Mental Floss

4 Stories about 4 musicians who married their cousins

David K. Israel

We've written before about famous folk who married their cousins. But it's such a great subject, and there are more stories to tell, so we thought we'd dive back in with another post today, and keep the focus on famous musicians.

1. Igor Stravinsky The composer of huge ballets like The Rite of Spring and The Firebird, Stravinsky was married twice. His first wife was also his childhood sweetheart and first cousin, Katrina Nossenko. They tied the family knot in 1906, when life in Russia was, er, simpler. So simple that Stravinsky wasn't able to copyright his works because Russia was not part of the international agreements to protect intellectual property. This meant he made almost no money off the performances of some of his biggest, most successful pieces, unless he was conducting them. Later in life, after having four children with Katya, Stravinsky would take up a mistress, Vera Sudeykina, who he eventually married after his first wife died.

2. Sergei Rachmaninoff Stravinsky wasn't the only Russian composer to marry his first cousin. Sergei Rachmaninoff actually beat him to the punch by four years, marrying Natalia Satina in 1902. But unlike Stravinsky, who had left the Russian Orthodox Church when he was 18 (he'd later come back to it and compose many religious pieces), Rachmaninoff was devout (well, at least his family was). As you probably know, the church had issues with cousins marrying, and though engaged, Sergei was not allowed to marry his beloved. The result? He fell into depression for a couple years and didn't pen much music at all. But he remained engaged, and, after a lot of squabbling with the priests, and finally permission from none other than the Tsar (don't forget, Rachmaninoff was already pretty famous), the two were allowed to wed and remained married until the composer's death in 1943.

3. Johann Sebastian Bach We all know Bach had many famous sons who were also gifted composers (take Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, for instance). But do you know exactly how many children Bach fathered? Five? Seven? Thirteen? How about TWENTY! The first seven were with his first wife, and second cousin, Maria Barbara Bach, who he married in 1707. Johann was 22 at the time. His first child was born in 1708. While 10 of the 20 children wouldn't survive to adulthood, Bach fathered the additional children, either with his first wife, or his second, Anna Magdalena Wilcke, when he was the following ages: 23, 25, 27, 28, 29, 30, 33, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 45, 46, 47, 48, 50, 52, and 57 years old!

4. Albert Einstein Obviously Einstein isn't primarily known as a musician, but as most people know, he loved to play the violin, and took pride in his chops, which is why I've included him here. Like some of the others on the list, he had his children with his first wife, Mileva Maric, who he married in 1903. But then he took up a mistress, Elsa Löwenthal, and, 13 years later, asked Mileva for a divorce. (Actually, demanded is more like it.) The result? Mileva spent the next two years in a Swiss psychiatric clinic. Good times. Eventually she agreed to a divorce, but only after Einstein agreed to sign over any future Nobel Prize money. He did, and he married Elsa, his first maternal cousin, his second paternal cousin. Funny thing here is that Elsa wouldn't have had to change her name because she was born an Einstein. But she had taken her first husband's name (Max Löwenthal), and so had to get Einstein back when she married back into the family in 1919.

Check out past On Music posts here.