Saturday, 30 January 2016


January 31 1797 – November 19 1828 

This Austrian composer and 'father' of the art form of lieder was an especially important influential and innovative figure in Western Classical Music History.

The music contained within Schubert’s extremely prolific oeuvre and the composer himself would come to personify the end of the Classical era and usher into Europe a new, unique sound from Germany, solidifying it’s rightful placehold in the Classical genre well into the dawn of new era: the Romantic period.

Of course, there had been practitioners of lieder before Schubert – Mozart, and, most notably Ludwig van Beethoven (a contemporary, muse, and objet d’inspiration of Schubert), who had composed the Song Cycle "An Die Ferne Geliebte" in 1816 – but it had been through Schubert's innovative use of tonality and harmonies that seemed to contrast, underscore and highlight carefully selected dramatic texts that seemed to bring piano accompanied vocal storytelling to life.

A musical gathering of peers at "Schubertiade", with Schubert at the piano.
It would not be until the generation following Schubert’s untimely passing (he died at the tender age of 31 in 1828, following a six-year long battle with Syphilis, which he had contracted in 1822) that solo public recitals featuring the belated composer's work came into being (and, even then, the public recital was still a relatively new innovation: it would be in a solo keyboard performance by Johann Christian Bach (son of Johann Sebastian) in early June of 1768 that would bring public recitals to the forefront of western contemporary performance art. During his short lifetime, private listenings would be held amongst a small group of contemporaries and friends of the composer in exclusively intimate concert performances dubbed “Schubertiade.” It is highly likely that the composers' extensive library of German song found not only their first – but only performances in this setting during Schubert's lifetime. There would exist with Schubert, much like many of his operatic and classical predecessors, and unfortunate wane in the popular accreditation due such a gifted musician – one that would see an astronomical rise only after the advent of the modern recording industry, most notably with the tidal wave of public clamor and it’s salivation over the first ever complete recording of Schubert’s song cycle “Der Winterreise” (widely considered to be his best compositions) in 1928, by Viennese baritone Hans Duhan, whose ground-breaking recording projected the cycle and it’s composer into the stratospheric realm of musical infinity. That is not to say the prolific composer did not experience some modicum of popularity in the age of Romantics:

In the decades following his early demise, composers who had ‘discovered’ the vast Schubert repertoire would credit the composer as a major source of inspiration: his influence was felt by many a prolific artist who would use the innovations made famous by the father of the German Lied, from early pianists and champions of the late composer living in the mid to late nineteenth century (Felix Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, Franz Liszt to name a few), to fellow nineteenth century classical and operatic giants Antonín Dvořák, Hector Berlioz, and Anton Bruckner. Schubert’s notable impact didn’t end there. His influence continued to be felt even well into the twentieth century, by such icons as Anton Webern and Richard Strauss.

An 1825 Watercolor of Schubert, noted by contemporaries of the Composer to
be his best likeness.
Today, the music of Franz Schubert is amongst the most widely recognized and beloved of both the Classical and Romantic repertoire. Hard pressed is the modern melophile to find any adult, minor or child who has not learnt, or at least heard – one of the many piano or vocal compositions made famous by this giant of Classical Music History.

To hear the famous Winterreise Song Cycle that helped usher in Schubert's lasting fame, visit this external youtube link).

In honor of Schubert’s 219th birthday this weekend, I present below not a Schubert composition, but rather, one of Ludwig van Beethoven, considered the focal point of influence and admiration for the young Franz Peter. It was Schubert’s dying wish to see performed Beethoven’s 131st Opus, the String Quartet no. XIV in C# minor – a wish that came to fruition just five days before his demise on November 19, 1828.

 Amidst all of the physical and mental suffering experienced by the disease-ridden Schubert as he slowly starved to death from the violent and painful tertiary stages of syphilis and mercury poisoning, it is comforting for admirers of the iconic composer to know that Franz Schubert did indeed enjoy great beauty before his departure from this world. Upon hearing the performance in full, for the first – and last - time, Schubert is said to have declared of his musical hero Beethoven and his quartet: "After this, what is left for us to write?"

For your classical and operatic successors who revered you, dear seems there was plenty. 

Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Geburtstag!


Wednesday, 27 January 2016


JANUARY 27, 1756 - DECEMBER 5, 1791

This giant of 18th century musical Icons has been heavily featured on my blog since it's inception here at Peruse the articles provided in the link below to discover the many fascinating facts, myths, tributes and legends of Western Classical Music's most influential composer - from Mozart's time spent touring Europe with his father as a young "wunderkind from Salzburg", to his struggle for Imperial support (and his placement amongst contemporary musicians), to his Opus Ultimatum in his exquisitely ethereal Requiem mass in d-minor, and re-discover the beauty, the mystery and the mystique of the legacy he left behind.


“Mozart is the greatest composer of all. Beethoven created his music, but the music of Mozart is of such purity and beauty that one feels he merely found it — that it has always existed as part of the inner beauty of the universe waiting to be revealed.”Albert Einstein



Monday, 25 January 2016

FROM OBSCURITY TO LIGHT - CLASSICAL ERA: Martín y Soler, Clementi & Righini

18th Century composer Vicente Martín y Soler

This little-known (in modern times) Spanish composer was the delight of 18th century aristocracy and left an indelible artistic footprint across Europe with his selection of ballets in Naples, a slew of opera buffas in Vienna (which he composed with texts from one of the most prolific and beloved librettists of the period, Lorenzo da Ponte (of Mozart fame)) all of which were ravishing triumphs, and finally Martín y Soler would earn a lifetime post at the Court of Catherine the Great at St Petersburg, in 'European Russia', where he would even collaborate on his 1789 Russian-language opera “The Unfortunate Hero Kosmetovich” with the Empress herself, who co-wrote the libretto for the work in a jested affront to her cousin, the reigning King of Sweden, Gustav III. This opera in particular was such a resounding success amongst the Imperial rulers, it is said the Great Princes Alexander and Konstantin could recite the opera from memory alone!

Martín y Soler’s time spent in Vienna was especially fruitful. Later dubbed the “Valencian Mozart”, this contemporary of Wolfgang Mozart and Antonio Salieri and other famed composers of the period (the likes of Joseph Haydn and Christoph Gluck) worked both in tandem, and in competition with, the present era’s most well known artists of the classical period. Although posterity has seen to it that the works of this prolific and immensely talented composer would fade into relative obscurity, Vicente arguably saw more success in the latter part of the 18th century than that of his operatic counterpart, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, when his operas “Una Cosa Rara” and “Il Burbero di Buon Cuore”, both of which premiered at Vienna’s Burgtheater within ten months of each other, outshone Mozart’s epic opera buffa “Le Nozze di Figaro” which would premier in that same year, and which also shared da Ponte as librettist (compare Martín y Soler’s “Una Cosa Rara”, which had it’s premiere in mid November of 1786 and would be shown a whopping 78 times in Vienna, with Mozart’s "Le Nozze di Figaro", which premiered less than six months after Cosa Rara in May with a total of only 9 performances in Austria’s Capital that year).

