Composers - Substance Abusers

By Sostar, Zvonimir; Vodanovic, Marijo et al. | Alcoholism, May 1, 2009 | Go to article overview
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Composers - Substance Abusers

Sostar, Zvonimir, Vodanovic, Marijo, Breitenfeld, Darko, Breitenfeld, Tomislav, Buljan, Danijel, Granic, Roko, Alcoholism

Summary - The aim of this article is to emphasize and summarize some pathographies of eminent composers, about more than seventy of them, who were substance abusers, mostly alcohol abusers and/or tobacco, opioid, narcotics, and drug abusers. Most of them suffered from symptomatic alcoholism, which helped them solve different life problems such as sensitive personalities, social communication, neurotic disturbances, depression, psychosis. The average age of death in this group is fifty three years. The oldest among them is Sibelius (92 years), the youngest Bürgmüller (26 years). There are many composers who were substance abusers but a few of them were severe abusers, whose music and professional career was interrupted because of alcohol abuse. Nine composers (Cesti, v. Dittersdorf, Boieldieu, Hoffman, Field, Nicolai, Glazunov, Satie and Shostakovich) are described in details, whereas other composers are described briefly - some of them, J.C. Bach, W.F. Bach, Beethoven, Berlioz, Brahms, Debussy, Glinka, Gluck, Händel, Liszt, Mozart, Mussorgsky, Puccini, Reger, Ravel, Schönberg, Schubert, Tchaikovky, Sibelius, Wolf were published in this journal in earlier editions. This is the concluding article on this theme.

Keywords: composer; pathography; substance abuse; alcoholism


The aim of this article is to emphasize and summarize pathographies of eminent composers, 77 of them, who were substance abusers. In this section we can divide them into three groups as follows: substance abusers who suffered from primary alcoholism, secondary alcoholism, and those who were alcohol and/or tobacco, drugs abusers. Most of them had different anxiety and depressive disorders (neurosis, panic disorder, cyclothymia, manic depressive disorder).1

Substance abuse is the use of alcohol, tobacco and/or illegal drugs in a way that is harmful for health. Most of the composers mentioned in this article were alcohol abusers. Alcoholism is a syndrome of physical dependence on alcohol, whose sudden deprivation may cause withdrawal symptoms - tremor, anxiety, hallucinations and delusions (delirium tremens). Alcoholism impairs intellectual functions, physical skills, memory, judgment and social skills, such as conversation. Heavy consumption or alcohol abuse also causes following complications and diseases of different organs and systems, for example cardiovascular - cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure; nervous system - neuritis, funnicular myelosis, cerebral atrophy; gastrointestinal tract - gastropathy, ulcers, portal hypertension, acute and chronic pancreatitis, enteritis, cirrhosis of the liver etc. There are many substance abusers, but only a few of them (Dussek, Mysliveöek, Mussorgsky etc.) suffered primarily from alcoholism to such extent that their careers were interrupted and stopped because of alcohol abuse. Therefore they were unable to finish their creative work.1"1 In this journal we previously published pathographies of the following composers: J.C. Bach, W.F. Bach, Beethoven, Berlioz, Brahms, Debussy, Glinka, Gluck, Händel, Liszt, Mozart, Mussorgsky, Puccini, Ravel, Schönberg, Schubert, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, Wolf.


1. Pietro Marc Antonio Cesti

(1623-1669) Italian composer and conductor who was born in Arezzo and studied with various local musicians. In 1637 he joined the Franciscan order. While he was in Volterra he turned more toward secular music, probably due to the patronage of the powerful Medici family. There he also came in contact with Salvator Rosa who wrote librettos for a number of Cesti' s cantatas. By 1650 Cesti' s calling as a monk and his success as a singer and composer of operas were coming into conflict so he was officially reprimanded. In 1652 he became a court member in Innsbruck. After holding a post somewhere in Florence as maestro di cappella, he entered the papal chapel in 1660. In 1666 he became Vice-Kapellmeister in Vienna. He was described as unstable, stubborn, quarrelsome and often seeking confrontation.

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