Classical Chat: All the brilliance of youth

Franz Schubert
Franz Schubert
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The child prodigy, brimming with freakish talented at such an early age, has proved an irresistible image in classical music's history.


The history of the art teems with youngsters with incredible brilliance.

Related: Chamber pieces are music by numbers

It might be Saint-Saens, composing aged three, giving concerts aged eight and offering to play Beethoven piano sonatas from memory in his school-age years.

It might be Mozart, wowing the courts of Europe and in full composing flow aged eight (though, at the risk of sounding controversial, he actually wrote few of his many masterpieces as a boy).

There are also a number of absolutely first-rate pieces written by quite extraordinarily youthful composers.

Here’s a round-up of classical music’s talented teens and pre-teens:

Schubert – Gretchen am Spinnrade. Where on earth did the 17-year-old Schubert get the knowledge of mature female passion displayed in this song? The three-minute psychodrama depicts Gretchen brooding on her love for Faust while the piano mimicks the turning, starting and stopping of her spinning wheel.

Mendelssohn – Piano Quartet No.3: Completed when he was barely 16, this work displays all of Mendelssohn’s brilliant craftmanship and is also possessed of impressive theatricality and drama.

Bizet – Symphony in C. Sometimes described as a French Schubert orchestral work, this gorgeously melodic piece written at 17 remains the highlight of Bizet’s instrumental output.

Korngold – Gold. Incredibly, Korngold completed this cantata aged nine and Mahler, proclaimed the boy a genius. Korngold went on to grace the concert hall and Hollywood.

Julian Scriabin – Four Preludes. The son of composer Alexander Scriabin, these piano pieces already show incredible knowledge of his father’s complex mature style. Tragically, he died aged 11.