The Fine Arts: Costumes of Boy Musical Prodigies


Figure 1.--This is Florizel von Reuter. I assume he is German, but I know little about him. The photograph was taken in 1905.

There are many famous child music prodigies. The most famous is certainly Mozart in the 18th Century, but there have been many others in the 19th and 20th Century. The clothing they wore for their performances were often examples of contemporary formal boys' clothing. Often as they began to grow up their parents liked to keep dressing them in juvenile clothes to emphasize that they were childhood prodigies. I've just begun this page, but would be interested in any comments or contributions by HBC viewers.

Definition

A prodigy is a person endowed with extrodinary talents. Usually the word is used in association with gifted children. The most famous prodigies are probably child musical prodigies. This is primarily because musicalmability can be manifested at an early age. Choristers are one such example. Other endevors such as painting require more rigorous and extensive academic training. There are many other fields in which individuals have developed such extrodinary talents at an early age. One should remember that giftedness is distinct from high achievement.

At Risk Children

It is difficult to grow up signficantly different from your peers. Probably only a small proportion receive the support needed to thrive; indeed they are an at risk group for suicide, drug abuse, and early pregnancy. There are also more normal children who were pushed by parents into precocious academic, musical, or athletic performance that would be a different subject--the stage mother syndrome. The gifteds don't need to be pushed--parents and teachers usually try to hold them back because they are just "too much."

The Experience

The personal experiences of these boys make for interesting reading. One can only wonder what it must have been like to start composing music when you were only 2 years old and go on to actually create an opera at age ten as Samuel Barber did? The available accounts are astonnishing. World-renowned percussionist Evelyn Glennie went deaf when he was 8 years old and yet went on to persue a brilliant career.

Clothes Worn by Prodigies

One interesting aspect of the clothes prodicies wore in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century was driven by commercial factors. The public was fascinated by child prodigies. They were, we would now say, hot box office commidities, especially as young children. Thus some of the boys were kept in childish clothes, even as older boys. Some objected to this. There is a story by Thomas Mann addressing this phenomenon in Stories of Three Decades, perhaps called The prodigy. Mann describes a child prodigy, specifically his childish clothing, which emphasized the boy's youth. One HBC readers believes that these childlish clothes had a negative impact on the popularity of classical music. He theorizes, "The insistence on boys wearing short pants at ridiculous ages was, I feel part of the long term suicide of classical music. I think it drove kids, boys anyway, away from the form. It was hard to relate to these kids. I was in a choir when I was 10-12. And it seemed like somebody was always trying to put us into short pants which I did not like."

Gender

Almost all of the early prodigies were boys. Mozart had, for example, a very talented sister. There were just no opportunities for girls to develop their musical talents until our modern era. Girls were not taken nearly as serious as musicians, thi meant both girls and adult women. Parents were also less likely to promote musical careers for their daughters. In addition, there may well have been fewer girl prodigies. There is some indiaction that boys are more often on the extreme parts of the bell curves on attributes like intelligence or mental illness. This may also apply to musical talent, alothough I am not sure just what the latest reserch shows ion this subject. Since the mid-20th century, there have been numerous girl prodigies.

Individual Prodigies

Extensive information is available on individual child prodigies. I have less information on how they were dressed as boys, but plan to research the subject. Please let me know if yoy have any information on their boyhood or clothes they wore as a boy.

Other Prodigies

When we think of prodigies we are primarily thinking about music prodigies--usually boys who played a musical imstrument an early age. In recent years, child singershave also been prominent. There have been some child prodigies, again mostly boys, in other areas as well. HBC is including non-music prodigies, except for actors, in the main prodigy list for organizational simplicity. The vast majority of the listings are in fact music prodigies. We currently have only a small number of non-music prodigies. We will eventually prepare a separte list to make them easier to locate, but at present they are simply listed under the main prodigy list.

Teaching

A HBC reader has provided us an account of his experiences teaching with gifted chukdren. He tells us, "A child prodigy brings to mind a child with an extraordinary ability that is not usually found in a young child. Encarta identified those historical figures that as children were so described. The abilities these individuals had ranged from being able to read at an early age, having exceptional ability in music, art, mathematics, languages and a specific sporting ability. Many of the personalities in the Encarta listings were described as precocious children."







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Created: December 31, 1998
Last updated: 5:59 PM 11/9/2007