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Top 10 Child Prodigies

Throughout history the world has been blessed with the occasional appearance of children with great talents, many of whom go on to become some of the most important contributors in their field. This is a list of the ten greatest child prodigies. As usual, add your own favorites to the comments.

10. Frédéric Chopin Composition

428Px-Image-Frederic Chopin Photo Downsampled

Chopin (March 1, 1810 – October 17, 1849) was born in the village of ?elazowa Wola, Duchy of Warsaw, to a Polish mother and French-expatriate father. Hailed in his homeland as a child prodigy, at age twenty Chopin left Poland forever. Young Chopin received his first piano lessons from his older sister Ludwika (Polish for “Louise”) and was subsequently taught by his mother. His musical talent was early apparent, and he gained a reputation in Warsaw as a “second Mozart.” At age seven he was already the author of two polonaises (G minor and B flat major), the first being published in the engraving workshop of Father Cybulski, director of a School of Organists and one of the few music publishers in Poland. The prodigy was featured in Warsaw newspapers, and “little Chopin” became an attraction in the capital’s aristocratic salons. He also began giving public charity concerts. He is said to once have been asked what he thought the audience liked best; the witty seven-year-old replied, “My shirt collar.” He first appeared publicly as a pianist when he was eight.

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9. Carl Friedrich Gauss Mathematics

468Px-Carl Friedrich Gauss

Gauss (30 April 1777 – 23 February 1855) was a child prodigy, of whom there are many anecdotes pertaining to his astounding precocity while a mere toddler, and made his first ground-breaking mathematical discoveries while still a teenager. He completed Disquisitiones Arithmeticae, his magnum opus, at the age of 21 (1798), though it would not be published until 1801. This work was fundamental in consolidating number theory as a discipline and has shaped the field to the present day. Sometimes known as “the prince of mathematicians” and “greatest mathematician since antiquity”, Gauss had a remarkable influence in many fields of mathematics and science and is ranked as one of history’s most influential mathematicians.


8. Lope de Vega Literature

Lopedevega

Lope de Vega (25 November 1562 – 27 August 1635) was a Spanish Baroque playwright and poet. His reputation in the world of Spanish letters is second only to that of Cervantes, while the sheer volume of his literary output is unequalled: he is estimated to have written between 1,500 and 2,500 fully-fledged plays – of which some 425 have survived until the modern day – together with a plethora of shorter dramatic and poetic works. The first indications of young Lope’s genius became apparent in his earliest years. At the age of five he was already reading Spanish and Latin, by his tenth birthday he was translating Latin verse, and he wrote his first play when he was 12. His fourteenth year found him enrolled in the Colegio Imperial, a Jesuit school in Madrid, from which he absconded to take part in a military expedition in Portugal. Lope introduced order into all the forms of national poetry, from the old romance couplets to the rarest lyrical combinations borrowed from Italy. He was thus justified in saying that those who should come after him had only to go on along the path which he had opened.

7. Yehudi Menuhin Violin

Menuhin

Yehudi Menuhin (April 22, 1916 – March 12, 1999) was born to Russian Jewish parents, Menuhin began violin instruction at age three under violinist Sigmund Anker. His first solo violin performance at age of seven was with the San Francisco Symphony in 1923. Menuhin later studied under the Romanian composer and violinist George Enescu, after which he made several recordings with his sister Hephzibah, who was a pianist. He was also a student of Louis Persinger and Adolf Busch. Yehudi Menuhin performed for allied soldiers during World War II, and went with the composer Benjamin Britten to perform for inmates of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, after its liberation in April 1945. He returned to Germany in 1947 to perform under the baton of conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler as an act of reconciliation, becoming the first Jewish musician to do so following the Holocaust.


6. John von Neumann Mathematics

Von Neumann

John von Neumann (December 28, 1903 – February 8, 1957) was an Austria-Hungary-born American mathematician who made contributions to quantum physics, functional analysis, set theory, topology, economics, computer science, numerical analysis, hydrodynamics (of explosions), statistics and many other mathematical fields as one of history’s outstanding mathematicians. His father was Neumann Miksa (Max Neumann), a lawyer who worked in a bank. His mother was Kann Margit (Margaret Kann). John was an extraordinary prodigy. At the age of only six, he was able to divide two 8-digit numbers in his head. He received his Ph.D. in mathematics (with minors in experimental physics and chemistry) from the University of Budapest at the age of 23.

