Henry Purcell

1659 (London) – 1695 (London)

Purcell is generally regarded as one of the greatest English composers, and certainly the greatest of the baroque era, writing both for the church and for the theatre. He was a student – and became a great friend – of Blow, who resigned his position as organist at Westminster Abbey in Purcell’s favour; Blow was devastated at Purcell’s early death. Records of Purcell’s life are unfortunately thin on the ground, and other than his close friendship and frequent collaboration with Dryden, the extent to which he might have known others whose work he contributed music to – Behn, Shadwell, Congreve, most notably – is unknown.

Henry Purcell knew…

Georges Auric

1899 (Lodève, France) – 1983 (Paris)

The precocious Auric wrote the first ever film-score, and is still perhaps under-appreciated as a composer. As a teenager he wrote about and befriended Satie, conversed intellectually with Maritan and Bloy, had his critical opinion sought by Apollinaire and a manifesto dedicated to him by Cocteau, and got to know Picasso, Jacob, Laurencin, Stravinsky and Braque. Poulenc was an inseparable lifelong friend. Auric had Ravel as page-turner at his first Paris concert, formed a so-called jazz-band with Milhaud on violin and Cocteau on percussion, was commissioned by Diaghilev, and set words by his friends Tzara and Radiguet.

Felix Mendelssohn

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy;Felix Mendelsohn;Felix Mendelson

1809 (Hamburg, Germany) – 1847 (Leipzig)

As a child, he studied with Berger, Zelter and Bigot (Hummel also taught him). Zelter took the 12-year-old to visit Goethe, the start of a 9-year friendship, while Humboldt and Hegel were regular family visitors. Robert Schumann became a friend when Mendelssohn moved to Leipzig, where he also engaged as performers Clara Schumann (a close friend and admirer to whom he dedicated some pieces), Thalberg and Moscheles (an old family friend). He met Hiller in Paris and Berlioz in Rome, and played duets with Thorvaldsen in his studio. His friend Gade stood in for him in Leipzig, and he stayed with Attwood in London.

Fanny Mendelssohn

Fanny Mendelson;Fanny Mendelsohn

1805 (Hamburg, Germany) – 1847 (Berlin)

Her younger brother Felix had a close if not fully supportive relationship with her, thought her a better pianist, but overshadowed her. She met Berlioz, Massenet, Ingres and Gounod in Italy: Ingres played violin with her, while Gounod urged her to publish under her own name (he mentioned the fire in her eyes and her extraordinary energy). Hegel, the Humboldts, Liszt, Clara Schumann, Arnim and Paganini all attended her famous ‘Sonntagsmusiken’. She expressed contempt for Heine as a person, while setting his poetry to music. Goethe, impressed by her songs, wrote a poem for her when she was 15.

David Byrne

1952 (Dumbarton, Scotland) –

Byrne led the influential band Talking Heads, and has maintained a profile as a creative innovator with a range of explorative collaborations and other projects. Demme worked closely with him on a noted music film. Established collaborators include Eno, Sakamoto, Glass, Wilson and Veloso. He composed music for films of Wenders (who initially met him in Berlin, with Wilson), Frears and Bertolucci. He worked with Tharp, performed with Simon, found Anderson a kindred spirit, and had a relationship with Sherman. Reed advised him never to wear short-sleeve shirts on stage, given the hairiness of his arms.

David Byrne knew…

Carl Maria von Weber

1786 (nr. Lübeck, Germany) – 1826 (London)

Michael Haydn taught him as a teenager. Vogler also taught him, Meyerbeer being a fellow-student who became a lasting friend. He learned lithography from its inventor Senefelder, and ran a printing business with his father before returning to composition. He suggested that Spohr take on a post in Kassel that he himself had turned down. Mozart’s wife Constanze was his cousin. Mendelssohn, who took him for a role-model, would recognise him in the street and run over to greet him.

Bob Dylan

1941 (Duluth, Minn.) –

Dylan is widely regarded as one of the half-dozen most influential composers and performers in popular music. As a young unknown, he played harmonica for Belafonte, was taken under Spivey’s wing, learned from meeting Fuller and Carthy, and took cigarettes to the ailing Guthrie, his biggest role-model. He got a break opening for Hooker (who said they stayed up drinking and playing all night), went to a passover meal with Brando, and discussed getting married by Davis. He toured with Haggard, joked about song-writing with Cohen, swapped cassettes with Waits, and was told by Williamson he played too fast.

Bob Dylan knew…

Arnold Schoenberg

Arnold Schönberg

1874 (Vienna) – 1951 (Los Angeles)

Schoenberg was substantially self-taught, though Zemlinsky, met at age 20, was an important mentor, and Mahler considered him his protégé. He was backed by Strauss for a teaching post, while Kandinsky enthusiastically included his paintings and writings in Blaue Reiter ventures. Milhaud (who visited with Poulenc) and Varèse were strong and admiring friends. Berg, Webern, Eisler, Cage and Harrison were among his students. Mann, a Los Angeles friend, modelled a fictional composer partly on Schoenberg, leading to a famous spat. He told Brecht how a donkey taught him, and played tennis with Gershwin.

Arnold Schoenberg knew…

Phil Spector

1939 (New York) –

Spector was one of the most inventive and influential of record producers, and remains notorious for his anti-social behaviour. He learned on the job with Leiber and Stoller (co-writing ‘Spanish Harlem’ with Leiber) and then with Ertegun. As a writer he collaborated with Goffin and King and with Greenwich and Barry, the latter two providing him with the raw material for a string of hit singles. He took the young Wilson under his wing; Jagger and Richards also hung around profitably. He supposedly threatened both Lennon and Cohen at pistol-point, and attempted to exclude Cohen and Turner from work in hand.

Phil Spector knew…

Philip Glass

1937 (Baltimore, Md.) –

Glass composed some of the most notable late twentieth century music, and effectively reinvented opera. He studied with Milhaud in New York and Boulanger in Paris, where he met Serra, later helping him erect his sculptures; back in New York, they ran a removal company with Reich (a former fellow-student: as composers, they shared an ensemble). Artist friends included Close, LeWitt and Nauman. Collaborators, mostly friends, included Smith, Anderson, Ginsberg, Reggio, Tharp, Lessing, Childs, and probably most importantly, Wilson. He said Shankar (for opening his mind to non-western music) and Lessing (for her intellect) were his most valued friends.

Philip Glass knew…