7. Smyth & Marco
Dogs and music rehearsals are rarely a good combination, as Ethel Smyth discovered to her horror. The English composer spent the late 1880s studying music in Leipzig, where she lived with Marco, her unruly half-breed St Bernard whom, in 1887, she took along to a rehearsal of the Brahms Piano Quintet in the presence of the composer himself.
Everything was going well until Marco suddenly came bounding into the room and knocked over the cellist’s music stand. A potentially awkward moment, but luck was on Smyth’s side: Brahms, also a dog lover, was more than pleased to see Marco….
8. Hahn & Zadig
Reynaldo Hahn, the very master of French song, was once bought a dog by his lover Marcel Proust. The author named the dog Zadig, after the eponymous philosopher from Voltaire’s novel. Ever the jealous type, however, Proust then took to writing long letters to Zadig, explaining how he would be so much more happy if he himself were a dog. Quite barking, some might say.
9. Elgar & Marco and Mina
Elgar loved dogs but his wife Alice couldn’t stand them. Before they met, the English composer owned a spaniel called Marco, but their 30-year marriage, while happy for both parties, was dogless – though Elgar did of course enjoy the occasional walk with his friend George Robertson’s dog Dan, so charmingly portrayed in No. XI of the Enigma Variations.
After Alice’s death in 1920, Elgar spent the rest of his life with two canine companions, another spaniel called Marco and a Cairn Terrier named Mina. The latest communications technology allowed Elgar to keep in contact with his dogs, even when on work trips to London.
On his 70th birthday, the composer conducted a live broadcast concert, which he concluded with a short speech over the airwaves. In it, he said goodnight to Mina, who got very excited hearing her master on the radio. On another occasion, Elgar was dining at Brooks’s Club on Pall Mall, and was called away for an urgent telephone call.
‘They are on the line now, Sir Edward,’ the waiter informed him. When he reached the telephone, fellow diners overheard loud barking coming down the line and Elgar saying in a firm voice ‘Don’t bite the cushions’.
In April 1947, a reporter from the Moscow News visited the Shostakovich home to conduct an interview about the composer’s family life. He and Shostakovich sat in the lounge and could hear the composer’s wife and children packing bags in the next room. Then a large, and obviously unhappy, dog wandered in, barking and whining.
‘Tomka’s upset because the children are going away to the rest home’, Shostakovich explained, before adding in a more serious tone, ‘you know, I have a theory that dogs lead such short lives because they take everything so much to heart.’
11. Moondog & Lindy
As a child in rural Missouri, Louis Hardin had a dog called Lindy who, he said, ‘used to howl at the moon more than any dog I know of’. Strange behaviour perhaps, but not as strange as Hardin’s own habits in later life. He took to hanging around New York’s 54th Street, dressed as a Viking and composing music under the pen name ‘Moondog’, a tribute to his former pet.
12. Henze & James
The composer Hans Werner Henze is a great lover of all things English. In the 1990s, he owned a dog called James. Despite being German himself, and despite the fact that both he and James lived in Italy, he always talked to the dog in English.
13. Crumb & Yoda
When it comes to expressing affection for one’s pets in music, George Crumb has few peers. In Mundus Canis (A Dog’s World), a 1998 suite for guitar and percussion, the American gives a series of musical portraits of the dogs his family has owned. In the last movement we meet Yoda, ‘a fluffy-white animal of mixed parentage and mercurial temperament’.
The music scurries along with the tempo indication prestissimo possible, then suddenly stops and the guiro player (a role Crumb often takes himself in performance) points his stick at the audience and says in a stern voice ‘Bad dog!’ Quite rightly, Yoda himself appears on the cover of Bad Dog! A Portrait of Crumb, released on DVD last year.
14. Adams & Eloise
Crumb’s compatriot and contemporary John Adams doesn’t much like dog shows. He often ends up at them though, because his wife exhibits Pointers. In a blog entry, Adams writes that he has just driven their dog Eloise to a show, where he was relieved to entrust her to his wife:
‘I’m grateful to hand over Eloise because I’m outta baggies, and I am deathly afraid she’s going to do another poop in front of hundreds of professional dog people.’ How lovely.
15. Laurie Anderson & Lollabell
And finally, let’s not forget the experimental US composer Laurie Anderson. In June 2010, Anderson and her husband, the rock star Lou Reed, staged a concert on the steps of Sydney Opera House exclusively for dogs (watch below). In line with the tastes of their target audience, the music was performed at very high pitch. Although the composers themselves had difficulty hearing it, they were able to take expert advice from Lollabelle, Anderson’s Rat Terrier.
– Gavin Dixon
Illustration: David Lyttleton