5. Jean-François Champollion Linguistics

Champollion

Champillon (23 December 1790 – 4 March 1832) was born at Figeac, Lot, in France, the last of seven children (two of whom had already died before he was born). He lived in Grenoble for several years, and even as a child showed an extraordinary linguistic talent. By the age of 16 he had mastered a dozen languages and had read a paper before the Grenoble Academy concerning the Coptic language. By 20 he could also speak Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Amharic, Sanskrit, Avestan, Pahlavi, Arabic, Syriac, Chaldean, Persian, Ethiopic, and Chinese in addition to his native French. He deciphered the Egyptian hieroglyphs with the help of groundwork laid by his predecessors: Silvestre de Sacy, Johan David Akerblad, Thomas Young, and William John Bankes. Champollion translated parts of the Rosetta Stone in 1822, showing that the written Egyptian language was similar to Coptic, and that the writing system was a combination of phonetic and ideographic signs.


4. Maria Gaetana Agnesi Mathematics

Image-7

Maria Gaetana Agnesi (May 16, 1718 – January 9, 1799) was an Italian linguist, mathematician, and philosopher. Agnesi is credited with writing the first book discussing both differential and integral calculus. She was an honorary member of the faculty at the University of Bologna. Maria was recognized as a child prodigy very early; she could speak both French and Italian at five years of age. By her thirteenth birthday she had acquired Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, German, Latin, and probably a few more languages, as she was referred to as the “Walking Polyglot”. She even educated her younger brothers. When she was 9 years old, she composed and delivered an hour-long speech in Latin to an academic gathering. The subject was women’s right to be educated. A crater on Venus is named in her honor.

3. Blaise Pascal Mathematics

Pascal

At 11 or 12, Pascal (June 19, 1623 – August 19, 1662) had secretly worked out the first twenty-three propositions of Euclid on his own. He was a child prodigy who was educated by his father. Pascal’s earliest work was in the natural and applied sciences where he made important contributions to the construction of mechanical calculators, the study of fluids, and clarified the concepts of pressure and vacuum by generalizing the work of Evangelista Torricelli. Pascal also wrote powerfully in defense of the scientific method. He was a mathematician of the first order. Pascal helped create two major new areas of research. He wrote a significant treatise on the subject of projective geometry at the age of sixteen and corresponded with Pierre de Fermat from 1654 and later on probability theory, strongly influencing the development of modern economics and social science. In honor of his scientific contributions, the name Pascal has been given to the SI unit of pressure, to a programming language, and Pascal’s law (an important principle of hydrostatics), and as mentioned above, Pascal’s triangle and Pascal’s wager still bear his name.


2. Pablo Picasso Painting

Le Picador

Picasso (October 25, 1881 – April 8, 1973) is one of the most recognized figures in 20th century art, he is best known as the co-founder, along with Georges Braque, of cubism. Picasso’s training under his father began before 1890. His progress can be traced in the collection of early works now held by the Museu Picasso in Barcelona, which provides one of the most comprehensive records extant of any major artist’s beginnings. During 1893 (12 years old) the juvenile quality of his earliest work falls away; by 1894 his career as a painter can be said to have begun. The academic realism apparent in the works of the mid-1890s is well displayed in The First Communion (1896), a large composition that depicts his sister, Lola. In the same year, at the age of 14, he painted Portrait of Aunt Pepa, a vigorous and dramatic portrait that Juan-Eduardo Cirlot has called “without a doubt one of the greatest in the whole history of Spanish painting.” The image above (Le picador) was painted by Picasso when he was only nine years old.

1. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Composition

453Px-Wolfgang-Amadeus-Mozart 2

(January 27, 1756 – December 5, 1791) Mozart’s father Leopold Mozart (1719–1787) was deputy Kapellmeister to the court orchestra of the Archbishop of Salzburg, and a minor composer. He was also an experienced teacher; in the year of Mozart’s birth he published a successful violin textbook, Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule. When Mozart’s sister Nannerl was seven, Leopold began giving her keyboard lessons. The three-year old Mozart looked on, evidently with fascination: his sister later recorded that at this age “he often spent much time at the clavier [keyboard], picking out thirds, … and his pleasure showed it sounded good [to him].” Nannerl continued: “in the fourth year of his age his father, for a game as it were, began to teach him a few minuets and pieces at the clavier. … he could play it faultlessly and with the greatest delicacy, and keeping exactly in time. … At the age of five he was already composing little pieces, which he played to his father who wrote them down.” Among them were the Andante (K. 1a) and Allegro in C (K. 1b). In the course of his lifetime, Mozart wrote over 600 compositions includes works widely acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music. Mozart is among the most enduringly popular of classical composers and many of his works are part of the standard concert repertoire.

