Unfinished works in the arts | Welsh National Opera

Unfinished works in the arts

21 August 2017

We open our Autumn Season with Musorgsky’s Khovanshchina, an opera that remained incomplete at the time of the composer’s death in 1881. The score was revised and finished a number of times including the version we are performing by Dimitri Shostakovich.

Unfinished works are common throughout the arts, from opera and classical music to architecture and literature.  

Classical music compositions were originally sketched, often roughly, on manuscripts with notes added over the top of the music. Many unfinished symphonies have been pieced together from these original documents by other composers, after the original author's death, with some remaining incomplete until many decades later. One famous example is Franz Schubert's Symphony No 8 in B minor, or as it is more commonly known, The Unfinished Symphony. There is also Mozart's Requiem, famous in part because of the number of myths and legends that surround it as well as Mozart's prestige.

Some famous 20th century operas have been left incomplete at their composers' deaths. Puccini left the finale of Turandot unfinished and the missing music was provided by Franco Alfano for the premiere in 1926. Alban Berg had only finished the first two acts of his opera Lulu (performed by WNO in 2013) at the time of his death in 1935. Due to objections from his widow a full version was not performed until 1979, with music for the final act devised by Friedrich Cerha using Berg's sketches.

In English literature, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales were never completed to the length he intended so technically remain incomplete (although they are still considered a seminal work). Charles Dickens was writing The Mystery of Edwin Drood in monthly instalments when he died, completing just six of the 12 planned. The story surrounded the murder of the titular character; because the story was never finished, the murderer was never revealed although Dickens was believed to have left letters stating the culprit.

There’s even an example of a building, that’s become one of Europe’s top visitor attractions, which has remained unfinished for over a century. Antoni Gaudí's Sagrada Família in Barcelona has been under construction since 1882. Despite its unfinished status, it is still the most popular tourist destination in Barcelona with 1.5 million visitors each year. Gaudí spent 40 years of his life overseeing the project and is buried in the crypt.

Shostakovich was an admirer of Musorgsky and took inspiration from him for much of his work. His orchestration for the 1959 film version of Khovanshchina earned a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture. Come along and hear the epic score for yourself as we perform Khovanshchina on Saturday 23 and Saturday 30 September and Saturday 7 October at Wales Millennium Centre, as part of our Russian Revolution Season, before we go on tour. Click here for more information.