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Title: 'Wunderkinder' : musical prodigies in European concert life between 1791 and 1860
Author: Amthor, Yvonne
Awarding Body: University of Leeds
Current Institution: University of Leeds
Date of Award: 2012
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The phenomenon of musical prodigies has created wide-spread fascination in academic and non-academic discourse. Mythical connotations and the overpowering Wunderkind-image of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart have influenced studies on the subject in a historical context, while theories of extreme giftedness, musical ability, precocity, and cognitive development have contributed to an alternative perspective within the field of developmental psychology in music. Taking a historical approach to the investigation, this thesis argues that the death of Mozart and his subsequent emergence as the archetype of the phenomenon influenced understanding of it. Exploring notions relating to terminology and definitions demonstrates that an understanding of the phenomenon reaches beyond the boundaries of a definition. Despite having a comparatively standard prodigy childhood, the legacy Mozart left outshines the prominence and achievements of many other prodigies of the nineteenth century, despite their significant individual success, a creative output, and the demonstration of ‘exemplary’ qualities. This thesis presents a new approach to the study of musical prodigies – an examination of data concerning over 370 musical prodigies, who emerged into European concert life between 1791 and 1860. It will provide a better understanding of specific characteristics and patterns many prodigies share in their family background and musical education, by analysing topics of gender images and restrictions, instrumental choices, sibling performances, short-term musical instruction, musical training within family units, with master teachers and at music-educational institutions. Two case studies, examining the music-educational paths of Carl Filtsch and Camilla Urso (one receiving his training from master teachers and the other mainly at a conservatory) not only demonstrate representative biographical accounts and features relating to the relevant educational paths, but also lead to a comparison of benefits and disadvantages of different options of musical training in nineteenth-century Europe. The findings of this research suggest that the importance of a predominantly musical family background, offering a stimulating environment, easier access to musical education and instruments, as well as a network of support within and attached to the music profession, are more important to the emergence of a ‘prodigy’ than supposedly ‘extraordinary’ abilities. Musical training in various patterns takes on a more central role in the life of prodigies than previously recognised.
Supervisor: Brown, C. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available