While there’s no magic formula for clinching success when two people tie the knot, the old adage of ‘opposites attract’ has proven a winner for many a couple, allowing them to mix and enrich contrasting personas. But, for many musicians, both partners being in the same game has also proved a winning recipe. There have been exceptions, of course. Gustav and Alma Mahler reached an improbable compromise after they had married: he insisted that she give up composing which, very surprisingly, she did willingly enough through her sense of devotion. Fortunately, we can still get a glimpse of what might have flowed from her pen by enjoying the fourteen songs of hers that were eventually published between 1910 and 1924, with two more published posthumously. But her reputation as a complex femme fatale (she married twice more after Mahler died and had numerous affairs throughout her life) outdid her legacy as a composer, inspiring musical satirist Tom Lehrer to write the following in his song Alma:
The loveliest girl in Vienna
Was Alma, the smartest as well.
Once you picked her up on your antenna
You’d never be free of her spell.
Her lovers were many and varied
From the day she began her beguine.
There were three famous ones whom she married
And God knows how many between.
The evidence of husbands and wives sharing musical careers is sometimes disguised by the wives using professional, ratherthan married names. The Australian coloratura soprano Joan Sutherland, for example, was married to the conductor Richard Bonynge. While he wagged the stick when she was on stage, one wonders if she set the score straight when he was back at home. For many years, the oboist Evelyn Rothwell performed under her maiden name; and she kept her appearances with Britain’s Hallé Orchestra in Manchester towards the end of the Second World War at a minimum, lest other members of the orchestra perceived an unfounded favouritism because she was the wife of the conductor, John Barbirolli. Following Sir John’s death in 1970, she became affectionately known in some quarters simply as Lady B.
Similarly, Czech mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená currently sees no need to trade off either the surname or ennoblement of her husband Sir Simon Rattle; the fact that they both perform and record together, however, confirms their being on the same wavelength. On the other hand, Sir James Galway’s wife regularly appears alongside her husband as Lady Jeanne Galway in their flute duo appearances.
Clara and Robert Schumann were both pianists and composers; Clara devoted herself toperformances of her husband’s works, particularly after his death in 1856. She also promoted the music of Johannes Brahms, who had become a very close family friend; the last work she performed in public before her death in 1896 was by Brahms. A film about this triangular relationship, made in 1947, saw Kathryn Hepburn playing the role of Clara. Unfortunately, Song of Love was unable to emulate the success of its three historical characters.
Dave Barbour was playing guitar in Benny Goodman’s ensemble when he met the lead singer Peggy Lee. They married in 1943 and, during their nine years together, co-produced some of Lee’s all-time hits, including Manana (Tomorrow is Soon Enough for Me) and It’s a Good Day (8.120642). After they separated, Lee went on to out-pip Alma Mahler by marrying a total of four times.
Two American songwriters who married in 1958, and whose pens and affections for each other stillhaven’t dried up, are Alan and Marilyn Bergman. Between them, they have notched up some remarkable successes, including The Way We Were with music by Marvin Halmisch (8.990029) and several songs set to music by Michel Legrand, among them What Are you Doing for the Rest of Your Life? and The Windmills of Your Mind.
Back in the classical music world, Canadian cellist Amanda Forsyth (8.559235) appears regularly with her conductor/performer husband Pinchas Zukerman, while Naxos artist Leonard Slatkin married the composer Cindy McTee in 2011, when she retired from the position of Regents Professor Emerita at the University of North Texas. They can be heard making beautiful music together in Slatkin’s recording of a programme of his wife’s music (8.559765) performed by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
And we cannot end this thread without mentioning Klaus Heymann, the founder and chairman of Naxos who was acknowledged in the 2013 Gramophone Hall of Fame for his influence and inspiration in the classical music industry, demonstrated in part by his having achieved sales of more than 115 million CDs. A number of these have highlighted the artistry of his wife, Takako Nishizaki, the distinguished Japanese violinist. Prominent among them are her recordings of The Butterfly Lovers’ Concerto, that aptly embodies a famously enduring love duet, of which more than 3 million copies have been sold in the People’s Republic of China and throughout South-East Asia.