“An artist-marriage. Seeking to meet […] female singer to marry.” Personals ads are always limited to the bare essentials, and it was with these simple words that, in 1903, one artist quite succinctly formulated what he hoped for in his future: marriage to another artist. This was not the only such advert to grace the Neues Wiener Tagblatt classifieds, and such suitors could rest assured that the model of the artist- or musician-couple required no further explanation: even long before Hasse and Bordon, Lebrun and Spohr, Maria Malibran and Charles de Beriot, Clara and Robert Schumann, Joseph and Amalie Joachim, Jaëll and von Bronsart, Teresa Carreño and Eugen d’Albert, not to mention the singing couples Vogl, Schnorr von Carolsfeld, and numerous others, marriages between artists had been a frequent phenomenon in the music world.
This fact was the starting point for the research project entitled “Paare und Partnerschaftskonzepte in der Musikkultur des 19. Jahrhunderts” [Couples and Partnership Concepts in the Musical Culture of the 19th Century]: musician-marriages were not the exception, but much rather a remarkably frequent phenomenon. Behind the cliché of unmarriageable geniuses bereft of romantic good fortune, or at best in an affair with a muse (another cliché that long dominated the music-historiographical perception of individual musicians), there existed (then as now) a multitude of marriages and artistic partnerships—often in series spanning numerous generations: Mariane Tromlitz, for example, who was a singer and pianist and came from a family of musicians, entered into her first marriage with piano teacher Friedrich Wieck, and their daughter together—Clara—went on to marry Robert Schumann. Tromlitz’s second marriage, following her divorce from Friedrich Wieck, was likewise to a musician. The career combinations within musician marriages knew virtually no bounds: pianists were married to Kapellmeisters, composers or music-commentators to singers, musicologists to pianists, theatre directors to composers, teachers to librettists, virtuosos to virtuosos, singers to singers, etc. And as in other careers, marrying within one’s own profession was potentially quite advantageous: shared travel and performances for performers; shared workshops for instrument makers and dealers; similar professional challenges, career planning, and difficulties; similar networks and circles of friends; and—ideally—aesthetic kinship.
Such frequency and variety of musician-marriages was not new in the 19th century—from earlier times, as well, musical families are documented in which both spouses participated in the music profession: one could mention here families such as the Couperins and the Jacquets in France, or the Bach family, or the names Stamitz, Danzi, Duschek, Lebrun, Cannabich, Wendling, and many others. What was new in the 19th century was that the bourgeois model of the family imposed a higher degree of gender-polarity upon the two spouses’ roles—and that the idea of marrying for love had come to the fore, with love as an unconditional match between two people superseding the principle of marriage for the sake of economic or material security. This entailed a new challenge for musician-couples: it was not simply about finding a good professional match; a couple now had to come together as ideal partners in romance, marriage, and art, and—most importantly—to convey as much in public. The press of those days repeatedly refers to harmony in love and marriage as apparently going hand-in-hand with a perfect artistic fit: appearances by the violinist Louis Spohr and his wife, harpist Dorette Spohr, were described as “the most consummately harmonious union of an outstanding artist-couple”. Singing couples such as Magda and Franz Henri von Dulong likewise made joint performances the core of their own brands [see programme at left]. Hans von Bülow, for his part, described Therese and Heinrich Vogl as an “incomparable artist-couple”—and after the two appeared as Tristan and Isolde under Bülow’s direction in Munich, the Munich Wagner Association published an ode to them (“Hail to the noble, true artist couple…”) in 1872. [ill.: the Vogls, p. 18] The fact that the married couple Vogl played the extramarital couple Tristan and Isolde was by no means viewed by the audience as a contradiction of prevailing moral views: on the contrary, the marital infidelity celebrated on stage as a hymn to love was more or less sanitised through its embodiment by this ideal singing couple.
Such idealisation of partnership, in which the attempt was made to link an emphatic idea of love with the conventions of bourgeois marriage concepts, was of course something to which numerous realities could hardly measure up. In fact, the attempt at achieving a bourgeois family idyll and an artistic career for both partners in a musician-couple was fraught with enormous challenges. Ego-documents such as letters and (marriage-)diaries tell time and time again of the frequently difficult processes involved in negotiating an artistic partnership on an equal footing: “The first year of our marriage, you should forget about your being an artist, and your life should consist of nothing but yourself and your house and your husband […] the woman, after all, stands above the artist, and if my only achievement were that you had nothing more to do with the public, my deepest wish would be granted,” wrote Robert Schumann to his wife Clara Schumann, who was a successful pianist and essentially ensured the family’s livelihood. The sources quite often relate such breaking points: breaking off one’s career, changes in career strategy or even profession, redefinition of success/failure, balancing of soloist/ accompanist roles, interpretation/ composition, etc.
Furthermore, there were obvious weak points in ideas of the artist-as-subject and bourgeois marriage as such: the former was characterised by male autonomy (which spoke against both an artist’s marriage and women being artists), while the latter was marked by narrowly defined, morally connoted gender roles. Correspondingly, emphatic manifestations of the ideal of the artistic and romantic couple were also frequently accompanied by critical voices. In Alphonse Daudet’s enormously popular novella collection Künstlerehen (English title: Artists’ Wives; original French title: Les Femmes d’artistes, 1878), which had been published in almost 20 German editions by 1926, every one of these partnerships eventually failed. And around 1900, several surveys were published (“Marriages Among Artists. A Survey of Theatre People” or “Should Artists Marry?”) that featured controversial discussion of artists’ marriages marked by similar scepticism. As varied as the responses to these surveys were—from clear rejection of artist-marriages to admiration as a matter of course—what becomes clear is the tight linkage between the discourse on artist marriages and that on the bourgeois gender and marriage model, culminating in the question as to the reconcilability of working as a woman artist and leading a bourgeois family life. On this problematic issue, one can quote the opera singer (and artist-marriage opponent) Paula Doenges: “In principle, I say ‘no’. For the most important expectations of a married woman—that she be a mother and housewife—are unfortunately very difficult for us to fulfil.” On the other hand, Marie Wittich—also a singer and, as the original Salome, quite familiar with anti-bourgeois concepts of femininity—stressed the complimentary effects of these two areas, holding that their combination would give rise to “interaction between profession and household that can be accompanied by great blessings for all those involved”.
The current research project, which has been situated at the mdw since 2016, focuses on the discourse around musicianmarriages: the concept of bourgeois marriage and marrying for love intertwined with artistic partnership or doomed to failure because of precisely this intertwining. For in none of the numerous cases of musician-marriage are things as simple as (even scholarly) literature long portrayed them to be, with the man as genius and the woman as muse. To this end, numerous ego-documents of musician couples are now being analysed and placed in relation to sources that illuminate how the public dealt with musician-marriages: newspaper articles, novellas, scientific treatises, visual sources, repertoire books, compositions dedicated to musician-couples or even composed for such couples’ repertoires, operas with musician-couples as a motif, etc. For the artist-couple, as harmoniously as its ideal manifestation may have conformed to the bourgeois ideal—“There was no happier, no more harmonious union thinkable in the world of art than that of the inventing husband with the executing wife.” (La Mara on the Schumanns)—still remained a matter of constant challenge and confrontation between bourgeois self-definition and the individual artistic interests of female and male musicians.