Filed Under:

Deathbed Music: The Final Works Of Famous Composers

Play associated audio

When it comes to last words, there's a kind of poetry in even the oddest ones. Oscar Wilde hated the wallpaper in the room where he died: "One of us has to go," he muttered. Salvador Dali: "Where is my clock?" Steve Jobs: "Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow," according to his sister, who was in the room.

Writer and composer Jan Swafford was thinking about these and other last words recently. In a piece for Slate, he takes a look at another kind of swan song: the late or final works of famous classical composers.

Swafford says that final compositions, like last words, are often desperate, manic, indulgent and reverent. Some are all of those at the same time. Take, for example, the most widely known last work: Mozart's Requiem.

"One of the things that's interesting is that composers of his era, Haydn and Mozart in particular, were really more into lighthearted things than tragic things," Swafford says. "Mozart's operas, which are basically sex comedies, are generally more popular and more highly regarded than his religious music. Tragedy wasn't really his style — except, when he happened to be dying, he wrote one of the great tragic pieces of all time."

For the full version of this story, including Jan Swafford's thoughts on last works by Beethoven, Schubert and others, click the audio link at the top of the page.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

The King Of Zydeco, The Supremes, Merle Haggard Among Recordings Joining Library Of Congress

Each year the Library of Congress adds certain sound recordings as national treasures. Curator of Recorded Sound Matthew Barton explains the cultural significance of this year's selections.
NPR

'Sweetbitter' Is A Savory Saga Of Restaurant Life And Love

Oysters, cocaine, fine wine, love triangles: Stephanie Danler's debut novel Sweetbitter follows a year in the life of a young woman working at a top-tier Manhattan restaurant.
NPR

Trump Rolls Into Washington For Biker Rally

The presumptive Republican nominee for president addressed Rolling Thunder, the annual gathering of motorcyclists, on Sunday. The group seeks to raise awareness of veterans' issues.
NPR

After Breast Cancer Diagnosis, She Channeled Her Ups And Downs Into Texts

NPR's Scott Simon talks with Natalie Sun about her project, textingwithcancer.com. The website won a Webby award, and documents her pessimism and optimism while undergoing chemotherapy.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.