Costumes of Boy Musical Prodigies: M-R

Figure 1.--

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. Here are some of the child prodigies I know of with any available information on how they were dressed as boys. Our knowledge of many of these prodigies, however, is very limited at this time.

Maazel, Loren (U.S.): Loren Maazel, the conductor-elect of the New York Philharmonic is a former child prodigy. One reader reports, "I believe, though I'm not sure that he is in one of those "Let's put this show on in the barn" 1930's Garland/Rooney musicals as the curly headed little kid in short pants who conducts the orchestra."

Mahler, Alma (Austria, 1879-1964): At HBC we have focused on boy prodigies. There were also girl prodigies, although relatively few. Here we are unsure if there are indeed fewer talented girls or if societal factors offered fewer opportunities for girls. Certainly 19th century and even early 20th century society limited the education of girls. This and other societal factors undoubtedly limited the ability of girls to persue their talents, whether this was the only factor we do not know. One girl prodigy that we know of is Alma Mahler. Alma was born in 1879. Her father was the noted Viennese landscape painter Emil Jakob Schindler. she had a privileged childhood and was expossed to the literati of late-19th century Vienna. Quite a number of the liminaries of Vienese culture took an interest in Alma. One such frequent visitor was Gustav Klimt, a co-founder of the Viennese »Sezession« and brilliant Jugendstil painter. Max Burckhard was the director of the Burgtheater. Burckhard played a role in developing Alma's interest in litrature. Composer Alexander Zemlinsky actually titored her in composition. Zemlinsky wanted to marry Alma, but instead at the age of 22 she married famed composer and conductor Gustav Mahler, 20 years her senior.

Martin, Frank (Switzerland, 1890-19??): Frank Martin was born in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1890. He was the tenth and youngest child of a clergyman's family. He played and improvised on the piano even before he went to school. By the 9 years old he composed charming children's songs that were perfectly balanced without ever having been taught musical forms or harmony. A performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion, heard at the age of 12, left a lasting impression on the composer, for whom J.S. Bach remained the true master. He attended Latin school and, to please his parents, went on to study mathematics and physics at the University of Geneva for two years. Simultaneously he started studying piano and composition with Joseph Lauber, who initiated him in the "craft", especially in instrumentation. Between 1918 and 1926 Frank Martin lived in Zurich, Rome and Paris, working on his own, searching for a personal musical language. In 1926 he founded the "Société de Musique de Chambre de Genève"which he led as pianist and harpsichord player for ten years. He taughtimprovisation and theory of rhythm at the "Institut Jacques-Dalcroze" and chamber music at the Geneva Conservatory of Music. He was artistic director of the "Technicum Moderne de Musique" from 1933 to 1940 and president of the Swiss Association of Musicians between 1942 and 1946. In 1932 he became interested in the 12-tone technique of Arnold Schönberg. He incorporated certain elements into his own musical language, creating a synthesis of the chromatic and twelve-tone techniques, without however abandoning the sense of tone - that is, the hierarchical relations between notes. Le Vin Herbé (1941) was the first important work in which he completely mastered this very personal idiom. Together with the Petite Symphonie Concertante (1944-45) it established his international reputation.

Mendelssohn, Felix (Germany, 1809-47): Mendelssohn is considered by many to be the most successful musician of the 19th Century. Mendelssohn was born in Hamburg, Germany on February 3, 1809. Both he and his sister Fanny were child prodigies. They were from a well-to-do Jewish family. Their father was a succesful banker and his father was the famous Jewish philosopher, Moses Mendelssohn. The family in 1809 moved to Berlin and in 1816 converted to Christianity. It was at this time that Felix was baptized a Lutheran. The additional surname Bartholdy adopted on his conversion to Christianity, Mendelssohn was clearly a child of privilege, son of a prosperous Hamburg banker and grandson of the distinguished philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. His elder sister Fanny (Hensel, 1805-47) also became a successful pianist and composer in her own right. Mendelssohn grew up in Berlin, able to associate with a cultured circle of family friends. He had excellent teachers (notably Zelter in Berlin). He traveled and performed extensively as a child. Probably because his parents wanted to keep as a "child prodigy" he was dressed like a little boy until he was 13 or so. Pictures of him at 12 and 13 show him with the very long curls common for very little boys in 1820 and also wearing the high waisted little suits worn by little boys at the time. It's somewhat funny to compare these little boy pictures with the ones taken later in life where the beautiful curls are replaced by a bald spot on top of his head. An extraordinarily gifted composer, Mendelssohn grew up under ideal conditions. His talent was apparent at an early age and his parents encouraged him. He began his studies at an early age and studied with the best of teachers. By the age of 8 years he had committed all of Betoven's symphonies to memory. He made his first publi\c appearance as a pianist at age 9. On his 12th birthday hios parents gave him as a present a string orcestra, which he made good use of by composing numerous pieces for them tp preform. He became proficient not only in the field of music--as pianist, organist, conductor and composer--but also in linguistics and painting, as well. He travelled widely, visiting much of Europe and eventually developing a rapport with England and Scotland that took him there on ten different occasions. Felix toured extensively as pianist and conductor, especially in England, where he was Queen Victoria and the Prince Albert's favourite. Besides this, he is well known for his revival in the interest of J. S. Bach, whose music fell into disuse after that Baroque composer's death. Mendelssohn gave the first performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion in 1829, the first since Bach's death in 1750. Bach's influence on Mendelssohn's compositions can be seen in his own oratorios, St. Paul, 1836 and Elijah, 1846. It is from these works from which we derive the Mendelssohn chorale harmonizations in many modern hymnals. Mendelssohn is also noted for developing the first modern symphony orchestras, the Leipzig Gewandhuas Orchestra, as well as founding the Leipzig Conservatory in 1843.

