Academic journal article Alcoholism and Psychiatry Research

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

Academic journal article Alcoholism and Psychiatry Research

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

Article excerpt


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. He was very sensitive and inclined to depression. Hoffman was involved in numerous activities when he was young, studied law, but worked as a technician. As a musician he started as an organist and continued as a pedagogue and composer. He was very productive as a composer. He was the first ideologist of German romantic opera theatre, and particularly his last operas »Aurora« and »Undine« were romantic indeed. Near the end of his life he was obsessed with a hopeless love for a young pupil of his. Such kind of life led him to alcoholism and other complications related to alcohol abuse. He was infected with typhus and at the age of 32 contracted syphilis. Ten years later he suffered from the tertiary stage of syphilis (metha-syphilis, tabes dorsalis). He suffered from paraesthesia of lower limbs, with lancinating sharp pains. Finally, he developed progressive paralysis with dementia and died at the age of 56. The death stopped him in the middle of a quite fruitful creativity, nevertheless he could be considered as one of the most important representatives of romanticism.1-5,7

Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848) Italian composer, born in Bergamo. He was infected with syphilis at the age of 19. He probably infected his wife with syphilis and her pregnancies were complicated: she either gave birth too early, or the children were malformed and died very early after childbirth. …

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