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 the final week of October.
Giuseppe Verdi – Falstaff
Verdi completed his 28th opera — Falstaff — as he approached his eighth birthday. The work took three years to write, and Verdi worked on revisions up until his death. Initially, Falstaff received a lukewarm reception. Toscanini championed the opera, helping Falstaff to become part of the accepted operatic canon. https://youtu.be/eZOClxjcSYg
Giacomo Puccini – Turandot
Puccini was very close to finishing Turandot when he was diagnosed with throat cancer. He had composed all but the final duet, which he was never satisfied with. When he died, the first two acts were completed and orchestrated, as was most of the last act. Franco Alfano completed the opera, reprising “Nessun dorma” for the finale.
Hugo Wolf – Manuel Venegas
Wolf suffered from syphilis and by 1897 it was triggering bouts of insanity. Wolf began work on the opera Manuel Venegas, hoping to complete the work in his decreasing moments of lucidity. He was unsuccessful and died with only the first act sketched out.
Sergei Rachmaninoff – Piano Concerto to No. 4 in G minor, Op. 40 (two-piano reduction)
Rachmaninoff was working on a two-piano version of his fourth piano concerto when his health gave out. His last original composition was the 1940 Symphonic Dances. The piano reduction was left incomplete at the time of his death. Richard Rodney Bennett completed the two-piano version at the request of Rachmaninoff’s widow.
Frederick Chopin – Mazurka in F minor, Op. 68, No. 4
There’s some question as to whether this Mazurka is indeed Chopin’s final composition. The work exists only a single-page sketch. It may have been written as early as 1846. Chopin was in the process of making clean copies of his manuscripts when he died, and the supposition was that he wasn’t able to get to this one. Auguste Franchomme and Julian Fontana made a performance version of the work, but it’s not complete — some of the middle section is virtually illegible and was left it out.
Frederick Delius – Idyll
By 1923 Delius was paralyzed and blind — and unable to compose. An admirer, Eric Fenby, offered his services as an amanuensis. From 1928 until Delius’ death in 1934, the two worked together. “Idyll” was the final composition completed by Delius.