The Inevitable Prodigy

Little Alma Deutscher has been likened to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart for being remarkably musically precocious.

Some praise her concentration, others her technique. Most of all, she is praised for having developed her talent at such an early age. And this is the lot of the prodigy, the dangerous, poisoned chalice - for most prodigies do not reach the level of genius when they reach maturity of years. They achieved something sooner than the rest, but rarely better. When the novelty dies everyone begins to listen to the specific ability with more care, and discovers that what they took as special was quite ordinary ability after all.

That is not to say that little Miss Deutscher does not have a future in music. But the assessment of her as a Mozart reborn is a trite compliment at best. People want to believe that children are naturally good and somehow, magically, closer to the earth, the numinous, to wonder than adults. And if that special something of childhood can be channelled into an art such as music, then we will all be able to share the wonder.

But is she really 7 years old when completely submerged in the language of Classical music? She knows the phrases and cadences very well and she repeats them. It is as natural as the child who has been immersed in Classical languages and inadvertently believes that when he writes in Greek he must use the same tone and manner as Homer. He thinks this because he knows nothing else. He is too small to understand the difference between crafted heartfelt expression and merely weaving of other men's ideas.

It says more about culture than it does about Miss Deutscher. She is a little ray of sunshine for those who are disenchanted with modern Classical music - offering the glimmer of hope that tonality could make a welcome return and music could be once more associated with all that is good and innocent - without religious change. But it isn't to be. Humanism doesn't grow beauty. When beauty is found outside of Christian culture today it is an echo of older expressions - archaic, undeveloped and ungrowing.