Famous Brothers Among the Masters

It is been observed that musical talent often runs in families: either handed down from one generation to another, or processed at once by several brothers or sisters of the same generation.

Whether this is due to heredity or to environment, we will leave to the discussion of the learned; and a somewhat lighter mood we propose to recall some examples of musically talented brothers. In some cases the talent of one brother, otherwise notable, has been entirely eclipsed by the genius of another: witness Michael Haydn, brother of the greater Joseph Haydn. In other cases, two brothers of had nearly equal talent, and have moved in parallel lines, so to speak. For instance, Philip and Xavier Scharwenka, each and noted pianist and composer, of our own day; or Anton and Heinrich Romberg, a pair of inseparable brothers, bassoonist, who dressed alike and live together at Bonn, toward the end of the 18th century, one of whom was the grandfather of the famous cellist, Bernard Romberg.

For some of our earliest as well as most interesting examples, we may cite the Bach family, famous in music for many generations, even before the birth of the most distinguished representative of that name.

The Musical Twins

Johann Sebastian Bach’s grandfather, Christoph Bach, had twin sons, born February 22, 1645, and named respectively, Johan Ambrosius and Johann Christoph. (The former was destined to be the father of the great Sebastian.)

When Christoph Bach died, in the prime of manhood, his twin sons were scarcely grown up. Nature had not only tied them up by the closest bond of blood, but had bestowed on them a resemblance of both external and mental characteristics that was the astonishment of everyone, and that made them objects of curiosity and interest. They had the same modes of thought and expression; they played the same instrument, the violin, and have the same way of conceiving and performing music. Their outward resemblance is said to have been so great that when they are apart their own wives could not distinguish their husbands, and their unity of spirit and temperament was so intimate that they even suffered from the same disorders; in fact, when at length one brother came to die, the other did not survive him long.

A Stern Elder Brother

Johann Sebastian Bach was a boy of nine when his father died, and his mother’s place was a young stepmother of but two months standing, so it was to the care of his elder brother, Johann Christoph, would already earned his own bread for some years, that Sebastian’s care and education confided. And oil portrait of this elder brother is in existence – (the very fact that one was painted shows that he must’ve been in reasonably comfortable circumstances) – and shows a Frank looking man with brown hair and a mustache, dressed in what was, for those days, a rather informal style. Young Sebastian had already had violin lessons from his father, and his brother undertook to teach him the clavichord and the organ.

Christoph of been a pupil of the famous organist, Pachelbel, and had a volume of his pieces. (Printed music was still very scarce, although examples existed as early as the days of Kindermann, who was Pachelbel’s teacher’s teacher, and new publishing organ book in 1645, from engraved copper plates.) And anecdote attaches to this volume of organ music, which is most significant both of the elder brother’s harsh discipline, and of the Young Sebastian’s staunch pluck. The pieces which is elder brother put before her more soon mastered and exhausted; he demanded more difficult task and longer flights. Still, pride of seniority make Christoph withhold the book from the boy, who every day could see the object of his longing lying within the wire lattice of a bookcase. At last he stole down at night and extracted the role through the opening in the wires, copying it a little at a time, night after night, whenever moonlight a resume. At the end of six months the work was finished, but his hardhearted brother discovered it and took it away from him.

The perseverance of true genius is as evident in this story, as is also the fact that he had little or nothing more to learn from his brother. How, as a man of honor, he repaid his brother 15 years later, is interesting and characteristic, but would lead us too far afield to recount here. Bach stayed with his brother some six years, after which, through a kindly Providence, he obtained what he would call a “scholarship,” at Saint Michael school, in Lunenburg. It is well this was so, for Christoph’s increasing family was making the house too narrow. It was well, too, that young Bach should have the benefit of new influences.

Joseph Haydn and Michael Haydn

We take for granted that most of our readers are familiar with the salient facts in the life of the great Joseph – the father of the Symphony, and almost equally the originator of the string quartet – the composer of The Creation and The Seasons, besides countless and sonatas, trios, songs, masses and music of every sort known in his day.

Let us rather linger a while over the memory of his very interesting brother, Michael. We do not know just where Michael stood in order of age among the 12 children who made up the family of the wheelwright of Rohrau, except that he must’ve been younger than Joseph, for he exceeded to his place as chorister in St. Steffens, Vienna, when Joseph’s voice changed. He had a remarkably good soprano voice, and saying leading parts. The village schoolmaster at Rohrau had given him the basis of a really good musical education, and he was soon able to act as deputy organist at St. Steffens.

In course of time, after a brief experience in other positions, we find him holding the post of capellmeister and concertmeister under the Bishop of Salzburg, and he remained at this post for the rest of his life, composing over 300 works in a line of sacred music, besides numerous instrumental compositions. He was a man given to a quiet, studious existence – fond of history, geography and the classics. His brother advised him against the post at the court of Eisenstadt, which at one time bid fair to be open to him, as he deemed him to straightforward, simple and upright for court life.

