Arts Blog

A Mighty Chinful: Great Moments in Composer Facial Hair

In celebration of World Beard Day (observed every year on the first Saturday of September), Warren Black, your morning host at All Classical, felt it was time for a retrospective on some great moments in composers’ facial hair. That’s why he teamed up with Emma Riggle, All Classical’s Music Researcher, to assemble this chronological gallery of fine classical beards, bristles, ‘staches, mutton (and/or lamb) chops and more. Here is their hail to the laudably hirsute mugs of music history, with something for pogonophiles everywhere. 

Michael Praetorius Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Michael Praetorius

The Van Dyke beard (both a moustache and goatee with all hair on the cheeks shaved) gets its name from the 17th-century Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641). We would like to point out that composer, organist and music theorist Michael Pretorius was rocking the look before van Dyck was even born. Sometimes that’s the way the cookie duster crumbles. 

William Byrd Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

William Byrd

For pure pointiness, it’s difficult to beat that preeminent composer of the English Renaissance, William Byrd. Truly, this beard is the definition of “on point.” 

Heinrich Schütz Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Heinrich Schütz

The grandfather of the German Baroque, and the proprietor of one of music’s longest goatees: we present Heinrich Schütz, painted by Christoph Spätner, c. 1660. His facial follicles, combined with his devastating side-eye, made him a force to be reckoned with. 

Johann Hermann Schein Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Johann Hermann Schein

This German Baroque composer sports a respectable beard, but if we’re honest, it’s what’s going on up top that led to his unanimous inclusion in this gallery. 

Samuel Scheidt Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Samuel Scheidt

Knowing how to accessorize your chin whiskers can take your look to the next level, as demonstrated by German Baroque composer Samuel Scheidt. Not only was he an expert on organ construction, he was expert at deploying the renaissance ruff collar to dashing effect. 

Engelbert Humperdinck Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Engelbert Humperdinck

The German composer of Hänsel und Gretel sported this lengthily mustachioed style in 1854. (Arnold George Dorsey, the Welsh pop singer who took the stage name Engelbert Humperdinck in the mid-1960s, was more known for his sideburns than his beard.) 

Jose White Lafitte Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

José White Lafitte

In this 1857 photograph, the Cuban-French violinist and composer sports a moustache that looks sharp in more senses than one. Best be alert if he swoops in for a smooch!

Cesar Franck Image courtesy of New York Public Library Digital Collections.

César Franck

For the mutton chop aficionados among us, we offer this delightful portrait of nineteenth-century Belgian composer César Franck. We hope those chops kept his neck toasty while he played the organ at the undoubtedly drafty Basilica of St. Clotilde in Paris. 

The Mighty Handful

Christened the “Mighty Handful” in a 1867 music review by Vladimir Stasov, these five Russian composers made an inestimable contribution to nationalism in Russian music. They also made an inestimable contribution to facial hair, which earned a team entry in this gallery. Go Team Whisker!

Mily Balakirev

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Mily Balakirev was the group’s musical mentor, and judging from this portrait, possibly also their grooming mentor.

Modest Mussorgsky

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Modest Mussorgsky, the composer of Pictures at an Exhibition, exhibits a two-pronged approach sometimes referred to as a “French Fork” in this very hairy 1881 portrait by Ilya Repin.

Alexander Borodin

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In another portrait by Ilya Repin, here is Alexander Borodin, the only member of The Five who chose the moustache-only route (probably more appropriate for his day job as a doctor and organic chemist). 

Nicolai Rimsky-JKorsakov

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Going for length, here is colorful orchestrator Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, depicted in an 1898 portrait by Valentin Serov.  

Cesar Cui

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In this 1910 portrait, composer (and military general) César Cui sports a style that could be described as rectangular. Almost big enough to hide a small bird’s nest. 

Mikhail Glinka Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Mikhail Glinka

Despite their best efforts, it’s possible that none of the Mighty Handful reached the heights of bearddom achieved by the group’s musical forerunner, Mikhail Glinka. (We think Robert De Niro should play him in the biopic.) 

Juan Morel Campos Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Juan Morel Campos

Puerto Rican composer Juan Morel Campos sports a beautifully curled moustache in this late 19th-century photograph. Viva el bigote! 

Richard Wagner Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Richard Wagner

In 1882, Pierre-Auguste Renoir captured Wagner’s notorious neck-beard in this Impressionist portrait. 

Giuseppe Verdi Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Giuseppe Verdi

If you prefer Italian opera to German, and full beards to neck-beards, Giuseppe Verdi is your guy, as demonstrated bthis 1886 portrait by Italian painter Giovanni Boldoni.

Isaac Albeniz Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Isaac Albéniz

This 1888 pencil sketch by Darío de Regoyos offers a subtle impression of the Spanish composer’s fine beard. It offers a less subtle impression of Albéniz’s unibrow. 

Erik Satie Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Erik Satie

The French surrealist composer may not have reached the apex of style, but this hairy 1893 portrait by Suzanne Valadon shows that he tried. 

Strauss and Brahms Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Johannes Brahms and Johann Strauss, Jr.

Not since Thorin and Company arrived for tea at Bilbo Baggins’s green door has this much iconic facial hair been seen in one place. Photographer Rudolf Krziwanek immortalized this moment in 1894, when Johannes Brahms and Johann Strauss, Jr. posed for a double portrait on the porch of Strauss’s villa in Bad Ischl. 

Gabriel Faure Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Gabriel Fauré

This 1896 portrait by John Singer Sargent is but one of many artistic tributes to the French composer’s legendary moustache. 

Ignacio Cervantes

Ignacio Cervantes

Cuban composer Ignacio Cervantes achieved a notable degree of upswept panache in this portrait, taken circa 1900. 

Image courtesy of the University of Washington Libraries Special Collections Division.

Harry Thacker Burleigh

American composer, arranger, and baritone Harry T. Burleigh sports a distinguished moustache in this 1917 autographed portrait. 

Camille Saint-Saens Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Camille Saint-Saëns

For a classic Miracle-on-34th-Street look, it’s hard to beat this 1921 style from the French composer who brought us The Carnival of the Animals and the “Organ” Symphony. That’s one stylin’ Santa, bien sûr. 

William Grant Still

The composer of the “Afro-American” Symphony sports a beautifully detailed moustache in this 1949 portrait by Carl Van Vechten. Clark Gable had nothing on WGS! 

Arvo Part Image courtesy of Woesinger, via Wikimedia Commons.

Arvo Pärt

Lest you imagine that great composer beards are a thing of the past, we close with this contemporary classic from Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, photographed in 2008.

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Music Researcher & Archivist


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