Songs Your Mother Taught You

Saturday, May 04, 2013

piano lesson: mother and child (deanwissing/flickr)

Mother's Day is just around the bend, and while flowers, jewelry and brunch are well-loved staples of the holiday, classical music also has a longstanding connection. Composers wrote music about motherhood; some have been mothers themselves.

In advance of Mother's Day (May 12), we'd like to know: what comes to mind for you when you mix classical music and mom? Leave your comments below. We'll be sharing some of your stories and music on the holiday.

Composers and their Moms

Below is a sampling of composers who were inspired by or learned music from their mothers. The list is by no means complete but offers a sampling of influences.

Ludwig van Beethoven: Beethoven's mother, Maria Magdalena Keverich (right), had a tough life; four of her seven children didn’t make it to adulthood and she was stuck in an unhappy marriage to an alcoholic ("a little joy – and a chain of sorrows," she once confided to a friend). But she was also said to be a good mother, dealing well with Beethoven’s distant and difficult personality.

Felix Mendelssohn: Mendelssohn seems to have acquired his love of Bach from his mother, Lea. A pianist, she had studied music with Johann Kirnberger – who had studied with the Kapellmeister himself – and passed her learning on to her children.

Bela Bartok: His parents were both teachers and amateur musicians, and his mother taught him piano from the age of five. Within four years, he was writing his first compositions. Because his mom was a piano teacher, Bartok moved around the country frequently and was exposed to folk music.

Serge Prokofiev: His mother was his first piano teacher. An accomplished pianist (though not a professional musician), she often played Beethoven sonatas or Chopin waltzes to soothe him to sleep.

Igor Stravinsky: Stravinsky’s mother, Anna Kholodovsky, sang and played the piano; in his autobiography, he attributed his score-reading abilities to her.

Arnold Schoenberg: His mother Pauline was a piano teacher and encouraged music within their household. She ensured that Arnold and his siblings were taught music as well as the family's small budget would allow. At the age of eight, Schoenberg began taking violin lessons regularly.

Samuel Barber: Barber's mother was said to be a fine pianist and had him studying the instrument by age six. He later dedicated the “Love Song” from his Three Sketches (1923) to his mother.

Amy Beach: Beach began piano study with her mother when she was six, and gave her first piano recital a year later.

Dmitri Shostakovich: The composer's mother studied piano at the St. Petersburg Conservatory and became a piano teacher. Dmitri took lessons with her starting at the age of nine.

Aaron Copland: Copland's mother, Sarah Mittenthal Copland, sang and played the piano, and arranged for music lessons for her children.

Leonard Bernstein: Jennie Resnick Bernstein contributed lyrics for a segment of her son's last work, Arias and Barcarolles, a song cycle that received a Grammy Award in 1991 for best contemporary composition.

Sources: Child Composers and their Works: A History Survey (Barry Cooper); The Lives and Times of the Great Composers (Michael Steen)


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Comments [41]

Barbara R Britton

Although i'm not an observer of "Mother's Day" (thanks to my own mother, who objected to it as something of a commercial holiday and discouraged us from celebrating it !) -- ironically, my own Music/Mother connection in fact has to do with WQXR !! When I was a child, she used to take my sister and me to the live chamber-music recitals at the WQXR studios in the New York Times building on W. 43rd Street . . . As a result, I have had a life-long love of chamber music, the New York Times - and WQXR !!

May. 12 2013 05:28 PM
concetta nardone from Nassau

Thank you Mr. Lane for your comments about the societies that abuse women as part of their so-called culture. We owe our lives to our mothers as well as our fathers. Women are one side of the coin of life.
My very best wishes to you and all the qxr listeners.

May. 12 2013 01:04 PM
bob kirk

The background music of my youth, in addition to that of Martin Block's
Makebelieve Ballroom, was the radio station known forever to Audrey, my
mother, and to our household as W2XR. These were (?) the original call
letters of the station in HER youth. Here's to the Food of Love.

May. 12 2013 12:22 PM
JR from Westchester, NY

My mother was an operatic soprano and an accomplished pianist...strictly as hobbies. Our home was always filled with music and I developed a strong love for it as a result. When I think of my mother at the piano, I picture her playing the Warsaw Concerto.

May. 12 2013 09:11 AM

I am grateful to my Mom, an accomplished pianist and singer, for my being able to have a childhood full of classical music. We played chamber music together, she was my accompanist in many violin recitals and audition tapes, and she took me to concerts, operas, and music festivals all the time. The Adagietto from Mahler's Symphony No. 5 is a piece we both love, and discovered together at a beautiful, outdoor summer performance.

