Is syphillis, imported from America by Columbus, the cause of great classical music in Europe?

Classical Beat: Whence musical inspiration? Research points to insanity | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram.

Madness and Great Music? They could have just played clarinet. :0)


Schumann, Schubert, Mozart, Beethoven, Paganini, Donizetti, Delius, Smetana and Scott Joplin, to name just a few, suffered from syphilis, the American Indians' revenge, brought back to Europe by Columbus, and spread widely after 1494.

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5 comments for “Is syphillis, imported from America by Columbus, the cause of great classical music in Europe?

  1. July 17, 2010 at

    HI Jack. Yes, I had read that somewhere a few years ago. How tragic. Of course, even someone WITH syphilis would have suffered from the "treatment" with mercury.

  2. July 17, 2010 at

    A recent study has shown the Paganini almost certainly did not have syphilis. His death was brought about largely because he was mistakenly treated for the disease with mercury.

  3. July 15, 2010 at

    The most amazing fact to me is that the creativity and productivity of these musical geniuses wasn't impaired by what was not an uncommon affliction during the times they lived. There aren't any symptoms of the disease that might induce creativity until the final stage, when dementia can occur. I believe the tendency of these composers to feel and taste the life around them made them more likely to contract the disease in the first place; a sort of occupational hazard that appears in retrospect to be a shared influence. Possibly the realization of one's own mortality and fear of impending death might encourage a spurt of creativity, but it's challenging to accept as a strong influence for a lifetime of genius, however brief.
    The very long periods of latency involved, up to 50 years make it hard to isolate the effects of the disease specifically as an influence on creativity, although I believe Smetana created some of his best music during what was very likely the last stage of the disease. Of course, geniuses may well be inclined to believe in the immortality of their art and find any impediment reason to work all the more fervently toward that goal!

    • July 15, 2010 at

      Hi David. I didn't know the disease could be innocuous for so long. But it makes sense. Such a common disease may have shortened lives, but it could not have impaired functioning too much until the end as you say, for whole societies would have collapsed if that were the case.

      And it is also true that artists tend to explore the edges of boundaries, and so would be more likely to be influenced by high alcohol and drug consumption.

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