Catherine the Great, Russia's longest ruling Leader.
Whilst Mozart was still petitioning the Emperor of Austria, Joseph II for a court appointment and brooding over the lack of Imperial support (he would not achieve his much sought after post at the Viennese court until over a year later, at the end of 1787 - as Court Composer, and even then, only to fill the void left by the passing of Christoph Willibald Gluck in November that year, who had previously held the position), Martín y Soler was already making friends in high places. Fresh off the heels of his success with Una Cosa Rara, Vicente would quite rapidly (comparatively speaking) find himself in Russia in late 1788, under the direct employment of another Imperial Ruler in the Empress Catherine the Great. It had taken Wolfgang Mozart some six years to accomplish his goal of a steady post and employment at Court (since his arrival in Vienna in March of 1781, following Joseph II’s accession as ruler of the Habsburg lands following the death of Holy Roman Empress and Archduchess of Austria Maria Theresa). Vicente Martín y Soler had accomplished his tenure to Royalty in less than half that time with scant effort on his part: his works were so valued amongst the European aristocracy, he had actually been summoned to the Russian Court where he held the title Mozart had so long fought for (and that his father Leopold had been fighting for since his son’s first foray into music as a young wunderkind back in Salzburg): "Court Composer "– a title and position Martín y Soler would hold until his death some 18 years later, on January 30, 1806.

It’s high time we rescue this once-beloved composer from the abysmal depths of Western Classical Music Obscurity and place him back amongst the blinding light where he so rightfully belongs. Listen below to the delightful aria "Dolce mi parve un di" from Una Cosa Rara, (this beautiful aria was originally sung by Nancy Storace, the doyenne of 18th century Sopranos).[1]

The opera in full is available on youtube and is well worth a listen. If the music in the work sounds familiar, it is with good reason. Mozart would later pay tribute to Martín y Soler in 1787 with his opera Don Giovanni, in which Wolfgang would quote[2] music from Una Cosa Rara at the end of his opera in the ensemble aria “O quanto in sì bel giubilo”. 

*Una Cosa Rara is quite significant in yet another way: it featured one of the first stagings in Vienna of a new form of sound and dance at the end of the second act of the opera, in which Martín y Soler had included a short, two-couple waltz - something entirely new to Viennese audiences. It was by all accounts, received most exuberantly amongst operatic circles and Martín y Soler himself would go on to be credited with introducing the waltz to the Austrian Capital (an attribution that would later be adopted - and made famous by - Johann Strauss II in the 19th century).

[1]Storace was much admired for her vocal prowess amongst the leading composers of the period. She had both song and roles written exclusively for her, and would be cast as the first “Susanna” in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro.

[2]“Quoting” could imply the direct sampling of music from another compositional source (another artist), by musical theme or in whole; it could also imply a theme on which another composer would perform variations. A composer could also, and often would, “quote” from himself in addition to, or exclusive of, the works of other artists.

OTHER LESSER KNOWN (in modern times) COMPOSERS, CONSIDERED HIGHLY REGARDED IN THEIR DAY (despite what wikipedia says!)

Composer & Pianist Muzio Clementi.
Muzio Clementi, who had a birthday this January 24th, was an immensely well respected composer, pianist and conductor of his day – he was considered to be second only in talent and genius to the internationally celebrated Joseph Haydn, who is still considered one of the greatest musical minds to have ever walked this planet to this very day.

Clementi’s travels would place him among the world's leading musical spheres, where he would find himself in much esteemed company, performing for the Royal likes of the Archduchess and future Queen Consort to the throne of France, one Marie Antoinette during a visit to Paris in 1780 whilst on his European Tour; and at the Imperial Court of Vienna, where he would perform alongside Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart for the French Queen's brother, the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II of Austria.

Clementi was also an astutely skilled pianist. His innovations on the instrument would influence many contemporary and later composers of note that you will almost certainly recognize by name: Giacomo Meyerbeer and Ludwig van Beethoven, just to mention a few.

Certainly, if we can attribute much glory and fanfare to the prolific and mesmerizing works of Meyerbeer and Beethoven, it is seems only right to pay homage to their objet d'inspiration, Muzio Clementi: the spark who lit the flame.

Buon compleanno maestro!

Famed Pianist Vladimir Horowitz plays Clementi's (then) famous Sonata no. V (video 1 of 3).

Composer Vincenzo Righini.
VINCENZO RIGHINI – Let’s set the record straight on this one. Despite being incorrectly cast as an unoriginal thief, this one time Italian choirboy, one time successful tenor (even holding the distinction of membership in the Bustelli Opera troupe in Prague) and eventual composer was highly regarded in Vienna as both a composer and singing teacher and as director of the Austrian Capital’s Italian Opera. He would also serve as Kapellmeister in Mainz and Berlin, and would be appointed the same post of the court theatre in 1811. As we have already seen with Martín y Soler and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, ‘borrowing’ music from other artists, in particular amongst contemporaries, was a well-known practice of the period, and was generally considered to be a high honor and achievement for the sampled musician. There exist plenty of works in all eras of classical music where composers draw on, perform variations on, or directly sample from (including from the works of Righini himself) the compositions of previous or contemporary artists whose music they admired.

Righini could count amongst his supporters and peers many of the Classical period’s most noted Composers and performers, even securing for himself a placement amongst Western Classical Music’s elite with a performance of his cantata Il Natale D’Apollo at the highly exclusive Tonkünstler-Societät (the Society of Musicians), a privately run organization founded by Florian Gassmann (the same teacher who had brought Antonio Salieri to the Viennese Court of Emperor Joseph II in 1766) in the effort to support ‘musicians and their families’, and which boasted the works of such well-loved composers as Felix Mendelssohn and Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf and was host to such prolific clientele as Antonio Salieri, Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It’s famed and wealthy patrons included many persons of aristocracy, including the Empress Maria Theresa.

Righini also shares a birthday this month of January, he was born in Bologna on January 22, just five days before Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, in 1756.

What an era!

Buon compleanno!

Listen below to the exquisite "Ombra Dolente" from Righini's cantata "Il Natale D'Apollo". This is one of my absolute favorite pieces from this period. 21st century soprano and coloratura diva Diana Damrau can be credited with helping to bring the works of this often overlooked Composer back to the forefront of the mind and ears of modern classical era aficionados. 


Friday, 22 January 2016


Thomas Tallis was a member of The Chapel Royal and would serve the Tudor
Dynasty as Organist and Composer over the course of four reigning Monarchs.
January 22 is a most significant day in music for England. It was on this day in 1575 that composers and organists to the court of Queen Elizabeth I, Thomas Tallis (a long-time musician to the court of England, having served three Tudor monarchs before Elizabeth: Henry VIII, his protestant son, King Edward VI, and half-sister to Elizabeth and Edward - Queen Mary I, respectively), and Tallis’ most beloved pupil, one William Byrd, would make English history with the exclusive rights to not only print and publish the polyphonic music of which they had just been granted a 21 year monopoly, but also the right to enforce the strict prohibition of sales of any “songs made and printed in any foreen countrie(s)” in a game-changing attempt at introducing to the world - and seeking dominance in it - the English repertoire among the masses, taking full advantage of the newly improved printing press.

Tallis and Byrd, both favorites of the Queen would be made able, thanks to the patent granted them by Elizabeth, to compose and print music to be used in the church in many of the popular tongues of the period, including English, Latin, French and Italian. Even further. the musical duo were the only composers permitted to use the paper on which music was printed!

