We want our artists to grow old, because their journeys inform our own. It isn’t just the body of work—the first historic strokes and sparks to the last autumnal musings, wise yet also light with liberation. The arc of the life itself is instructive. This year, the 350th anniversary of Rembrandt’s death, has seen numerous facets of the master’s work celebrated in exhibitions all over the world. At the same time, we are reminded of Rembrandt’s compelling trajectory: a steep climb to fame and fortune, a perilous drop out of fashion. Refusing to flatter the powers that be, his work grew only more profound. There is a lesson in that.
Next year, 2020, marks the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth. His arc of early–middle–late curves over the world like a crown of freedom. There are even arcs within a single work, as we see in various upcoming productions of his lone opera, Fidelio, which premiered in three separate versions over nine years. Beethoven lived to age 56, not bad in those days. Mozart, he was stolen away at 35, in 1791. We can, of course, divide his oeuvre into periods, and then proceed to label his last works “late”—but are they? Both Cosi fan tutte (1790) and Die Zauberflöte (1791) delve into the challenges and meanings of monogamy, not usually a late-period subject. Mozart wasn’t done—despite the portent of his unfinished Requiem (1791). He was cut short. What would have come next?