Category Archives: Fathers of Composers

The Mozart Guys

A final instalment for this year of looking at fathers of composers with the Mozart family!  The male ancestral side of the Mozart family does not revolve around music in terms of profession early on. Let’s start with the great-grandfather of Wolfgang Amadeus, Franz Mozart. Franz was a master mason.  In that time period, children would often follow in their father’s profession. However, Franz’s son, Johann Georg, decided instead to become a master bookbinder. Johann Georg was born in 1679 and died in 1736. His son, Leopold (born in 1719), was the oldest of his five children who survived to adulthood.
Leopold was destined for the priesthood by his parents but that was not to be. His brother, Franz Aloys, did follow in his father’s footsteps and became a bookbinder. Leopold turned to the arts. In school, he performed in plays, sang, and learned to play the violin and organ. After dropping out, moving to Salzburg, and enrolling in a different university, he did earn a Bachelor of Philosophy upon graduating.
In 1740 he started his music career with a position as violinist and valet to Johann Baptist, Count of Thurn-Valsassina and Taxis and by publishing his first series of compositions. In addition to eventually becoming the father of Wolfgang Amadeus, Leopold taught and wrote music. He held the position of deputy Kapellmeister at the Salzburg cathedral for many years. He wrote a treatise on violin playing that is still consulted today.
Obviously he had a big influence on Wolfgang’s life. He was his first teacher and toured with him as a child. While the relationship between Wolfgang and Leopold would become more difficult over the years, Leopold offered much support to his daughter Nannerl later on in his life. In addition to emotional support during difficult times of her marriage, he helped raise her son for several years when he was small. He definitely seems like a father who put much of his on life on hold in an attempt to secure a better future for his children.


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Moses and Abraham Mendelssohn

Today we continue to look at fathers of composers as we head towards Father’s Day this month. We are looking at the Mendelssohn family this week. Felix and Fanny are the two famous musical names from this family. Let’s look at their grandfather and father.

German Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn was their grandfather. He was born Moses Ben Mendel Dessau in 1729. He was born into a poor family and due to an illness in childhood, Moses did much of his schooling at home and was self taught in several things over the years. In 1750, Moses met a wealthy silk merchant who hired him to teach his children. Eventually Moses became the book keeper and worked his way to partner in the business. It was in the textile industry that he built the base for his family fortune. At some point Moses decided to change his last name, feeling that his birth name could would hinder him. Moses’ father was named Mendel and Moses chose Mendelssohn (son of Mendel). He started on his path to becoming a known philosopher in 1756 with Friedrich Nicolai and became quite prominent before his death in 1786.

Abraham Mendelssohn was born in 1776. By the time he was born, the family was well off and it continued to flourish. Abraham studied banking and joined his brother Joseph as a partner in his banking company, which would later be renamed Mendelssohn & Co. Like their father, Moses, Abraham & Joseph also changed their last name. To fit in better with German society, Joseph had taken on the last name of Bartholdy, the name of a property he had purchased. Abraham did the same and encouraged his children to do likewise. While Abraham obviously did well in his life as a banker, history has overshadowed him with a famous father and two famous children.

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The Forefathers of Franz Liszt

As we approach Father’s Day, I thought I’d look at the paternal side of the life of some of our composers. Since we just wrapped up a look at Franz Liszt, let’s start with his patriarchal influences.

Franz definitely gets some of his good genes from his father’s side of the family. Liszt great-grandfather, Sebastian, was a farmer and lived until he was almost 90. Quite amazing for the 1700’s!

Franz’s grandfather, Georg, was the overseer for the Esterhazy estates. He also lived until he was almost 90 years of age, outliving Franz’s father, Adam. He played the piano, organ, and violin.

It is interesting to note that the original family name was List. Adam changed the spelling to Liszt, adopting the Hungarian spelling of their name. Once his grandson started to become famous, Georg started using Liszt as well.

Adam was born in 1776, Georg’s second child. Adam eventually worked for Prince Nokolaus II Esterhazy as well. In his teens, Adam played the cello in a summer orchestra directed by Haydn for the House of Eszterhazy. Adam was an amateur pianist as well. He also played the organ, violin, and sang. He knew both Haydn and Beethoven.

