leaving music for the church. Quite a bit for the first 20 years of his life.
His passion for music reignited, the 1830’s saw a number of positive changes in his life. He started a relationship with Countess Marie d’Agoult which would last for 10 years and give him three children. He started teaching at the Geneva Conservatory and spent several years in the 1830s living in Switzerland and Italy with the Countess. His circle of friends grew to include Berlioz and Chopin. His composing flourished both by creating his own works and transcribing other works. And he was well on his way to being the virtuoso pianist he wanted to be.
Franz Liszt was born in 1811 and died a few months before his 75th birthday. This Hungarian born composer and pianist was raised with a musical father and started his piano playing training quite young. At a young age he had already given a few concerts and done some basic composing.
Around the age of 9, Liszt and his father travelled to Vienna in order for Franz to pursue further studies in music. Sponsored by some wealthy benefactors, he took lessons with Carl Czerny and Antonio Salieri. At the age of 12, Liszt’s father took him to Paris to attempt to gain entry into the Paris Conservatory. Unfortunately he was denied entry as a foreigner so private training and public concerts continued until his father’s death in 1927. At this point Liszt and his mother lived together in Paris, where he stopped performing and focused on teaching both piano and composition.
For the end of his teenage years, he kept a busy schedule with teaching. He usually started early in the morning and went until late in the evening, travelling across much of Paris to reach his various pupils. And while his music education had been attended to well, his formal education had not. He spent a lot of time during this period reading and self educating as well. His doubts about pursuing his passion with music ran deep and he questioned his choice of profession for a while. It wasn’t until the early 1830’s that Liszt resumed performing and composing in earnest.
On April 16, 2015, we will have the pleasure of hearing the Lafayette Quartet play on our stage once again. First performing together in 1986, the Lafayette Quartet continues today with its original members – Ann Elliott-Goldschmid and Sharon Stanis (violins), Joanna Hood (viola), and Pamela Highbaugh Aloni (cello).
Originally formed in Detroit, the quartet was based there until 1991 when they accepted the positions of artists-in-residence at the University of Victoria’s School of Music. Today they still hold these positions. In addition to teaching and coaching in Victoria, they are also active in the community at large. They advocate for music in the school and are principal performers with the Galiano Ensemble http://www.galiano.ca. In 2006, they started the annual Lafayette Health Awareness Forum which offers expert health information in the format of a free forum http://lafayettestringquartet.ca/lafayette-health-awareness/
And somewhere in there they still find the time to perform at home, to travel to perform around the world and adjudicate performances, and to record CDs and videos. I begin to wonder if talented quartets ever sleep!
Join us to hear these amazing ladies play Haydn, Jean Coulthard, and Beethoven at 8pm on April 16, 2015. http://www.music-toronto.com/quartets/Lafayette.htm