May. 11 2013 03:22 PM
WalterMastropietro from Metuchen & Westfield, New Jersey

My comment is already listed but I would like to make another suggested idea for our station someday in the future. What title of a classical piece best reflects the musical storey it conveys. Example, Night ON Bald Mountain, one realy feels like he is on Bald Mountain when this composition is playing. Thank you all at WQXR and listeners.

May. 11 2013 12:32 PM
Antonia from NYC

My mother is the person who introduced me to classical music, which became a lifelong love. From the age of 6 she took me to the Young People's Concerts at Lincoln Center where I was privileged to listen to and learn about music from conductors like Leonard Bernstein, Michael Tilson Thomas and Zubin Mehta.And we always listened to the Saturday broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera on WQXR together, and still do.
Now,some 40 years later, classical music is still one of the things I love to share with my mom, from listening to WQXR, to regularly attending the Met Opera Live in HD Broadcasts together. Two particularly memorable experiences I've had with my mom were hearing Mahler's 2nd Symphony conducted by Gilbert Kaplan at Carnegie Hall, and attending the first season of the Met's Otto Schenk production of Wagner's Ring Cycle on 4 consecutive Saturdays.
To this day these remain two of our most beloved composers, and memories.
Classical music is so important to my quality of life, and I owe the pleasure and enrichment it has given me to my mother.Thanks Mom!

May. 11 2013 10:51 AM
Julie Leininger Pycior

"Barcarolle" always brings to my mind Mom playing it on our cherry wood spinet, singing intermittently in her clear soprano.

May. 10 2013 08:53 PM
Rose from Ardsley, New York

My mother did not know much about classical music. One evening, many years ago, my dad took her to a concert version of Rigoletto at Lewisohn Stadium in Manhattan. She sat through it like the good sport that she was. When the 4 singers on stage began to perform "Bella figlia dell'amore", the woman sitting next to mother leaned over and whispered to her, "Is this the famous quartet?" And my mother, with the unhesitating confidence of an opera savant replied, "Oooh yes." She figured if 4 people are on stage singing she had more than a good chance of being correct. And how about that! She was! Each time I hear the quartet from Rigoletto I think of my mother and grin from ear to ear.

May. 10 2013 06:37 PM
Ohnahnettie from Staten Island, NY

My mother used to push me on the swings in Prospect Park and sing, "A-swinging, a-swinging, a little tiny doll!" Years later, my brother and I heard Beethoven's Sixth (Pastoral) Symphony for the first time. Turned out that the melody she was singing was from the final movement, the part where the storm is over. You could imagine how exciting that was for us!

Do| LA 2-3| DO 2 Do| LA 2-3| DO 2. . .etc. (I don't know if that clarifies or confuses!)

May. 10 2013 06:16 PM


May. 10 2013 06:05 PM
Geoff Starling from Calgary, Alberta

When I was in early grade school, my mum would pick me up one Friday a month and take me out for lunch. On the way we would listen to the local classical station and she would give me a nickel for every instrument I could indentify from the orchestra. It was a fun game and I can still pick a clarinet from an oboe! It was also a special time to be just with her. I have 2 kids of my own now and can't wait to play this with them.

Thanks for accompanying my work day, and most evenings at home

May. 10 2013 05:37 PM
Judith Lutes from Ithaca, NY 14850

My mother used to play and sing "Sing Me to Sleep" in German (Sing mir dein Lieb) by Edwin Greene (lyrics by Clifton Bingham). I still have the ragged sheet music, copyright 1911, G. Schirmer.

May. 10 2013 05:30 PM
Edna from New York, New York

Second attempt at posting. The song that brings back vivid memories of my dear, dear mother is "Te Quiero, Dijiste" sung by the three tenors, Dominguez, Carrera & Pavarotti. Here is the YouTube video:

I love you Mom!

May. 10 2013 03:15 PM
WalterMastropietro from Metuchen and Westfieid New Jersey

Dear WQXR and listeners, When I was 20, now 58, My mother bought me Beethoven,s sixth symphony-The pastorial concert. After reading the story of it, I was overtaken by the musical storm and all the peasants dancing in their feasts. What a story in music!!! I could see and heard it all going on. It started my classical music listening career. By the way, my mother sang at the old Met in a Ukrainian church singing choir in the 30s. Happy Mother,s day to all mothers out there.

May. 10 2013 01:18 PM
Katelin Roberts from New York City

My mother always played the piano and put on a record for my sisters and me as we fell asleep. Her Chopin, Brahms, Schubert and Schumann were wondrous. I think most especially of the first of Schumann's Kinderszenen (maybe played by Wilhelm Kempff or Radu Lupu). We also listened to the great contralto Kathleen Ferrier sing Mahler, Brahms and English folk songs (do you have Ye Banks and Braes?) Perhaps my favorite was L'Adieu des Bergers from Berlioz's L'Enfance du Christ. Renee Fleming has recorded a version on her Sacred Songs album that makes me weep with remembering, and with gratitude for the amazing gifts of music and of love that we received from our mother.

