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Late-blooming composers
In our June issue prodigies take centre stage as we name the ten best child composers. But who
were the composers who bided their time and produced their masterpieces in later life? Rebecca
Franks finds out
Fri, 2009-05-15 10:28

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Leos Janek (1854-1928)


An organist and schoolteacher by trade, Janeks first piece Exaudi was published when he was
22. But it wasnt until the Prague premiere of his opera Jenfa in 1916 that Janek, then 62, began
to establish his reputation.
In the final decade of his life the Moravian-born composer penned some of his most enduring and
inventive masterpieces, including the Sinfonietta and the Glagolitic Mass.
Crucial to Janek's late burst of creativity was his passionate but unrequited love for Kamila
Stosslova, a married woman 35 years his junior. Janek's infatuation with Stosslova, whom he met
in 1917, found its expression in the strong female characters in his final three operas.

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Late masterpiece:
Sinfonietta (1926)

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Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)


Like Janek, Bruckner began his career as an organist and schoolteacher. One of Europes finest
organists, he held a post at the renowned St Florian Cathedral in Linz, Austria, where as a church
composer he wrote his first works.

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From the start of his working life, Bruckner studied theory and composition alongside his
professional duties.
But it wasnt until he heard a performance of Wagners Tannhuser in 1863 that he felt liberated from
the compositional rules he had studied so laboriously. Bruckner began to write symphonies on a
Wagnerian scale and his massive orchestral edifices, rooted in his devout Catholicism, remain
masterpieces in the canon.
Late masterpieces:
Symphonies Nos 1-9

Emmanuel Chabrier (1841-1894)


Another composer who took wing after hearing Wagner was Emmanuel Chabrier. Though a gifted
amateur pianist, as a young man Chabrier didnt consider the idea of becoming a professional
musician.

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Instead he took a post in the civil service and surrounded himself with a circle of artistic friends that
included many Impressionist painters.
Then in 1879 his friend the composer Henri Duparc took him to hear Tristan und Isolde in Munich.
Chabrier, profoundly moved, quit his job and turned to full-time composing. His Dix pices
pittoresques, hugely admired by Ravel and Poulenc, and his ever-popular orchestral rhapsody
Espaa, date from this first flush of inspiration.

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Late masterpieces:
Dix pices pittoresques (1881); Espaa (1883)

Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)


When his opera Aida was premiered in 1871, Verdi was 58. With 26 operas behind him he at that
point lay down his operatic pen and turned his attention to revising earlier works and composing the
Requiem.
But eight years later Verdis thoughts turned back to opera and he began sketching ideas for Otello.
He finished the work, based on Shakespeares play, when he was 73 and it was an instant success.
Verdi soon began to compose another Shakespearian-inspired work, Falstaff and in his 80th year,
his final, comic masterpiece was first heard.

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Late masterpieces:
Otello (1886); Falstaff (1893)

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Elliott Carter (1908-)


With his 101st birthday at the end of the year, this American composer lays
claim to being one of the worlds oldest working composers. Carter initially
studied English and maths at Harvard before the encouragement of the
composer Charles Ives convinced him to head to Paris to study with Nadia
Boulanger.
On his return to America, Carter began to make his mark, winning the
Pulitzer Prize in 1960 for his Second String Quartet, and writing the Double
Concerto hailed by Stravinsky as an American masterpiece.

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Carters last decade has been exceptionally fruitful. Premieres include


Interventions, Dialogues for piano and large ensemble, Three Illusions for
Orchestra; in 2007 alone he wrote seven new pieces. And after his 90th
birthday Carter wrote his first opera a work called What Next?

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Late masterpieces:
Interventions (2008); Dialogues for piano and large ensemble (2003); Three Illusions for Orchestra
(2004); What Next? (1999)
To find out which composers were the greatest child prodigies, take a look at our June issue. And let
us know your thoughts by voting in our poll.

The art of the impromptu


Submitted by GUEST BLOGGER

Thu Nov 20, 2014


Polish Pianist Tomasz Lis assesses
the impact on the genre of Schubert,
Chopin and Faur
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Audio clip: Janek: Sinfonietta Fanfares (BBC Music Magazine Cover Disc, February 2009)

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