Classical Chat: With age and experience comes brilliance

Elliott Carter
Elliott Carter
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Previously Classical Chat delved into the cult of youth to explore masterpieces written at terrifyingly young ages.


But classical music has a place for age and experience as well. And there’s no better illustration than this selection of brilliant veterans.

Related: All the brilliance of youth

Composers do not always get to continue penning music until a great age. Many were cut down comparatively in their prime, and some have simply gone into early retirement.

But some of those who have written into their sunset years have found themselves able to compose rich pieces full of a lifetime’s accumulated knowledge and experience.

Here are a few who proved age was no barrier:

Janacek – Sinfonietta: Janacek produced a stream of wonderful music in his last 10 years, inspired by his obsession for a married woman half his age. He was in his 70s when he wrote this spectacular orchestral celebration of Czech culture, which opens and closes with huge fanfares inspired by military bands.

Bruckner – Symphony No.9: The Austrian composer was another who did not go gentle into that good night. His final orchestral work, which he was working on at his death, shows him writing darker, more powerful, more radical music than ever.

Verdi – Falstaff: The Italian’s farewell to the opera stage captures all the autumnal bittersweetness as well as the comedy of Shakespeare, set to clever and brilliantly pictorial music which particularly displays his gift for ensemble writing.

Leo Ornstein – Piano Sonata No.8: Ornstein, who lived to the incredible age of 106, wrote this at 94. At the time this was the oldest anyone had penned a classical work.

Elliott Carter – Two Controversies and a Conversation: The US modernist wrote more than 40 works after he turned 90 and 20 after turning 100. Amazingly, he finished this intricate , rhythmic web of a double concerto for percussion and piano aged 103!