To keep our theme going, we’re counting down the weirdest facts about composers’ deaths, fears, quirks, and so much more:
- Even though he was born on September 13, Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg suffered from the fear of the number 13 (also called triskaidekaphobia). When the composer was 76 years old, a friend pointed out that 7 plus 6 is 13, which was enough to convince him that he wouldn’t see his next birthday.
As he lay in bed with anxiety and illness that Friday, his heart gave out. He died on Friday, July 13, 1951 -- just as he feared.
- German composers George Frideric Handel and Johann Sebastian Bach lived with declining vision for the last few months of their lives. The cause?
They underwent eye surgery at the hands of an “oculist” called the Chevalier John Taylor, a “poster child for 18th century quackery”, according to Daniel Albert, author of Men of Vision. Taylor performed a failed cataract surgery on Handel, and it’s believed that Bach suffered from a fatal postoperative infection.
- Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg kept a frog figurine in his pocket and rubbed it for good luck before concerts.
- German-born composer Ludwig van Beethoven was so meticulous that he counted exactly 60 coffee beans each time he had a cup.
- German composer Richard Strauss appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in 1927 and 1938.
- Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote the Overture To Don Giovanni on the morning of the opera’s premiere -- while suffering from a massive hangover.
- German-born composer Robert Schumann plunged his hands in a slaughtered animal’s internal organs or intestines to heal his ailments.
- Polish composer Mieczysław Karłowicz died during an avalanche while skiing in the Tatra Mountains between Slovakia and Poland.
- Two skulls lay in Austrian composer Joseph Haydn’s tomb. His head was stolen by phrenologists and a replacement skull was put in his tomb. However, when the real skull was restored in 1954, the substitute wasn’t removed.
- Belgian composer Orlando de Lassus was allegedly kidnapped many times as a boy because of his beautiful singing voice.
- Italian composer Domenico Scarlatti composed his 'cat fugue' after his cat, Pulcinella, walked across his keyboard.
- Italian composer Jean-Baptiste Lully often hit his staff against the ground to keep time. On one occasion, he missed the ground and stabbed his foot. This wound led to his contraction of gangrene (dead tissue due to an infection or lack of bloodflow), the cause of his death.
- Russian composer Alexander Scriabin had synesthesia, a rare neurological condition in which two or more senses intertwine. He heard music as colors and invented a piano-like instrument that could project colored light into the concert hall.
- Austrian composer Gustav Mahler spent three secluded years in a tiny one-room cottage on the shore of the Attersee Lake in North Austria. He drew much of the inspiration for his music from nature, and the refurbished cottage can be visited today.
- Russian composer Alexander Borodin was also a chemist, doctor, and avid partier. He allegedly died suddenly while dancing too hard at a ball.
If you think you’re a little strange, these brilliant and celebrated composers were a little off, too. Remember, Aristotle said, “There is no great genius without a mixture of madness.”
So, go forth with your eccentricities.
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