William Byrd was once a star pupil of Tallis.
These grants came at an interesting time in British History. By the time Tallis and Byrd had received oligopoly over polyphonic music in 1575, England was already well into the throes of Religious Reform. Elizabeth had already sat some 17 years on a throne which had seen varied states of religious upheavals, revolts and reversals in her predecessors Tudor. Her notoriously fickle father Henry VIII had been the major catalyst behind the secular divide of Catholics and Protestants when he, following his infamous break from the church of Rome some two decades prior in order to legally divorce his wife and reigning Queen Catherine of Aragon and marry protestant Anne Boleyn in her stead), chose to set into motion the Act of Supremacy in 1534 in which he declared himself to be the ‘Supreme Head on earth of the Church of England’. With the advent of Martin Luther and his translated biblical texts into English, Europe - already on the brink of a series of religious civil wars across the continent - armed with this new, powerful public backing from an otherwise formerly neutral world leader, would find it’s citizens re-ignited by the already flickering spark of revolutionary spirit.
Protestants and Catholics alike would endure extremely violent, dogmatic reigns under the Tudor dynasty, reigns that would include instated Queen’s heads rolling off the chopping block, to executed ministers, archbishops and common reformists alike. Catholic churches would see themselves whitewashed and stripped of ornamentations in both ‘décor’ (icons) and in liturgical service (music; the ‘making of the cross’ on one’s chest) and replaced with the relatively conservative services of the Protestants, only to be violently undone and to have all ornamentations restored under the conditions of Catholicism during the reign of Mary I just prior to Elizabeth’s accession to the throne.

Music went through much change as the denominations of Christianity rapidly fluctuated, and, under Elizabeth, Tallis - who had been a constant at the Tudor court over the course of three monarchs and now on his fourth - would adjust the music of the Chapel Royal accordingly:

during the periods of Catholic flourishment, the highly ornamental and embellished polyphonic music consisted of rich and elaborate harmonies sung by multiple voices reminiscent of the music of the Renaissance era, while during the Protestant rise and wane, the rich and elaborate would be replaced by the softer, muter, more simple practices of singing with only ‘one syllable per note’ (as envisioned by one archbishop Cranmer), with emphasis placed less on aesthetic structure and more on the transparency of the texts that accompanied the compositions themselves (elaborate ornamentations being considered too 'Popish' for Protestant ears).

Elizabeth I as she would have appeared
in 1575, pictured here in the so-called
"Pelican Portrait" by painter
Nicholas Hilliard.
Elizabeth, having previously bore witness to the divide amongst the subjects of both herself and her predecessors, sought a more neutral approach in religion and it’s use of music, seeking to placate zealots on both sides of the religious divide by instituting her own Act of Uniformity in 1559, which included the 'Ornaments Rubric' clause: the ultimate royal show of religious compromise which would allow the Queen to retain for the Church of England traditional Catholic ceremonies, such as the ‘making of the cross’ at baptisms, and the adornment of the surplice and the cope amongst the clergy, while the doctrine of the Church itself would remain Protestant in nature. Accordingly, she would adjust, through her grant bestowed upon Tallis and Byrd in 1575, the rich polyphonic music of the old (Catholic) church with the new, more simple sound of the protestant choir, creating a uniquely English hybrid of vocal repertoire that, while initially facing public scorn via the religious fanatics of the ever-tumultuous period, would introduce into Europe a ‘Golden Age’ of Elizabethan music – one that continues to astound and astonish audiences around the globe to this day.

Listen below to two of the thirty-four motets composed by Thomas Tallis and William Byrd from the Cantiones quae ab argumento sacrae vocantur – a collection of compositions dedicated to Elizabeth's 17th year on the throne of England (accordingly, each composer contributed 17 pieces each to the mammoth work to represent each year of their beloved Queen's Reign), and in thanks for granting them the Printing Patent in 1575. This collection was the collective composer’s first work under the Monopoly.

#26, In Jejunio Et Fletu (in Fasting and Weeping) by Thomas Tallis:

#12, O Lux, Beata Trinitas (O Trinity of Blessed Light) by William Byrd:

- Rose.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016


Who died two years ago today:

A fitting farewell: an aging Abbado in a state of deep reflection following Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Requiem Mass in D Minor.


June 26, 1933 - January 20, 2014.

This much beloved conductor seemed to be destined for success: as a descendant of Royalty and son to an established musician, Abbado would naturally find himself not only in the presence of greatness, he would become one of the Classical genres top contenders in the field of conducting. Abbado was much admired not only by patrons and audiences around the globe, but also by many of the most respected names in his field and would reign over Western Classical music's vast symphonic and operatic catalogue, finding his niche in the works of 19th century Austrian Composer Gustav Mahler. It was here that Abbado would find both initial and lasting acclaim, and would come to be widely regarded amongst modern "Mahlerites" as second only in greatness to the composer himself.

The symphonic world may love, remember and forever attribute Mahler's Second Symphony with the gifted maestro, but to me, the Chevalier Abbado will forever reign as the King of the New World, where his sprightly interpretation of the third ('scherzo') movement of Dvořák's Ninth Symphony paints the most picturesque mental imagery of European longing and reflection with "the spirit" of new world discovery.  
 Bernstein summed the work up quite succinctly when he referred to the Ninth as “a New World symphony from the Old World, full of Old World Tradition.." Abbado's masterful technique certainly does it's composer and his audiences justice.
The Scherzo is listed as item 4 on
external site. I highly suggest a
purchase of this album or of the
third movement itself. You will NOT
be disappointed!
Abbado's influence on the Classical Realm continues to be missed.

Obituaries & Tributes/Listening Guides:

Deutsche Grammophon


Rest In Peace, Maestro.


Saturday, 16 January 2016

TRIVIA & HUMOR: Did you know? (Fun Opera Facts)

Disaster Averted


A young Arturo Toscanini
Arturo Toscanini, former director of an elite selection of the world’s finest orchestras, most notably his 17 year tenure with the NBC Symphony Orchestra was widely recognized as one of the 19th and even 20th centuries Greatest Conductors. By the sheer force of indecision (although some would argue it to be of providence), this Italian maestro narrowly missed utter disaster and an almost certain untimely death when he, in May of 1915, after abruptly cutting short his concert series at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, nixed his pre-scheduled plans to board the ill-fated Cunard Ocean Liner RMS Lusitania and opted to return home a week earlier than planned aboard the Italian Duca Degli Abruzzi instead. Had he idled around in New York for just one more week, Toscanini would have taken his pre-scheduled route back to Europe aboard the infamously unlucky vessel as planned, and would have undoubedtly joined the nearly 1,200 lost or dead at sea following an unexepected torpedo attack by German U-Boat SMU-20 that would strike the RMS Lusitania and sink the liner in a mere 18 minutes, shortly after the beginning of the First World War.

Antonio Vivaldi's Crimson Rage and Georg Friedrich flying off the Händel (I had to!)


Georg Friedrich Händel
Georg Friedrich Händel was known as one of the Baroque era’s founding fathers. From Germany to England and back, this beloved composer’s reputation as a master of composition preceeded him any and everywhere he went, from civilians to Kings. Unfortunately for students of the German born maestro (and for his contemporary musicians and fellow composers), that reputation would soon play second fiddle to the hushed whispers about the alleged violent moods of the megalomanic composer. Apparently, Händel often found his ego to be a tad too big for his britches and could commonly be found raging over his pupils and quarreling with fellow compositional competitors, and was known to possess a dictatorial teaching style among upcoming musicians, whom he taught and ‘ruled’ with an iron fist.

Antonio Vivaldi, the 'Red Priest'
Antonio Vivaldi, the 18th centuries' most beloved virtuoso of the violin and baroque composer, was also known for his fiery temper amongst his students. What made Vivaldi’s foul moods somewhat more controversial than German contemporary Händel over to the west in England, was the fact that the victims on the opposing end of Antonio’s rage were notoriously all female, all young, and all of whom had already led lives filled with tragedy as abandoned orphans (many of whom were given up as products of bastardy or had lost their parents through untimely deaths). They resided in the Venetian convent and orphanage  L' Ospedale della Pietà, where
"Il Prete Rosso" (“The Red Priest” as Vivaldi was known about town - alluding to the color of his hair, not his fiery temper, although such a moniker would be entirely justified) would take up teaching in 1703, composing many vocal compositions for the all-female ensemble.

