Music and Mortality: Classical Composers Who Died Young
Classical music is well-known for its prodigies. Everybody knows that Mozart was composing music before he could wipe his own nose. Chopin had achieved notoriety by his teenage years. A case could be made that Mendelssohn was the most successful prodigy in classical music, as measured by early works that have actually remained in the concert repertoire.
It is a little surprising, in turn, just how many of classical music's great composers have died at a relatively young age (making their early start all the more important). The tally includes many of the masters: Mozart, Chopin, Schubert, Mendelssohn, and others. Check out the list, and consider how much these musicians accomplished before reaching age 40:
The List: Composers Who Died Before Age 40
Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835). Enduring works: Norma, numerous other operas. Age at death: 33.
Georges Bizet (1838-1875). Enduring works: Carmen, numerous other operas. Age at death: 36.
Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849). Enduring works: Piano works–sonatas, waltzes, preludes, ballades, etc. Age at death: 39.
George Gershwin (1898-1937). Enduring works: Porgy and Bess, Rhapsody in Blue, Three Preludes, An American in Paris, Piano Concerto in F, Broadway musicals, songs. Age at death: 38.
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847). Enduring works: Overture to Midsummer Night's Dream, string quartets, Symphonies 1-5, The Hebrides, Violin Concerto, Elijah, "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," Lieder ohne Worte, songs, organ sonatas, etc. Age at death: 38.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). The Magic Flute, Don Giovanni, The Marriage of Figaro, other operas, piano concertos, violin concertos, string quartets, Requiem, etc. Age at death: 35.
Otto Nicolai (1810-1849). Enduring works: The Merry Wives of Windsor. Age at death: 38.
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736). Enduring works: La Serva Pedrona, other early comic operas, Stabat Mater. Age at death: 26.
Henry Purcell (1659-1695). Enduring works: Dido and Aeneas, The Fairy-Queen, odes, cantatas, etc. Age at death: 36.
Franz Schubert (1797-1828). Enduring works: Symphonies 1-9, 600 lieder, chamber music. Age at death: 31.
Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826). Enduring works: Der Freischütz, Euryanthe, Oberon, various concertos. Age at death: 39.
Source: Herbert Kupferberg, The Book of Classical Music Lists.
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