Most Active Stories
Fri June 15, 2012
Tracing The Trail Of Musical Fathers
Originally published on Fri June 15, 2012 8:56 am
With Father's Day coming up this weekend, Morning Edition music commentator Miles Hoffman has been thinking about a few musical dads and their children.
"Leopold Mozart is always a good place to start," Hoffman says, "because we have so many letters from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to his father. And we know it was a fraught relationship."
Leopold trained his son, recognizing his genius and touring him all over Europe when the younger Mozart was a child prodigy. Mozart did owe his career to his father. But later, when Leopold tried to give him advice, Hoffman says, Mozart resisted.
"There was some resentment, but always respectful," Hoffman says. "It's a famous relationship and a complex relationship, but a very important one."
As far as musical dads go, it's tough to top the Bach family. Johann Sebastian's father, Johann Ambrosius, most likely taught him the musical basics. Later, Bach started his own family, ending up with four sons who became prominent musicians — Wilhelm Friedemann, Carl Philipp Emanuel, Johann Christoph Friedrich and Johann Christian.
The Legacy Of 'Papa' Haydn
Sidestepping biological fathers for a moment, Hoffman says there's one important musical father who never had any children.
"Joseph Haydn, who was known during his lifetime as 'Papa' Haydn, was the father of three forms that remain central to the classical music repertoire: the symphony, string quartet and piano trio."
Although Haydn didn't invent the forms alone, Hoffman says he was the first genius who worked in those forms, creating the standard that influenced and inspired Mozart, Beethoven and everybody who came later.
"And afterward," Hoffman says, "there was no such thing as a great composer who could ignore these forms."
Fathers Know Best?
Another father who had a turbulent relationship with his musical child was Friedrich Wieck. He was the father of Clara Schumann, one of the great pianists of the 19th century and a very good composer, as well. Before his daughter was born, Wieck decided she would become a piano virtuoso. He began teaching her at age 5. It turned out that Clara became far more talented than her father could ever have foreseen. The trouble, Hoffman says, came when Clara fell in love with Robert Schumann.
"Wieck basically went berserk," Hoffman says. "He couldn't take it; he even threatened to shoot Schumann. He did everything he could to prevent their marriage. He was afraid that Robert Schumann would get in the way of his daughter's career. But she was also Wieck's meal ticket, so that was complicated, too. You know, with fathers and children, nothing is ever entirely black and white."
Richard Strauss, the composer of tone poems like Don Juan and operas like Salome and Der Rosenkavalier, also had a musical dad.
"These days, I don't think most people know that his father, Franz, was also a great musician, a world-famous French-horn player," Hoffman says. "He was Richard's first music teacher, and an inspirational one, but he was a musical arch-conservative who wouldn't let his son study the music of Wagner."
Wagner himself once said that Franz Strauss was a "detestable fellow, but when he plays the horn you can't be angry with him." Richard Strauss once described his father as "vehement, irascible and tyrannical."
Then there are those non-musical fathers, Hoffman says, who were unhappy that their children chose music.
"George Frideric Handel's father wanted his son to be a lawyer and wouldn't let him have instruments," he says. "Hector Berlioz's father wanted his son to be a doctor and disputes over the career included cutting off Berlioz's financial support."
And what about Hoffman's own dad?
"My father was not a musician; he was a doctor," Hoffman says. "I was actually pre-med in college. My father was disappointed when I didn't go into medicine, but he always supported my choices, and it was he who introduced me to music. He found me a violin teacher for me when I asked for lessons, and he bought me my first records — the Bach Double Violin Concerto and Jascha Heifetz playing the Mendelssohn Concerto. When I was a little boy, I used to fall asleep to that Heifetz recording every night."
Have any musical stories about your father? Tell us about them in the comments section.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
That is a snippet from a trumpet concerto written in 1762 by Leopold Mozart, the father of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Leopold never exactly set the world on fire with his music, but his son certainly did, and he couldn't have done it without his dad.
With Father's Day coming up this weekend, we thought we'd ask Morning Edition music commentator Miles Hoffman about some famous fathers - or at least some fathers of some famous children in the history of classical music. And Miles, good morning.
MILES HOFFMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Now, I have to assume that the list of interesting and even important musical fathers is rather a long list. Where would you start?
HOFFMAN: Well, it's a very long list, that's true. And Leopold Mozart is always a good place to start because we have so many letters from Mozart to his father. And we know that it was a fraught relationship. Leopold Mozart trained his son. He recognized his genius. He toured him all over Europe when the little Mozart was a child prodigy. So Mozart did owe his career to his father.
