The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Happy Father’s Day! Music is filled with bad paternal role models and some good ones too. NPR discusses some bad fathers and praises good ones. | June 15, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

Today, June 15, 2014, is Father’s Day.

Classical music is filled with notable father figures and not all of them are fathers you would want to emulate.

Take the overbearing and ambitious Leopold Mozart (below top), who browbeat and exploited his young son Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below bottom).

Leopold Mozart colo

mozart big

And what about Ludwig van Beethoven’s father (below top) who used to come home drunk and threatened his young prodigy son with a beating to force him to practice the piano?

One has to wonder: Did such paternal abuse actually yield positive results on these two towering figures of classical music? Or did Mozart and Beethoven succeed despite their fathers’ bullying. Does an unhappy childhood benefit the art even when it hurts the artist?

beethoven's father BW

On the other hand, maybe some good parenting by Johann Sebastian Bach -– the “old wig” as  his more “modern” Classical-era sons called him –- led to such good achievements by his composer sons Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, Johann Christian Bach and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.

The same might be said for Baroque composers Alessandro Scarlatti (below top), best known for vocal music, and his son Domenico Scarlatti (below bottom), best known for his keyboard music.

Alessandron Scarlatti

Domenico Scarlatti muted

There are a lot of fictional fathers to mention on this holiday too.

Especially in opera.

Those fathers were discussed this past week on NPR by Miles Hoffman. Hoffman is himself both the father of two daughters and a professional musician, both a performer and a teacher. His interview, with musical samplings, covered works by Christoph Willibald Gluck, Mozart, Richard Wagner, Giuseppe Verdi and, as a positive counterpoint, Giacomo Puccini.

Here is a link:

What real or fictional fathers -– good or bad — in classical music come to your mind?

The Ear would like to see the Father’s Day discussion of musical fathers expanded. So share good stories and bad stories about music and paternity — even if it is your own, because there are a lot of fathers who played a positive and encouraging role in music careers and musical stories.

The Ear wants to hear.





  1. A belated comment: my own father, Steve Rankin, deserves more thanks than the phone call he got this Father’s Day for supporting me in pursuing music. Classical music was never really his background, but as my involvement in it has grown, so has his interest. He is now an MSO subscriber and a loyal reader of this blog, along with attending concerts on campus all year long (not just mine, though he’s hardly missed a single one in the last ten years). His ear has broadened too – most lifelong classical music lovers wouldn’t be drawn to a recital of Bloch and Milhaud, or to concerts of Martinu, Adams, or Schreker, but he is not most listeners. He always encouraged me to practice in the gentlest way, helping me to think of playing the viola as something I did for enjoyment, not as work (though it can be both). He has always known when to push me and when to pull back, when to offer help and when to let me figure it out, and when to ask the difficult questions (“How are you going to pay for an orchestra?” “Where will you rehearse?” “Do you have time?”) while looking for the answers with me. Setting aside for the moment the ways in which he has been a role model for me in how I interact with others, how I view myself, and how I think about the world, all of which have been enormously influential, I want to publicly thank him for diving into the world of classical music with me, for growing alongside me and sharing my enthusiasm for this wonderful art. Happy (late) Father’s Day, Dad.

    Comment by Mikko Utevsky — June 24, 2014 @ 8:13 pm

  2. Wasn’t Bach, mentioned in the article as a “good” teacher, actually considered something of a brute at the school where he taught in Leipzig? Another famous father/son as renowned conductors/musicians: Erich and Carlos Kleiber. The older Kleiber once remarked about his son: “What a pity the boy is musically talented.” However, he never discouraged him, in fact, quite the opposite.

    Comment by fflambeau — June 17, 2014 @ 5:52 am

  3. Well – if it’s conductors and not just composers whose footsteps succeeded their fathers’ there’s Ernst and Christof von Dohnanyi.

    Plenty of troublesome if not outright dreadful operatic Dad’s out there, from Amonasro to Wotan.

    Comment by Marius — June 15, 2014 @ 3:06 pm

    • Hi Marius,
      Another excellent father-son pairing that escaped my attention.
      Thank you.

      Comment by welltemperedear — June 15, 2014 @ 3:28 pm

  4. Children were considered the property of their parents, who did what they wanted to and with them for centuries.
    Beethoven and Mozart’s fathers were typical, and of course their famous sons became what they were in spite of, and not EVER, because of their fathers’ parental machinations and failures.
    Rudolf Serkin made his son Peter just as important a figure in pianism as he was. Nice.
    Frankly, no other fathers that have enabled their sons OR daughters to follow in their footsteps in modern times come to mind, at least without deep thought.

    Comment by Michael BB — June 15, 2014 @ 10:12 am

    • Hi Michael,
      Good comments, all.
      Thank you.
      I especially appreciated your mentioning Rudolf and Peter Serkin.
      Yes, the son has ended almost as famous as the father.
      But they went through some every hard times, filled with rancor and disapproval, during peter’s hippie or countercultural days.
      But I don’t think it ever rose tot he level of abuse, physical or emotional.

      Comment by welltemperedear — June 15, 2014 @ 11:14 am

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