By all accounts, the violin and vocal coach was a professor of the top tier, and had accomplished much success for the girls and for the Pietà itself during his tenure as maestro - so he was absolutely dumbfounded when he found himself at the short end of the annual electoral vote in 1709 and let go. It was a requirement in those days at the L' Ospedale della Pietà for any and all teaching positions to go trough a period of review at the commencement of each calendar year. Although the board did note the many accomplishments of the fiery Italian, they failed to secure for him the required 2/3 of the majority vote - effectively releasing him from his six year tenure with the convent. It is believed the reason Vivaldi failed to make the cut was due to his frequent outburts of anger, opinionated personality, and genrally disagreeable nature. His own father, Giovanni Battista Vivaldi was known to intervene on his son’s behalf with employers who found Antonio’s personality too brash for their comforts. It was a noble gesture, yet almost always one that was made in vain.

The Antonio Vivaldi Smile

Vivaldi or Corelli? The mystery
While we are on the subject of Antonio Vivaldi, did you know? This portrait, frequently used as a point of reference to the likeness of the late virtuoso, is in all likelihood not Vivaldi at all, and instead a depiction of fellow violinist Arcangelo Corelli.

Vivaldi is only known with certainty to have sat for one portrait, the so-called ‘engraved portrait’ by François Morellon de La Cave, in 1725. The likeness of Corelli is said to have been originally mistaken for Antonio by more modern musical scholars living in the late 18th to early 19th century due to a ‘tuft of red hair, peeking’ out from under the musician’s wig, and as such lives on as the product of anecdotal, not factual evidence related to the likeness in question. Today, although the (alleged) ‘Corelli’ image still abounds, many modern scholars of this period agree the portrait in question is most likely a misattribution, however it continues to exist as a likeness of Vivaldi as this is the image most well known and popular historically, and one commonly associated with the 18th century Venetian composer.

Ladies! What a Drag..

The last of an extinct art: Original recording of
Castrato Alessandro Moreschi, singing Bach's
setting of 'Ave Maria' in the early 20 century.
Did you know? A papal edict issued in the mid 16th century strictly prohibited females from singing on the Roman stage! For nearly 300 years, the roles we know and love today as female soprano roles were sung by castrati (castrated males), usually quite young, who would perform in full drag to packed audiences across Rome.
 The uniquely high-pitched castrati were much beloved and celebrated in Italy for the crispness and purity found in what we would call in modern times the treble voice (and for adult males, the closest relation would be the modern ‘countertenor’, although neither are the same as that of a castrated young male).

It is believed the edict stemmed from two biblical passages of note from the apostle Paul: Corinthians I, 14:34 which states:  "Let your women keep silence in the churches,"  and Timothy I, 2:11-12 which reads "Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over men, but to be in silence." It wasn’t until the unification of Italy and the Papacy’s loss of the Papal States centuries later that this ban was lifted, and women were allowed not only to sing on stage as sopranos, mezzos, and everything in between, they would soon find themselves with the freedom to don male attire and sing in the masculine roles of Glück, Bellini, and even in the operas of Mozart in what we now know as the modern “Breeches” or “Trouser” roles;[1] while you can still find ‘soprano-esque’ males, some in female attire - in many of the baroque period roles sung by the intoxicatingly beautiful vocal agilities of the castrati’s modern counterpart, the countertenor.  

Thankfully for the modern countertenor's..ahem.."livelihood" (and frankly, for our modern ears), our current versions of castrati work within far less physical parameters than that of their predecessors to achieve their unique sound (and by no means does that imply less work - the ranges reached by the countertenor are notoriously taxing and singing well is an immensely laborious feat). Although today's -able bodied- version of a Castrato may not be the ‘real thing’ ('south of the border' wise), they nevertheless remain quite a glorious spectacle to behold.

Classical Music, Modern Times

Did you know?

New discoveries of very old works of our most celebrated classical composers of yore are being made everyday!

Findings made in 2014 - 2015 alone (two of which were discovered in a mere three month span in two countries spread out across the globe), featured the "earliest known example of Polyphony" which was discovered "tucked away in a British Library manuscript" in London, England in December, 2014. (Read about the discovery by clicking on this external link: University of Cambridge; Research)

Three months prior, over in Budapest, Hungary, a scholar of the 18th century composer Joseph Hadyn, while perusing relative material at the countries' National Szechenyi Library, would discover, tucked away in it's archives, a "substan[tial] part" of the original manuscript of Mozart's massively popular "Turkish March" (the Piano Sonata in A Major), long believed to have been lost. This finding is considered to be one of the greatest discoveries of the 21st century by Mozart scholars and admirers alike. (Read article by clicking this external link: The Guardian)

The year 2015 was fruitful as well for conductor and musicologist Federico Maria Sardelli, when he scoured over 'anonymous' manuscripts his musician wife had acquired during her travels in Europe, and immediately recognized the penmanship of a Vivaldi 'copyist'. Sardelli set out to have the work authenticated (which indeed, proved it to be an original Vivaldi composition) and would catalog the piece as RV 820, and premiere it to modern audiences on Monday, February the second, 2015. (Read more about this discovery by clicking this External Link: BBC News)

Requiem Mass in D minor, by Count von Walsegg??

Requiem K.626 (Mozart autograph)
Had 18th century aristrocrat-turned-conman Count Franz von Walsegg gotten his way following the untimely demise of contemporary genius composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in December of 1791, the world may have come to know Mozart’s masterwork, his Requiem Mass in d-minor - which Walsegg had commissioned from him prior to his death - as the brainchild of the Count's.

The nefarious Count Walsegg was known in Austria to have been a plagiarizing con man, often stealing works from other, more talented musicians and passing them off as his own for profit and notoriety.

This was his plan with Mozart, when, following the death of Count Walsegg’s beloved wife, Anna, the deeply grieved Count decided to commission from the dying musician what would be his final, unfinished work. Walsegg’s plan was not only to pass off Mozart’s masterpiece as his own, but to have the Biblical composition performed at the memorial he had built for his late wife on the annual anniversary of her passing.

Thankfully for Mozart’s legacy, and for his admirers, Walsegg’s plan failed miserably (although, appallingly, he did have a somewhat successful period of attempting to pass the work off as his own) and we now know the beauty, the yearning and the many triumphs of the Requiem - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem, thank you very much.

I will close this post with yet another dirty ditty, courtesy of our beloved Mozart since they seem to be so popular with fans of the enigmatic composer’s raunchy personality:

Did you know?

Mozart’s crude humor wasn’t limited only to his private correspondence with family and friends.  Below you will find just one of a handful of ‘leaked’ (they were probably made for the enjoyment of a private circle of the composer-comedians’ friends) compositions, written from the filthy mind of one Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, composer to the Imperial court of Austria and Knight of the Golden Spur:

I now present to you, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s "Leck mich im Arsch” (I will leave it to the reader to do his or her own translation!):

[1]The "trouser role" carries with it a misogynistic history of it's own. The curious practice of 'cross-dressing' - vocalists donning themselves in the wardrobe of the opposite gender - in this instance, wasn't a practice amalgamated only amongst men - although the brawnier sex did rule supreme: the historic use of 'trouser' vocalists did indeed employ women at a period in which they were, as described above, banned from the stage. How then, were they included? Why, by dressing in drag, of course - in exclusively male roles. Several composers of note would modify this 'loophole' in the battle of the sexes even further by creating male roles specifically for female mezzo-sopranos in drag. German-turned-British composer Georg Friedrich Händel was one of many composers who exercised this practice, by shrewdly documenting the roles in question as that of the castrati, Händel would both appease the puritans of high art society and embrace the dawn of a new female-inclusive era by sneaking in the fairer sex disguised in male attire and performing in traditionally male roles at the premieres of his operas Giulio Cesare and Ariodante (just to mention a few).


