Top 10 classical Mothers (Mother's Day special)

Gotta love those musical mums. Celebrate Mother's Day in style with Sutherland, Domingo, Gigli and more.

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10. Dvorák: Songs My Mother Taught Me

This cherished piece from Dvorák's Gypsy Songs cycle is a lyrical hommage to the passing of tradition from mother to child. Here it is performed by Dame Joan Sutherland in English translation:

Songs my mother taught me,
In the days long vanished;
Seldom from her eyelids
Were the teardrops banished.

Now I teach my children,
Each melodious measure.
Oft the tears are flowing,
Oft they flow from my memory's treasure.

9. Mamma - Beniamino Gigli

No-one does musical mothers quite like the Italians.

Here the great Italian tenor Beniamino Gigli proves he is the ultimate mummy's boy in this classic performance of Bixio's sentimental favourite from 1940.

And for those wanting the English translation:

Mamma, I am so happy to return to you.

My song tells you that this is the most beautiful dream for me!

Mamma, I’m so happy…Why do I live so far away?

Mamma, my song is flying only for you.

Mamma, you will be with me, you will not be alone.

How much I love you!

These words my heart sighs are maybe out of fashion.

Mamma! But you are my most beautiful song!

You are my life and I will never leave you!

I feel that your tired hand is seeking my fair curls.

I hear your old  lullaby.

I want to hug your white hair, today.


8. My Yiddishe Momme

Running the Italian mother a close race has to be the Jewish mother.

Jack Yellen and Lew Pollack's timeless Yiddish tribute to mothers was first sang by Sophie Tucker in 1925 after the death of her own mother. It has been performed in countless arrangements, but few as moving as violinist Itzahk Perlman's.

And if you want to know the thoughts passing through Mr Perlman's mind as he plays, these are the lyrics:

Of things I should be thankful for I've had a goodly share

And as I sit here in the comfort of my cosy chair

My fancy takes me to a humble eastside tenement

Three flights up in the rear to where my childhood days were spent

It wasn't much like Paradise but 'mid the dirt and all

There sat the sweetest angel, one that I fondly call


My yiddishe momme I need her more then ever now

My yiddishe momme I'd like to kiss that wrinkled brow

I long to hold her hands once more as in days gone by

And ask her to forgive me for things I did that made her cry

How few were her pleasures, she never cared for fashion's styles

Her jewels and treasures she found them in her baby's smiles

Oh I know that I owe what I am today

To that dear little lady so old and gray

To that wonderful yiddishe momme of mine.


7. Schumann: Frauenliebe und Leben

This beautiful lied from Schumann's feminist song cycle Frauenliebe und leben (A Woman's Life and Love) relates the joys of motherhood from a woman's perspective.

In An meinem Herzen, an meiner Brust (At My Heart, At My Breast) a young mother rocks her newborn to sleep. Here it is sung by the legendary Lotte Lehmann.

The English text goes as follows:

At my heart, at my breast,

thou my rapture, my happiness!

The joy is the love, the love is the joy,

I have said it, and won't take it back.

I've thought myself rapturous,

but now I'm happy beyond that.

Only she that suckles, only she that loves

the child, to whom she gives nourishment;

Only a mother knows alone

what it is to love and be happy.

O how I pity then the man

who cannot feel a mother's joy!

At my heart, at my breast,

thou my rapture, my happiness!


6. Paul Carr: Requiem for an Angel

As in the fifth movement of Brahms' German Requiem, the recent Requiem to an Angel by Paul Carr (b 1961) is closely associated with the death of his mother.

The Cornwall-born composer completed the work shortly after his mother, Australian soprano Una Hale (1922-2005), passed away.

She is the "angel" to whom the requiem is dedicated.

