[Note: This post has been updated (6) as of 6:28 AM Eastern on 13 Aug 2006. See below.]
I just watched a 60 Minutes piece on 12-year-old musical prodigy, composer Jay Greenberg. This is the first time I've heard the name, and the 60 Minutes piece allowed us to hear but a couple 30-second sound bites of his symphonic music (very 19th-century Brahmsian, and gorgeous). The kid sees and hears his compositions the way Mozart did his in his head, complete and simply copies them out when he feels ready. On lightning-brief acquaintance, this kid appears to me to be the Real Deal (I refuse to so much as even entertain the thought that it may just be wishful thinking on my part).
God (or Whatever), Greenberg's gift, and his own confidence in that gift, protect him from falling into the clutches of "New Music" academics and his less gifted (or no-talent) New Music peers, or, rather, near-peers (in respect of age), who absent that protection might succeed in persuading him he's writing his music in a dead language (i.e., the "dead language" of tonality), and ought to instead compose in a language more this-century. If Greenberg resists, perhaps this century will find in him a composer of genius the likes of which has not been seen since Mozart or Mendelssohn.
Update (5:18 PM Eastern on 29 Nov): Music critic, composer, and weblogger Steve Hicken of Listen comments. I wish only to point out to Mr. Hicken that his rhetorical hypothetical ("What would happen if a composer were to arrive on the scene who wrote in the style of (say) Mozart, with as much skill and invention? Would s/he be 'accepted'?) is somewhat off-point (OK, way off-point). Clearly, a composer of genuine gift could today write essentially tonal music without it being in the least "in the style" of any pre-21st-century tonal composer. Writing in an essentially tonal musical language does not in any way even so much as imply a copycatting of the style of one's tonal predecessors.
Update (7:02 PM Eastern on 29 Nov): Composer and weblogger Marcus Maroney of Sounds Like New comments. He writes, in part:
A.C. Douglas gushes: "[P]erhaps this century will find in him [Jay Greenberg] a composer of genius the likes of which has not been seen since Mozart or Mendelssohn." Hm. I doubt either of them would have done something as irresponsible as quoting a chant [in Greenberg's composition, Overture to 9/11] without first finding out the meaning of its text, even at the age of 12.
I would first point out to Mr. Maroney that Greenberg was 10, not 12, when he wrote his Overture to 9/11 (to which I just listened). That two-year difference is hardly a quibble at that age. I would also point out to Mr. Maroney that Greenberg's being intellectually "irresponsible" on the matter of his not being sure of the exact translation of the Latin Dies Irae (not the meaning of the text, which he understood as a 10-year-old, and not its musical import, which he understood as a musical genius) is beside the point way beside the point.
Update (9:59 PM Eastern on 29 Nov): In respect of Mr. Maroney's comments, I should have also pointed out that in any direct comparison musically with Mozart at the same age, it should be remembered that Greenberg didn't have the huge advantage (musically) of a Leopold every minute at his side from Day One, nor did he have the advantage of living in a culture where fine music was admired and cultivated, and almost part of the very air one breathed, so to speak.
Update (1:20 AM Eastern on 30 Nov): I've just finished listening to Greenberg's Overture to 9/11 for the fifth time, and the work is nothing short of astonishing coming from a ten-year-old. A dark, brooding, post-Wagnerian tableau, it's orchestrated as if by the hand of a seasoned practitioner, its harmonic and melodic sophistication remarkable even for a composer twice Greenberg's age and ten times his training and experience. In brief, and all things considered, it's a simply breathtaking accomplishment.
Update (9:40 PM Eastern on 30 Nov): Composer and weblogger Marcus Maroney of Sounds Like New responds to my above updates.. He writes:
Actually, we're both wrong. He [Greenberg] was 11 when he composed it [Overture to 9/11].
Actually we're not. Mr. Maroney is again. Greenberg was 11 when the work premiered. He was, as I've already noted, 10 when he wrote it (he's now 12).
As for comparing [Greenberg] to Mozart, I remembered Mr. Douglas' qualifications entirely, but find them a moot point.
It's difficult to imagine my two directly spot-on points on this matter as in any way being "moot," but Mr. Maroney is, of course, certainly free to so consider them.
Is the Dies irae at all appropriate in conjunction with 9/11 unless one thinks that the victims were being judged on that day by their God? It doesn't take a genius, musical or otherwise, to garner the facile "musical import" that the chant has "something to do with the day of wrath." If one actually takes care to find out what that "something" isin a nutshell, wrath against the condemned deadit's easy to see that applying it to a 9/11 piece might actually be pretty insulting to some. Quoting something out of context, especially in a work of art that deals head-on with such an extremely sensitive and personal subject, is intellectually irresponsible.
As I've already pointed out, Greenberg understood the textual meaning of the Dies Irae as a 10-year-old. Apart from the clear fact that it's totally beside the point (the point, of course, being Greenberg's musical genius), the arrant absurdity of characterizing a 10-year-old as "intellectually irresponsible" in any case, much less for acting on his 10-year-old understanding of an esoteric Latin poem, is so manifest as to require no further comment.
Of course, to the general publicthose who like to bandy about the term "genius"the Dies irae theme brings to mind horror movie villains, which are what they want to equate the perpetrators of those events with.
Aha! So Mr. Maroney is a mind reader as well as a composer, is he. My oh my. Will wonders never cease. And, of course, it goes almost without saying that to those composers of less than authentic genius the very term genius is a most unwelcome reminder of their own less than exceptional gift, and an in-your-face rebuke to their inflated self-estimation of their limited talent.
I'm beginning to suspect that Mr. Maroney, as he himself conjectured, is indeed very much "embodying the green-ey'd monster" in the matter of this 12-year-old composer of unquestionable genius.
What else is new.
Update 6:28 AM Eastern on 13 Aug 2006): God appears to be making a bang-up job of it. Read about it here.