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Death by pimple
April 13, 2012 7:09 PM   Subscribe

The 13 strangest composer deaths in classical music
posted by NemesisVex (34 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Beethoven's gone, but his music lives on,
And Mozart don't go shopping no more.
You'll never meet Liszt or Brahms again,
And Elgar doesn't answer the door.
Schubert and Chopin used to chuckle and laugh,
Whilst composing a long symphony,
But one hundred and fifty years later,
There's very little of them left to see.

They're decomposing composers.
There's nothing much anyone can do.
You can still hear Beethoven,
But Beethoven cannot hear you.

Handel and Haydn and Rachmaninov
Enjoyed a nice drink with their meal,
But nowadays, no one will serve them,
And their gravy is left to congeal.

Verdi and Wagner delighted the crowds
With their highly original sound.
The pianos they played are still working,
But they're both six feet underground.

They're decomposing composers.
There's less of them every year.
You can say what you like to Debussy,
But there's not much of him left to hear.

Claude Achille Debussy-- Died, 1918.

Christophe Willebald Gluck-- Died, 1787.

Carl Maria von Weber-- Not at all well, 1825. Died, 1826.

Giacomo Meyerbeer-- Still alive, 1863. Not still alive, 1864.

Modeste Mussorgsky-- 1880, going to parties. No fun anymore, 1881.

Johan Nepomuk Hummel-- Chatting away nineteen to the dozen with his mates down the pub every evening, 1836. 1837, nothing.

--Monty Python
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:19 PM on April 13, 2012 [9 favorites]


I did not know most of these but then again have only a passing knowledge of many classical composers. My coworker Paul is not much of a jazz enthusiast but somewhere he has heard about the circumstances of Chet Baker's 1988 demise. However, he isn't quite sure who died this way. I used to enjoy talking jazz with him, because to hear him tell it, every prominent player of the twentieth century died after falling out a hotel window in Amsterdam. Thelonious Monk, Coltrane, Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck: all dead of Dutch defenestration.

I know Brubeck is still alive, but we know how he will go.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:36 PM on April 13, 2012


I had no idea about Viver, but I can add him to the list of male artists who were murdered by male prostitutes, it isn't a small list.
posted by PinkMoose at 7:57 PM on April 13, 2012


Anton Webern (1883–1945)
It was September 15, 1945 – World War II had just ended. Webern had stepped outside to enjoy a cigar without waking his sleeping grandchildren, unaware that a curfew was being enforced by the Allied occupying forces. He was shot dead by an American soldier who saw him light up.


Americans just don't get Serialism.
posted by philip-random at 7:58 PM on April 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


Americans just don't get Serialism.
I believe the guy that shot Webern became extremely depressed when he realized who he killed. He later went from depression to alcoholism to suicide.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:19 PM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Male prositutes, the cause of, and end of, much art.
posted by The Whelk at 8:20 PM on April 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm kind of surprised that Chopin, who insisted on having his heart removed after his death so he wasn't buried alive, and which is now preserved and in a wall in warsaw, didn't make the list.
posted by Lutoslawski at 8:21 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Chopin deserves his own list.
posted by The Whelk at 8:29 PM on April 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


I believe the guy that shot Webern became extremely depressed when he realized who he killed. He later went from depression to alcoholism to suicide.

Oh sure ruin a perfectly good one-liner with like reality and shit
posted by ook at 8:46 PM on April 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


The Whelk: "Chopin deserves his own list Liszt."

FTFY
posted by idiopath at 9:20 PM on April 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


here is a nice performance of Vivier's Lonely Boy.
posted by PinkMoose at 9:21 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bizarre Musical Deaths
posted by jonp72 at 9:31 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The big one on that list is Tchaikovsky. I really am interested to know if it was a suicide. I don't think Mozart belongs on the same list. He got sick and he died. I read an article in the New York Times a few years ago where they listed around a hundred different theories as to the exact sickness that took young Wolfgang.

They didn't have Schumann. The last I heard was he was depressed and starved himself to death. Schumann was a greater composer by far than almost everybody on that list. According to the wikipedia article on Schumann his death is not yet explained.

