A top tenor heard a busker singing Puccini and it stopped him in his tracks
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Great classical composers have almost always been great romantics - and passionate love affairs are often the inspiration for great music making. Here are some of the most enduring.
Mendelssohn was introduced to Cécile in May 1836. He was immediately struck by her 'most bewitching deep blue eyes.' She was small, strikingly beautiful with a quiet, gracious manner. They were married in March 1837, Mendelssohn admitting that he had rediscovered a contentment he hadn't known since childhood. She provided encouragement and stability for him for the rest of his life.
Cosima was the daughter of Franz Liszt. She was married to the conductor Hans von Bulow and they had two children. In 1868, she left her husband to be with Wagner. He composed the Siegfried Idyll as a birthday present for her, performed on the stairs of their villa on her birthday morning.
The celebrated British contralto met her baritone husband in 1897. They married at Bristol Cathedral three years later. So many people turned up for the wedding that the doors had to be locked, leaving thousands outside. The marriage lasted more than 30 years until her death. After they married, Rumford would not allow his wife to take part in love scenes with other men.
After she met Liszt in 1847, Princess Carolyne had to convince the church that her marriage was invalid. She was temporarily successful but, just as she and Liszt were about to marry, her husband and the Russian Tsar managed to quash permission at the Vatican. Their relationship became one of platonic companionship and she was devastated by Liszt's death. She survived him by only a few months.
Although married, Fauré turned to significantly younger women for company. In August 1900 he met Marguerite. He was 55, the same age as her father. She became his mistress for the remaining 24 years of his life. She read Russian, enjoyed philosophical conversations , was bold enough to smoke in public and wear makeup, and was a musician. They were seldom apart.
Freni, one of the world’s favourite Italian sopranos, was married for 26 years to the acclaimed Bulgarian bass. ‘He can help me, just as I can help him,’ she said. ‘We try to appease each other with love and humanity.’
Singer Emma was the love interest of both Fauré and Debussy - and married to a banker. In 1903, after her affair with Fauré ended, she was introduced to Debussy by her son, who was one of his students. She divorced her husband in May 1905 shortly before she gave birth to Debussy's daughter, 'Chou-Chou'. Debussy dedicated his ‘Children's Corner’ Suite to her. Emma was eventually laid to rest in Debussy's grave.
In 1815 Rossini composed the title role of 'Elizabeth, Queen of England' especially for the Spanish prima donna. She moved with the composer - who was seven years her junior - to Bologna in 1822, where they married. She created the title role of Semiramide before retiring from singing aged 42. Colbran had a gambling problem and her health declined. Despite separating, Rossini continued to support her and always credited her as being the greatest interpreter of his music.
Bach married Anna in December 1721, 17 months after the death of his first wife. Together they raised his children and had 13 of their own. She was a gifted soprano who continued to sing professionally after the marriage. Their shared interest in music contributed to their happy union. She also regularly worked as a copyist, transcribing his music. He wrote a number of compositions dedicated to her.
63-year old Janáček met 26-year old Kamila in 1917 and fell for her, despite the fact they were both married. Although she was ambivalent towards him, Janáček's passion inspired the extraordinary late flowering of his music. She continued to remain emotionally aloof but she was with the composer when he died in 1928.
Soprano Varady married the baritone in 1978, their marriage lasting until his death in 2012. ‘My husband was always a mirror who made my strengths and weaknesses apparent to me, and even his criticism was kind and productive,’ she said.
Strepponi was an acclaimed soprano who starred in a number of Verdi's early operas. When her voice began to fail, she moved to Paris to teach. Verdi, who was in England for the premiere of an opera in July 1847, returned via Paris and their romance began. Their 12-year cohabitation was often regarded as scandalous, but they married in 1859 and stayed together for the rest of their lives. Their marriage was happy and Verdi was deeply saddened by her death in 1897.