The health – and especially deaths – of composers excite controversy. Was Mozart really poisoned? Did Tchaikovsky commit suicide? How did Beethoven lose his hearing? Much good previous scholarship has been sullied by unsubstantiated views, and many composers’ reputations have been unfairly tarnished by scandalous commentary, often involving alcoholism or syphilis. This book, by a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, charts the disturbed physical and mental health of 70 great composers. It attempts to unpick the evidence forensically and to define the cause of death based on the legal paradigm of a balance of probabilities. The author reviews where the composer was when the final illness or death overtook him and considers how many of them would have fared with modern treatment. Chapters are organised thematically, by illness; and numerous misconceptions, such as madness fuelling creativity, are challenged. The book relates the nature of composition to composers’ suffering, showcasing much triumph in adversity, and, importantly, rehabilitates reputations. JONATHAN NOBLE is a retired surgeon, who has spent many years researching the illnesses and deaths of composers. He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons and was President of the British Association of Knee Surgeons as well as the British Orthopaedic Sports Trauma Association. He looked after Test cricketers, Manchester United, and dancers and musicians in the North of England.
We have waited a long time for a book like this…The overwhelming impression is of the sheer torture that health issues gave some of the greatest composers in Western civilization and the determination with which these challenges were met…this utterly scrupulous study (is) expected to become the standard work on the subject lasting into the future. MUSICAL OPINION Dismisses the myth that composers often die young just because Schubert and Mozart did. CLASSICAL MUSIC Though the matter is serious, Jonathan Noble manages to bring to it lightness of touch and even humour. BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE A timely antidote to all those lurid biographies (and not just of composers) that speculate on their subject’s sex lives and addictions. Richard Morrison, THE TIMES After studying post mortem reports and medical notes, (Jonathan Noble has) found that many did not suffer from the conditions attributed to them and that tales of alcoholism, venereal disease and sexual impropriety were simply gossip. THE TELEGRAPH Jonathan Noble, a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, has reviewed material – including letters and diaries where symptoms and ailments are detailed – relating to Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Beethoven and many others, and found that “an awful lot of them have been slighted by music critics and biographers.” GUARDIAN