But later on when his father tried to give him advice, there was some resentment - always very respectful. So it's a famous relationship and a complex relationship, but a very important one.
MONTAGNE: And of course, not the only one as we're talking this morning. There's also Johann Sebastian Bach, father of?
HOFFMAN: Well, father of C.P.E. Bach, Carl Philip Emanuel Bach, Johann Christian Bach, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. And if we're talking about the big guns, Mozart and Bach, Beethoven's father also taught him. Johann van Beethoven was Beethoven's first teacher. But, you know, Renee, I think if we're going to talk about fathers, musical fathers, I would start with a father who never had any children.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC "MOVEMENT 4, SYMPHONY NUMBER 104")
HOFFMAN: Renee, that's from the final movement of the "Symphony Number 104" by Joseph Haydn, who was known during his lifetime as Papa Haydn.
MONTAGNE: Though you're saying he never had any children?
MONTAGNE: He was nobody's father, really.
HOFFMAN: He was nobody's father but he was the father of three forms central to the classical music repertoire - and that's the symphony, the string quartet, and the piano trio.
MONTAGNE: Although he didn't invent all those forms himself.
HOFFMAN: No. He didn't actually invent them, Renée, but he was the first great composer who worked in those forms. He created the standard that influenced and inspired Mozart, that inspired Beethoven, that inspired everybody who came later. Before Haydn there were no great string quartets, there were no great symphonies. He's the first genius who worked in these forms.
And afterward, there was no such thing as a great composer who could ignore those forms.
MONTAGNE: Let's get back to fathers of musicians, of actual people. Who else comes to mind?
HOFFMAN: One, and you have talked about this fellow before, Friedrich Wieck - W-I-E-C-K. Wieck was the father of Clara Schumann, and Clara Schumann was one of the greatest pianists of the 19th century and a very good composer herself. Wieck taught Clara. He was a piano teacher.
He had actually decided before his daughter was born, that she was going to be a piano virtuoso. He was going to raise a child according to his principles and teach her his way, but then it turned out that she was far more talented than he could ever have foreseen.
But when she fell in love with Robert Schumann, Wieck basically went berserk. He couldn't take it. He even threatened to shoot Robert Schumann. He did everything he could to prevent the marriage and he was afraid that Schumann would get in the way of his daughter's career, his daughter whom he loved so much, and he was so proud of.
Now, granted, she was also his meal ticket so it's complicated that way too. But, you know, with fathers and children nothing is ever entirely black and white.
MONTAGNE: Which gets us to the father of composer Richard Strauss, also an interesting story.
HOFFMAN: Very interesting. Strauss, the composer of "Don Juan" and "Also Sprach Zarathustra" and operas such as "Der Rosenkavalier" and "Salome." Well, these days, I don't think most people realize that his father, Franz, was also a great musician, a world-famous French horn player. And he was Richard's first music teacher, and a very inspirational teacher, but he was also an arch-conservative.
Musically, he would not let his son study the music of Wagner and he couldn't stand Wagner. And Richard Strauss once that his father was vehement, irascible, and tyrannical.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
HOFFMAN: That's a portion of the horn concerto by Franz Strauss.
MONTAGNE: Father's Day is coming up this coming Sunday. What about your own father, Miles? How does he fit into all these father figures?
HOFFMAN: Well, many musicians are the sons and daughters of other musician. My father was not a musician, he was a doctor. And I actually was pre-med in college. For me music was a hobby until college and my father was actually quite disappointed when I didn't go into medicine, but he always supported my choices.
He was the one who introduced me to music. He found a violin teacher for me when I asked for lessons when I was a little boy, and he bought me my first records. I remember my first records were recordings of the Bach Double Violin Concerto and a recording of Heifetz, Jascha Heifetz, playing the Mendelssohn Concerto.
And when I was a little boy I used to fall asleep every night to that Heifetz recording. And if it hadn't been for that recording, I never would've gone into music.
MONTAGNE: And I can just imagine you, Miles, the little boy and the son of Dr. Hoffman, falling asleep. Happy Father's Day to you.
HOFFMAN: Thanks very much, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Miles Hoffman is the violist of the American Chamber Players and the author of "The NPR Classical Music Companion." But even more important, he is the proud father of two teenage daughters, Eva and Jillian. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.