Jonathan Biss

How does age impact the work of creative artists? Does an artist’s accumulated knowledge and experience, combined with a sense that time is finite, create the conditions for especially intense or heightened expression? And how do these dynamics – common to artists of all kinds – play out in the realm of music composition?

The internationally-renowned pianist Jonathan Biss explores these questions of “late style” creativity in a panel discussion with Washington University faculty on February 8 at 5 pm in Danforth University Center’s Goldberg Formal Lounge.

Joining Biss for “Late Moves: Music and Creativity,” will be music scholar Dolores Pesce and psychologist Brian Carpenter; the panel will be moderated by professor and chair of music, Todd Decker.

The program will complement and inform Biss’ solo recital on February 9 with a performance exploring late works by Schumann, Chopin, and Brahms. His appearance is part of Music’s Great Artist Series. For information on this performance, visit the Music Department website.

Biss’s intensive study of “late style” has unearthed a surprising variety, and in some cases dramatic changes, in the creative style of composers as they age:

“The question of ‘late style’ has long been of interest to writers and philosophers, from Adorno to Said. What effect do years of accumulated knowledge and experience, combined with, perhaps, the realization that death is near, have on artistic creation? The question is particularly fascinating with music, first of all because it is abstract, and therefore its ‘subject matter’ is more difficult to discern than is the case with literature, but mostly because a remarkable number of composers moved in surprising directions in their last years.

“Over five centuries, composers whose late periods came as early as their 30s or as late as their 80s have found new forms of expression as they approached the end of their lives. Still more interesting, the change is not consistent from composer to composer: some become more concise, others more expansive. Some become fixated on death, others find an almost child-like innocence. Some composers wrote their most adventurous music in their late periods, and others pursued an extreme simplicity.”

Biss studied at Indiana University and at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he joined the piano faculty in 2010; his online course on Beethoven’s piano sonatas attracted more than 100,000 students. In 2011 he released a best selling eBook, “Beethoven’s Shadow.”

His diverse repertoire ranges from Mozart and Beethoven, through the Romantics to Janáček and Schoenberg, as well as works by contemporary composer Gyorgy Kurtág. He has received commissions from Leon Kirchner, Lewis Spratlan, and Bernard Rands. His critically-acclaimed recording career includes an album of Schubert sonatas as well as two short Kurtág pieces. Notable among Biss’s honors are the Diapason d’Or de l’année and Edison awards. In 2016 he released the fifth volume of his nine-year, nine-disc recording cycle of Beethoven’s complete piano sonatas.

For more on Jonathan Biss, visit his website.

Click here to listen to NPR segment on Schumann featuring Biss.

Visit the Music Department website for more on its Great Artists Series and a full list of performances.