Grave of Anton Webern
Grave of Anton Webern | Source
Death is a part of life, and sometimes death comes in unusual ways. For composers of classical music there have been a number of deaths that could be considered unusual. Some of these composer deaths will have people wondering how could that composer do something that stupid? Other deaths on the list happen to be tragic, while others in a cynical sort of way, are amusing.
This article is the second part of a two part series about untimely or unusual deaths of classical composers. The first article focused on composers who died at a young age. Criteria for being on this list is simply the composer died in a way that was uncommon or unusual.
Below are eleven unusual composer deaths, plus a bonus death, where the death itself wasn’t unusual, but what they found afterwards was.
No creative common pictures of Schobert exist, so here’s a picture of a poisonous mushroom.
No creative common pictures of Schobert exist, so here’s a picture of a poisonous mushroom. | Source
(1735? – August 28th, 1767)
Johann Schobert was a renowned composer during his time. His music was studied by a young Mozart, who at an early age was largely influenced by Schobert’s music. Besides having his name frequently mistaken for Schubert’s, today, Schobert is largely remembered for the way he died.
During a dinner amongst friends and family at his home in Paris, Schobert had mushrooms brought to the table that were poisonous. His guests informed him that the mushrooms were poisonous, but Schobert managed to convince them, and himself, that they were not. Schobert was wrong about the mushrooms, and as a result Schobert, his wife, one of his children, his maid, and four of his friends died eating them.
Picture of Lully
Picture of Lully | Source
(November 28th, 1632 – March 22nd, 1687)
Jean-Baptiste Lully was a great composer during the French Baroque era of music. He was famous for creating a uniquely French sound for opera, and for being one of the earliest composers to break from the Italian opera tradition. Lully was so successful that he became a favorite court composer for the French King Louis XIV.
Lully’s music today isn’t widely performed, but his musical accomplishments are still remembered. His death is also still remembered, and is frequently the butt of jokes about conductors. While conducting a performance of his sacred piece, The Deum, Lully stabbed himself in the foot with his conducting baton. Gangrene eventually infected the injury, and he died a short while later.
Portrait of Scriabin
Portrait of Scriabin | Source
(January 6th, 1872 – April 27th, 1915)
One of Russia’s greatest composers at the turn of the 20th century saw his music begin to fade into obscurity shortly after he died. However, towards the latter half of the 20th century, a re-emergence of Scriabin’s music had begun, resulting in his music returning to concert halls across the globe.
Scriabin was famous for his ten piano sonatas and the evolution of his musical compositional style. Scriabin’s early musical output showed a large influence from Chopin, while later he created his own atonal musical system, that was independent of the atonal system of Arnold Schoenberg (the man who is credited with starting atonality in music). Scriabin was also famous for declaring he had synesthesia, a disorder where a person sees colors when they hear sounds. Scriabin would credit this disorder for his musical evolution.
Scriabin, while shaving one day cut his lip. A common injury, but unfortunately it would ultimately lead to his death at the age of 43. Shortly after cutting his lip, an infected boil filled the cut area. Scriabin’s immune system overreacted, making his official cause of death Septicemia.
Picture of Chausson
Picture of Chausson | Source
(1730? – September 2nd, 1791)
Frantisek Kotzwara was a Czech virtuosic double bassist living in England. In addition to being a performer, Kotzwara also composed string quartets and trios as well as serenades. His music today is largely forgotten, but his death may be the most notorious in the whole history of classical music.
Kotzwara was frequently around prostitutes, and while in London Kotzwara visited a prostitute named Susannah Hill. Kotzwara took Hill out to an expensive dinner and afterwards asked her to castrate him. Hill refused to castrate Kotzwara, so Kotzwara convinced Hill to comprise with him by letting him have sex with her while he tied his neck with a noose to a doorknob. Hill agreed to do this. Unfortunately for both of them, