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



  1. Good answer back in return of this matter with solid arguments and telling everything concerning that.

  2. I've been surfing online more than 3 hours today,
    yet I never found any interesting article like
    yours. It's pretty worth enough for me. In my view, if
    all site owners and bloggers made good content as you did, the web
    will be much more useful than ever before.

  3. Thank you both for your very kind comments - it means a lot and makes the time spent on full length articles such as these worth the effort.

    Mental health is a very important issue for me - knowing that such enigmatic and influential figures suffered from these and other (sometimes debilitating) disabilities yet created works of extraordinary genius (all of which require high cognitive function) reminds the cynic (one would hope) that such forms of mental illness do not always render one incompetent - and that as a whole, we must remind ourselves of that fact before rushing to judgement.

    The motive for penning this article were, at the very least, twofold - for the reason mentioned above - and to remove the "God-complex" of such towering historical figures, whose stars may have outshined those surrounding them, but who remained human - flawed - nonetheless.

    I am very pleased this article is being enjoyed by readers such as yourselves, and humbled that it is making the rounds on the net.

    Thank you for reading!


  4. Hello to all, for the reason that I am really keen of reading this web site's post
    to be updated on a regular basis. It includes fastidious information.

  5. Thank you for your kind words, Anonymous! I will be adding more articles to this site in the near future covering various mental illnesses.

    I am pleased you enjoy Unraveling Musical Myths!


  6. Hey There. I found your weblog using msn. That is a very neatly written article.
    I'll be sure to bookmark it and return to read extra of your
    useful info. Thank you for the post. I will certainly comeback.

    1. Hello Anonymous!

      Welcome to Unraveling Musical Myths! I am pleased you have found this site to your taste, and thanks for bookmarking!


  7. Good info. Lucky me I came across your blog by accident (stumbleupon).
    I have bookmarked it for later!

    1. Hello, Anonymous!

      Welcome to Unraveling Musical Myths! Pleased to have you here, and thank you for bookmarking!


  8. I think this is one of the most vital info for me.
    And i am glad reading your article. But should remark on few general
    things, The site style is ideal, the articles is really great : D.
    Good job, cheers