Top Five Classical Pieces For and About Moms

Tune in to WQXR throughout Sunday for music about motherhood

Thursday, May 10, 2012

piano lesson: mother and child (deanwissing/flickr)

Where would we be without our mothers, classical composers included? As we approach Mother’s Day, we take a look at some of the composers who commemorated these life-giving women in music with our top five pieces for and about mom.

1. Brahms: German Requiem

While the death of his dear friend Robert Schumann provided an initial impetus for Brahms's German Requiem, the composer dedicated it to his mother, who died nine years later. The memory of Johanna Brahms is particularly apparent in the work’s fifth movement, which takes Isaiah 66:13 for its text: “As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you.”

2. Strauss’s “Muttertändelei”

Any proud mama would be charmed by Richard Strauss’s “Muttertändelei” (Mother-chatter) in which a new mom brags about her angelic-looking child, with a disposition to match. Using verse from the 18th-century German poet Gottfried August Burger, Strauss wrote the piece in 1899, two years after his wife Pauline gave birth to their son Franz. Apparently Pauline was so taken with the work she would not lend the manuscript to fellow musicians (see Lot 145).

3. Dvorak: "Songs My Mother Taught Me"

Dvorak’s melancholy folk melody “Songs My Mother Taught Me” is part of the Czech composer’s collection of Gypsy songs. The short melody tells of a woman passing down the songs she learned to her own children. It was an immediate hit when Dvorak composed it and still remains one of his best-known melodies.

4. Webern: Six Pieces for Orchestra

Though Anton Webern dedicated his Six Pieces for Orchestra to his teacher, Arnold Schoenberg, the works attempt to sort out his emotions from his mother’s recent death. "The first piece is to express my frame of mind when I was still in Vienna, already sensing the disaster, yet always maintaining the hope that I would find my mother still alive,” wrote Webern. The subsequent miniatures express the composer’s grief and also joyous memories with his mom.

5. Barber: Knoxville Summer of 1915

Samuel Barber’s destiny towards becoming a composer seems to have been cemented in a prophetic letter the nine-year-old composer wrote to his mother, begging her to let him make music rather than playing football (“I have written to tell you my worrying secret...I was meant to be a composer, and will be I’m sure”). While Barber dedicated his orchestral suite, Knoxville Summer of 1915, to his father (as did its original author, James Agee), the piece tenderly describes a mother “who is good to me.”

Weigh in: What piece best captures motherhood to you?


More in:

Comments [5]


"Ma mere je revois" from Carmen.
Maybe even a little on the creepyish side :)

May. 12 2014 08:11 PM
MM from NY NY

The Irish Lullaby . . . I can hear my beautiful mother's lilting, soothing voice at bedtime . . . anytime I choose to dream of her.

Happy Mother's Day, Mama. May you rest in Eternal Peace. And thank you for all you gave to me.



May. 12 2013 07:38 AM
Edna from New York, NY

To me, the song that brings back the most beautiful memories of my Mom is "Te Quiero" composed by Maria Graver. I love you Mom!

May. 09 2013 04:11 PM
Cathryn D'Arcy from Chattanooga, TN

Suor Angelica is definitely a choice for Mothers' Day!

May. 12 2012 04:35 PM
Fran White from Basking Ridge, NJ

The song for me is O Mia Bambino Cara.

May. 11 2012 04:16 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

The WQXR e-newsletter. Show highlights, links to music news, on-demand concerts, events from The Greene Space and more.

Follow WQXR 







About Top 5 @ 105

WQXR helps you make the most of the New York City’s classical music scene.

Our "Top 5 at 105 " features can't-miss experiences: the best concerts, books and films about music, places to eat before and after shows, and more.