Sources: Wikipedia

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Listverse Staff

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  • JT: oh – it is a Stradivarius – a very expensive type of violin :)

    • barry

      and a very rare violin that cannot be bought today. i know one who owns though.

  • JT

    Great list, although I would add Bobby Fischer: greatest chess player of all time, giving huge exhibition matches by the age of 12 and generally revolutionising the chess world. It is a shame about his declining mental helath.

    Also, Yehudi Menhuin is my friend’s grandfather ^_^

  • JT: I didn’t realise that Bobby Fischer was having problems with his health – that is a shame. How cool about your friend – did he get to hear him play?

  • JT

    I would presume so. He owns a lot of his old violins and other paraphenalia.

  • JT: wow – any strads in there? You could retire on one of those :)

  • JT

    I’m afraid I have no idea what a ‘strad’ is. You’d have to ask him.

  • heavenlymayday

    My step father had a Stradivarius. At least he thought it was, and it looked like it could be. IT was destroyed in Hurricane Charley though, so it really doesn’t matter at this point.

    It had been in his family forever, it was given to him on the condition that he never sell it, and to pass it on to his children. Didn’t turn out so well huh?

  • heavenlymayday: What a tragedy! That is terrible news. I hope he had it insured (not that money makes up for the historical loss).

  • Fe

    It sounds horrible to say this, but the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Lope de Vega is fact that he was more than a bit of a Casanova….or maybe a better comparison would be Hugh Hefner, lol.

  • Fe: Given the choice, I suspect most modern males would rather read Mr Hughes literature :)

  • Adam W.

    You forgot to add me to the list… :-)

  • Late O’Day

    I think I’d class Paul Morphy as a greater chess prodigy than Fischer — and I’m rather sure Fischer himself would agree. Morphy really only had his father teach him the rudiments of chess. Fischer had a formal chess coach (John Collins) and the membership of the Manhattan Chess club at his disposal.

    About time for a list of great chess players.

  • 2overpar

    elton john was a piano prodigy. he began playing at three and could play “the skater’s waltz” by ear at four.

  • heavenlymayday

    Unfortunately it was not insured, I wish I could have talked him into getting it appraised and insured but it wasn’t at the top of his priority list. He wasn’t the most sober person around…

  • Late O’Day: Good idea – noted.

    2overpar: thanks for mentioning him

    heavenlymayday: ah what a shame! You could be rolling in it now!

  • st

    Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz would be another great person to put on this list.

  • Diego

    Hey What about Evariste Galois and Abel Niels Henrik´s they were really one of the best matematicians in the history without mentioning that they were less than 18 when they mead their best works.

    • deepee

      Prodigies should be 12 and below. Not 18 and below.

  • Diego

    so yeah shame that you didnt include them, i feel bad about it… and mad by the way, ingnorants

  • bootlicker

    May I nominate William Sidis? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_sidis

    • John

      William James Sidis should have been #1 on this list…

  • Stephanie

    I KNEW Mozart was #1!

  • James

    I don’t think Mozart deserves first place. While he is the most famous musical child prodigy, there have been others more talented tham him (Mendelssohn and Saint-Säens come to mind). Additionaly, many of the best-known stories about him are fabrications invented during the decades after his death.

  • kiwiboi

    Gauss is first place, by a country mile.
    Also, Thomas Babington Macaulay would be right up there.

  • Whiskerer

    Kiwi, I agree, Gauss is the foremost mathematician of all time, and released what is probably the best achivement ever in the field of mathematics in his early twenties. And surpassed the minds of most in very early years.

  • Eirini

    Wasn’t Einstein a prodigy? Stupid question?

  • Randall

    Eirini;

    Not a stupid question, but in fact, no… Einstein was not a prodigy. Not quite the opposite, but almost.

    Einstein was a bright, inquisitive kid (particularly with the encouragement of an intellectual, older cousin, who gave him science books to read) but he was also a bit slow in school and easily distracted. He was also something of a troublemaker, though this is to his credit, as German secondary schools of the day (called “Gymnasia”) were notoriously rigid and even martial in nature, and one can’t blame the free-spirited Einstein for rebelling. He was also a Jew in a class full of Germans, which made him feel ever-ostracized and “different.”

    Consequently, he wasn’t much of a student. His schoolmasters were mostly contemptuous of him, telling him he’d amount to nothing.

    His bad habits continued at University, where, again, he wasn’t much of a student unless he was *very* interested in the subject… and even then he rarely attended classes.

