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15 Composers and their dogs
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15 Composers and their dogs

Classical music’s canine companions

Submitted by Rosie Pentreath

Fri, 2014-08-15 11:25

Companion, distraction, muse, subject and even audience – dogs have played many roles in the great composers’ lives. Writing music can be a slow and solitary business, and many composers have found that a patient hound can make the ideal companion. And when better to mull over a tricky thematic development or a complicated modulation than while out walking one’s four-legged friend? Important compositions have been inspired by, dedicated to, written for, and in one case significantly delayed by, a dog. Some, such as Elgar and Wagner, have shown a remarkable level of dedication to their own animals; for others, a passing acquaintance with other people’s pooches has left a lasting impression. Of course, not everyone is smitten with the sound of the bark – you won’t find any mention here of Ravel, Borodin, Tchaikovsky or Constant Lambert, as they were all cat people. However, many are. So may we introduce you to…

1. Beethoven & Gigons

We begin with a tale of female clouds with silver canine linings. Beethoven’s bagatelle Für Elise was written for his student Therese Malfatti – the composer’s messy handwriting caused ‘Therese’ to be misread as ‘Elise’ when the manuscript was rediscovered after her death. Beethoven had fallen in love with Therese and proposed to her in 1810, the same year as the bagatelle was written, but she rejected his advances, perhaps because of his famous temper though more likely due to the age difference of more than 20 years between them. One small consolation for Beethoven was that he was befriended by Malfatti’s dog, Gigons. Shortly after the ill-fated marriage proposal, Beethoven wrote to a friend ‘You’re wrong to think Gigons only goes to you. No, I too had the good fortune to have him stick to my company. He dined by my side in the evening, and then accompanied me home. In short, he provided some very good entertainment.’

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