Where are all the Beethovens and Mozarts today?

People often wonder what has become of our famous classical composers—geniuses like Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart. Where are their children? How come we don’t see any contemporary descendants of Mozart running around? What has become of them?

Well, interestingly, almost none of those composers have any living descendants today.

But let’s start with one notable exception: Johann Sebastian Bach. He had twenty children with two wives. Seven with his first wife; and, after her death, 13 more with the second. Can you imagine the family reunions!!? That’s a lot of strudel!

But, as was not uncommon, many of them (9, in fact) died before the age of five.

As far as we know, the last of his (J.S.’s) direct descendants died shortly after World War II. So there are no more Bachs around.

His contemporary in the 17th and 18th centuries, George Frederick Handel (who gave us The Messiah)  - well, he didn’t give us the actual Messiah…had no children.

Antonio Vivaldi  (The Four Seasons) was a priest. Because of his fiery red hair, he was known as the “Red Priest.” No children.

Mozart had six children—quite a large number, considering that he died at age 35. Only two survived to adulthood. And those two surviving sons died without descendants.

Haydn, known familiarly as  “Papa Haydn,” or “the father of the symphony” (he wrote 106 of them!) and a teacher of Beethoven, had no children. Beethoven was never married.

Moving forward in time, Schubert, Chopin, Brahms, and Tchaikovsky were also childless.

Camille Saint Saens had two sons. They died in early childhood in 1878 within six weeks of each other.

On to the impressionists: Debussy and Ravel. Debussy had one daughter, who died at age fourteen. Ravel never married.

Some of the great opera composers who left no heirs are Rossini (“William Tell Overture,” The Barber of Seville) was married twice, but had no children. Georges Bizet (Carmen) died at age 36. He had one son, Jacques, who died unmarried. No heirs.

And Giuseppe Verdi, (Rigoletto, Aida) who lived to the age of 87, had a daughter and a son, both of whom died in their first year. His wife died at age 26 and he never re-married.

Puccini (Madam Butterfly) had one son, but no grandchildren.

More recently (in the 20th century), Samuel Barber, Benjamin Britten, Aaron Copland, and more recently still, George Gershwin, who died at age 38, all died unmarried.

Why am I telling you all of this? Well, it’s interesting, I think.

And, besides, it will all be in my new book, “Musical Facts to Bum You Out.”

So that brings us to “Where are the great composers today?” And the answer is: we’ve got ‘em.

But they are writing movie scores instead of symphonies. Some of those geniuses are John Williams, John Barry, Ennio Morricone, Hans Zimmer, James Horner and so many other fine composers.

I can pretty well guarantee you that if Mozart were alive today, he would for sure be writing for films. (But not Beethoven. He was too much of a curmudgeon, and I am fairly certain he would have considered writing film scores beneath his dignity.)

So there you go: a little info about great composers for next time you play musical trivia. Thanks for reading . You can listen to a beautiful movie score by John Williams that I arranged for solo piano below.

Elizabeth Pandolfi