Friday, 15 January 2016


When studying the lives of the great innovators and composers of Opera and Classical music in times past, one trend seems to run so rampant
When studying the lives of the great innovators and composers of Opera and Classical music in times past, one trend seems to run so rampant amongst these prolific minds that it seems to jump off the page. I am speaking of the markèd appearance of mental derangement amongst many of the 16th to 20th century composers who lay at the forefront of Western Classical Music, each of whom shared, in varying degrees of severity, a cognitive degradation which would manifest itself over time, as a result of physical disease and aberrant psychological pathology.

Conductor Carlos Kleiber

As we have already seen in my posts on late sixteenth century Murderer-Prince and Secular Composer Carlo Gesualdo and in the lives of twentieth century conductors Erich and Carlos Kleiber - and not to mention the famous patrons of Wagner and his contemporaries - mental illness, in it’s vast and varied forms, ran the full gamut from depression and it’s resulting anxieties, to obsessive compulsions and megalomanics (I admit, as in the case of Wagner), all the way to the opposite end of the wellness spectrum with hyper-sexual pedophiles (as seen in one Aleksandr Scriabin), to murderers and proponents of suicide.

We have also seen a rampant supernatural cultism (in the form of superstitions and their believers) emerge from followers of Verdi and Paganini, whose devotion toward the ‘cosmic reality’ found in the works of these virtuosos was considered so ethereally spectacular, they believed them to be of a paranormal or deified source (a school of thought we would see again in the life of - and, indeed, after the death of - the late soprano Maria Callas.) Others would take 'occultism' one step further, as in the case of Gesualdo and Scriabin, both of the criminal sub-set of society, (yet both exceptionally erudite characters compositionally) and both of whom were proponents and practitioners of the ‘art’ of witchcraft.

This is not to suggest that any form of mental illness is a requirement for genius, as is commonly believed. As we will see, particularly in the case of Anton Bruckner, (and as already noted in my post on Gesualdo), many of the ailments suffered by so many of our most beloved composers and members of the classical arts were, at least in part, very much a product of the times in which they lived. In most instances, medical advancements in the area of psychology still had much room to grow (one can successfully argue that this field remains in it’s infancy stage even today) and, in some cases, germ-theory was practically non existent, resulting in catastrophic degrees of disaster and repeated states of religious turmoil.

We begin our descent into madness with a select group of composers, performers and musicians, each of whom were considered to be ‘touched’ (a highly derogatory term formally used to describe the mentally afflicted) not only by a prolific genius, but also by something considered far more sinister by their contemporaries:


20th century pianist Glenn Gould.
This native of Toronto, Canada was afflicted with a case of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) that presented itself with dips of incapacitating anxieties related to germs and general human interaction. The renowned pianist would leave the touring circuit at the height of his success and extricate himself from his own mother’s death bed (so afraid of the germs in hospitals was Gould.)

A common recluse for most of his adult life, it is debatable whether this innovator of Bach’s Goldberg Variations lived in a state of severe depression due to his self-imposed lack of social interaction, or whether he found solace and comfort in isolation (much about OCD is highly misinterpreted and misunderstood - even amongst many of the professionals who diagnose it.)

The virtuoso once claimed to “love the night and darkness”, had dreamed about vacationing to the uninhabited polar regions of Canada (a dream and likeness I share!) and famously debased the touring circuit and it’s residual fame as unnecessary and gauche when he declared ‘audiences en masse’ to be “hideous...a force of evil.”

It is said that outside of a few romances (one of which carried with it children), Gould had almost no friends at all - likely as a result of his isolation. It is believed the reclusive pianist shifted his idle focus onto his own person in his later years of life, becoming one inch shy of turning into a full blown hypochondriac. The pianist allegedly kept a detailed log of any physical manifestations or imperfections he’d find whilst examining his body, and visited a series of doctors in order to create for himself a 'perfect cocktail' of drugs which he would take at his leisure as a result of the prescriptions he had obtained while ‘doctor shopping’.

The infamously mysterious and eccentric pianist died alone, in October 1982 in his hometown of Toronto, Canada.


Austrian Composer Arnold Schoenberg
Late 19th-early 20th century Viennese composers Gustav Mahler and Arnold Schoenberg, respectively, also suffered from depression-induced self-isolation and OCD-like symptoms (while not at the threshold of Gould, who used to soak his hands in water so hot, they glowed a bright hue of red.)

OCD is not relegated only to the musical
realm - one famous victim of the illness,
twentieth century tycoon and aviator Howard
Hughes suffered incapacitating symptoms
which were so far unmanaged by the end
of his life that the handsome entrepreneur who
seemed to have it all (much like our beloved
composers) was reportedly unrecognizable
at the time of death - a result of years of
malnutrition culminating from the time spent
performing cleansing rituals - and possible
alleged drug use (chronic pain often goes
hand in hand with OCD. The common school of
thought would seem to suggest an unconscious
desire for control over environment in lieu of
control over pain.)
Schoenberg famously brought the topic of Triskaidekaphobia (an intense fear of the number 13) to light, and tried to avoid the number at all costs through most of his adult life, compulsively seeking the ‘visions’ of astrologers. It is said the composer’s greatest fear was that he would meet his demise during any year that was a multiple of the number 13. He would spend many a birthday in a self-imposed seclusion, terrified at the thought of what might happen. 

In 1939, Schoenberg had a friend consult an astrologer to get the final word on his limited mortality, so afraid was the composer of turning sixty five the following year (1940: 9+4 =13.) His birthday, of course, came and went without incident. That didn’t stop the obsessive Austrian from again consulting his band of astrologers, who, to Schoenberg’s horror, informed the composer of another 13 - this time hidden in his age at 1950: seventy-six (7 and 6, of course, equal 13.) The astrologer wrote in his correspondence to Schoenberg, not of a fatality per se - but rather of something of undetermined significance that would be occurring that year.

Oddly enough, the year 1950 would be the ill-fated composer’s last. He died, twelve minutes before midnight - on Friday, the thirteenth day of July, 1951. He had just missed his 77th birthday by two months..which, bizarrely, would have been on September thirteenth, 1951.

Gustav Mahler  is a special case: having survived the deaths of six of his young siblings (mostly from scarlet fever and diphtheria - two highly fatal infectious diseases that would not see a curb in mortalities until the ‘accidental’ discovery of penicillin by Sir Alexander Fleming in September of 1928) and having witnessed the suicide of another young brother, Otto, who shot himself to death in 1895 when Mahler was 35.

Austrian Composer Gustav Mahler
Gustav was especially close to Otto, and his death prompted the then-middle aged composer to famously declare "I am thrice homeless, as a native of Bohemia in Austria, as an Austrian among Germans, and as a Jew throughout the world. Everywhere an intruder, never welcomed" – an indication of destiny’s decree to thrust upon him a life tampered with forced periods of isolation and seclusion, remarkably affecting the composer’s outlook on life.

