6 classical music power couples you should know

Our new podcast Decomposed has covered the dynamics of two classical power couples in its first two episodes — Robert and Clara Schumann, and Richard and Pauline Strauss. Here are six other classical music power couples you might not have known.

Edvard and Nina Grieg
Composer Edvard Grieg with his wife, Nina.
Bergen Public Library

Edvard Grieg and Nina Hagerup

Edvard Grieg was inspired greatly by his wife, Nina. An accomplished lyric soprano and pianist, Grieg relied on her for interpretations of his work. He wrote Jeg Elsker Dig (I Love You) in honor of his passion for Nina, and his Ballade in the Form of Variations on a Norwegian Folk Song highlighted their shared grief over the loss of a child. While Edvard composed and toured, Nina took on vocal students, with Edvard saying, "It is unbelievable what power she has to mesmerize her pupils."

George Gershwin and Kay Swift
George Gershwin and Kay Swift
Wild Women of Song

George Gershwin and Kay Swift

George Gershwin is well-known for his contributions to classical and popular music, but his romantic partner of 15 years, Kay Swift, is an accomplished musician in her own right. She is the first woman to write the complete score to a Broadway musical, Fine and Dandy, and worked as the staff composer for the Rockettes and Radio City Music Hall. She wrote for ballet and popular music and also collaborated with Gershwin on many projects, including Porgy and Bess. Proof of her devotion to Gershwin, she published and transcribed many of his works posthumously.

Wu Han and David Finckel
Wu Han and David Finckel
Lisa-Marie Mazzucco

David Finckel and Wu Han

Pianist Wu Han and cellist David Finckel have been married for more than 33 years after Han won a competition and performed with the Emerson Quartet, of which Finckel was a member. Their connection was immediate, and Finckel noted that the first few concerts they played together elicited questions about whether they were married. Together, they are artistic directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, as well as founders and artistic directors of Music@Menlo.

Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears in the 1960s
Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears in the 1960s
Britten-Pears Foundation

Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears

Although composer Benjamin Britten never spoke publicly about his romantic life, letters have revealed in detail how intimate his relationship was with tenor Peter Pears. Musical and personal partners for more than 30 years, Britten placed Pears as prominent figures in many of his works, including Peter Grimes, Albert Herring and The Turn of the Screw. They founded the Aldeburgh Festival together in 1948 and established the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme in 1977.

Carl Nielsen with his wife, Anne Marie
Carl Nielsen with his wife, Anne Marie
Carl Nielsen Society

Carl Nielsen and Anne Marie Brodersen

Carl Nielsen is one of the most famous Danish composers of all time, and his wife, Anne Marie Brodersen, is one of the most famous sculptors. They met while she was on a travel grant to Paris and married shortly thereafter. In 1903, Anne Marie received a grant that allowed her to travel to Greece and study Greek sculptors. The summer that Carl spent with his wife overlooking the Aegean Sea is what inspired his Helios Overture. Both Carl and Anne Marie have been recognized for their contributions to Danish art.

John Cage and Merce Cunningham
Cage with Merce Cunningham, Westbeth in New York City, January 1972.
James Klosty

John Cage and Merce Cunningham

John Cage met choreographer and dancer Merce Cunningham at the Cornish School of the Arts in Seattle in the 1930s. Both aimed to break the mold of their respective fields and bounced ideas off of each other. Cunningham helped Cage with his need for rhythm, and Cage introduced Cunningham to the idea of using charts to organize choreography as well as music. Their personal relationship was revealed in a collection of letters they exchanged, and their collaboration has had a big impact on the worlds of music and dance.

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