Question no. 16

Who Were the Mothers of Schönberg and Haydn?

We did some research in anticipation of Mother's Day, when works by the two composers are played.

Susanne Kübler

Many musical careers begin in the family: with parents who play instruments professionally or as a hobby, who sing or take their offspring to concerts. That has probably always been the case. It is therefore a pity that hardly anything is known about the parents of many composers – the earlier they lived, the less. Of the mothers in particular, little more is known than their names. Who they were, what kind of life they led: this can only be revealed fragmentarily and indirectly.

Whether, for example, Arnold Schönberg's mother, who looks rather sceptically into the camera in the above picture, sang children's songs to her son? Nothing has been handed down about this. She was "in any case very self-sacrificing, unselfish, selfless, modest", Schönberg wrote about her, and it was probably no coincidence that the four adjectives all meant more or less the same thing. Pauline Nachod, born in Prague in 1848, came to Vienna as a child; at the age of 24 she married Samuel Schönberg, who ran a small shoemaker's shop in Leopoldstadt. She came from a humble background; her father had to apply for a fee waiver for the marriage licence. Schönberg went on to write that his parents' marriage had gone "normally well", "at most marred by material worries".

These worries became even greater when Schönberg's father died in 1889. Pauline Schönberg was 41 years old at the time and had five children to support. She herself had given birth to four, the eldest daughter died young; she had also taken in two nieces whose parents had died in the Ringtheater fire of 1881. She was a clever woman, Schönberg wrote, "who toiled a lot with her children, two foster children and later the grandchildren". That she did not just toil can be seen in another photo, in which she, little Arnold and his sister Ottilie can be seen as a trio, staged in a manner typical of the time, but very familiar.


Music does not seem to have played a special role in Pauline Schönberg's life. Schönberg described his parents as "averagely musical"; "in no way can I say that this in any way exceeded what every not exactly music-hostile Austrian possesses in musicality". She was, however, pleased about his successes as a composer: he also recorded this.

Pauline Schönberg died in Berlin in 1921. She was buried in a Protestant cemetery, although she came from a Jewish family; when the church register was destroyed in a fire and the death certificate had to be reissued, her religion was given as Protestant. The year was 1936, and it is safe to assume that Schönberg's mother would not have minded caring for her endangered family even after her death.

A beautiful voice and twelve children

Even less is known about Joseph Haydn's mother. Her name was Anna Maria Koller (not Keller, Wikipedia is wrong there) and she was born in 1707 in the Lower Austrian village of Rohrau. She was a cook in the castle of Count von Harrach when she met Mathias Haydn, a craftsman of carriages. After her marriage, she devoted herself to her rapidly growing family: she gave birth to twelve children, three of whom died young.

In the evenings they played music, not classical works but folk tunes. The father played the harp, the mother sang – and little Joseph was not the only one who was particularly enthusiastic: his younger brothers Michael and Johann also became musicians. However, this enthusiasm came at a price. Joseph Haydn was only five or six years old when the school rector and choir director Johann Mathias Franck took him to the choir school in Hainburg; whether the parents found the decision difficult or whether they were happy that he was receiving board and lodging and a good education is not known. In any case, he proved himself; at the age of seven he was poached by Georg Reutter, the Kapellmeister at St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, and thus came to the capital of music at that time.

What it meant for Joseph Haydn to leave his family so early, how often the boy returned home and if at all: his early biographers, who still knew him personally, are silent about this. What is certain is that his father later had business in Vienna and met his eldest son there. His mother, on the other hand, disappeared from his official biography. She died in 1754, at the age of 47.

PS: If you would like to know what our music director Paavo Järvi says about his mother, here is an interview that appeared in the "Aargauer Zeitung".

May 2023
Sun 14. May

Chamber Music Matinee

Julia Becker Violine, Elisabeth Bundies Violine, Katja Fuchs Viola, Katarzyna Kitrasiewicz-Łosiewicz Viola, Christian Proske Violoncello, Mattia Zappa Violoncello Haydn, Schönberg
published: 08.05.2023