Menuhin, Yehudi: (United States, 1916-99) The brilliant violin vituoso was born in 1916. Menuhin came from a Russian Jewish family called Mnuchin that emigrated to the United States via Palestine. His impoverished immigrant parents moved to New Jersey then to California seeking work. Yehudi received his first violin lessons in San Francisco from Siegmund Anker, who soon entrusted him to Louis Persinger, a student of Eugene Ysayes. The child made amazing progress and played the «Symphonie espagnole» by Lalo as a seven-year-old in San Francisco under Alfred Hartz. He debuted during 1924 in San Francisco at only 8 years of age. His early career landmarks included a Beethoven Concerto with NYSO/Fritz Busch (New York 1927) when he was 11 years old. In 1927, he made his debut in Paris at the Concerts Lamoureux under Paul Paray. He then met Georges Enescu, who took his musical education in hand. Menuhin's style is probably influenced most by Enescu. At the same time, he was taught by Adolf Busch in Basle. In 1929, he gave a memorable debut in Berlin under Bruno Walter and played the «three Bs», the violin concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven and Johannes Brahms. At an Elgar Concerto at his 75th birthday concert (London 1932). "I can add nothing. It cannot be done better. You need not work on it any longer and let's go to the races instead." The whole world wanted to see the 'wunderkind' and he performed 110 times in 63 cities during a 1935 concert tour. He did not appear in public for two years afterwards. Experts note his great technical ability, spontaneity, and depth of musical understanding. He conducted his own own chamber group and many leading orchestras. In 1962 he started a boarding-school for musically talented children in Surrey, south of London.

Figure 3.--Several paintings exist of Mozart as a boy. This one shows him as a teenager 1760. I do not have the details on the painting.
Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus (Austria, 1756-91): Mozart was probably the most aclaimed child prodigy of all time. He was born in Salzburg and educated along with his talented sister by his father Leopold who was concertmeister in the court orchestra of the archbishop of Salzburg and a celebrated violinist, composer, and authot of a stndard treatise on violin playing. Young Mozart's extrodinary precocity soon attracted attention. Five short piano pieces perormed at the age of 4 years still exist and are often played. Leopold beginning in 1762 when Mozart was 6 years old began taking the boy and his sister on European tours where there skills were accalimed. Mozart performed on the clavier, violin, and organ. He composed many works as a child. At the time it was common to dress boys, once breeched, as minature adults. Thus Mozart's clothes were small editions of contemporary court fashion. Mozart had the almost unimaginable ability to simply write polished musical scores stright away which required only minor editing. Few other compsers had this ability. One of the few other such composders, accirding to his granddaughter, was Cebelius. Mozart had the uncanny ability to edit musical scores in his mind.

Nicholas brothers (America, 1914-??): Most of the profigies that HBC has listed are musical prodigies. This is because there are many opportunities for children to show case musical talents, both instruimental and vocal music, than is the case for dance talent. It apparently takes longer for children to learn dance skills and young children so not have the physical strength to perform meaningfully. Music talent is different and can be performed by quite young children. One popular group of child damvers was the Nicholas brothers. The two greatest tap dancers that ever are aeguably the Nicholas brothers. This much beloved dance consisted of Fayard (1914- ) and Harold (1921-2000). The boys wwre raised Philadelphia. Their parents were musicians who played in their own band at the Standard Theater. their mother played the piano and their father the drums. At the age of only 3 years, Fayard sat in the front row while his parents worked. GHe had by the time he was 10 years old seen most of the great black Vaudeville acts. He especially enjoued watching the dancers. This inclided notables sich as Alice Whitman, Willie Bryant, and of course Bill Robinson. Fayard was fascinated by them and their rythm. He began imitated their acrobatics and clowned for the neighborhood kids. When Harold arrived several years later, he imitated Fayard and was soon a comperent dancer as well. The boys began dancing on stage and on radio shows--quite an accomplishmenr for dancers. They first appeared in black films in "Pie Pie Blackbird" diring 1932, with Hubie Blake and his orchestra. Appearances in mainstream Hollywood films followed.

