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Music and the MindEssays in honour of John Sloboda$
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Irène Deliège and Jane Davidson

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199581566

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:osobl/9780199581566.001.0001

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The musical child prodigy (wunderkind) in music history: a historiometric analysis

The musical child prodigy (wunderkind) in music history: a historiometric analysis

(p.225) Chapter 12 The musical child prodigy (wunderkind) in music history: a historiometric analysis
Music and the Mind

Reinhard Kopiez

Oxford University Press

This historiometric study on the musical child prodigy (wunderkind) is based on a sample of 213 European-wide reports in Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung (the most important music journal in the first half of the nineteenth century) between 1798 and 1848. A quantitative analysis of biographical data revealed a mean age of 10.73 years at the first public performance (time of report). Over a period of 50 years no differences in the prodigies’ ages at the performance debut could be observed between groups of instruments (pianists, string players, singers). Data analysis revealed an increase in wunderkind reports, which reached a peak between 1821 and 1825—the historical beginning of the virtuosic era. Female prodigies performed on the piano or as singers (‘feminine’ instruments), while male prodigies played the flute, clarinet, and violin, the ‘masculine’ instruments. The association between gender and instrument choice in the nineteenth century was different compared with that today. Finally, it is argued that in every era people seem to be enthralled to the remarkable musical achievements of very young children. However, nowadays this public passion is fulfilled through viewing of television talent contests and video-sharing websites.

Keywords:   historiometric approach, musical child prodigy, wunderkind, musicians, musical instruments, public performance

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