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Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

BBC Worldwide Press Releases

Mendelssohn takes top spot as greatest child prodigy of all time. But where’s Mozart?

Felix Mendelssohn has today been crowned the greatest child prodigy of all time by a selection of 16 of the country's leading classical music critics.

In a poll carried out by BBC Music Magazine, the German composer who produced 13 string symphonies, four operas, one full-scale symphony, several concertos, chamber music, choral works and both large piano sonatas and smaller piano pieces all before the age of 18, was placed ahead of the two Austrian composers Franz Schubert and Erich Korngold, who took second and third places respectively.

Roderick Swanston, lecturer, writer and frequent broadcaster and one of contributors, commented: "Mendelssohn quickly absorbed musical styles around him and in mastering them transformed them into his own… If ever a composer deserves to be admired as a compositional prodigy, it is Mendelssohn."

Perhaps surprisingly, Mozart failed to make the critics' top ten. Stephen Johnson argues: "The first real masterpiece is the Symphony in A major, K201, composed when Mozart was 18. There are promising things from his 17th year – the solo cantata 'Exultate, jubilate', the String Quintet K174 and, most strikingly, the 'Little G' minor Symphony, K183 – but nothing comparable in originality, depth of expression or rounded mastery with Mendelssohn's Octet and Midsummer Night's Dream Overture."

Jeremy Pound, Deputy Editor of BBC Music Magazine, said: "Putting together a top 10 of the best composers under the age of 18 was a revealing experience. Two main factors decided who went in – our own assessment of the quality and quantity of the music they wrote at that age, and some strongly put arguments by our leading writers.

"Mendelssohn was always likely to be in the top slot but leaving Mozart out entirely was more controversial. Or was it? As the writer and philosopher Goethe himself said nearly 200 years ago, comparing the music that Mozart was writing as a child to Mendelssohn's at the same age is like comparing "the prattle of a child" to "the cultivated talk of a grown-up person". We think that Goethe was spot on."

Bright Young Things: the 10 greatest prodigies will be published in the June issue of BBC Music Magazine, on sale 13 May, £4.50.


BBC Music Magazine asked 16 of the country's most renowned classical music critics to name the greatest child prodigies based strictly on what the composer had completed before his 18th birthday. Based on the evidence of the number and quality of works that those recommended composers had written, including one crowning work per composer, BBC Music Magazine asked 10 of the critics to champion one composer each, and drew up a top 10 of the greatest child prodigies of all time.

BBC Music Magazine's 10 greatest child prodigies of all time are:

  1. Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
  2. Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
  3. Erich KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
  4. Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
  5. Sergey PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
  6. Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
  7. Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
  8. William CROTCH (1775-1847)
  9. Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
  10. Dmitry SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)

BBC Music Magazine is the world's best-selling classical music monthly. Covering all aspects of live events, broadcast and recordings, each issue carries a complete BBC work and provides a comprehensive and expert guide to classical music. BBC Music Magazine has a monthly circulation of 45,144 (ABC Jan-Dec 2008) and is published by BBC Magazines Bristol, a trading name of Bristol Magazines Ltd., which is a subsidiary of BBC Worldwide Ltd.

Carolyn Wray

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