    Of course, all along Einstein was in fact a genius, and his genius quickly became evident to his friends and colleagues.. and of course became world-known when he published his first Special Theory of Relativity paper.

    But a child prodigy? Most definitely not. Rather, a poster-boy for the misunderstood, unconventional, diamond-in-the=rough potential genius.

    • ian

      Einstein had mastered calculus by about 11 or 12.

  • Annunnakike

    My fav one is Von Neumann. Champollion comes in second and number three Agnesi.

  • Dgirl

    Well, I have no suggestions myself, but I did like this list. I especially admire Champollion, Agnesi and De Vega for their linguistic skills. I mean, I am not very interested in mathematics, physics and those kind of things. But languages on the other hand… I want to speak/know as many as possible! Well, at least ones that are useful (to me).

  • kelly jones

    hello, i went through your site it is really wonderful and well- designed. i would like to tell you that i really liked your work and your awareness about the music. oh god, you are terrific with your work. i think i better start trying hard.

  • screwjack

    ARTHUR RIMBAUD – he is to poetry what Mozart is to music

  • egg

    Einstein was Prodigy. And Nikola Tesla also… And lot’s of others that you wont know.. You are surprised and you have fav’s of prodigies.. just you are admired of their knowledge.. You put them in list?! From one to 10?! PRODIGIE IS PRODIGIE.. AND Doesn’t need to be put from one to 10… or best 10.. coz We prodigies are one… from 1 to 1… You cannot respect something that you don’t understand.. you cannot say this is Best, that is not better.. to do this… Must be Prodigie… and .. if you are one you will know that we are all the same… We are all one.. But GOD Almighty creator wanted us to be Lonely. This is our problem.. No one can understand you… What you do why you do.. ppl talk about you.. like they do understand you..
    I am not saying for all of you.. just don’ this stuff.. please.. top 10.. or top 100 or top what ever.. there is no need..
    P.S – AMAR SHAKUR – 2Pac is also Child prodigie…

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  • smokingfrog

    i knew einstein wasnt a child prodigy,
    but what abt newton, i think he could have been a child prodigy.
    And wht abt Blaise Pascal, he surely was a child prodigy wasnt he??

    I think he should be included in this list

    what say?

  • smokingfrog

    ohhhh crap

    blaise IS included!!
    sorry my bad.

    but abt newton, was he a child prodigy or not

  • Mozart’s birthday is soon….

  • Rian

    i should be on the list too.. haha

  • No one writing in these comments should be on this list.

    But Chopin is my favorite out of this list. Fantastic compositional style that only comes from years of playing.

  • theOneWithoutASecond

    What about Ramanujan? Being poor, malnourished, and living far away from most other mathematicians all of his methods are highly unorthodox and arose independently from his own mind. Even today some of his methods are used for the string theory

  • egg

    Ramanjuan is mathematical Genius… I have read the theories… and philosophy … But I am not sure he is.. all I know he i s GENIUS…

  • srivansa

    i think there are so many child prodigy’s in history only known by god.

  • egg

    I think you are right… Maybe only GOD knows who are they(we) in this World… I think you are right…

  • wheres wiliam sidis

  • kickass

    I was a child prodigy once…I grew out of it
    ;)

  • ian

    Ramanujan should definitely be on this list.

    And Kim Peek as well – undoubtedly his genius was unparalleled.

  • Ackmed teh idiot

    Fredrick Chopin had Tublercolosis, which led to the belief that TB was a good thing.

  • Name

    Where is Michael Jackson?

  • sudhir singh

    hi
    it is very helpful for me………………………….

  • Its a shame that Mozart, if he had lived for another 25-30 years, what he may have accomplished !!

  • barry

    too western (european mostly). a lot of Asian kids are prodigies. there is this Korean (i forgot the name) who was in the Guinness for speaking 4 European languages fluently and solving integral calculus at the age of 5.

  • Bosmanj

    Though Chopin was a great musician and a real child prodigy, I’d say Charles-Valentin Alkan would fit better to this list! Alkan was said to be the greatest pianist ever, although he wrote his compositions rather late compared to Chopin. His technique was the best one has ever seen.

    Also Carl Filtsch would have been one of the greatest musicians if he didn’t die at age 14, he was a student of Chopin and was favored by many.

    Also Beethoven is pretty interesting and controversial on this subject..

  • Joshua

    Yehudi Menhuin but no Jascha Heifetz?

  • Beth

    Good list. I dont believe in reincarnation but, that photo of chopin looks a bit like roger daltrey of the who. The eyes and nose in particular. Just noticed that they share the same birthday, march 1. Kinda freaky.

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