Four Last SongsAging and Creativity in Verdi, Strauss, Messiaen, and Britten

Four Last SongsAging and Creativity in Verdi, Strauss, Messiaen, and Britten

Linda Hutcheon and Michael Hutcheon

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780226255590

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


Later life is a fraught topic in our commercialized, anti-aging, death-denying culture. Where does creativity fit in? The canonical composers whose stories are told here—Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901), Richard Strauss (1864–1949), Olivier Messiaen (1908–1992), and Benjamin Britten (1913–1976)—offer radically individual responses to that question. In their late years, each of these national icons wrote an opera around which coalesced for them major issues about their creativity and aging. While these and other late works helped them explore creatively their own aging and mortality, the composers nonetheless had to face a variety of challenges that came with their own aging—ranging from health issues to the critical expectations that accompany success. They also had to deal with the social, political and aesthetic changes of their times, including World Wars and the rise of musical modernism. By investigating their own attitudes to their aging and their creativity, their late compositions, and the critical reception of them, this book tells the stories of their different but creative ways of dealing with those changes, Each composer began his career in an individual manner; each also ended it in a unique way. It is the complexity of the interrelationship of aging and creativity in all its individuality that this book investigates.