Sadly, tragedy would strike again for down-trodden composer, when his own kin, daughter Maria Anna (his eldest by his wife and fellow composer Alma Mahler) died at the untimely age of four from a sinister culprit well known to Gustav: scarlet fever and diphtheria. Mahler’s only reaction to a life filled with such catastrophe was to immerse himself in music - themes of death were a regular occurrence in his compositions, most notably (and ironically) in his setting to music of the so-named “Kindertotenlieder” - a series of poems by famed German poet Friedrich Rückert, which deal with the psychological impact of the deaths of children, which he had commenced just six years prior to Maria Anna’s death.)

Conversely, it can be seen later in life that Mahler seemed to resign himself to an intense desire to experience self-imposed isolation. He had confided in his wife that he wished nothing more than to “experience a life in isolation” with her, and, later, in a letter to his beloved, he mused on the spiritual aspects of such a life: “...when one spends longer periods on one’s own, one comes to a unity with nature...this is only normal. Isolation helps us to find ourselves, and from there it is but a small step to God...”

A disheveled portrait of Russian composer
Modest Mussorgsky as he appeared
just days before his death.
Obsessive Compulsives and complex phobias weren’t the only illnesses to manifest themselves in the lives of the Great Composers. The physical (and mental) effects of drug abuse and alcoholism would claim the lives of noted librettists Paul Marie Verlaine and Charles Baudelaire, whose toxin of choice was Absinthe (a alcoholic tonic later made famous by famed author Oscar Wilde), and in Baudelaire’s case, a toxic mixture of the drink, laudanum (an extract of an opiate similar to morphine) and opium (a drug famously used and propitiated by French Romantic composer Hector Berlioz, who famously composed La Symphonie Fantastique under it’s influence in 1830.) Much like the late Verlaine, composers Modest Mussorgsky and Johannes Brahms would suffer cirrhosis of the liver and it’s unsightly side effect of jaundice, and in Brahms case, a lifelong addiction to alcohol and an already diseased liver would later turn into cancer of the same organ. In both instances, drink would kill both megalithic composers.

Polish (and celebrated Russian) dancer Vaslav Nijinsky.
Schizophrenia would rob from the stage a Russian (and indeed, a Parisian) icon in internationally celebrated ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, who, after a period of forced sabbatical in Budapest during the first world war, would unsuccessfully try to initiate a tour of South America in 1917. Two years later, an underlying illness that had only formerly manifested itself as Obsessive-compulsive in nature would be diagnosed in the form of Schizophrenia when telltale symptoms of the illness began to rear their head following the dancer's arrest in Hungary and a failed tour. He would live the rest of his life (some thirty years) in and out of mental asylums, never once returning to the stage.

A great many prolific composer were said to suffer from Severe Depression (now known as "Major Depression"):

Russian composer Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky
There is Sergei Rachmaninoff, who famously dedicated his Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor to his psychiatrist, Hector Berlioz (also afflicted with OCD and who had once attempted a murder-suicide), Composer-Prince Carlo Gesualdo (alleged to have suffered a lifelong depression following his criminally culpable murder of his ex-wife, her lover and child in the 16th century) and Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky, who is believed to have committed suicide by intentionally drinking cholera-infected water following a lifelong struggle with homosexuality - and that's just to mention a scant few.

As remains the case today, there existed those whose obsessions and/or depressions were so great they may have taken suicidal measures as an antidote:

Italian (and later French) composer Jean-Baptiste Lully

French composer and director of the Académie Royale de Musique, Jean Baptiste Lully was said to be so obsessed with, and so overcome by the shunning of King Louis XIV of France due to the former's homosexuality, that he initiated a frenzied performance of his setting of the Te Deum (which he had composed especially for the King) in 1687, violently pounding a large conducting staff to the floor. In an overabundant display of emotion, the hapless conductor accidentally missed his mark and stabbed himself through the foot instead. 17th century Europe was far from the age of medical revolution. After a brief period of cupping, blood-letting and leech therapy, infection set in. The stalwart Lully could think only of the King, whom he had once taught to dance, and refused what likely would have been a life-saving amputation. The enamored musician was warned of the the consequences of failing to have the operation, but it was of no use - Baptiste would have none of it. He needed to dance with the King - and therefore the leg needed to stay. 

Unfortunately for Lully, gangrene set in, traveling to and infecting his brain, killing the love-struck composer.

Erich Kleiber
Fellow conductors, this time of the 20th century, Erich and Carlos Kleiber (father and son, respectively), are both rumored to have committed suicide (although in both cases, this is speculative.) The patriarch Kleiber was found by a young Carlos, submerged in a tub, in a pool of his own blood inside of the family bathroom in January of 1956 following his rejection as music director of the Vienna State Opera. Erich was said to have mourned greatly for this oversight prior to his death.

Some sixty years later, Erich’s prodigal son Carlos, would himself be found dead under mysterious circumstances.

Carlos was notorious for his need to self-isolate, rarely even finding himself on the podium (as compared to contemporaries.) He was considered to be a troubled genius of mammoth proportions, yet little is known about his private life. What we do know, from the interviews of his personal physician, is that Carlos was diagnosed late in life with a treatable form of Prostate Cancer. We know that the recently retired Carlos refused any form of treatment, and, following the death of his beloved wife Stanka, holed himself high up in the hills of Slovenia, just adjacent to the burial ground in which his wife lay.

His body would later be found by his daughter on a visit to the home some six days post-mortem. Whether the enigmatic icon committed suicide (as it is alleged his father had sixty years prior), and by what method - or simply died as a result of the untreated cancer flowing through his veins - will likely never be known, and if there exists anyone who does know, it seems fitting that the legacy of the intensely private conductor live on in an lasting and enigmatic mystery.

One thing about Carlos’ mental state at the time of his death can be said for certain: the conductor was quite bereaved at the loss of his beloved Stanka. Certainly, it is reasonable to infer from her passing and the circumstances surrounding his own demise a suggestion of extended suicide: Carlos had to have known, after all, that refusing any treatment for his cancer diagnosis would be an exercise of almost certain futility. Even if a ‘quick’ method of suicide were not a distinct possibility, the decision to let nature run it’s course certainly would have been a fatal one.

English conductor Sir Edward Downes
There is another conductor, this one who lived in more recent times, who also had a hand in his own death. Much like the understandably difficult physical and mental experiences of Beethoven and Bach, who had gone deaf and blind respectively (whilst still in their productive years), 20th century English conductor Sir Edward Downes would meet his end both visionless and anacusic.  

The good conductor surely must have empathized with the tragic plight of Bach, who had the misfortune of undergoing a botched cataract surgery - performed by the 18th century's most  nefarious ‘quack’, the Chevalier John Taylor - whose questionable methods had left him completely blind.  

Like the baroque maestro, Sir Edward Downes knew of the mental anguish that accompanied the loss of such important senses (tragic for anyone - especially so for a conductor) that he, at age 85, alongside his wife, Lady Joan Downes took the modern (and what I believe to be the respectable) approach, when they applied for, and were granted, the services of physician-assisted suicide at the infamous Dignitas Clinic in Zürich, Switzerland on July 10th, 2009. 

Both drank, under the supervision of a qualified pro-end-of-life physician, a lethal cocktail of antimetics and barbiturates, before succumbing peacefully into oblivion.

John Taylor was a known ‘oculist’ who would perform
surgeries in the public town square, and was said to leave
town ‘before the bandages came off’. His solution for his
disastrous surgery on Bach was remedied by the common
‘quack’ methods of the day: blood letting and cupping!
Within four short months, the composer would be dead.
Astonishingly, the Chevalier Taylor performed the same
procedure on Georg Friedrich Händel - who he also blinded.
The psychological effects of physical disease are not always secondary or psychosomatic in nature. Serious infections, if left untreated, can manifest themselves in a variety of aberrant and involuntary behaviors, often resulting in fatality. This was the case for the following slew of prolific composers, all of whom suffered from varying degrees of psychopathy as a direct result of a virulent strain of syphilis:

Franz Schubert - died in November 1828. 

