For anyone who has ever struggled through the intricacies of “Moonlight Sonata,” watching a YouTube video of a child piano prodigy can be frustrating. Hours of practicing scales, chords and melodies seem to avail little more than a headache, sore fingers, and a song that only a mother could love. Stumbling across a video of a child not only mastering the piano, but thriving, can be disheartening for the would-be virtuoso taking piano lessons.
Although the internet makes musical geniuses more accessible than ever before, today’s elementary piano masters are not a novelty. Many of history’s most prolific composers and musicians were childhood prodigies as well, and faced many of the same issues and societal pressures. Here’s a look at some of the most impressive child prodigies of the past and present.
Prodigies of the Past
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Perhaps one of the most famous child prodigies, Mozart was playing the piano by age 2 and composing songs by age 4. At the age of 5, he published his first composition, beginning an illustrious career as a serious musician. Within 10 years he had written over 10 symphonies and performed for Europe’s most esteemed courts. Many of classical music’s most-identifiable and often-performed songs flowed from the pen of Mozart. Astoundingly, his impact on the world of music has lasted for centuries despite the fact that he only lived to be 35.
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Perhaps he was inspired by the life of Mozart, because Schubert’s rise as an acclaimed pianist and composer began shortly after Mozart’s death. Schubert, however, did not begin his career as a composer until in his teens, with his famed “Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel.” Upon his death at the age of 31, Schubert’s musical collection included over 600 original compositions, including songs for piano, string quartets, choral ensembles, and more.
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)
Another child star, Saint-Saëns began playing the piano at age 3 and was famous for having perfect pitch. His first composition is displayed in the national museum of France -- he wrote it at age 3 -- and his debut as a serious pianist occurred when he was the accompanist for a Beethoven violin sonata at age 5. His career spanned an entire lifetime, unlike some of his contemporaries, and afforded him the opportunity to be one of the first piano players to make a professional recording, as well as to become the first composer to score a film. His collection of work includes piano and cello concertos, as well as orchestral and soloist pieces.
Clara Schumann (1819-1896)
In an era when women were staying home to raise children, Clara Schumann defied conventional social rules by composing and performing piano concerts throughout her marriage. She did not speak until she was 4 years old, causing many to think she had development issues. By the age of 7, however, she was spending several hours a day mastering the piano and had written her first composition by age 10. She went on tours of Europe, and garnered the attention of famous musicians such as Chopin and Liszt.
Prodigies of Today
Kevin Chen (2006-present)
Canadian pianist Kevin Chen passed their national piano teacher exam at age 8, and he is a student at the Royal Conservatory of Music. After an early start at the piano, he has quickly earned the title of Canada’s piano superstar, going on performance tours and playing for audiences of thousands.
Josiah Alexander Sila (2003-present)
Self-taught jazz musician Joey Alexander Sila released his premier album, My Favorite Things, at age 12. Influenced by his parent’s love of big bands, Alexander began playing the piano at his home in Indonesia. After his early success, the Silas family moved to New Jersey to further Joey’s musical training.
Alasdair Howell (2005-present)
To a bystander, Alasdair Howell seems to be a regular kid. He enjoys playing football and cricket with his friends. When he sits at the piano, however, he demonstrates why he is considered one of the most promising pianists in the world. He began playing before his feet could even touch the floor, and at age 6 he performed at the Royal Festival Hall in London.
Malachi Samedy (2005-present)
A drummer, Malachi Samedy began playing his drums with more skill than most 24-month-olds. Rather than banging pots and pans, his parents steered him toward the drumsticks and drum set, and the results were astounding. He entered music school at age 4 and was being considered to play for the President at age 7. Despite his youth, he has performed with multiple professional musical groups and has begun inspiring other young people to explore their potential.
While child prodigies may impress (and depress) would-be musicians, it is easy to overlook their young age once the music begins. A true appreciation of music can cause one to get lost in the performance regardless of the age of the musician. More than anything, child prodigies offer inspiration (and hope) to performers. Anyone can become a musician of worth -- no matter how old, or young, they are.