Nyiregyházi, Ervin (Hungary, 1903-87): Ervin was born in Budapest to a family of Jewish ancestry. He began playing the piano as a todler. He was by age 6 playing the works of the great masyers. He also from an early age was an avid reader, devouring the classics. He had perfect pitch and good memorize even long, complicated pieces after playing it a few times. As an elderly man he claimed to have committed over 3,000 pieces to memory. He began composing piano pieces from an early age and continued do so his entire life. He gave his first public performance at age 6. The European music community had proclaimed him another Mzart by age 10. And a psycholgist studying child prodiges published a lengthy tome about him. Ervin at age 12 seem to have becom enamored with Liszt. His music tastes turned to heavy, brooding music. He focused on "deep sonorities and slow temps, and began to plumb new depths of expression". [Bzzana] As a teenager he toured Europe to great acclaim. He was a special favorite in Berlin. He let his hair grow long, He seemed posed to become one of Rurope's great classical pianists. After World War I he becgan to object to the control of his mother who served as his business manager. He escaped by taking a trip to America (1920). This proved to be the beginning of his demise.

Paganini, Nicolò (Italy, 1782-1840) Pagnini was the greatest violinist of his age, exercising a strong influence on the developing technique of violin-playing and, through his virtuosity on the instrument, on the ambitions of performers on other instruments. He was born in Genoa. I have no details on his boyhood or what he wore as a boy. Unterestingly his boyhood occurred just as the fashion od specialized children's clothes was becomiing established in Europe. Paganinie studied in Genoa, at first with his father. He spent 8 years, from 1801, at Lucca, later as solo violinist to the court of Napoleon's sister, installed there as ruler by her brother. From 1810 he travelled as a virtuoso, at first in Italy and then, from 1828, abroad, causing a sensation wherever he went, his phenomenal technique giving rise to rumours of diabolical assistance. Paganini jealously guarded his compositions, refusing publication and always careful to collect parts after a performance for fear that someone might copy them and discover som of his trade secrets. His career went into partial decline from 1834, followed by a significant deterioration in health. He died in Nice in 1840.

Popov, Sasha (Bulgaria, 1900?- ) We note Sasha Popov wearing a sailor suit with his violin, probably about 1910. We have virtually no information about Sasha and his childhood musical activities. He became a noted Bulgarian composer. Hopefully we can acquire more informatioin about him.

Previn, André (Germany, 1929- ) André Previn is an all-round musician equally at home in jazz or classical music, at the keyboard, on the podium, or composing. Previn's studies began in Germany before his Russian-Jewish family moved to California in 1939. He studied composition with Joseph Achron and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and conducting with Pierre Monteux. It was also at this time that Previn began his musical and personal friendship with Joseph Szigeti, which imbued him with a life-long interest in chamber music. As a teenager, Previn composed music for Hollywood films. Eventually Previn became the music director for MGM studios. Four of his scores received Oscar nominations. Since then, André Previn's compositions include works for Vladimir Ashkenazy, Yo Yo Ma, Sylvia McNair and others. His opera A Streetcar Named Desire, based on Tennessee Williams' play premiered in San Francisco in 1998. Previn studied conducting in the 1950s, with a formal debut in 1963. In piano, his first success was in jazz; subsequently Previn achieved fame as a concert pianist. There are elements of jazz playing that he brings to classical music, and vice versa.

Figure 4.--This photograph shows Tommy Purcell with long hair and an embrodered sailor suit.
Purcell, Tommy (United States, 189?-- ): I have few details about Tommy Purcell. He was an American and played with the Shubert Symphony Club in Chicago. One available images shows that at the age of about 11 his mother had not yet had his hair cut. He wears a kneepants, heavily embroidered white sailor suit, white stockings, and strap shoes with bows.

Rabin, Michael (United States, 1936?- ): Michael at age 15 appeared on one of the most important American television program of the early 1950s. His playing was brilliant, but he seemed to lack stahe presence. He died tragically of a drug overdose, apparently unable to handle the demands pf public performances.

