For the month of October, the #ClassicsaDay team (of which I’m a part), decided to go with a Halloween theme. The idea is to share works marked in some way with the composer’s demise. It can be the last piece a composer completed before death, or one left incomplete at death.
For my part, I chose to narrow the focus a little bit. Not all incomplete works were deathbed projects. Schubert, for example, abandoned his “Unfinished” symphony six years before his death. For my contributions, I focussed on the last piece a composer wrote — whether it was completed or not.
From famous last words to #FamousLastWorks. Here are my posts for week 2.
Alban Berg – Violin Concerto
Berg was working on his opera “Lulu” in 1935. He interrupted the work to accept a rush commission from violinist Louis Krasner. The violin concerto was written in just a few months, and dedicated to the memory of Manon Gropius. The score was delivered in August of 1935, and Berg returned to work on “Lulu.” He died in December 1935, leaving the opera uncompleted.
Johannes Brahms – Eleven Chorale Preludes for organ, Op. 122
Brahms’ final completed works were written for his friend, Clara Schumann. In 1896 Clara died, and Brahms was diagnosed with liver cancer. Facing death (and the death of his friend), Brahms wrote a set of chorale preludes. The set was the final composition Brahms worked on.
Bela Bartok – Piano Concerto No. 3 in E major
Bartok’s third piano concerto was to be a birthday surprise for his wife, pianist Ditta Pásztory-Bartók. Bartok worked on the piece as often as his health permitted. When he died, all but 17 measures had been completed. His friend Tibor Serly completed the work based on Bartok’s sketches so it could be performed.
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi – Stabat mater
Italian composer Pergolesi was a brilliant composer of operas, some of which are still performed. He died at the age of 26 from tuberculosis. The final weeks of his life were devoted to composing the Stabat Mater. He was able to complete the work just before he died.
Gustav Mahler – Symphony No. 10
Mahler began work on his tenth symphony in May 1910. By September, he had sketched out the entire symphony and had completed most of the orchestration of the first movement. And that’s where he left it. Mahler left for New York in October to conduct the New York Philharmonic. He returned to Europe in April 1911, and he died May, 11 without doing any more work on the symphony. Other composers have attempted to complete the work, with varying amounts of success.