Child’s play

(On music rather than language.)

On WQXR this week, Exploring Music programs on the theme “Child’s Play”, with Tuesday’s show featuring music by children. An Elgar piece written when he was 12, several very early Mozart works, of course, and the Mendelssohn Octet, written when he was 16.

On the show, from Wikipedia:

Exploring Music is an internationally syndicated radio program featuring classical music, with commentary and analysis by host Bill McGlaughlin. It is a daily, one-hour show with a single in-depth theme each week. The show, which debuted in 2003, is produced by WFMT Radio Network.

(That’s WFMT in Chicago. WQXR in New York rebroadcasts the shows in a later week.)

This particular show was program 2 in the “Child’s Play” week.

First up: Edward Elgar, at the age of 12. On Elgar, from Wikipedia:

Sir Edward William Elgar, 1st Baronet, OM, GCVO (2 June 1857 – 23 February 1934) was an English composer, many of whose works have entered the British and international classical concert repertoire. Among his best-known compositions are orchestral works including the Enigma Variations, the Pomp and Circumstance Marches, concertos for violin and cello, and two symphonies. He also composed choral works, including The Dream of Gerontius, chamber music and songs.

… Elgar began composing when still a child, and all his life he drew on his early sketchbooks for themes and inspiration. The habit of assembling his compositions, even large-scale ones, from scraps of themes jotted down randomly remained throughout his life. His early adult works included violin and piano pieces, music for the wind quintet in which he and his brother played between 1878–81, and music of many types for the Powick Asylum band. Diana McVeagh in Grove’s Dictionary finds many embryonic Elgarian touches in these pieces, but few of them are regularly played

The composer, ca. 1900:

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The Exploring Music show played parts of Elgar’s Wand of Youth suite, assembled decades later from childhood sketches. It’s very recognizably Elgar.

Then some childhood-prodigy Mozart. And the magnificent Mendelssohn Octet. From Wikipedia:

Felix Mendelssohn’s Octet in E-flat major, Op. 20, was composed in the autumn of 1825 and completed on October 15, when the composer was 16. He wrote it as a birthday gift for his friend and violin teacher Eduard Ritz (1802-1832); it was slightly revised in 1832 before the first public performance on 30 January 1836 at the Leipzig Gewandhaus. Conrad Wilson summarizes much of its reception ever since: “Its youthful verve, brilliance and perfection make it one of the miracles of nineteenth-century music.”

A photo of the beginning of the autograph manuscript:

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The whole thing runs to more than 30 minutes. There are several excellent full performances available on YouTube.

(A personal note: as my wife was in the last stages of dying, she and I selected this warm wonderful Mendelssohn to soothe her final moments (and mine as I sat with her). So it has special meaning for me. But imagine producing this at the age of 16!)

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