I thought I’d celebrate Father’s Day by sharing some interesting factoids about classical composers and their sons. Did you know that Richard Wagner had a son named Siegfried who also composed operas? That Johan Strauss Jr. created his own orchestra to compete with the famous one conducted by his father? Or that Johann Christian Bach took music lessons with his father Johann Sebastian Bach and his big brother Carl Philipp Emanuel? To check out these tidbits and more, please enjoy my list of the top five classical father and son composers.
Italian composer Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725), is best known for his operas and religious works. Most notably, he established the Italian overture three-section form of allegro-adagio-allegro, which was a precursor to the classical Symphony. Alessandro wrote operas for Queen Christina of Sweden and Prince Ferdinando III de’ Medici. He was also the maestro di cappella to Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni in Rome and held a similar post at Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. While in Rome, he composed what many consider to be his finest work, Il Mitridate Eupatore.
Giuseppe Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757),Alessandro’s son, is renowned for his 555 sonatas. About 10 are for violin and continuo, three are for organ, and the rest are for harpsichord. Domenico’s sonatas required virtuosic hand crossing, unconventional voice leading, and unusual modulations. He worked in positions including musical director and composer to the exiled queen of Poland who lived in Rome, musical director of the Julian Chapel at St. Peter’s, and served as musical director to King John V of Portugal in Lisbon. In 1728, Domenico’s student Maria Barbara married the Spanish Crown Prince Ferdinand VI. Domenico followed the royal duo to live out the remainder of his years in Spain.
4. Richard & Siegfried Wagner
German composer Richard Wagner (1813-1883) is renowned for his epic operas including the four-part 18-hour Ring Cycle, and notorious for his anti-Semitic writings. Although he showed no aptitude for music during his early years at school in Dresden, the ambitious young Richard wrote his first drama at age 11 and his first musical piece at age 16. In 1834, Richard became the chorus master of the Wurzburg Theater in Leipzig and wrote his first opera, Die Feen (The Fairies), which was not staged. Two years later, in 1836, Wagner married the singer and actress Minna Planer. They moved to Konigsberg, where Wagner worked as music director at the Magdeburg Theatre. Wagner and his wife moved to Riga, Russia in 1837 one year later to serve as the theater’s first musical director. In 1839, the couple left for Paris, France. Success was elusive in Paris, however. Wagner returned to Germany and settled in Dresden in 1842, where he was in charge of music for the court chapel. During these years, his opera Tannhäuser, found a successful premiere. He also began plans for the Ring Cycle and prepared the scenario for Die Götterdämmerung. Wagner fled from Dresden in 1849 in the aftermath of the revolution. He remained in Switzerland over the next 15 years without steady employment, banished from Germany and prohibited from participating in German theatrical life. He worked extensively on the Ring during this time period. Wagner finally received permission to reenter Germany in 1860 and was granted full amnesty in 1862. His Ring cycle was performed for the first time at the Festspielhaus at Bayreuth in 1876, over thirty years after he had first conceived the concept.
Siegfried Wagner (1869-1930) received his earliest musical training from his grandfather, Franz Liszt. Following Richard Wagner’s death in 1883, he studied with his father’s student, Engelbert Humperdinck in Frankfurt. Siegfried stepped away from music for two years to study architecture. However, in 1892, he returned to music and worked for four years at Bayreuth (the music festival founded by his father) with conductor Hans Richter. He conducted part of the Ring cycle at the 1896 Bayreuth Festival, staged The Flying Dutchman in 1901, and finally took charge of the festival in 1906. Siegfried composed his first published work, the opera Der Barenhauter, in 1898. He premiered his composition to great acclaim in Munich the following year but was unable to repeat his success with any of his subsequent operas.
3. Leopold & Wolfgang Mozart
Johannn Georg Leopold Mozart (1719-1787) was an Austrian violinist, teacher, and composer. He is best known, however, as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s father. A violinist at the court of the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, Leopold rose through the orchestra’s ranks to become court composer in 1757 and vice chapelmaster in 1762. His works include concerti for various instruments, symphonies, and other works. Of his seven children, only two survived – Maria Anna (Nannerl), a talented clavierist and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Leopold took his talented children to perform on concert tours all across Central and Western Europe between1762-1769.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) lived only to the age of 35, but he is one of the most renowned classical musicians of all time. At the age of three, Wolfgang enjoyed observing his sister Nannerl’s keyboard lessons with their father Leopold and began to copy her playing. Leopold quickly took notice and began to teach his young son as well. The young boy began to compose at age 5 and also demonstrated skills on the clarinet and the violin. Wolfgang and Nannerl gained fame during their on concert tours across Europe with their father; at age 7, Wolfgang performed for Louis XV in Versailles and played with young Marie Antoinette. In 1777, Wolfgang was appointed concertmaster at the Salzburg court orchestra and wrote his first major opera, Mitrades. He set off on another tour later that year, and when he returned, he accepted a position as court organist. However, he didn’t enjoy his new job. He eventually resigned in 1781 and moved to Vienna, much to the displeasure of his father. Wolfgang achieved success in his new adopted city by 1786 with operas including The Abduction from the Seraglio and The Marriage of Figaro. After this point, he began to lose income and had to take loans to support his finances. During 1791, the final year of his life, he composed what many consider to be his finest works including Symphonies No. 39, 40, and 41, the opera The Magic Flute, and the unfinished Requiem Mass in D minor.
