Looking for an examination of the relationship between a father and child? Look no further than the history of Western classical music. From the fraught relationships of child prodigies like Beethoven and Mozart and their complicated fathers to juicy opera plots to delightful father and child collaborations, Father’s Day is a complex day for many classical musicians. Below we present a list of seven pieces that bring these multi-faceted relationships to light.
O mio babbino caro (Gianni Schicchi)
Where better to start a Father’s Day playlist than with one of the most beautiful arias ever written? And, one that happens to be about a daughter masterfully manipulating her father into giving her exactly what she wants? In Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, Lauretta demonstrates that if you sing and ask sweetly enough, your father will do whatever you want. A favourite aria for any young, experienced or world famous soprano, this rendition, sung impressively by a mezzo-soprano, convinces effortlessly:
“Die musikalische Schlittenfahrt” (Divertimento in F Major) – Leopold Mozart
Think your dad was tough on you? Wolfgang Amadeus and Nannerl Mozart’s father, Leopold, had his children touring and performing for royalty from as early as they could walk. Wolfgang and Leopold’s relationship was so co-dependant and fraught that Wolfgang only gained independance from his father at the age of twenty-one – veritably late in life by 18th century standards! Here is one of Leopold’s own compositions: a “Musical Sleigh Ride,” or Divertimento in F Major. (Listen for the sleigh bells.)
Symphony Number Nine – Mvt. III – Ludwig van Beethoven
In my family, we have a saying: “Suffer! Think how Beethoven suffered!” And indeed, Beethoven’s suffering started at the hands of his drunkard father. Beethoven’s father possessed aspirations of Beethoven becoming the next Mozart, and the poor young Ludwig often suffered beatings when his compositions did not meet his father’s standards. Yet, all this suffering paid off, as Beethoven went on to produce some of the most beautiful compositions ever written, even while suffering most greatly by losing his hearing.
Goldberg Variations – Version For String Trio, BWV 988 – J.S. Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach not only could be considered the father of Western classical music, but he also fathered twenty children! Many of Bach’s children went on to become wonderful composers in their own rights, including Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach and Johann Christoph Bach. Here is an arrangement of his J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations performed by string trio rather than piano, in memory of Toronto’s own legendary Bach interpreter, Glenn Gould.
Knoxville: Summer of 1915 – Samuel Barber (James Agee)
Samuel Barber, most famous for his Adagio for Strings, composed this seminal piece for voice and orchestra in a fervour of inspiration. James Agee’s prose poem that opens his novel, A Death in the Family, brims with a painful nostalgia for childhood and the closeness of family, as the summer of 1915 was the last year before Agee’s father died in an automobile accident in 1916. Barber similarly dedicated his rendition to his father, who died when Barber was a child. Eleanor Steber premiered the piece in 1948 – listen to her gorgeous rendition here and the pain infused in the line, “May God bless my people, my uncle, my aunt, my mother, my good father, / oh, remember them kindly in their time of trouble; and in the hour of their taking away.”
“Figlia, mio padre!” – Act II – Rigoletto – Giuseppe Verdi
As explored earlier in this list, father-daughter relationships abound in bel canto opera. In Rigoletto, Rigoletto and his beloved daughter Gilda, hold an intense relationship. Rigoletto refuses to let Gilda associate with anyone besides himself, which results in her ultimate demise as she learns her father’s true profession (a jester) and gets involved with a man whose intentions are less than pure.
“The Next Blue Sky” – Solidarity – Bill and Joel Plaskett
Difficult, controlling father figures aside, many performers have enjoyed fruitful relationships collaborating with their fathers. From violinist Yehudi Menuhin and his pianist son Jeremy to pianists Rudolf and Peter Serkin to Nova Scotia’s Bill and Joel Plaskett, sometimes the sweetest sounds come from the collaboration of a father with their child. Here’s a beautiful folk song from the Plasketts’ new duo album, Solidarity.
Here’s a beautiful folk song from the Plasketts’ new duo album.
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