Although the official cause of death is listed as typhoid fever, later re-examinations into the death of Austrian composer and prolific pianist Franz Schubert has indicated a cause of death resulting from the use of mercury as a means of treatment for the tertiary (late) stages of Syphilis. Although there is scant literature available that dialogues the mental state of the late composer, there does exist a wealth of information in the form of reports concerning the physical symptoms that would seem to support the mercury theory. It is said the beloved pianist experienced a wide range of maladies: headaches and swollen joints, fevers and vomiting so severe Schubert is believed to have starved to death, unable to keep down any food.

Mikhail Glinka - died in February of 1857. 

Although the composer is said to have died following a seasonal viral infection, Glinka’s own memoirs detail the psychological ramifications of syphilis:
“thoughts [are] crowded my brain unasked” (a sign of schizophrenia.) The composer also alluded to “musical hallucinations” prior to his death.

Hugo Wolf - died in an insane asylum in February of 1903, in a state of psychosis - the result of syphilis. 

Wolf was only 43 when he died, and had only recently survived a failed suicide attempt.

Gaetano Donizetti - died in April of 1848 in a state of psychosis (believed to be bi-polar disorder) and paralysis brought upon by an untreated case of syphilis, which had later developed into the more serious, and fatal neurosyphilis (when the infection reaches, and spreads, throughout the brain and/or spinal cord of the victim.)

Robert Schumann - died in July of 1856. 

Schumann is an interesting case. The German composer and pianist suffered from a lifelong case of mental illness, described by contemporary physicians as any and every psychopathy known to man, from ‘melancholic depression’ to ‘bi-polar disorder’ and ‘schizophrenia’ just to name a few. 

He was also syphilitic. 

One modern belief is that the hallucinations, suicidal tendencies (he survived a failed suicide attempt in 1854 after which he entered into an insane asylum in Endenich, near Bonn, entirely of his own volition) and the depressive nature experienced by the composer later in life were the result of the beginnings of neurosyphilis. Supporters of this ‘diagnosis’ believe the pianist first became infected as a youth, and the notoriously slow-moving virus would not reach the brain until relatively close in time to his death. They note the similarity in the aberrant psychopathy displayed in Schumann with that of neurosyphilis and the unfortunate results of mercury poisoning (the primary method of treatment at the time.)

Ludwig van Beethoven - died in March of 1827. 

Doctors at that time who performed the autopsy on Beethoven would cite the cause and manner of death to have been acute liver damage brought about by alcohol abuse. Since then, modern scholars of this period, medical professionals and scientists alike would re-examine those results. What really caused the death of Beethoven remains under hot debate, with causes ranging from alcoholic cirrhosis and infectious hepatitis, to lead poisoning and syphilis

It seems the infamous range of moods exhibited by the composer in his final years may not have been the result of (only) his complete loss of hearing.

Bedřich Smetana - died in may of 1884 as a result of advanced stages of syphilis, (in all likelihood neurosyphilis.)

This Czech composer’s death was initially thought to have been the result of senile dementia. It was through the protestations of his family, and modern scientific analysis of biological material that a conclusion of syphilis (and it's resulting mental derangement) would be made.

Unfortunately for our above described beloved composers, much like in the case of Gustav Mahler, the disease which robbed them of their livelihood and life existed in a free-for-all state until the advent of penicillin, which, in 99 percent of the cases mentioned, would not be discovered until the following century.   

Germ theory itself would not begin to become realized until the late 18th century, when two Parisian ‘men of reason’, professor and physician Jean Noël Hallé, and his unwitting assistant unexpectedly stumbled upon a germ-infection-disease connection while attempting to figure out why ‘smells’ seemed to have a propensity to ‘kill’[1] in the midst of the French Revolution. Such a mammoth discovery, yet so infantile in contemporary perspective.  

Europe, as we have seen in the above examples with our composers, still very much practiced the quack medicine from days of yore, when it was commonly believed that disease and pandemics (the bubonic plague of the 14th century being one) were result of mankind’s manifold sin and an angry God punishing them through the deployment of miasmas (foul, diseased air from the bowels of hell), to the ancient practice of  Galenic medicine based on a dubious humoral theory.  The cure-all was a mixture prayer for the former, and of natural tonics, penance, blood letting and a monitoring of the bodies four ‘humours’ and their corresponding 'temperaments' through naked-eye urine examination  for the latter.  

The 'Four Temperaments' as defined by their
respective four humors:

phlegmatic, choleric, sanguine and melancholic.
See: external link: four humors wiki
It is quite easy, even after the scientific breakthroughs made in France at the height of the revolution, to imagine a skeptical populous. For so long they had relied upon faith and natural healing. The addition of mercury to the equation was no different: at the time of treatment of many of our above mentioned composers, mercury - although showcasing some dental and epidermal side effects - was not known to the afflicted patients or to their contemporaries as toxic, and certainly, not fatal.

The primary method of treatment at the time, mercury had taken precedence over the practice of boiling and inhaling the vapor of the sudorific wood Guaiacum, or Guayaco and its resin, derived from the Caribbean-native Guaiacum tree. It had long been professed that once inhaled (and the body immersed in hot compresses soaked in the solution), the so-called "holy wood" would begin to rebalance an infected patient's "humors" by inducing perspiration ("sweating out" the evil, and thereby, the disease itself.) This earlier method of treatment first appeared in medical recipe-related literature in the early 16th century. It was evident to sufferers however, that a stronger approach was needed: although the adverse effects experienced by syphilitics employing this method paled in contrast to those experienced by patients undergoing mercury treatment, it's efficacy in curing the disease proved as negligible.

Unfortunately, for many musicians and citizens residing in the cities occupied by Napoleonic armies in the nineteenth century, the disease which ran rampant in the bordellos and whorehouses frequented by the troops quickly spread into the general population, wreaking havoc upon its residents and killing droves of otherwise robust men (and women) well before their time.

Anton Bruckner
I will close this post with none other than Austrian composer Anton Bruckner, whose curious psychopathy consisted of a mélange of disorder, including a possible case of non-sexual necrophilia. 

This 19th century romantic composer suffered from numeromania (a symptom of OCD, consisting of a compulsive need to count items and perform repetitive behaviors in a order and count specific to that individual), crippling bouts of insecurity and a possible obsession with the composers Richard Wagner and Ludwig van Beethoven.

Of these many ailments, the most destructive and certainly the most peculiar of the bunch was Bruckner's alleged morbid, non-sexual curiosity with corpses.

The composer was known to frequent graveyards, often visiting burials unannounced (at the funerals of total strangers, no less), once even losing a lens from his pince-nez  in the exhumed coffin of Beethoven, so curiously adamant was Anton to get a closer view of the rotting corpse.

As in the case of almost all of the musicians mentioned in this post, the psychological ‘diagnoses’ of the times, and, even of more modern re-examinations, remain speculative and, in some instances, controversial. 

In the case of Anton Bruckner, one also has to look at the social and political state of the country, and indeed, the era itself.  As we have already seen in our syphilitic patients who partook in mercury treatment, a diagnosis of mental illness and the symptoms which accompany it can effectively disguise itself as psychosis instead of the residual result of poisoning. 