2. Johann Strauss I (Sr.), Johann Strauss II (Jr.), Josef Strauss, Eduard Strauss I, & Johann Strauss III
Johann Strauss I (Sr.) (1804-1849) is considered to be “The Father of the Waltz”. A self-taught violinist who played in dance orchestras, Strauss Sr. formed his own ensemble in 1824. He composed waltzes, polkas, and other dances for his orchestra. In addition, Strauss Sr. wrote marches for the local army regiment including his best-known work, the Radetzsky March.
Johann Strauss II (Jr.) (1825-1899) is considered to be the “King of the Waltz” and the most renowned member of the Strauss family. Strauss Jr.’s prodigious output includes over 500 waltzes, polkas, quadrilles, marches, mazurkas, and gallops; 18 operettas, and one ballet. His best-known works include the Blue Danube Waltz, Tales from the Vienna Woods, and Die Fledermaus. Following a long line of sons who like to challenge their fathers, Strauss Jr. formed his own small orchestra at the age of 19 in competition to his father’s renowned group. He eventually merged the two ensembles after his father’s death.
Josef Strauss (1827-1870) was Johannn Sr.’s second son and began his career as an architectural draughtsman. In 1853, when Johannn Jr. had to take a hiatus from conducting his orchestra due to a nervous breakdown, Josef stepped in to keep the ensemble running. After Johannn Jr. recovered, the family persuaded Josef to join in the family business of conducting and composing. He wrote over 300 dances and marches and created over 500 arrangements of other composers’ works.
Eduard Strauss I (1835-1916) was Johannn Sr.’s youngest son. He joined the family’s orchestra as a harpist and eventually joined his brothers as a conductor. After Josef’s death, he managed the orchestra until finally disbanding in 1901. Eduard wrote over 320 dances and marches.
Johannn Strauss III (1866-1939) was Eduard’s son. He was a conductor and composer, although he was not as prolific or successful as his father and uncles. Johannn III conducted the Strauss Orchestra and the first recordings of his family’s works.
1. Johann Sebastian Bach, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach, and Johann Christian Bach
German composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) is considered one of the greatest Western composers of all time. His best-known works include the Brandenburg Concertos, the Well Tempered Clavier, and the Mass in B Minor. The descendent of a long line of musicians, Bach drafted a genealogy Origin of the Music Bach Family in which he traced his ancestry back to his great-great-grandfather Veit Bach, a Lutheran baker and musician who was driven out of Hungary to the town of Thuringia in Germany. Johann’s first formal keyboard lessons were with his older brother Johann Christoph, the town organist who had studied with the influential keyboard composer Johann Pachelbel. Bach’s positions included court organist and concertmaster for Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Weimer (1708-1717), music director for the Prince Leopold of Cuthen (1717-1723), and finally cantor at the St. Thomas Church and School as well as Director of Music for Leipzig. He retained these final two positions for the rest of his career. During his lifetime, Bach was known more as an organist then a composer. Hardly any of his works were published during his lifetime. German composer Felix Mendelssohn brought Bach’s music to prominence in 1829 by reintroducing the Passion According to St. Matthew. In terms of his personal life, Bach married his cousin Maria Barbara Bach in 1706. The couple had seven children together, some of whom died in their infancy. Maria died in 1720, and the following year, Bach married the singer Anna Magdalena Wulken. Together, they had 13 children, more than half of whom died at a young age.
Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710-1784) was the eldest son of Johann Sebastian and his first wife, Maria Barbara. Wilhelm played both the keyboard and violin. He became organist at a church in Dresden in 1733, and in 1746, he moved to Halle. His compositions include cantatas, chamber works, keyboard pieces, and an opera.
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788) was Johannn Sebastian and Maria Barbara’s second child. Although he studied law, he became harpsichordist of Frederick II of Prussia in 1740 and in 1767, music director in Hamburg. In addition to writing chamber music, concerti, and religious pieces Carl Philipp published the Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments. This text was used by composers including Mozart and Beethoven.
Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach (1732-1795) was Johann Sebastian’s ninth son. He is known as the “Buckeburg Bach” since he served at the court there from 1750-1795. Johann Christian received his first music lessons from his father at the St. Thomas school and also served as his father’s copyist from 1743-1749. He worked as a harpsichordist in the chamber orchestra at the Buckeburg court under Count Wilhelm of Schaumberg-Lippe and was eventually appointed concertmaster. Johann Christian’s works include keyboard sonatas, symphonies, liturgical choir pieces, and offers.
Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782), also known as the “English Bach”, was the youngest son of Johann Sebastian and his second wife, Anna Magdalena. He first took music lessons with his father, and after his father’s death, worked with Carl Philipp Emanuel. Johann Christian became an organist at a cathedral in Milan as well as music master for Queen Charlotte. He composed cantatas, chamber music, keyboard and orchestral works, and operas.
- Classical music: It’s Father’s Day. Who is tops as a musical father figure? The Ear says Johann Sebastian Bach is the Father of All Fathers – literally and figuratively – when it comes to classical music. (welltempered.wordpress.com)
- The Most Famous Composers of Classical Piano Music (music.answers.com)
- Richard Wagner’s 200th birthday passes with little notice in the U.S. (pri.org)
- Domenico Scarlatti (thegeis.wordpress.com)
- Wagner descendant slams composer (thelocal.de)
- Alessandro Scarlatti, Ready for his Close Up? (wqxr.org)