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It’s easy to forget the great composers were ever children – can you imagine Brahms as a young boy, or Tchaikovsky as a toddler? But someone must have told them to eat their greens and dried their tears…
Maria Magdalena Keverich was from a well-to-do family of merchants, councillors and senators. After her first husband died, when Maria was just 18, she met Johann van Beethoven. The pair went on to marry and had three children who survived into adulthood – including the great composer, Ludwig van Beethoven.
Marie Herrmann was the daughter of a rich merchant and soap boiler and she married Bernhard Mahler – a man described as having a fiery temper – in 1857. In total the couple had 14 children – one of which was the young Gustav, in 1860 – but eight died in childhood.
Liszt's mother, Maria Anna Liszt, worked as a chambermaid in her youth before marrying Adam Liszt. They only had one child – Franz Liszt. When Adam died, Liszt arranged for his mother to live with him in Paris, where he originally earned money teaching the piano.
Chopin's mother was a gifted musician in her own right – she played the piano and had a good soprano voice. The young Frédéric Chopin was born in 1810.
Anna Maria married Leopold Mozart in 1747. One historian has said of her: "It was a pure and healthy spirit that reigned in the Mozart household… and Anna Maria must take credit for this. Above all, she was a true mother to her children, who invariably sought refuge with her when their father's strict hand weighed unduly heavily upon them. Wolfgang loved and admired her to distraction." She died when travelling with her family in July 1778.
The young Pyotr Tchaikovsky is shown on the far left of this picture, with his mother Alexandra, his sister Alexandra, his brothers Zinaida, Nikolai and Ippolit and his father Ilya. She and Tchaikovsky's father were both trained in the arts, including music. When the young Pyotr had to leave home and his mother to go to boarding school, he was devastated – and the emotional scar of the separations stayed with him for the rest of his life.
Lea Mendelssohn Bartholdy was the mother of not one but two great composers – Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn. It was largely thanks to her that her children were so musically talented. A brilliant pianist herself, Lea kicked-off Fanny and Felix's musical education. She was also an advocate for the music of JS Bach, at a time when the composer's music was rarely heard.
Taken around 1914, this charming family portrait shows Benjamin Britten with his mother, Edith Rhoda, and siblings – Charlotte, Robert and Edith.
Percy and Rose Grainger photographed in 1903 in Talma Studios, Sydney. Credit: Grainger Museum collection, University of Melbourne