Composers who died young. What might Mozart, Schubert and Tchaikovsky have achieved had fate not intervened and taken them from us?

Think of Mozart’s last symphonies, Schubert’s last songs and quartets and Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique …

24 thoughts on “Composers who died young. What might Mozart, Schubert and Tchaikovsky have achieved had fate not intervened and taken them from us?

  1. Geoff Burke

    H.C. Robbins Landon rightly described the loss of Mozart – “the last month of the year 1791 witnessed the greatest tragedy in the history of music – the premature death of the 35-year-old Mozart” Indeed.

    Like

    1. Guy Rickards writes “Composers who stop evolving their musical style early don’t necessarily want or need to die. Who knows what Mozart might have achieved had he lived? Perhaps he would have continued to evolve, as Bach, Haydn and Beethoven did through middle age, perhaps he’d have stopped, not unlike Bruch. Did not stop Bruch writing copiously (and well), though!”

      Like

      1. Louis Mander writes “this is always a non hypothesis for me, the creative impulse is locked into the soul’s journey. Mozart was never going to live any longer than 35 years in my philosophy. You can hear the waning of the desire to live in the last pieces, that evolution of the compositional voice becomes valedictory and has nowhere left to evolve. “

        Like

    2. I’m tempted to add Schubert as a parallel tragedy Geoff. The ‘late’ G major Quartet and A major Piano Sonata are the works that always set me thinking – they played with half lights, stabbed at the air (especially at the centre of the two slow movements), questioned. I often imagine a ‘Schubert beyond’ … and do you know where I end up (oddly)? Late Bruckner!

      Like

  2. Gary Carpenter

    Mahler was only four years older than his close friend and colleague Richard Strauss who outlived him by 38 years. Interesting to think what Mahler might have written had he lived as long and died in, say, 1945 (assuming he survived the Nazis, that is…)

    Like

  3. Longinus

    These counterfactuals are unanswerable. No-one has the faintest idea what 65-year-old Mozart might have been doing. Maybe, like Rossini (and Sibelius), he would have shut up for the last 30 years of his life. The one thing we might profitably speculate on is the effect on Mozart and Schubert of middle and late Beethoven, who clearly dictated the agenda for most 19th century composers. Surely Mozart would have been astonished and perhaps nonplussed by the 3rd-9th symphonies. Also, when Haydn wrote the 1st movement of Op 76 no. 2 (which always seems to me the acme of the classical style), Mozart had been dead for 5 years. And it is impossible to imagine how Schubert could have advanced from the slow movement of the G major quartet without turning into Janacek.

    Like

    1. Geoff Burke

      I don’t think it is beyond the bounds of possibility to imagine Mozart taking the symphony further after the Jupiter had he lived on. Perhaps lucky for Beethoven that an opportunity arose to make his mark, though let us not forget the enormous strides made by Mozart with the the last 4 symphonies, Dm and Cm piano concertos, Gm string quintet etc. etc.. It’s pretty certain that Mozart, had he lived, could have created something as groundbreaking as the Eroica, after all he had done it before…

      Like

      1. Longinus

        But aren’t those late Mozart works more in the nature of extreme refinements of a style he’d (almost) perfected during the K4xxs (forgive the shorthand)? Often employing a major/minor chromaticism which increases their poignancy without expanding the form, let alone breaking the mould. For example, I can’t really hear the 27th piano concerto as being on another plane from numbers 17 or 21- except in terms of a feeling of greater sophistication. La Clemenza di Tito isn’t an advance on Don Giovanni (quite the contrary, I feel). I agree the Jupiter is a step forward in terms of richness and amplitude (and counterpoint), but I don’t see it as radically different from the Prague. I’m not claiming any superiority for Beethoven in writing the Eroica, but I just can’t see Mozart doing anything like it, even had he lived longer. It might be interesting to think of Dussek as a contrast – someone who absorbed many of the ideas which inspired Beethoven, and who wrote some pretty radical piano sonatas (e.g. the F sharp minor). I’d say the difference between Beethoven and Dussek on the one hand, and Mozart on the other, is to do with rhetoric – both B & D were quite open to a shift in rhetorical style which is cruder, more powerful and (in Beethoven’s case) capable of a huge expansion. I don’t think Mozart was that interested in that particular direction.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Hiro Takenouchi writes “Whatever we think, Mozart certainly wasn’t planning to die that young! I recorded the audio for the “virtual book” of his own thematic catalogue held at the British Library (you can access this from here http://www.bl.uk/turning-the-pages… ). What you cannot see here is that in the last portion of this notebook, which he was not able to fill, he put further dates like “179_” and empty rows pages after pages to be completed later.’

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Geoff Burke

      I think it is inconceivable to think that Mozart would not have broken new ground in later years, and like Beethoven, explored the creative possibilities beyond the classical forms with which he was working. There is plenty of innovation within Mozart’s works e.g. the extraordinary early “Jeunehomme” concerto and later minor key works particularly. Hans Keller rightly points out his innovative and imaginative approach to the string quintets especially – something which many admirers of Beethoven tend to forget or ignore. .

      Like

  5. Interesting points. Turning things on their head, I was discussing the issue with my producer Chris Barstow and he made the point, regarding Haydn … if he’d been felled earlier in his career (he had indeed suffered from illness), say at the time of the Sturm und Drang symphonies and the Opp. 17/20 Quartets, most of the miracles of the Paris and London Symphonies, not to mention the late Trios, Piano Sonatas and Quartets would have been more or less inconceivable.

    Like

  6. Geoff Burke

    Good point but great a composer as Haydn undoubtedly is, he did not quite reach the heights of Mozart – no truly great opera or piano concertos for example. Mozart along with Bach and Beethoven, stand as the 3 greatest of all time no? That is not to denigrate Haydn’s immense achievements or influence. Haydn described Mozart on hearing of his death as “a meteor” and I for one would concur with that. Incidentally I would place Bach and Mozart slightly above Beethoven but that’s just my opinion naturally Rob.

    Like

  7. Geoff Burke

    Wagner gosh Rob – definitely top opera composer with Mozart and Verdi and hugely influential in Western art and music, but as great as the aforementioned trinity – not so sure. A really good and slightly contentious statement no doubt – but are you being a tad mischievous though adding RW to this esteemed list?

    Like

    1. Not really Geoff. The third act of Tristan flies way beyond the realms of opera, even music drama: its harmonic drift is light years ahead of its time and the heat it generates remains unequalled by anything else in the realms of theatre music.
      Also the Act 1 ‘Transformation Scene’ from Parsifal – just fabulous. Many years ago I had a dream that I was on the beach with Wagner (!). He confessed that he was working on his very last piece, an orchestral essay called ‘The Final Colour’. The idea haunted me for weeks afterwards.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Geoff Burke

        I know what you mean, I too was taken when I first heard Parsifal which I believe to be the culmination of his work and an experience unique in music. My thoughts though are that to place RW alongside the “Trinity” lacks some credibility if only due to the creative limitations RW placed on himself largely working within one genre i.e. opera.

        Like

      2. that Parsifal ‘Transformation’ scene has one of the most uplifting harmonic sequences in all music. It stopped me in my tracks the first time I encountered it. Unusual for Wagner, his melodic content often doesn’t need harmonic back-up, it’s all there in the very narrative tunes, but in this section the strings aid the development of the initially slight-sounding motif. I must have played it through fifty times that afternoon. Astonishing, ‘human’ timespace, which like much of Bach lifts itself out of its ‘music’ format and becomes something almost ‘human’. It is those human qualities, things quite apart from and beyond music, which means Wagner can be included. The mercury-like orchestration in that particular build is sublime.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s