When Franz was a young boy, Adam took a one year leave from his position with the Prince in order to accompany Franz on several tours. At the end of the year, unable to secure Franz a place in the Conservatory in Paris, Adam asked for more time away. It was not granted and he decided to resign his position and continue instead to manage his son’s training and career.

Though a bit of a task master, Adam and Franz did have a good relationship. Franz was deeply pained when his father died of typhoid in 1827. Franz was just 15 years old and this would have a great impact on the next several years of his life as he became the sole support for his mother and himself.

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Brahms’ parents

Johannes Brahms is a well known name in classical music. Brahms was born in Hamburg in 1833 and his family background had a big influence in his life. Let’s take a brief look at his parents.

His father, Johann Jakob, was born into a family of carpenters, wheelwrights, and tradesmen. His father ran a general store in Heide. Johann Jakob did not follow in his father’s footsteps. He became a musician instead. His was an apprentice for 3 years with Theodor Muller and when finished, at the age of 19, he left for Hamburg to look for work as a musician.  He played several instruments with most of his work coming from his skill on the horn and the double bass. Much of his work was in dance halls initially. He did become a bugler with the town guard and played his double bass in the Philharmonic Orchestra of Hamburg later in his life.

At the age of 24, Johann Jakob married Johanna Henrika Christiane Nissen, as seamstress 17 years older than him. She had been born in Hamburg. She had started work sewing at the age of 13 and eventually worked as a general servant. The two met when Johann Jakob rented a room from her parents. They married in 1830 with not much to their name. But they made do and worked hard. Their marriage lasted until 1864 when they separated. Christiane died in 1865 and Johann Jakob remarried in 1866, with the blessing of his famous son.

Next week we’ll take a closer look at his childhood!

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Frédéric François Chopin

Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin was born in 1810 in Poland. A well-known Romantic era composer, he lived a relatively short life, dying at the age of 39 in Paris. Let’s take a look at that life over the next couple of weeks.

His father was Nicolas Chopin. Nicolas was born in the province of Lorraine, France. His father, Francois, was the village administrator of Marainville and a wheelwright, much like Mathias Haydn ( Francois married Marguerite Deflin, a respected teacher. Nicolas studied to become a teacher as well. Through connections of his father, Francois, Nicolas was introduced to Weydlich, an estate administrator for a Polish count. When Weydlich returned to Poland, Nicolas had the chance to go with him and his family. At the age of 16, Nicolas started out on his new life in a new country.

Initially Nicolas worked in a tobacco factory where Weydlich was the supervisor. Most likely he worked in the accounting department and as Weydlich’s personal assistant and probably tutored Weydlich’s children. When the factory closed down 1792, Nicolas had to reconsider his options. While returning to France was a possibility, he chose to stay in Poland. He spent some time with the militia and eventually found himself employed as a tutor with the Laczynski family. Through these connections he met and eventually married Justyna Krzyżanowska – twenty years after coming to Poland.

In 1810, a few months after the birth of Federic, the Chopin family moved to Warsaw to live in the Saxon Palace where Nicolas taught at the Warsaw Lyceum.

Nicolas and Justyna were both musical. Nicolas played the violin and flute and Justyna played and taught the piano. Both Frédéric and his sister, Ludwika, learned to play the piano and did sometimes play duets together. Next week we’ll look at the adventures of Frédéric as he grows up and begins his life of music.

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Schubert’s parents

Continuing on with a look at parental figures of some of the great composers of old, today we look at Schubert’s ancestors.  Franz Peter Schubert was born to Franz Theodor Florian Schubert and Maria Elisabeth Katharina Vietz.

His mother, Elisabeth, was born in 1756 in Silesia.  Her father was Franz Johann Vietz from Zuckmantel, Northeastern Silesia.  He was a locksmith and gunmaker.  He did advance within that profession over the years and held a respected position in his field.  He even held the office of sheriff at one point.  He moved his family to Vienna shortly before he died in 1770, when Elisabeth would have been about 14.  Elisabeth served as a housemaid for a family in Vienna before marrying into the Schubert family at the age of 29.

