Academic journal article Alcoholism and Psychiatry Research

Diseases and Early Deaths of 200 Young Composers (Pergolesi, Schubert, Bellini, Mozart, Purcell, Bizet, Mendelssohn, Gershwin, Weber, Chopin, Etc.)

Academic journal article Alcoholism and Psychiatry Research

Diseases and Early Deaths of 200 Young Composers (Pergolesi, Schubert, Bellini, Mozart, Purcell, Bizet, Mendelssohn, Gershwin, Weber, Chopin, Etc.)

Article excerpt


Through centuries, composers have mostly lived for more than 60 years, but some of them - leading a turbulent and exhausting life as well as being sensitive and of failing health - became mostly ill of tuberculosis, other infections, epidemics (plague), inflammations, intoxications or succumbed to murders, accidents - drowning, anxieties - depressions, with suicides, dependences and other diseases, circulatory disorders, malignancies - surgeries, etc. In that case, their life expectancy was thirty or less. Our focus is on the most eminent 10 composers who died young and we shortly comment on their illnesses.1"8


Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736) Pergolesi was not a healthy person in his early years; he led a very active social life but had to withdraw from those activities because of his illness-tuberculosis. He received his final treatment and care in Pozzuoli monastery, where he died. Just before his death, he wrote some sacral music, such as »Stabat mater« and »Salve regina«. He was aware of his illness and therefore he didn't want to get married. He could have become one of the world's biggest composers. Maybe only Schubert and Mozart have given more in 26 years.

Franz Schubert (1797-1828) Due to his drinking habits, he was nicknamed »little sponge«. He was not a typical alcoholic. By chance, after one of his casual »intimate contacts«, he was infected with syphilis in 1823. He suffered from syphilis, a disease with very unpleasant symptoms in the second phase, with itchy swellings and eczema all over the body and the loss of hair. He was admitted for treatment to Vienna General Hospital. In 1828, at the age of 31, he suffered from vertigo - dizziness and headache (hangovers?). Suddenly, after two to three weeks he died from an unexpected acute disease - typhoid fever.9

Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835) For several years he was having uncharacteristic gastrointestinal troubles which cor- respond with »chronic« intestinal amoebiasis, i.e. that very clinical picture which is in all Mediterranean regions most commonly found. His last illness, because of which he died within several weeks, started after some rather large and long - lasting exertions. His terminal illness had the (clinical) picture of the acute dysenteric syndrome. The macroscopic finding at the autopsy also spoke in favour of the afore-mentioned diagnosis of a rather severe amoebiasis and hepatic abscess.10

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756- 1791) Aged 6, 8, 10, 22, 28 and 34 he had bouts of streptococcal throat infection - tonsillitis - rheumatic fever. The last 2 years of Mozart's life were a period of quick deterioration of his health (1789-1791). This was a period of great creativity and exhaustion but also of ever worsening financial status, perhaps because of gambling? During the last 2 months, and especially the last 2 weeks of his life, his health became rapidly worse. Two weeks before his death, he lay in bed. His physicians diagnosed a fever with a rash. They could not save him, just as they could not save so many other people in Vienna at that time (epidemics). Mozart's illness was worse after bloodletting and he died of fever, painful and swollen joints, exanthema and convulsions. The cause of his death was some generalized bacterial infection (coli bacteria, staphylococci, or most probably streptococci). It can explain Schönlein - Hennoch's purpura (benign prognosis), the first attacks of rheumatic fever (very rare at that age with such an outcome), possible endocarditis, toxic scarlet fever and septicaemia.11

HENRY PURCELL (1658-1695) In the autumn of 1695, he started being ill and became skinny, so he had to stay in bed, but still, he was trying to work as hard as possible. His condition was getting worse with further weight losing, sweating and coughing with fever. It is believed that he died from tuberculosis, which is very likely considering the symptoms. He died too early - at Mozart's age (36), wanting to obtain as much as possible from his short life by his sociability, hard work and periodical inclination towards pleasure (drinking etc. …

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