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 3.
Johann Sebastian Bach – Vor Deinen Thron Tret, BWV 668
The final days of Bach are shrouded in myth. The final fugue of his monumental “Art of the Fugue” was left unfinished — but it wasn’t the piece he was working on when he died. Rather, it was a setting of the chorale “Vor Deinen Thron Tret’ Ich Hiermit.” Bach had previously set the chorale in the 1717 Orgelbüchlein. The “deathbed” chorale represents a revision of that earlier work.
Richard Strauss – Vier letzte Lieder, Op. posth
The Four Last Songs (with the exception of the song “Malven”) the final works completed by Richard Strauss. And they make a fitting end to a life in music. The texts all deal with death and the acceptance of death and had special meaning for the terminally ill Strauss. The final song, “Im Abendtrot” (At Sunset) quotes from his 1888 tone poem “Tod und Verklärung,” (Death and Transfiguration) bringing his creative output full circle.
Edward Elgar – Spanish Lady
In his final years, Elgar worked on two projects in parallel — an opera “The Spanish Lady” and his third symphony. Both remain unfinished. The “Spanish Lady” is based on a Ben Johnson satire, and recycled a lot of Elgar’s earlier music. After his death, Percy Young arranged the surviving sketches into an orchestral suite.
Sergei Prokofiev – Piano Sonata No. 10 in E minor, Op. 137
Prokofiev was working on two piano sonatas at the time of his death. The eleventh piano sonata only exists in text notes. The tenth has two pages of manuscript, leaving about one minute’s worth of music, and making it the last playable piece of music by Prokofiev.
Dmitri Shostakovich – Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op. 147
Shostakovich wrote the sonata for Fyodor Druzhihinin, violist with the Beethoven quartet. He completed the three-movement sonata weeks before his death in July 1975. Druzhinin premiered the work four months later.