Franz Theodor was born in 1763 in Moravia.  His parents, Karl Schubert and Susanna Mück, were farmers.  Franz Theodor moved to Vienna around 1783.  In 1784, he worked as a teacher at his brother’s school.  He and Elisabeth married in 1785 and 1786 saw him become Schoolmaster at Himmelpfortgrund, a school his son would eventually attend.  Franz Theodor was not a formally trained musician but he was able to pass along some basics to his son at an early age and started his outside musical training at the age of seven.  The family did have their own quartet in which Franz Theodor played the cello, brothers Ferdinand and Ignaz played the violins, and Franz Peter played the viola.  As a school teacher, Franz Theodor was well known and he ran a well attended school.  He had wanted his son to follow in his footsteps and become a teacher at his school.  Indeed Franz Peter did start to train as a teacher and worked in his father’s school for a time until his compositions started to gain notice and he secured a position with Count Johann Karl Esterházy.  Franz Theodor passed away in 1830, two years after the death of his now famous son.

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Mathias Haydn

Last week we took a look at Beethoven’s parents. This week, let’s look at Mathias Haydn, father to composer Franz Joseph, composer Johann Michael Haydn and tenor Johann Evangelist.

Mathias was born in 1699 in the small town of Hainburg. His father, Thomas, was a wheelwright and Mathias followed in his footsteps. After his apprenticeship, he left Hainburg and traveled as a journeyman for 10 years. It is during this time that Mathias took up the harp. He was self taught and could not read music but he had a great love for music and apparently a lovely tenor voice. In 1727, he returned and became a master wheelwright, joining the guild. The next year, he married Maria Koller. They settled in Rohrau in a house that Mathias had built himself.

Mathias and Maria both sang and included their children in learning those folk songs. The family performed small concerts for their village neighbours. At the age of six, Joseph was sent to Hainburg to start his studies in music with the blessing of his parents. In turn, his two brothers followed.

In 1741, Mathis became the Marktrichter (meaning market judge in German), what we might think of as a village mayor, though his duties far exceeded that as he was responsible for the conduct of the people, including ensuring that they went to church each week. He held this position until 1761.

In 1747, Maria died and Mathis remarried soon after. Mathis passed away in 1763 after an accident while working which resulted in several broken ribs. He lived long enough to see his children well on their way to successful careers!

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Johann and Lodewijk van Beethoven

Most everyone is familiar with the name Beethoven. Even if you don’t listen to his compositions, you have probably at least heard his name. But what about the family behind the man? We often don’t think about the family dynamics behind the great composers of the past, focusing on their music more so than the individual. Let’s take a brief look at his father and grandfather. Ludwig van Beethoven is the son of Johann and grandson of Lodewijk. He was named after his grandfather – Ludwig is the German equivalent of Lodewijk.

Lodewijk van Beethoven was born in January 1712 in Belgium, near Mechelen. He moved to Bonn, Germany at the age of 20 and died there in December 1773, about a week after his grandson turned 3 years old. Lodewijk was a well known musician in Bonn in his day – a source of pride for the younger Ludwig. He worked at the court of the Elector of Cologne Clemens August of Bavaria, starting as a bass singer and moving up to be appointed the Kapellmeister (music director) in 1761.

Lodewijk had one son, Johann. Johann was born in 1740 and spent his life in Bonn. He died in 1792. Also musically inclined, he joined the court of the Elector of Cologne in 1964 as a tenor. Johann played the violin, zither, and the keyboard instruments of the day, such as harpsichord and clavichord. He also taught harpsichord and clavichord.

When his son, Ludwig, showed an interest in music at a young age, Johann became his first teacher. Rumors abound that he was a strict teacher. He had dreams of creating another child prodigy like Mozart and stated Ludwig’s age to be six at his first concert when he was really seven. Ludwig went on to have many other teachers and as we know developed into an amazing musician. His father was an alcoholic and the family came to depend more and more on Ludwig for financial help. After the death of his wife, Johann declined even more. Two years later, Ludwig eventually gained the legal right to have half of Johann’s salary paid to him instead to aid in supporting his two younger brothers.

What a stressful position to be in as a young man. It is a family dynamic that continued for most of Ludwig’s life as he felt he needed to care for his siblings and their offspring – sometimes to the point of interference.

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