Suicides and Attempts of Suicide among the Great Composers

By Breitenfeld, Tomislav; Vodanovic, Marijo et al. | Alcoholism and Psychiatry Research, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Suicides and Attempts of Suicide among the Great Composers


Breitenfeld, Tomislav, Vodanovic, Marijo, Nogalo, Boro, Breitenfeld, Darko, Buljan, Danijel, Grubisic, Vladimir, Alcoholism and Psychiatry Research


INTRODUCTION

After investigating pathographies of more than 1500 composers we noted a great number of composers who suffered from depression or other pre-suicidal conditions. These conditions slowed down their creative work. After recovering from depressive or psychotic episodes, they came into hypomanic conditions. In this review article we describe psychiatric conditions of more than 50 composers that attempted or committed suicide together with their basic biographic data, medical history and additional comments.1'2'3

RESULTS AND METHODS

Georg Friedrich Händel (1685-1759) This famous German baroque composer was born in 1685 (the same year as J.S. Bach). He was strongly keen on music from childhood. Although he had a very dynamic life with many crises, failures, falls and impoverishment, he was highly esteemed, popular and accepted as the greatest English musical name until then. Handel was intelligent, well educated, generous, fun loving, temperamental. Tall, with a strong stature, he never married but later became known for his great fondness for drink. He had changing moods, sometimes due to overwork or his business failures, but mostly due to his pyknic constitution and cyclothymia, resulting in a bipolar disorder with shorter or longer depressions that always resulted in decreased activities, fighting spirit and social and working enthusiasm, creativeness in composing and extensive performing activity both as conductor and virtuoso, as well as an organizer of musical life in London. Handel's frankness, extrovert nature, cheerfulness and hypomania was rarely interrupted by deeper depressions, mostly in the years 1729, 1734, 1737, 1743, 1745, but after the age of 70 years, he was especially down, due to his blindness and the impossibility of leading his previous dynamic life as a performer or composer. He was also a smoker but heavy abuse of nicotine is not certain. During his life he had two other major medical problems. One of them was a recurrent weakness of his right arm (cerebrovascular disorder of rheumatic disease) and the other was blindness, first noted in 1751. He was operated 3 times, but always unsuccessfully.4-5'6'7'8'9'10'11

Luka Sorkocevic (1734-1789) Croatian composer and politician. He suffered from depression for ages. While he was suffering from strong pains caused by gall-stones, he committed suicide throwing himself through the window on the street. Since then, this window of the Duke's Court in Dubrovnik has been bricked up.2,3

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) German composer, pianist and conductor. In 1796 his hearing worsened. He described his medical problems in »Heiligenstadt's Will« in 1802, when he mentioned also his suicidal aspirations. Not being able to accept his illness, he spent quite a miserable and solitary life trying to keep his deafness in secrecy. Beethoven experienced serious professional crisis which resulted in lower music productivity. Progressive loss of hearing made him unable to perform as he did before as a conductor or pianist. The causes of his deafness have been multiple: frequent labyrinthitis, otosclerosis, possible syphilis and Paget's disease which was the least probable. He developed gastrointestinal symptoms, his liver disease emerged in 1821 with consequent nauseas, hematemesis and epistaxis probably due to thrombocytopenia and esophageal varices. His liver disease and cirrhosis with complications (ascites, edema, jaundice, and hepatic encephalopathy) was caused probably by infectious hepatitis and alcohol. In December 1826 he suffered from pneumonia. Beethoven died of the end stage liver cirrhosis with preexisting alcoholism, in coma, on the 26th March in 1827.4-5'6'7'12'13'14'15

Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826) German composer and conductor. He was very gentle and sensitive, suffering from tuberculosis since the early age. He suffered from dyspnea, accompanied with frequent cough and fever. Soon hemoptysis occurred, breathing difficulties deteriorated with cough becoming more frequent and intensive. …

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