Category Archives: Mothers of Composers


As we approach Mother’s Day here in Canada, here is a link to some of our previous posts about Mothers of Composers!


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Maria Olszewska

As we approach Mother’s Day here in North America, today we take a brief look at Maria Olszewska, mother of composer Witold Lutoslawski. Born in the summer of 1882, she lived to be 85 years old.

Maria studied medicine as a young woman. She met her future husband while at school in Zurich. Jozef, her husband to be, was the brother of one of her fellow students.

Her family had a large estate in Podolia. Her father was a mathematician who taught in the neighbouring schools and, being a forward thinker, sent his daughters to school abroad. In 1904, she obtained her medical degree.

In 1915, the Lutoslawski family started their journey to flee Poland from the oncoming Prussian forces. It would eventually lead them to Moscow where Jozef was imprisoned for his political activities. In 1918, Jozef and his brother were killed ( and Maria was left with a family to raise.

Finally able to return home after the war, she attempted to run the family estate in Drozdowo for a few years before settling in Warsaw. Maria returned to medicine and continued working as a physician. In addition, she worked at translating books from English, mainly books for children. She also served as a City Councilor for the City of Warsaw.

While the suffering and hardship of WWI should be enough for anyone to have to live through, Maria then had to endure the capture and death of one of her sons during WWII.

She lived with her son, Witold, and his wife, Danuta, in Warsaw until she passed in 1967.

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Anna Liszt

Marie Anna Lager was born in 1788 to Mathias and Franziska in Austria. When she was about eight years old, her father and her mother died within about six months of each other. She lived with other family for a time before she worked as a chambermaid in Vienna. She eventually moved to Mattersdorf and here she met Adam Liszt. His father was the overseer of the Esterházy estate.

In 1811, they married and started their life together with a child (Franz) coming in their first year of marriage. While her husband and son toured in the early 1820s and started a career for young Franz, she spent time with her sister. Adam died suddenly in 1827 leaving Anna and Franz on their own. At this point Anna moved to Paris to live with Franz. He gave music lessons to support them. She spent most of the rest of her life in Paris, coming to love the city and learn the language.

When relations between Franz and the Countess d’Agoult became strained and ended, their three children eventually all went to live with Anna in Paris. She helped raise them while Franz toured and sent money to care for them all.

She lived until the age of 78.

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Paula Voit

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.

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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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Rachmaninov – early family influences

The women in Sergei Rachmaninov’s family were a great influence in the early part of his life and career. As mentioned in last week’s post, his mother, Lyubov Petrovna Butakova, gave him is first piano lessons. She also became the main family care giver shortly after the family moved to St. Petersburg. Her mother was also an important part of young Sergei’s life. He was the doted upon favourite of his grandmother Butakova. She took him to Russian Orthodox church services on a regular basis, exposing him to chants and church bells – the impact of which can be heard in several of his pieces. Sergei was able to play anything that he heard and he often played for his grandmother after their trips to church – earning a coin in return.

Grandmother Butakova is the one who defended Sergei when he got into trouble. She took him away on restorative vacations to the countryside. When he failed his academic exams and was in danger of losing his scholarship at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, she convinced her daughter to find another way. His mother consulted with her nephew, Alexander Siloti, who suggested Sergei study at the Moscow Conservatory under Nikolai Zverev, a strict disciplinarian.

His sister Yelena also had a small influence in his music career. Another artistic person in the family, she was involved with the Bolshoi Theater. She was about to join the company when she fell ill and passed away at the young age of 18. The Bolshoi Theater would perform some of his pieces over the years. And from 1904 to early 1906, he was their conductor. Sergei left for political reasons and we’ll examine some of the political and broader societal influences in his life next time!

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Johanna Schumann

Robert Schumann was the youngest child in his family, born to Johanna Christine and August Schumann in 1810. Much of his young life was spent surrounded by literature and music thanks to his parents.

Friedrich August Gottlob Schumann was born in 1773. He was a German bookseller and publisher and the literature influence in Robert’s young life. August passed away in 1826 at the age of 53, when Robert was only 16 years old.

Robert’s mother, Johanna Christina (Iohanne Christiane) Schnabel, was one of his main influences in his early life. She was nearing or over 40 when Robert was born. Raising the children fell completely on her shoulders. She loved to sing and had imparted a love of music to all of her children. The older children played piano. Robert and his mother sang together from when he was very young. They had a very strong relationship and she was supportive and encouraging of her son throughout. With her husband’s passing, determining Robert’s future fell to her. For a time, he studied law as she wanted to ensure that he had a prosperous future. However, there came a time when he knew he wanted to pursue music as a career. Concerned she spoke with Professor Frederick Wieck, his future father-in-law and after being reassured that he had the talent, she gave Robert her blessing to pursue his dreams. She lived until Robert was 26 years old and he was heartbroken when she passed.

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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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Maria van Beethoven

Maria Magdalena Keverich was the daughter of Heinrich Keverich, chief overseer of the kitchen at the palace of the Elector of Trèves at Ehrenbreitstein. Though her father in law viewed her as a chambermaid, in fact her family was well positioned and included court councillors and merchants.

At the age of 16, Maria married Johann Laym, valet to the Elector of Trèves. They had one son who did not survive infancy. Her husband also died within the first two years of their marriage and at 18, Maria was a widow.

Johann van Beethoven fell in love with the young Maria and they wed in 1767. Both families objected to the marriage. The reasons behind her family’s objections are unclear. From the van Beethoven side, the Kapellmeister, Johann’s father, made it clear that he thought they were beneath them in class standing. In actuality they were of the same class but Lodewijk felt that he was of a higher standing.

In July of 1787, Maria van Beethoven passed away. Johann had turned to alcohol more and more over the years and this is where much of his money went, leaving his family to try and survive on very little. A loving mother, she did what she could to make the best of a bad situation. Maria develop tuberculosis and did not survive.

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