I am spending time with the lives of Claude Debussy, Ludwig van Beethoven and Dmitri Shostakovich as I prepare program notes for an upcoming concert by the Lake Union Civic Orchestra. The composers are from different eras: Beethoven is the paragon of the Romantic composers; Debussy was on the forefront of Impressionism; and Shostakovich was a modern Russian whose life exemplifies the revolution within his country. And yet the three have something in common that has provoked me to think about the relationship between love and art: all three had poor relationships with women.
Beethoven fell in love with many unattainable women and dedicated his compositions to them, but he never married. One he called his “immortal beloved,” but never his wife. Although Debussy was buried with his wife, he also “had” many other men’s wives as well. Shostakovich was married four times, two of those marriages to the same woman.
All three of these composers wrote music that exudes passion. Does their passion for women infuse their music? Or does passion for music overshadow all other passions, including those for other people, accounting for their inconstancy? Or does the passion that some musicians transfer so easily from one composition to the next become a pattern repeated in life, where passion for whatever is the current project extends to those the composer loves?