May. 10 2013 12:01 PM
Nancy Baker from Manhatten

I am a great lover of classical music, something i owe to my mother, who died at 95 3 years ago. In early childhood she had my brother and me listen to "Hansel and Gretel" and "Peter and the Wolf". We listened to them over and over again, until we practically knew them by heart. She loved opera and later when we were teenagers she took us to the Lyric Opera in Chicago where we lived. In her memory I would love to hear something from "Hansel and Gretel"--you choose. Thank you.

May. 10 2013 10:48 AM
peter huvelle from Connecticut

My earliest musical memory is skipping around the house with my mother to the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody #2

May. 10 2013 05:46 AM
concetta nardone from Nassau

My mother also loved the Zeigernweisen(?) played by Heifetz and had me put on the LP I had of that music. What a musically well rounded home I grew up in, Italian Radio, WQXR, Toscanini broadcasts, etc. My eyes well up thinking of it.

May. 09 2013 03:07 PM
Janet from Brooklyn

My mom played piano, just as a hobby. I still prefer her version of "Rage Over a Lost Penny" to all others. She played it rather slowly by comparison to the professionals, with each note clear and separate.

May. 09 2013 01:36 PM
Janet from Brooklyn

One of my earliest musical memories was my mom whistling "Non piu andrai". Our parakeet learned to whistle the first 3 notes. She told me that she asked her father what opera is, and he replied by singing very grandly " Bringst mal die BUTTER hier!"

May. 09 2013 01:32 PM
cynthia raymond from nyc

Sitting at the dinner table as a little girl, I remember Mom trying to teach me table manners by singing "Mabel, Mabel, sweet and able, get your elbows off the table..." cant recall the next verse, but was astonished as an adult to hear Dvorak's Humoresque as the same tune as Mom's table manners lesson!

May. 09 2013 12:17 PM
Cathy from California

There was no classical music in my home growing up in the 50's but my mom had a musical cigarette dispenser that played music. Years later I heard music on the radio and the announcer was telling a story about the tone poem playing. It was The Moldau and I recognized the music from the cigarette dispenser. I had never heard the whole piece and I fell in love with The Moldau and classical music in general, especially tone poems and the stories behind them.

May. 09 2013 12:08 PM
Cathy from Brooklyn

Around 1950, my parents owned 2 classical records out of 4 altogether. Every night when I and my 2 sisters went to sleep, we were allowed to crack our doors so we could hear the recordplayer downstairs playing Eine Kleine Nacht Music by Mozart and the Toy Symphony by Hayden. It was a great joy, and I have always associated those 2 with the meadow larks that used to sing in our woods in North Stamford at dusk. My mother also sang often, show tunes mostly, and instilled a love of music in us all. Early on we learned to sing rounds, with each of us having to hold our own with one part.

May. 09 2013 11:17 AM
H from Whitehouse Station, NJ

When I was very little, my mother sang the evening prayer from Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel as one of her lullabies. She sang "rock-a-by baby" and Brahms lullaby as well, but the Hansel and Gretel prayer was her signature piece to me. Many a night I slept while fourteen angels around me kept.

May. 08 2013 04:24 PM
Fran White from Basking Ridge, NJ

My mother loved opera and Italian music. From early ages my sisters and
I heard opera in our home. My mother had a lovely voice and she sang songs
that she loved. As I grew to a young woman, she and I loved Pavarotti and
especially his singing of Puccini's sweet music. After a concert on PBS,
I would call my mother and we would talk about the music. She has been gone for over 20 years, but I can still see her sitting on the edge of her seat when listening to the beauty of Italian music.

May. 08 2013 03:51 PM
Stafford from Virginia

As a child growing up in Cleveland (George Szell era), hearing performances of Johannes Brahms' piano concertos (Leon Fleisher) at Severance Hall and on the massive Zenith 'HiFi' at my parent's home in Hudson, Ohio - magical time it was . . .

May. 08 2013 03:05 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

OOPS, I meant to write the lyricist for WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM was OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN ll and the music was composed by the greatly gifted SIGMUND ROMBERG who composed that classic song in 1934.