Mozart once visited Michael Haydn and found him in trouble over some duets for violin and viola which the Bishop of ordered him to write, and which were not forthcoming. Owing to temporary ill health, Haydn seemed unable to command the necessary inspiration, so Mozart wrote to excellent ones and presented them to his friend, allowing him to use them under the name of Michael Haydn. (They are now to be found in print under Mozart’s own name.)

The Schubert’s

Franz Schubert visited Michael Haydn’s grave in 1825, and his account of his own sentiments are in themselves a whole biography:

“The good Haydn! It also seemed as if he is clear, calm spirit were hovering over me. I may be neither calm nor clear, but no man living reverences him more than I do. My eyes filled with tears as we come away.”

Ferdinand Schubert (not Franz) compose a striking chorus to words in praise of Michael Haydn. Who was Ferdinand Schubert? Another “musical brother,” the elder brother of the famous Franz.

Ferdinand’s love for his brother and care for his memory are among the brighter spots in the latter’s brief and pathetic life. Like Franz, he enjoyed good early instruction in music, and made earnest youthful attempts a composition. On Sundays and holidays the great delight of family was to play quartets, Ferdinand playing first violin, Ignaz (another brother) second violin, Franz Viola, and their father the violoncello. Ferdinand followed his father’s profession – that of schoolteacher – in course of time, attain to some modest Eminence, being the director of the chief normal school in Vienna (that of St. Anna), and the author of some dozen of school textbooks. He found time to compose more than 40 musical works, largely sacred music. His family was almost the equal of J. S. Bach’s, numbering 17 children, and we may be sure there were “musical brothers” among them.

An interesting evidence of the attachment of these brothers is seen in a letter of Ferdinand to Franz, in regard to musical clock which the former had heard playing his brothers music:

“This clock delighted me not a little, when one day at dinner for the first time I heard it play some of your waltzes. I felt so strange at the moment that I really did not know where I was; it was not only that if please me, it went regularly through my heart and soul with a fearful pang and longing, which at last turned into settled melancholy.” Note: “melancholy” should be taken here in the old sense of pensive meditation, rather than of gloom.

Throughout Franz’s short life, relations between these two brothers were tenderly ideal. Sent for to attend Franz on his deathbed, Ferdinand found him partly delirious and imagining he was in some strange and unknown place. Sometimes he pleaded to be taken to his own room, and again, to be near Beethoven. “Dear Franz,” said the agonized brother, “be calm; trust your brother Ferdinand, who loves you so dearly. You are in the room which you always had, and lying on your own bed.” “No,” said the dying man, “Beethoven is not here.”

With a PSN tender respect for his dead brother’s last wishes, Ferdinand went to great trouble and self-sacrifice, to have him buried as near the great man is possible, and his body reposed in the Ortsfridhof at Wahring, only three places from that of Beethoven, until 1863, when both were taken up and re-buried in Vienna.

It is not always that a man of genius is appreciated among his own people – indeed the contrary truth has long since passed into a proper – so it is pleasant to observe how Ferdinand took pride in his brother Franz, clinging to him as the one great man he had ever known.

We passed now to those living in or near our own day.

The Rubenstein’s

Anton Rubinstein’s name and fame are still illustrious in the musical world, in spite of the fact that only a few of his best works are showing signs of lasting vitality, but few know much of his younger brother Nicholas, who is also a fine pianist and no mean composer, as well as a teacher of Taneiev, Siloti and Sauer. He was the founder of the Russian musical society, at Moscow, 1859, and of the Moscow Conservatory in 1864, and was head of both until his death. Both of these important institutions have long survived him, and on this account, if no other, he deserves the thanks of posterity. Another claim on the gratitude of the musical world, is his early befriending of Tchaikovsky.

By the way, there was still another Rubenstein, Joseph by name, who made a little noise in the musical world one time, but he was not related to the above, and there is no strong reason to remember him.

The Scharwenka’s

Ludwig Philip Scharwenka and his younger brother, Franz Xaver Scharwenka, sons of an architect (born respectively in 1847 and 1850, at center, in East Prussia), were musical brothers of nearly equal talent, though Xaver is the best known to us here in America. Both are piano virtuosos, composers of note, and distinguished teachers. They organized it successful Conservatory in Berlin, of which Xaver for several years conducted a branch in New York. Both of made extensive artistic tours and have received gratifying recognition. As an offset to Xaver’s American reputation, Philip is equally well known in England.

The Hamburg’s

Many of our readers have heard, and doubtless all have heard of, Mark Hamburg, the famous pianist. He is a son of Prof. Michael Hamburg, a native of Russia, who removed to London, England, in 1890, and again, in 1910, to Toronto, Canada, where he passed the remainder of his life, founding Conservatory in a concert society, a company with his two celebrated sons, Jana violinist, and Boris the cellist. These, with Mark, makeup three musical brothers.