I am highly dubious that the Mozart and Tchaikovsky and Schumann deaths are ever going to be explained. Do we really know what happened to Whitney Houston?
posted by bukvich at 9:48 PM on April 13, 2012


What about Robert Schumann? Didn't he jump off a bridge?
posted by costanza at 9:53 PM on April 13, 2012


I'm trying to decide if I want to be the annoying prescriptivist guy who complains about the usage of the term 'classical' to refer to all Western art music.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:55 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


What I learned from Alexander Scriabin's death: WASH YOUR FACE TWICE A DAY, YOU HEATHENS, and if you get a pimple DO NOT FUCKING PICK AT IT.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 11:08 PM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


A lot of these are deaths from tiny skin-breaking wounds that got infected. Thank Fleming I've lived in a time with antibiotics and mostly non-resistant bacteria, because those kind of deaths weren't unusual.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:40 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


was out for a bicycle ride outside his property in Limay when he lost control on a downhill slope and crashed into a brick wall, dying instantly.

I always had an irrational visceral fear of this very thing as a kid. I always walked my bike down hills to avoid dying in a crash like this.
posted by Eumachia L F at 1:54 AM on April 14, 2012


Do we really know what happened to Whitney Houston?

Coke-induced AVSD caused her to pass out in a hotel bathtub and drown. She was also on at least three prescription drugs plus pot and coke.
posted by valkyryn at 4:02 AM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


...because those kind of deaths weren't unusual.

No more than a couple of the deaths on the list are "bizarre." Infections, jealous murder, suicide - not so strange given the periods they occurred in.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:20 AM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm trying to decide if I want to be the annoying prescriptivist guy who complains about the usage of the term 'classical' to refer to all Western art music.

Is there also Western non-art music? Ke$ha, perhaps?
posted by Area Man at 6:51 AM on April 14, 2012


There's the much larger field of Western folk music, for starters.
posted by kersplunk at 7:03 AM on April 14, 2012


I'm trying to decide if I want to be the annoying prescriptivist guy who complains about the usage of the term 'classical' to refer to all Western art music.

Not that "art music" really helps clarify anything. I think we just have to accept that there are no good terms for this, which is odd, really, because most of the time it's perfectly clear what distinction we're trying to make when we label something as "classical music" or as "art music" or whatever. That is, if you ask a bunch of people, independently, "is this classical music or not," 99 times out of a hundred their answers will be the same.
posted by yoink at 7:59 AM on April 14, 2012


Art music is distinguished from folk and popular music.

To me the destinctions are messy, and what counts as folk music is significantly distorted by nationalist agendas (to justify political divisions people would reify small stylistic differences into schisms, not to mention the outright fabrications (see the whole clan/tartan mythology, and squaredance)). So the boundaries between pop and folk are messier than the would-be Lineuses of the cultural world assume. As a sloppy but helpful rule of thumb, the style of folk music is the pop music of 200 years ago, and the style of art music is the folk music of 200 years ago (yes, the exceptions to this are numerous, but it gives a hint of the dynamics).

And then of course we have the messiness of the art distinction now that the high/low distinction is taken less seriously, and craft has to share it's podium with innovation.

But I guess you can use metaphors

art                  folk                      pop
veggies/cheese       bread/meat                sweets/junk food
jazz                 blues                     r&b
classical            polka                     eurovison
jeon-gok             pansori                   k-pop
John Cage            Shape-note                Sonic Youth

posted by idiopath at 8:31 AM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


yoink: yeah people can identify their own culture's art / pop / folk. But not as reliably that of other cultures.

And cultural equity is a big part of why I prefer the term art music, saying "Korean Classical Music" is prone to miscommunication. Do you mean a Korean violinist playing Mozart or someone playing Cheonnyeonmanse on the Haegeum?
posted by idiopath at 8:41 AM on April 14, 2012


Also, I think the most reliable distinctions are the pragmatic ones:

What is the most cynical sociological reduction for why the music is being made?
to establish the listener's aristocratic status
to reinforce group membership
to differentiate the adolescent cohort from their parents

What is the intended use of the music?
to listen intently and be edified
to make music and dance as a group and be proud of your tribe / family / nation
to dance, get high, show off for the hotties, and get laid
posted by idiopath at 8:52 AM on April 14, 2012


> Coke-induced AVSD caused her to pass out in a hotel bathtub and drown.

