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The Wiley Handbook of Genius by Dean Keith Simonton

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21 Musical Creativity over the Lifespan

Aaron Kozbelt

Introduction

In the pantheon of genius, and in the popular imagination, classical composers loom large. Their names and music, and the basic facts of their lives and works, are known to even casual listeners: J. S. Bach's religiosity, the compositional facility and early deaths of Mozart and Schubert, Beethoven's heroic struggle with deafness, the vastness of Wagner's music dramas, Stravinsky's eclectic style changes. Most aficionados would unhesitatingly characterize these figures as bona fide geniuses. Each wrote many original, varied, and impactful works, which changed the course of music history and which stand as permanent monuments to human creativity and the human spirit. However, even within a fairly narrow domain like Western classical music, genius is far from a unitary phenomenon. The composers just mentioned varied enormously in their personalities, compositional goals, creative processes, and career trajectories (Kozbelt, 2012). Considering figures like Handel, Haydn, Verdi, Brahms, Mahler, Debussy, Schoenberg, and Bartók diversifies the manifestations of musical genius still further. In the face of this variability, what kinds of broad but still meaningful claims can be made about the nature of genius, both in classical music and more generally?

In this chapter, I explore the nature of musical genius by asking how it is illuminated by a lifespan development perspective (Lehman, 1953; Simonton, 1988a, 1997). ...

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