Academic journal article Alcoholism

Spontini, Hoffmann, Donizetti, Macdowell, Delius and Other Composers Neurosyphilitics

Academic journal article Alcoholism

Spontini, Hoffmann, Donizetti, Macdowell, Delius and Other Composers Neurosyphilitics

Article excerpt

Summary -The aim of this article is to emphasize and summarize some pathographies of eminent composers, about twenty of them, who died of neurosyphilis. It is likely that the number of composers who were infected with treponema pallidum was greater, but nobody knew about syphilis before the eighteenth century. Most of them died in the first half of the nineteenth century. In pathographies of a few eminent composers (Schubert, Donizetti, Glinka, Schumann, Smetana, Chabrier and Wolf), syphilis is described as a sexually transmitted disease in the primary, secondary and tertiary stage-form characterized by gumma, progressive paralysis and tabes dorsalis. The average age of death in this group is fifty years. The youngest among them is Franz Schubert (31 year,) who was affected with syphilis, but he died from intercurrent disease - typhus, the oldest was Gaspare Spontini (77 years). Syphilis almost disappeared at the beginning of the Twentieth century (except Abraham). It was treated firstly with mercurial and arsenic compounds, from 1920 with malaria fever, and in 1943 with penicillin. Spontini, Hoffmann Donizetti, MacDowell and Delius are described in details, whereas other composers are described briefly - some patographies (Schubert, Glinka, Chabrier, Schumann, Smetana, Wolf) were published in this journal in earlier editions. This is the concluding article on this theme.

Keywords: composer; pathography; syphilis; neurosyphilis; progressive paralysis; tabes dorsalis


The aim of this article is to emphasize all eminent musicians who died of the consequences of neurosyphilis. All of them sexually contracted syphilis (Treponema pallidum) in their young age (except Smetana). Syphilis symptoms are clearly defined in eminent composers' pathographies (Schubert, Donizetti, Glinka, Schumann, Smetana, Wolf, Chabrier).1 Some of them passed through the secondary stage of syphilis which is defined by the progression of infection from the primary site. It is characterized by rash, headaches, fevers and cramps. Other composers were in the latent stage ofthe disease, which was activated later, a few years before their death. The following stages/symptoms of neurosyphilis are progressive paralysis, palsies, stroke, disturbances of coordination and speech, dementia and tabes dorsalis which prevented composers from work and ended their lifes quite dramaticaly. Every eminent nation, which is famous for music has its ownsyphilitic musician: Austria - Wolf, Italy - Donizetti, Spontini, Czech Republic - Smetana, France - Chabrier, England - Delius, Germany - Schumann, Hoffmann, Russia-Glinka. All composers lived in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. In the Twentieth century there were no noted cases of neurosyphilis among composers (except Abraham). Mercurial and arsenic compounds were very important and widely used as syphilis cures, but even more important in the treatment of syphilis were malaria fever and penicillin.1-3

Composers ' pathographies - results

Gaspare Spontini (1774-1851) was an Italian composer and conductor. He was one of the five children of a poor family. The first part of his career was tied to Naples. Many of Spontini' s operas are lost, for some of them the dates and places of performances have not been accurately determined. Later he lived in Rome, Venice and Berlin. In June 1840 Spontini moved to Paris where he spent the last period of his life. Syphilitic disease of his brain progressed to methasyphilis. Five years prior to his death he had become deaf because of the effect the disease had on his acoustic nerve. Afterwards he developed severe mental illness - progressive paralysis - psychosis of syphilitic origin. By 1847 he had become feeble and deaf, and his activities were much curtailed. He returned to his birthplace Naples in 1850, where he was royally received. He died there on 24 January 1851, after an episode of intercurrent chest disease, pneumonia.1-6

Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffman (1776-1822) was a German writer, composer and conductor, more famous as a writer of fantastic stories, very important in the romantic period. …

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