Rasmussen, Karl Aage (Denmark, 1947- ): Karl Aage Rasmussen was born in 1947. He was educated at the Aarhus Academy of Music where he is now himself a teacher. As well as composing, Karl Aage Rasmussen has been active as a conductor, of amongst others, his own ensemble The Elsinore Players. In addition, he has been active as an editor of programmes about new music for Danish Radio, co-editor of the Danish Music Magazine, member of the Danish Music Council, and he has been in great demand as a lecturer in many European countries and in the USA. He is also the artistic director of the distinguished NUMUS-Festival. Rasmussen started composing in the mid-60s, when he was mainly occupied with orchestral music. Concepts like "music about music," "music on music," and "music over music" are key to his works from the 70s, as he often used pre-existing musical material in new connections and for new purposes, not as collage or quotation music, but in a densely woven montage of "words" from widely different music languages. The montage technique and the "not-authentic" in his choice of musical material also characterizes Rasmussen's music from more recent years, but the concentration on detail and deliberately non-dynamic expression has been replaced by an increased interest in form and course -- not least the musical conditions of our experience of time, movement, and coherence. The musico-dramatic works from the end of the 70s are among the first expressions of this interest, which more recently has been continued in works like A Symphony in Time and the string quartets Solos and Shadows and Surrounded by Scales.

Robinson, Frank "Sugar Chile" (United States, 1938- ): Frank "Sugar Chile" Robinson was born in 1938. He was a blues and boogie-woogie pianist, singer, and psychologist from Detroit, Michigan. At an early age Robinson showed unusual gifts singing the blues and accompanying himself on the piano. As a child prodigy, he appeared with Count Basie on television, performed with Lionel Hampton and played for President Harry S. Truman at the White House. He appeared in the 1946 Hollywood feature film "No Leave, No Love" with Van Johnson and Keenan Wynn and in the 1950 short film "'Sugar Chile' Robinson, Billie Holiday, Count Basie and His Sextet". Robinson continued to tour Europe and America until the mid-1950s when he opted to pursue an academic career. He earned a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Michigan. Remaining in musical obscurity throughout the latter 20th century, he surfaced in the early 2000s, and has made a comeback with the help of the American Music Research Foundation."

Ricci, Ruggiero (United States, 1918/20- ): Ruggiero was born and raised in California and became a childhood friend of Grisha Goluboff, another important child prodigy. He was an important American childhood prodigy. Ruggiero was born during World War I and in a fit of patriotic exhuberance, his father named him Woodrow Wilson Rich. His baptismal name was Roger. When he proved to be a very talented violinist, the family realized his commercial potential and they renamed him Ruggiero Ricci. Like Grisha, his birth year was often moved forward to 1920. It could be moved much furher as Harding repaved Wilson as President in 1921. Ruggiero Ricci's extraordinary career as a concert violinist has spanned almost 70 10 years in San Francisco playing a formidable program of works by Vieuxtemps, Saint-Saens, Mendelssohn and Wieniawski, astounded the audience and started him on the road to early stardom. Since that time he has performed more than 5,000 concerts in 65 countries and made over 500 recordings, he has played more often, before more people, in more places, and has recorded more music for violin than any other soloist. His first tour of Europe was in 1932 at the age of 14, a highly sensationalized series of concerts with the world's greatest orchestras; he continued to play extensively until the Army Air Force put a stop to his world travels eleven years later. He enlisted at the beginning of the war and became "Entertainment Specialist Ricci." During those 3 years, he played and broadcast hundreds of concerts under a variety of unusual conditions, often without an accompanist, exploring and presenting the largely unexploited solo violin repertoire. He has remained an enthusiastic proponent of the solo recital, basing a majority of his yearly programs on the solo works of Bach, Paganini, Wieniawski, Kreisler, Ernst, and Bartok, as well as others. Ruggiero Ricci teaches at the Mozarteum Conservatory in Salzburg, Austria, as well as holding annual masterclasses in Berlin. He last served on the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis jury in 1986.

Rubenstein, Arthur (Poland, 1887-19 ): Arthur was born into a family of middle-class Jews in partioned Poland. He showed an interest in music from his earliest days and would cry if taken out of the room with the piano. His talent was recognized at age 3. He first played the piano in public at age 7 and gave his last concert at age 89. He debuted in Berlin at age 13. His parents had some difficulty affording his musical lessons. Even so, unlike some other prodigies, there was no push to have him give extensive series of performances as a child. It was not until his 50s that the full scope of his musical genius was realized, in part because he neglected pratice as he enjoyed living the good life. He emmigrated to America. Few of his Polish relatives survived the Holocaust.


Bazzana, Kevin. Lost Genius: The Curious and Tragic Story of an Extrodinary Musicam Prodigy (Carrol & Graf, 2007), 383p.


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Created: December 31, 1998
Last updated: 5:03 AM 11/22/2009