Musical Families For Thanksgiving Relatives can be an important ingredient to a successful Thanksgiving. Classical music commentator Miles Hoffman points out some important musical relatives of Mozart, Bach, Schumann and Mendelssohn.

Musical Families For Thanksgiving

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OK. There are certain things you just have to do on a holiday, certain traditions you have to uphold. And here with one of those traditions is our own Renee Montagne.


Exactly, Steve. How could we have a Thanksgiving without music commentator Miles Hoffman, who joins us now? Hello, Miles. Good morning.

MILES HOFFMAN: Hello, Renee.

MONTAGNE: You, Miles, have brought along a few relatives.

HOFFMAN: Yes, musical relatives, Renee. I thought that would be a good topic. In previous Thanksgivings we've talked about musical turkeys. We've talked about plucking. We've even talked about musical leftovers. So, I thought this year we could talk about some of the great composers and their musical relatives.

(Soundbite of classical music)

MONTAGNE: All right. So, one might start imagining a Thanksgiving dinner at the Mozarts.

HOFFMAN: We could have the Mozart nuclear family. Mozart's father was Leopold Mozart who was a - how shall I say this - a mediocre, but very well-known composer.

(Soundbite of classical piece "Toy Symphony")

HOFFMAN: This is a little bit of Leopold Mozart's "Toy Symphony," one of the few of his pieces that has come down to us intact. And Mozart's sister - now Mozart's sister was a very good musician, Renee. Did you know that?

MONTAGNE: I had heard something to that effect, but was she, in fact, that good?

HOFFMAN: Well, absolutely true. Maria Anna was her name. Mozart called her Nannerl. And when Mozart and Nannerl were kids, their father trotted them around to all the royal courts in Europe because they were this fabulous virtuoso sibling team. Mozart played the violin and the keyboard, and Nannerl played the keyboard. And she was good enough to play for all the royals. They could sit around the table and have very nice musical conversation at Thanksgiving.

MONTAGNE: Let's talk about a musical family that was a huge family - would have to have a very big table to sit around - and that was the Bach's.

(Soundbite of classical music)

HOFFMAN: They would be the biggest, Renee. There were at least 50 Bachs who were musicians. For example, Bach's grandfather and Bach's father Johann Ambrosius. Bach himself had 20 children with two wives. The sons of Bach who were well-known musicians were Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Gottfried Heinrich Bach, Johann Christoph Bach, and Johann Christian Bach. And that's only some of them. And then we have cousins and uncles, and it just goes on and on.

(Soundbite of symphony by Wilhelm Friedemann Bach)

HOFFMAN: By the way, Renee, this is a little portion of a symphonia or symphony by Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, the famous Bach's youngest son. He wrote some very nice pieces, but there's nothing of Wilhelm Friedemann that reaches the great heights of his daddy.

MONTAGNE: You know, we just mentioned a moment ago Mozart's sister. How about other female - well, musicians. Or in this case how about other...

HOFFMAN: Other sisters?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: I'm thinking sisters actually, if there is such a thing.

HOFFMAN: Yeah. There's a very famous musical sister. Felix Mendelssohn's sister was named "Fahnny," or "Fanny." And Fanny Mendelssohn was an extremely talented pianist and composer by all accounts. Well, she wrote well over 400 pieces of music.

MONTAGNE: Let's play some of her work, some piano music by Fanny Mendelssohn.

(Soundbite of piano music by Fanny Mendelssohn)

HOFFMAN: Most of her music was performed at Sunday musicales in the home because she was basically told by her father and her family that it's not for her to be a professional musician. Her job was to be a wife and mother. That's what she should do. And she did. Now, Fanny, in all fairness, was by no means the composer that her brother Felix was, but she was an extremely talented musician who was not allowed fundamentally to have a professional career.

Now there's another woman we could mention. Not a sister, but a wife, Renee. Clara Schumann. Clara was Robert Schumann's wife, and Clara was one of the great virtuosos, if not the greatest virtuoso pianist of the 19th century - also a very good composer. Let's listen to just a little bit of her piano trio, Renee, her trio for piano, violin, and cello.

(Soundbite of trio for piano, violin, and cello by Clara Schumann)

MONTAGNE: This is lovely. What did Robert Schumann think about his wife Clara's compositional skills?

HOFFMAN: Well, I think he was a great admirer of Clara. She didn't write a lot of music, but some of it is excellent. And that was a great love match. Robert and Clara is one of the great artistic love matches of the century. Now what's interesting is that after Robert died, there was a kind of love match - nobody's ever known exactly the nature of it - between Johannes Brahms and Clara Schumann. Clara was Robert's inspiration. She was also Johannes Brahms' greatest musical friend and collaborator and inspiration. So this woman was really an extremely important figure in the history of music in the 19th century.

MONTAGNE: Now, up to now we have talked about blood relatives and also spouses. And there seems to be one brilliant star, the great that we know of, then lesser lights. It makes you wonder how this would play out at a family dinner table, how much there would be, you know, what you find sometimes at these family gatherings, a certain amount of jealousy or envy.

HOFFMAN: It certainly depends on the family. Now, a family that I'm thinking of where we certainly have a star and a big family and lots of musicians is the Johann Strauss family. And this is a case where Johann Strauss Sr. was a very famous musician in Vienna. He didn't want his son Johann Strauss Jr. to go into music. But Johann Strauss Jr. secretly took violin lessons with a member of Johann Strauss Sr.'s orchestra. And ultimately Johann Strauss Jr. became much more successful than his poppa.

(Soundbite of classical music by Johann Strauss Jr.)

HOFFMAN: He became an immortal figure known as the Waltz King. He also had two brothers, by the way, Joseph and Edward. He also had three wives. Again, if we're going to invite all these people, I think we have to do it together, Renee, to the Thanksgiving table. We have to invite Johann Strauss, poppa, son, the brothers, all three wives of Johann Strauss Jr. And if they don't get along, if they're annoyed with each other, they can just listen to the music and eat.

MONTAGNE: Well, Miles, this was a lot of fun.

HOFFMAN: Thank you, Renee, I enjoyed it.

MONTAGNE: You have a happy Thanksgiving. You and all of your family, which I think is quite a bit smaller than most that we've been speaking of today.

(Soundbite of laugher)

HOFFMAN: Yes, it is.

MONTAGNE: Please gather around and enjoy yourself for Thanksgiving.

HOFFMAN: Thank you. You too, Renee.

INSKEEP: You can find a menu of some of the music in this story at On this Thanksgiving morning, it's Morning Edition from NPR News with Renee Montagne. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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