May. 07 2013 10:30 AM
concetta nardone from Nassau

Dear Rich, thanks for reminding me of Sergio Bruni. We went to one of his concerts at the old Bklyn Academy of Music before it got renovated. He also played the guitar. As for Francesco Albanese, there are some You Tubes with him singing but no Canto Ma Sottovoce. The only albums out there are his Traviata and I think Armida with Maria Callas. What beautiful memories and nostalgia. Nostalgia: From the Greek, pain from an old wound.
Best wishes

May. 07 2013 08:49 AM
Stanzi from Long Island City

New Year's Eve, at the old Met, front row of the Family Circle; we were a family of four. I was eight years old and sat next to my mother. At Prince Orlovsky's party, I could not keep my eyes open or my head up. My mother tried to bring me around with excited whispers of, "It's Leontyne Price!" (singing "Summertime") or "It's George London!" She didn't want me to miss a note!! We got home late, and I had a strep throat and a fever of 104. A memorable New Year, and I still love "Die Fledermaus."

May. 06 2013 09:43 PM
Silversalty from Brooklyn

No musical background for me. The closest to classical would probably be some marching tune, the sort of which played on the radio then to tell mothers when it was time for the kids to march off to school.

Like many women in strongly french cultures (Montréal) my mother was a fan of Edith Piaf. I doubt La Vie en Rose fits the classical theme though. I vaguely remember La Marseillaise sung by Piaf played on "the Q" many years ago. I think it was Nimet that was the host at the time. If that tune is good enough for Tchaikovsky, it likely fits classical. Not a motherly lullaby but I think most mothers prefer freedom to oppression, especially for their children.

Other than that there's something from an 'album of the week' of long weeks ago. Nathalie Dessaix singing "Over the Rainbow" in raw form - like a mother singing a lullaby to a child that had just experienced one of life's injustices. Not classical but it is sung by one of the centers of focus of opera, though not sung in operatic style (thankfully).

A kid only a mother could love -

May. 06 2013 09:31 PM

Concetta, Thank you for your recollection of "Rusella 'E Maggio". I found a wonderful rendition by Sergio Bruni on You Tube and I-Tunes. I don't know "Canto Ma Sottovoce" by Albanese, but I'll be looking for that - thanks for the memory!

May. 06 2013 08:19 PM
Jackie from Stamford, CT

My mother would sing "Daisy Bell (Bicycle Built for Two)" when she would keep me still as she dried my hair with the blow dryer after my bath.

May. 06 2013 03:55 PM
concetta nardone from Nassau

My God, what memories. I remember A Rose of May. Another Neapolitan song that still brings tears to my eyes was Canto Ma Sottovoce. (I sing in an undertone). This soldier comes home to his bombed out city, he sings at the moon, Tell Me Where is My bride? You do not answer but cry with me. The tenor who sang this was Francesco Albanese. Wonderful voice, great interpreter. Those Neopolitans, boy could they write songs.

May. 06 2013 02:25 PM

My mother was annoyed that I did not like popular music as my peers and would try to embarrass me by telling other adults present that I liked "long hair music."

May. 06 2013 02:20 PM

One of my mother's favorite songs was the Neapolitan folksong "Rusella 'e Maggio" (A Rose of May). The singer calls his beloved " my rose of May", whose brilliance surpasses that of the sun, and has other beautiful romantic metaphors.
Another favorite of my mother's was the Italian Christmas Hymn "Tu Scende delle Stelle" ("You Come dowm from the Stars"). I was happy to find this melody embedded as part of Respighi's wonderful "Botticelli Tryptich"

They both bring back such wonderful memories of my mother.

May. 06 2013 01:49 PM
concetta nardone from Nassau

I posted a comment similar to Mr. Christiano's about Italian Radio. We also went to Radio City Music Hall for the Easter Show and I still vividly remember the Kamenoi Ostrow. Am I imagining it, or was the popular culture better then. We have such vulgarity now. No shame at all.

May. 06 2013 09:43 AM
John J. Christiano from Franklin NJ

My grandmother and great grandmother took care of me while my parents went out to work back in the 50s. There was no Italian TV back then, so the radio would play constantly. Old Italian folk tunes, classical opera. Then my mother picked up this multi-record set of "Lanza Sings Caruso"....heaven! We had a small house fire in the 60s. The old 78s were lost...the music was not.

May. 06 2013 09:27 AM

Brahms's Lullaby, of course. I couldn't go to sleep without my mom humming it to me (somewhat off-key) until I was four and I genuinely thought she had composed it until I was around seven.

May. 06 2013 06:15 AM
Hank Smith

A follow up to my last post. The piece my also be know as "Rêve Angelique", which might be a part of "Kamennoi Ostrow"

May. 05 2013 11:32 AM
Hank Smith

My mother loved going to the Radio City Music Hall and she took me there often, back in the days where there were movies alternating with stage shows throughout the day. One of her favorites stage shows was the annual "Glory Of Easter" show done each year. The show was sort of a pageant and began with the music,"Kamenoi Ostrow" by Anton Rubinstein. It was one of her favorite pieces of music and each time I hear it, I am brought to tears.

May. 05 2013 11:25 AM

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