Six of the best multi-talented composers

We present six composers who, whilst writing some of the finest music in history, managed to dedicate time to other talents

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Six of the best multi-talented composers
Schoenberg's Self Portrait | Credit: Getty Images
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Cage – Artist and Naturalist

John Cage is renowned for his avant-garde conceptual music because of works like 4’33’’ , which explores the parameters of silence in distinct movements. However, he is also a celebrated artist and naturalist. The Horticultural Society of New York presented an exhibition of Cage’s art in 2014, with his Mushroom Book (1971) as a focus point. Cage used natural materials such as river rocks, smoke and medicinal plants in his work, and was greatly inspired through his study of mushrooms and the writings of Henry David Thoreau. 

 

 

Schoenberg - Painter

During his time in America, Schoenberg became friends with Gershwin who, along with music also shared his affinity with painting. Schoenberg's paintings were not technically excellent, but he captured the imagination and emotion that Expressionists sought after. Unlike his musical career, where he insisted on heavy technical studies before composing anything, Schoenberg refused any tuition or guidance at all for his painting.

Reflecting on his artwork, Schoenberg said: 'As a painter I was absolutely an amateur and had no theoretical training...In fact painting was to me the same as making music. It was to me a way of expressing myself, of presenting emotions, ideas and other feelings'. 

 

 

Prokofiev – Writer

Not only did this Russian composer create great pieces of music, he also tried his hand at writing, penning a number of short stories, dramas and libretti to his own operas, in addition to reviews and diaries.  Prokofiev became a member of the Union of Soviet Writers in 1939 and a collection of his short stories was published two years later in recognition of his fiftieth birthday. Prokofiev’s stories included fairytale lands, heroic characters, villains and always a lesson to be learned.

 

 

Rossini - Chef

Like any Italian, Rossini loved food. Having attended a school in Bologna called ‘The Fat One’, Rossini travelled round Europe sampling the finest foods. His personal favourites included truffles and foie gras and he was especially fond of turkey stuffed with truffles.

He loved food that much he composed a collection of piano pieces named Quatre Hors d’Oeuvres, Quatre Mendiants all named after different types of food: Radishes, Anchovy, Pickles, Butter, Dry Figs, Almonds, Raisins and Hazelnuts. 

 

 

Mendelssohn – Painter

Not only did Mendelssohn create some of the most vibrant musical images of the Romantic era, he also painted them. Mendelssohn embraced the typical ideals of the time in both his paintings and his music, depicting images of brooding countryside, beautiful landscapes and the coexistence of the rural and the urban.

Romanticism was awash with images of nature as a means of signifying purity in emotions, morals and thoughts in stark contrast to the negative connotations depicted by images of the industrial revolution, as in Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. 

 

 

Borodin – Chemist

From an early age, Borodin became interested in both music and the natural sciences, setting up his own laboratory in his room. In 1850, Borodin enrolled at the Medico-Surgical Academy in St Petersburg. After graduating, he became a practising doctor before returning to the academy as a professor.

Borodin made a breakthrough in 1872 with the discovery of the aldol reaction, the reaction of two aldehydes that form a carbon–carbon bond. This was then used in the creation of aldehyde resins, used in polishes and varnishes. 

 

Holly Harrison

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