Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal

telling tales

a family affair

April 15, 2012

Music is often a family business. J.S. Bach wasn’t the first Bach who was a musician, he just ended up being the most famous. And the musical line didn’t end with him; he went on to have a bunch of sons who went on to careers in music. In fact, if you peruse the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, you’ll find that many famous composers were just the most visible member of a family of musicians, composers, pedagogues, or instrument-makers.

The one great advantage of having music in the family is being surrounded by it for your entire life, living and breathing music from a very early age, and being around people who could teach you about it, or answer any questions you might have. Sometimes musical siblings are born to non-musical parents. But there’s something about their learning together that makes them special. Perhaps they collaborate with each other, play pieces together, maybe even compete, something that might give a player that extra edge to succeed (think Venus and Serena Williams).

Two composers on LACO’s upcoming program are the sons of musicians. Charles Ives’ father was a musician, a bandleader in the Civil War, and we all know what Gabriel Kahane’s dad does for a living. Ives’ father George played musical games with his son, and encouraged him to experiment with new sounds, with dissonance, and with polytonality. Ives’ musical voice was deeply influenced by his father. The history books haven’t written much about Gabriel Kahane’s familial influences yet, but we can imagine that growing up in a supportive musical environment, around some of the greatest living musicians, couldn’t have hurt!

Here are some other family affairs in music:

Beethoven’s dad was a choir director.

Many members of the Couperin family held the position of organist at the Church Saint-Gervais in Paris. One Couperin or another held the post for more than 170 years.

Franz Joseph Haydn had a composer brother, Michael, and another brother who was a singer (Johann Evangelist), but neither of their parents could read music, although their father could play and sing folk songs.

Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn were brother and sister who wrote music. Felix went on to great fame as a composer, and even though as children some people thought Fanny had the greater gift, she chose a traditional life of marriage and motherhood. Music remained a part of her life, however, although not in a professional sense.

Wolfgang and Maria Anna “Nannerl” Mozart were brother and sister, born to Leopold Mozart, a composer and musician. Once Nannerl got old enough to marry, she was not permitted to continue on pursuing music. We all know what happened to Wolfgang.

The brothers Anton and Nikolai Rubenstein were both pianists, and each of them opened a Conservatory in Russia.

Violinist Itzhak Perelman has a daughter, Navah, who is a pianist.

The Boulangers, Lili and Nadia, came from a musical family. Their grandfather was a cellist their grandmother a singer. Their parents were also musical. Lili won the prestigious Prix de Rome when she was just nineteen years old (the first woman to receive the award). She died in 1918 at the age of twenty-four. Nadia, believing her gift for writing was not as great as Lili’s, turned instead to teaching and conducting. Nadia Boulanger was a much sought-after educator, and was the first woman to conduct many orchestras in the U.S. and Europe.

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