We know she drowned in the bathtub. How she got unconscious and underwater was speculated on in what I read. It could well have been what the safety engineers classify as "slips, trips, and falls", and the cocaine abuse had nothing to do with it. I know a thirty year old woman who never drinks and never smokes who tripped over her own two feet on dry linoleum in her kitchen in broad daylight, landed perfectly wrong, broke her ankle, and was in a cast for six weeks. For all we know Whitney tripped, conked her head, and landed underwater. She did have a contusion on her head.

The coroner didn't really have to tell us about the coke and the weed and the xanax any more than he had to tell us about the fake teeth, the wig, and the fake tits. Which is to say he didn't really have to tell us that at all. It might have contributed. It might not have. We won't ever know.
posted by bukvich at 10:08 AM on April 14, 2012


Does every classical music thread have to turn into a hand-wringing "art vs. pop" semantics discussion? I'd rather talk about crazy composer deaths.

I'm glad they included Scriabin, but they left out the most interesting part. When he died he was in the middle of writing a massive synesthetic piece called the Mysterium that he said would bring about the end of the world as we know it, and usher in a new age, a new culture, with humans replaced by "nobler beings." Reportedly, his last words were, "This is a disaster."
posted by speicus at 2:08 PM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think I understand both the narrow and the broad senses of 'classical' music reasonably well, and both seem legit in their way. Granting that it would be good to resolve the ambiguity, speaking of 'art music' doesn't seem to me, as an ignorant punter, a particularly good way of relabelling or redrawing the boundaries. Popular music isn't art? Is that an assumption we now want to hard-wire into the language?

I agree the deaths don't seem that strange. Simple lack of antibiotics seems to play a bigger part than even the fell influence of male prostitutes.
posted by Segundus at 2:22 PM on April 14, 2012


The coroner didn't really have to tell us about the coke and the weed and the xanax any more than he had to tell us about the fake teeth, the wig, and the fake tits. Which is to say he didn't really have to tell us that at all. It might have contributed. It might not have. We won't ever know.

All of which is as may be, but you're missing something: if there was evidence that she'd slipped, we'd have heard about it. The report I read implied she had probably voluntarily gotten into the tub and passed out while there. A person who falls into the tub and a person to gets into the tub generally wind up in distinct positions afterward.
posted by valkyryn at 3:16 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Schumann attempted suicide, but did not succeed. He died in a mental hospital of natural causes, possibly complications of syphilis, possibly kidney disease--death certificates weren't so precise in those days.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:46 PM on April 14, 2012


What is the intended use of the music?
to listen intently and be edified
to make music and dance as a group and be proud of your tribe / family / nation
to dance, get high, show off for the hotties, and get laid


I know lots of people who listen as intently to Bob Dylan, say, or to as to Beethoven or Coltrane. Jazz certainly spans all three of these categories. "classical" music may not be getting many people laid in the West these days, but it sure as hell was back in the C18th and C19th. There really aren't any high level categorizations that aren't as porous as hell.
posted by yoink at 8:24 PM on April 14, 2012


yoink: ""classical" music may not be getting many people laid in the West these days, but it sure as hell was back in the C18th and C19th"

That was the Classical era, it was pop at the time :)

But yeah, all the categories are very porous. Artists hate strict boundaries. And I really do think the distinctions are there not to accurately describe the music, but to flatter a group of listeners (the music that means we have taste, the music that means we know how to have fun, the music that means we are authentic and know our roots, etc.).
posted by idiopath at 11:17 AM on April 15, 2012


Gracious, so many carbuncles and furuncles and other pus-related nasties!
posted by kinnakeet at 5:52 PM on April 15, 2012


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