Friday 17 January 2020

Capricorns in music - and one who got away

ClassicTalk with George Hamilton

Happy union: Constanze Weber was born into a musical family and later married Mozart
Happy union: Constanze Weber was born into a musical family and later married Mozart

George Hamilton

With the passage of another personal milestone last week, I got to thinking about who in the world of music might be also be a Capricorn like me.

From Puccini to Pablo Casals, composers and instrumentalists abound. Max Bruch shared a birthday with Vittorio Monti and Alexander Scriabin.

Emmanuel Chabrier - the Frenchman who produced the evocative España - and his compatriot Francis Poulenc were born under the Sign of the Goat.

Among conductors, there's Simon Rattle, and two who passed away only recently: the Latvian maestro Mariss Jansons, and Stephen Cleobury, who was so closely associated with the choral music of Christmas.

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The singers Aled Jones and Juan Diego Flórez share the same birth sign, and there's a preponderance of pianists, the most notable being Alfred Brendel and Maurizio Pollini.

Mozart, who was one of the greatest keyboard artists there's ever been (as well as so much else besides), just missed out - he was born on January 27, 1756 - but his wife was another significant Capricorn. Constanze Weber was German, the third of four daughters born into a musical family. Her father was a professional instrumentalist. Three of the girls were full-time singers.

Mozart had had his eye on one of them, but had got nowhere. Chance then brought him into the heart of the family.

When he moved to Vienna in 1781, Constanze's mother, recently widowed and struggling to make ends meet, was taking lodgers. The musician moved in.

Not long after, it became apparent that he and Constanze had developed a relationship. This was too much. In the interest of decency, he was asked to leave.

The courtship continued, and they were wed not much more than a year later.

It proved a happy union, but they weren't long past their ninth wedding anniversary when Mozart died. He wasn't yet 36. Constanze was only 29.

They'd had six children, but only two survived beyond infancy: Karl Thomas and Franz Xaver.

Karl spent most of his adult life in Italy, with no direct involvement in the world of music.

Franz Xaver, known to the family as Wolfgang- he'd been only five months old when his father died - became the latest generation of Mozarts to figure prominently as a composer, keyboard performer, and conductor.

His career never reached the heights of his father's, of course; indeed he lived somewhat in his shadow.

Neither he nor his brother married or had children, so the Mozart line ended with them.

Wolfgang Amadeus died leaving a pile of debt which put his widow in considerable difficulty, but with the help of an imperial pension she managed to secure - Mozart had been 'chamber composer' to the Emperor Joseph II - Constanze was able to stabilise the family finances.

Later, she would relocate to Mozart's home place, Salzburg, and set about consolidating her late husband's place at the forefront of musical life.

Earnings from his compositions eventually made her a wealthy woman. She married for a second time, and together with her new husband - a Danish diplomat - published a biography of Wolfgang Amadeus.

The rest, as they say, is history.

George Hamilton presents 'The Hamilton Scores' on RTÉ lyric fm from 10am each Saturday and Sunday

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