Academic journal article Alcoholism and Psychiatry Research

Hundred Blind and Sight Impaired Composers (Nearsightedness Excluded Unless Complicated), with Two More Extensive Patographies (Bach J.S., Handel G. F.)

Academic journal article Alcoholism and Psychiatry Research

Hundred Blind and Sight Impaired Composers (Nearsightedness Excluded Unless Complicated), with Two More Extensive Patographies (Bach J.S., Handel G. F.)

Article excerpt


From the biographies of more than ten thousand composers and over a thousand patographies, 96 sight impaired composers were found. Composers presented in this work were listed by the year of birth, with the most probable diagnosis/reason leading to sight impairment, some of the patographies (Bach J.S., Handel G. F) being elaborated deeper. [1-8]

In the rest of patography we will present comparative patographies of two barock giants: Johann Sebastian Bach (Eisenach, 31. 3.1685.- Leipzig, 28. 7. 1750) and Georg Friedrich Handel (Halle, 23. 2. 1685. - London, 14. 4. 1759).

Although being born in the same year, not too far from one another, they never met.

Bach has spent his life inside the "circle" of some 250 km diameter, Handel travelled intensively, settling down in England; they had somewhat different approaches to life - Bach being the modest man of church (yet prone to alcohol and smoking tobacco), Handel being more passionate, apt to eating and drinking, periodically, practically, on the border of alcoholism; Bach married twice, had 23 children altogether, Handel never married, kept his personal life far from the public eye (yet being very extrovert most of his life). Both of composers got blinded at the same age.

However, the "Finger of destiny" gave the connecting tissue that tried to solve their visual impairment in their later years: famous, bombastic, public broker, considered charlatan but wise operator, "chevalier and gentleman", an Englishman named John Taylor at that time famous as operator-inventor of a needle for gray dimness over eyes (cataract reclinator ?). He used to treat many eye illnesses with the device causing a lot of damage and became his nickname "Munchhausen of medicine"! and in arrogance he described his residing in Leipzig (while operating Bach in March/April 1750) as follows:

"I saw all kind of various animals, like camels, dromedaries etc. But in Leipzig I operated a famous old music-master, I saved his vision, he was educated together with Handel whom I operated later".

Operation on both eyes failed, most probably due to wrong diagnosis of the vision loss - some sources speculate about the reason for the vision loss was either haemorrhagic glaucoma or, centrally, brain stroke causing central blindness; situation got complicated by inflammation, Bach rested in dark room, depressed doing only some dictations; mid July he suffered from another stroke complicated with fever (pneumonia?) and died on July 28.

From 1751 Handel was not able to write the music himself and had his student Smith write down new compositions, but Handel was unable to conduct as he was used before; the amount of new music was but a shadow of the previous times. He tried to improve situation in 1752, by two operations by means of needles and cuts, performed by eye doctors from the Guy Hospital and by court surgeon later, unsuccessfully. Then he came to the hands of above mentioned Taylor who operated on his eyes in 1753. Taylor reports:

"...with whom I once thought to have some success, having all the circumstances in his favour, motions of the pupil, light, etc., but upon drawing the curtain, we found the bottom defective from the paralytic disorder."

Another possible wrong diagnosis - speculation is that the cause of vision loss was more likely central vascular disorder with retinal degeneration or ischemic changes complicated with cataracts, diabetes and hypertension; several years later, Handel died of decrepitude. …

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