I recently took in a wonderful string orchestra concert led by San Francisco Symphony Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik. The focus was on three of the greatest musical prodigies; Mozart, Mendelssohn and Britten.
Everyone is familiar with how overbearing Leopold toured his children all over Europe in search of gifts and position. Exploitation for sure, but the kids, especially young Wolfgang, were amazingly talented. Mozart wrote the Divertimento for Strings, K. 138 in 1772 (exact date unknown), around the time of his 17th birthday.
Barantschik took center stage as soloist in Mendelssohn’s Concerto in D minor for Violin and Strings, written in 1822. Mendelssohn was 13 years old at the time, already an accomplished composer/virtuoso who liked to hang out with Johann Wolfgang von Geothe; author, one of the great minds of the 18th century, and the boy’s senior by 60 years.
As a prodigy, Benjamin Britten doesn’t stack up to the other two, but he deserves to be included due to his Simple Symphony. The piece was composed, or more accurately, arranged when Britten was 20 years old, from material based on pieces that Britten wrote between the ages of 9 and 12.