Not to be outdone by 19th century
successors, the body snatchers' Burke,
Hare or Holmes,
anatomist and
historically renowned 'father of modern
surgery' John Hunter not only
knowingly received stolen corpses,
he was also known to
solicit from resurrectionists cadavers by
means of bribery, notoriously purchasing
for himself the cadaver of
famed 18th century "freakshow"
carnival attraction Charles Byrne
in 1783 for 500 pounds (although
some reports suggest the figure paid to
have been even less)
In Brucker’s case, the public dissection of cadavers was all the rage in nineteenth century Europe. As anatomists welcomed the beck and call of the birth of modern surgery in the late 18th and well into the 19th century, an entire industry of body-snatchers was born (the most infamous being the two Williams -  Scottish thieves-turned murderers Burke and Hare, and, across the Atlantic Ocean to the West, in the city of Chicago, one H.H. Holmes: former body-snatcher,[2] present architect, conman and killer), one that was notoriously supported on the sly by such prolific and innovative surgeons like John Hunter, now regarded by many as the ‘father’ of modern surgery.

So widespread was the public display of cadavers during this period, body-snatchers even had a name: “Resurrectionists”.

Following the passing of the Murder Act of 1752 in the United Kingdom, which allowed judges to transpose the post-mortem judicial sentences imposed upon executed killers from public display (a sentence designed to act as a deterrent for any would-be criminals, in which the executed corpse is left to publicly rot amongst the elements - usually by hanging in a suspended cage attached to a tree) to being used as medical cadavers for a public display of legal medical dissection.

Many a 'ressurectionist', having previously supplied to anatomists cadavers by entirely legal means would succumb to an overwhelming sense of greed and would, such as in the cases of Burke, Hare, and Holmes,[2] resort to a series of murderous rampages and grave-robbing (illegally exhuming corpses from graveyards, usually under the cover of night) in order to secure for themselves financial gain. Hunter himself was known to receive such victims, fully cognizant of their suspect origins.

It is easy to imagine, in the course of his travels, Bruckner visiting one of these dissections made famous by anatomists of the stature of Hunter. It is highly possible that Bruckner, along with many 19th century contemporaries simply possessed a desensitization to the sight of lifeless flesh, along with a budding curiosity in a rapidly expanding medical sector and it's dark and seedy demi-monde that seemed to rule the popular press of the day, and that perhaps, just perhaps - he was simply curious to see his old idol and muse in Beethoven.

It seems, in the area of medicine, almost anything - especially where mental health is concerned - is open to speculation. 

[1]The physician Jean Noël Hallé, and his unwitting assistant, one Mitarbeiter Boncerf, would become one of the early pioneers of Germ Theory quite by accident.

Responding to the very vocal laments of the Parisian public regarding noxious odors permeating the residences surrounding the River Seine, Hallé and Boncerf set out on a mission to discover the etiology of the smells, and to map for the French citizens the most densely impacted areas which presented it’s inhabitants with a motley brew of olefactory nightmares and grievances.

Setting up a 10 kilometer perimeter alongside the River Seine – a common latrine and waste ground for human and animal flesh – the good doctor and his cohort began in the west at the Pont au Change mud bank, ripe with freshly human waste fed by the open sewers of the Châtelet district, whose inhabitants, Hallé observed, had scarcely grown accustomed to the noxious odors provided by the detritus dumped by local slaughterhouses into the channel. So pungent was the East, as reported by locals, that Hallé set off M. Boncerf alone to document the causative agents of the foul aromas. It is said that within a half hour spent inside the eastern perimeter, Boncerf had already found himself assaulted with an ulcerative throat and swollen jaw.

It would only be after Boncerf’s recovery from his most mysterious aliment that Hallé and his aide began to hypothesize on the idea of smell differentiation: those that merely assaulted the senses, and those that carried with it the prime ingredients required to brew up a motley concoction of harm. In retrospect, Hallé’s primitive yet revolutionary findings can arguably be considered an early foray into the idea of Germ theory at best - at the very least, it laid the foundation for it’s further analysis. It would be through the identification of both chemical and biological waste products brought about by the process of tanning that Hallé would first make his most notable connection between organic matter and disease.

Hallé’s experiments alongside Monsieur Boncerf, which were geared toward proving the idea of germ- disease/infection - death (a largely underground theory in the time of the physician) and largely involving butcheries and the tanneries densely packed alongside the Île-de-France région in Paris during the period of French revolution would be instrumental in the ‘field’ of germ theory, which at the time of Hallé’s revolutionary discoveries, existed only as a fleeting hypotheses amongst a few yet densely numbered sects of physicians and scientists who often found themselves at odds with the humorists and theologians, whose theories largely relied on the belief of the existence of ‘miasmas’ - foul mists emerging from the bowels of hell which were sent to earth by an omnipotent and vengeful God who employed them as a means of combating what contemporary laymen referred to as "carnal sin." The byproduct of in/organic waste – in particular odors - caused by chemicals used in local factories and the excrement of animals were also widely regarded by contemporary laymen as a causative agent of illness and early mortalities. The odorous effects of the practice of tanning animal hides by means of treating animal carcasses, stripping it of it’s flesh, and immersing the hide in mixtures of lime and both human and animal urine and excrement in the Île-de-France région were believed to be the direct cause of a slew of deaths alongside the now buried river Bièvre in late 1700’s Paris. It would be through the staggering incidences of these early fatalities that Hallé found his curiosity emboldened, and he would use this newfound confidence alongside such statistical data as a means to facilitate the practice of experimentation based on the ideas held by fellow germ theorists.

Louis Pasteur
Whilst Hallé’s findings would cause a sensation amongst germ theorists – and would arguably be considered he beginning of true and widespread analyses supporting the idea (with dissenters taking a closer look at the fantastical idea), Germ Theory, in essence, would not be fully realized until later in the 19th century by fellow Frenchman and physician Louis Pasteur and the German physician Robert Koch, who, drawing on the extensive groundwork provided by theorists who shared the beliefs of Hallé, would go on to identify, through experimentation, the bacteria responsible for some of contemporary Europe’s most fatal diseases: the bacterium vibrio cholerae (Pasteur) (which was the causative agent of the water-borne illness cholera) and mycobacterium tuberculosis, which, at the time of discovery boasted a mortality rate of 1 in 4 infected patients across Europe and the United States.

It would be Pasteur who would hog most of the spotlight through posterity. His groundbreaking discovery of an effective vaccination for anthrax on the use of cattle, goat and sheep at the Paris farm of Veterinarian and Germ-theory opponent Hippolyte Rosingnol in the late 19th century, considered the "first effective bacterial vaccine," would lay the foundation for the widespread acceptance of innoculation from disease - a method which continues to hold significant importance and yield grossly effective results to this very day.
It would be the physician's early experiments with the use of heat as a means to kill off yeast spores responsible for the deterioration of wine and other related tonics, and his use of the same premise to impede the pasteurization of milk that would lend to the food market Pasteur’s name: in drink we have the term “pasteurized milk” and in food, “pasteurized cheese.”

H.H. Holmes

Holmes stole his victims not from graveyards, but rather from the morgue which he had direct access to during his tenure as a medical student at the University of Michigan in the late 19th century. He would proceed to disfigure, defile and defoul his cadavers before claiming the deceased to be victims of a 'terrible accident' in order to collect insurance monies courtesy of the policies he had taken out on his victims. It is believed Holmes chose to enroll at the University due to it's reputation as a hub for body-snatchers.

Analysis of / Image used in Title Card:

The artistic embodiment of Syphilis, from Angolo Brozino's An Allegory with Venus and Cupid, c. 1545