Welcome to the Piano World Piano Forums Over 3 million posts about pianos, digital pianos, and all types of keyboard instruments
Join the World's Largest Community of Piano Lovers
It's Fun to Play the Piano ... Please Pass It On!
if 'being great' roughly resembles 'being perceived as great', there are rather more candidates than those who were very promising and died young. schubert for example wasn't close to being considered great when he died (he didn't even see the publication of many of his works we now closely associate with him) , nor was schumann.
Reminds me of Yogi Berra's comment on Jazz players/improvisers/composers:
Interviewer: Are there any great jazz players alive today?
Yogi: No. All the great jazz players alive today are dead. Except for the ones that are still alive. But so many of them are dead, that the ones that are still alive are dying to be like the ones that are dead. Some would kill for it.
Griffes was the one name that came to mind for me as well when this thread was posted. After being a "Debussy wannabe" in his earlier compositions (and a good one), his Piano Sonata clearly indicated that he was embarking upon a different, more adventurous route. Although it's not terribly well known, his Sonata is deservedly credited with being one of the finest Piano Sonatas written by an American.
Griffes came to mind for me too when I saw this thread, but I reconsidered, since for me Griffes had more than established himself as a great composer before he died. He was a very talented orchestrator as well as a writer of piano music, and actually left a pretty good body of orchestra, chamber, and piano compositions for someone who died so young. It's a shame that he died just as he was starting to get serious recognition and exposure of his compositions, or his works might be more well known today. I'm about finished reading the second of the two biographies written about him -- the Donna K. Anderson one, which dovetails and expands on the Maisel one nicely. I play Griffes' three late preludes, which are the last thing he wrote, and are in the same shockingly original style as the sonata. I'm currently working on the middle movement of the sonata (the outer movements are beyond my ability to play as they should be played). I was pleased to discover from the Anderson biography that Griffes wrote a self-standing orchestral version of the middle movement of the Sonata ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CXe7G8HpA3Y ), and I feel it gives me some license to perform that movement as an independent piece. I just have to work out by ear the ending he did in the orchestra ("Nocturne") version, as the piano version has a transition into the third movement before the double bar.
Enrique Grenados comes to mind but I think he was already great before he died very tragically at 49 years old. His Goyescas are my favorite!
Wikipedia: In 1911 Granados premiered his suite for piano Goyescas, which became his most famous work. It is a set of six pieces based on paintings of Francisco Goya. Such was the success of this work that he was encouraged to expand it. He wrote an opera based on the subject in 1914, but the outbreak of World War I forced the European premiere to be canceled. It was performed for the first time in New York City on 28 January 1916, and was very well received. Shortly afterwards, he was invited to perform a piano recital for President Woodrow Wilson. Prior to leaving New York, Granados also made live-recorded player piano music rolls for the New-York-based Aeolian Company's "Duo-Art" system, all of which survive today and can be heard â€“ his very last recordings. The delay incurred by accepting the recital invitation caused him to miss his boat back to Spain. Instead, he took a ship to England, where he boarded the passenger ferry SS Sussex for Dieppe, France. On the way across the English Channel, the Sussex was torpedoed by a German U-boat, as part of the German World War I policy of unrestricted submarine warfare. In a failed attempt to save his wife Amparo, whom he saw flailing about in the water some distance away, Granados jumped out of his lifeboat and drowned. However, the ship broke in two parts and only one sank (along with 80 passengers). Ironically, the part of the ship that contained his cabin did not sink and was towed to port, with most of the passengers, except for Granados and his wife, on board. Granados and his wife left six children: Eduard (a musician), Solita, Enrique (a swimming champion), VÃctor, Natalia, and Francisco.