5. Gustav Mahler: Wenn dein Mütterlein (from Kindertotenlieder)

The Kindertotenlieder poems were written by Friedrich Rückert in reaction to the premature death of his children. Mahler selected five of Rückert's poems, which he set between 1901 and 1904. The songs reflect a mother’s feelings of anguish but ultimately the idea that death is powerful, yet love is even stronger. In this powerful performance, the incomparable Dame Janet Baker sings the third song:

When your mother steps through the door

And I turn my head to see her, falling on her face

My gaze does not first fall, but at the place

Nearer the doorstep, there, where your dear little face would be,

When you with bright joy step inside,

As you used to, my little daughter.


When your mother steps in through the door

With the glowing candle, it seems to me, always

You came in too, hurrying behind her,

As you used to come into the room.

Oh you, of a father's cell, ah, too soon extinguished light!

4. Puccini: Senza Mamma from Suor Angelica

Suor Angelica is the second part of Il Trittico, Puccini’s collection of three one-act operas that premiered in 1918.

It’s a painful tale and its heroine ranks as one of opera’s saddest but most affecting mothers. Angelica is a young woman from a noble family who has given birth to a child out of wedlock, and who has been sent to a convent. Seven years pass before her aunt, a harsh minded princess, comes to get Angelica to sign a legal document assigning her rights in the family estate to her younger sister, who is getting married. When Angelica asks about her child, the aunt tells her it has died. It is at this point that Angelica sings the radiant aria Senza mamma, tu sei morto (You died without your mother), and takes poison, to join her baby in Heaven.

In this memorable performance Angelica is sung by Renata Scotto.

3. Shostakovich: Lullaby (From Jewish Folk Poetry)

Back to the good old Jewish mother, this time a Russian take. Shostakovich’s 1948 song cycle for soprano, mezzo-soprano and tenor uses texts taken from a collection Jewish folk songs.

A combination of Shostakovich's denunciation in the Zhdanov decree and the anti-Semitism of the time made a public premiere impossible until 1955. One of many works by Shostakovich to incorporate elements of Jewish music, he was attracted, so he said, by “a jolly melody with sad intonations”.

No 3, a lullaby from mother to baby is sung here by Elisabeth Söderström and translates as follows:

My sonny is the best in the world –

The light in the darkness.

Your father is in Siberia, chained,

the Tsar keeps him in prison there. Sleep tight, lu-lu, lu-lu.

Rocking your cradle,

Mummy sheds tears.

Growing up, you’ll understand How her heart aches.

Your father is in far Siberia, l’m here in need. Meanwhile, sleep sweetly, Ah lu-lu, lu-lu.

My sorrow is blacker than night, Sleep while l’m awake.

Sleep my darling, sleep my sonny, Ah lu-lu, lu-lu.

2. Giordano: La Mamma Morta from Andrea Chénier

La Mamma Morta (They killed my mother) comes from Umberto Giordano’s 1896 opera Andrea Chénier. The singer is Maddalena di Coigny who is telling Gérard, one of the rivals for her love, how she was orphaned when her mother was killed protecting her during the upheavals of the French Revolution.

The aria is a spinto soprano favourite. Maria Callas’ version played an important role in the movie Philadelphia where it was used to symbolise the power of love and the strength inherent in the family.

Ironically Callas had a particularly difficult relationship with her own mother and was best known for portraying mothers who either kill their own children (Medea) or considerer it (Norma).

1. Mascagni: Mamma quel vino e generoso from Cavalleria Rusticana

Back to the good old Italian Mamma and this time it’s Mamma Lucia from Mascagni’s 1890 blockbuster Cavalleria Rusticana.

Poor old Mamma Lucia is mother to the duplicitous Turiddu who has been having an affair with Lola, wife of the local carter, Alfio. Turridu’s former girlfriend, Santuzza reveals all in a jealous rage and Alfio challenges Turridu to to a knife fight. Alone with his mother, Turiddu thanks her for the wine and begs her to take care of Santuzza if he doesn’t come back.

His parting words, as sung here by Plácido Domingo, encapsulate what everyone wants to say to their mother on Mother’s Day: Un bacio, mamma! Un altro bacio! – Addio! – “One kiss, mother! One more kiss! - Farewell!”.

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Top 10 classical Mothers (Mother's Day special)
Gotta love those musical mothers!
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