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Debussy

Claude Achille DEBUSSY: 1862 – 1918 (French)

Debussy saw himself as a very French musician, he was friendly with many of the impressionist painters, which resulted in his work having an ‘impressionist’ tag. Hence, he was not really doing an impression of anyone, he was an innovator whose musical style paved the way for other 20th century composers. His lover, Gaby shot herself when he ended their relationship to set up home with his first wife, namely Rosalie, however Gaby survived her suicide attempt. Five years later he left Rosalie for his second wife. Just like Gaby, Rosalie shot herself and she too, lived to tell the tale.

Beethoven

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN: 1770 – 1827 (German)

Considered the last of the great classical composers and the first of the modern romantic composers. Tough life, often beaten by his alcoholic father and settled in Vienna by the age of 22 having had instruction from Mozart. Unlucky in love, he never married and severely tried by the behavior of a nephew who was his ward. He started going deaf in his thirties and later in life had to rely on visitors writing what they had to say in his conservation book. In his frantic efforts to hear his own playing he wrecked his Graf piano, however he combined that unique power to feel both passionately and tenderly, thereby harnessing the mastery of his musical resources to express his feelings in the most direct and vivid way.

Chopin

Frederic Francois CHOPIN: 1810- 1849 (Polish)

Only son, (Godson of Count Skarbek), his father was first an accounts clerk, then a teacher in Warsaw. His mother was an eccentric violinist of Bohemian origin, Chopin died of tuberculosis in 1849 aged 39. Some would say he was a little obsessive about tinkling the ivories, writing no fewer than 169 different pieces for solo piano. In fact the piano was part of him, his other self and in a large measure self-taught. He enjoyed the pleasure of cultured companionship and the vibrant music of the peasantry, apart from the time he spent in Majorca with George Sand and her children, when he found the local peasantry unbearable. His last public appearance was in London, at the Polish Ball on November 16th. 1848, which was a sad event and ignored by the press. When dying a generous Scottish friend, Miss Stirling sent him a thousand pounds.

Puccini

Giacomo PUCCINI: 1858 – 1924 (Italian)

Born into a musical family and committed to the Christian traditions, Puccini was church organist and choir director until he was inspired to become a composer of operas when he heard a performance of Verdi’s “Aida”. Madame Butterfly (1904), sadly was greeted with a huge amount of hostility, predominantly created by his jealous rivals but, after some reworking, became another of his most successful operas. Giacomo Puccini died in Brussels on November 29th 1924 from throat cancer. He was 65 years, 11 months and 7 days old when he died. Puccini’s father died when he was 6 years old. Puccini was attracted to women and they to him. Soon after the production of Le villi, his mother died and the distraught composer turned to a married woman, Elvira Bontini Gemignani, to whom he had given piano lessons. Soon they were deep in an affair, and she left her husband and their two children to live with Puccini. They had a son together (Tonio), but could not marry because divorce was impossible in Italy. The day after Puccini’s automobile accident, Elvira’s husband died, and now she was free to marry, and they did, but there is some indication Puccini may have been coerced into the marriage. It was all very secret; no banns were read, and they were married at 22.00hrs in a chapel with covered windows so no light could be seen. Their relationship was stormy throughout their life together.

Vivaldi

Antonio VIVALDI: 1678 – 1741 (Italian)

Amazingly, although Vivaldi wrote over 800 different works, his music was never appreciated or played from his death through to the mid 20th century. To date Vivaldi is placed near the top of the list for most performed baroque composers. His father was a barber and a talented violinist. Vivaldi was nicknamed il Prete Rosso (The Red Priest’), and was a Venetian priest and Baroque music composer, needless to say a famous virtuoso violinist. The Four Seasons is a series of four violin concerti – and is considered his best known work. Not so well known is the fact that most of his repertoire was re-discovered mid 20th century in Turin and Genoa, and was only published in the second half. Vivaldi’s music is inspiring, and very much individual. Despite his Godly status, he is alleged to have had many love affairs, one of which was with the singer Anna Giraud. Sadly, Vivaldi’s life ended in poverty and was given an unmarked pauper’s grave.

Pachelbel

Johann PACHELBEL: 1653 – 1706 (German)

Known for the famous Pachelbel’s Canon, he has a good number of secular and sacred compositions that are equally good, highly respected as a musician and teacher in his youth. Born in Nuremberg in August 1653; the exact date is not known, although he was baptised on 1 September 1653, and his father was a tinsmith. In 1669, when he was 15, Johann Pachelbel went to study at the University of Altdorf. Unfortunately, his family were not well-off, he had to pay for his tuition by working as an organist at the nearby Lorenzkirche, and sadly lack of money forced him to drop out twelve months later. This was a real blow, but Pachelbel was able to continue his studies with a scholarship to a school in Regensburg. He proved to be such an excellent student that the school arranged for him to have private music lessons with Kaspar Prentz. Whilst in Erfurt, Pachelbel met and married, on 25 October 1681, a lady called Barbara Gabler. They had a son two years later and life was on the up. Then, in September of 1683, a plague epidemic swept through Erfurt and Pachebel lost his wife and child. The tragedy affected him deeply and led to the composition that same year of the Musicalische Sterbens-Gedancken or Musical Thoughts of Death, four sets of choral variations that form an important part of his compositions. Pachebel remarried three years later, on 24 August 1684, and this time around found domestic bliss. He and his second wife, Judith Drommer, raised seven children, five sons and two daughters. It was a highly creative family. Two of the sons became organists like Pachelbel, the eldest eventually succeeding his father’s position at Nuremberg and serving there for over thirty years. Another son took up a career as an instrument maker and a daughter became a well-known artist and printmaker. Pachelbel died on 3 March 1706 and was buried six days later in Nuremberg.