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February, 2004 - Nr. 2


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"Wunderkind" Phenomenon
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City Museum of Bonn investigates the "Wunderkind" phenomenon

   TWIG - The phenomenon "Wunderkind" — that delightfully German concept that surpasses both "prodigy" and "child genius" in terms of accuracy and style — is the subject of the latest exhibition at the City Museum of Bonn.

The exhibition "Beethoven and Other Wunderkinder" takes a look at beloved and long-forgotten child prodigies alike, many of them music talents whose rare, inborn abilities made them objects of bewilderment.

Mozart is likely the most well-known child musician, but it has escaped general knowledge that the composers Beethoven, Liszt, and Mendelssohn were all celebrated child stars in their day — and all of them were pushed into the limelight by overzealous parents seeking financial fortune.

Throughout history, these extraordinary children of wonder have fascinated scientists with their pre-pubescent talents. Brilliant linguists, exceptional mathematicians, calculating chess geniuses — many of these young people were unable to remain in top form as they grew older, having achieved merely short-lived fame.

Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant was among the first to write on the subject, while discussing one of the most baffling cases of Wunderkinder in Germany’s history. In 1723, when most two-year-olds are gumming their first sentences, Luebeck boy Christian Heinrich Heineken had already become fluent in French and Latin. By three, he had written a history of Denmark, and by four he had become a brilliant mathematician. He died of natural causes half a year later, leading Kant to call him a "natural deviation of nature," while many other of his great contemporary thinkers called the boy an abnormality.

Writer Thomas Mann also delved into the subject in his short piece "Das Wunderkind," in which he portrays the child music prodigy as the embodiment of the divine in music.

While the exhibition seeks to pull Wunderkinder from the lost files of history, several of the subjects of the exhibition are still alive today, such as American violinist Ruggiero Ricci, who very early in his career made the successful transition from child prodigy to serious musician and today teaches in Salzburg, Austria. When asked about his experience as Wunderkind, the 85-year old Ricci grumbled, "First, you have to shoot all of the Wunderkinder’s parents, then hang the children on the wall, and that’s the end of it."

Republished with permission from "The Week in Germany"


City Museum of Bonn


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