Chopin, Jay Greenberg and the Incredible Shrinking Genius Pool

The other day, as I am wont to do, I was listening to the local classical music station and I heard Chopin’s “Variations on La Ci Darem la Mano Op.2″ based on Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The piece is captivating with its fluid romanticism and immense complexity.

When it finished, the DJ intoned that Chopin had written it at the tender age of 17.

We certainly have a number of stupefying musical prodigies, but mostly they are performers, not composers. Not to downplay those gifts in the least, but composing is a whole tier above and beyond.

Then, as I was researching to see if in fact musical genius had fled the gene pool — and I’m specifically referring to classical-style composition, which is alive and well — I discovered Jay Greenberg. He’s practically as competent and creative if not as sophisticated a composer as Hans Zimmer and Elliot Goldenthal.

Listening to him speak in interviews is quite poignant. He expresses the desire to learn about many other things — not necessarily music. When the interviewer asks him what would make him happy, he replies, “What is happiness?” I wonder if he, like so many geniuses, suffers tremendous depression. It’s heartbreaking to think so. Selfishly — for myself and posterity — I want him to write music for the rest of his life. I mean, isn’t that what Franz Liszt, Camille Saint-Saëns and Samuel Barber wanted to do?

Yet here he is for now, a Mozart among men. If only he wasn’t so alone.

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