Yup, that's right - Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart celebrates his 256th birthday today (at least if you believe in ghosts). He's certainly worthy of the recognition - his 600+ surviving works span nearly every genre and in many cases are among the finest examples of the form. My personal favourites are the string quartets, of course - since Mozart himself played the viola, the viola parts tend to be both idiomatic and expressive (unlike the frequently boring parts some of his contemporaries stuck us with).
And yet, for all the accomplishments of his life, he was only 35 years old when he died. An impressively prolific fellow, to be so well-remembered so long after his death based on what he produced in a relatively short time. But would you believe there's another child prodigy composer who was born on this date? With the same first two names (save for translation), even? There was, though. He was Juan Crisóstomo Jacobo Antonio de Arriaga y Balzola, or simply Arriaga, a Spanish-born composer who entered the world on what would have been Mozart's 50th birthday. And he died - get this - ten days short of his 20th birthday. Admittedly he's not as famous as ol' Wolfgang, but I've played his three string quartets and they're quite lovely, and when you consider that he died at an age when most people today are somewhere in the middle of college, the fact that he created pieces worth remembering and performing is rather remarkable in itself.
Anybody else famous? Indeed, we need go only to 1823 to encounter yet another composer, Edouard Lalo, who, though he fails to reach Mozart's heights, is still a frequent sight on concert programs, his Symphonie Espagnole and Cello Concerto being particularly popular among young players. (He achieved the reasonably ripe age of 59, as well, so the date's apparently not cursed after all.) Oh, and we can't forget Lewis Carroll, or Charles Lutwidge Dodson as he was baptized - 'twas brillig, and the slithy toves, eh?
Then again, it's also the birthday of one Edward Smith - a mind-bogglingly common name, but the the one I'm thinking of is the one who went down with his ship. Which ship? Why, the Titanic.
You know, I think I'm rather glad I don't share this birthday! Still - anybody want cake? ;-)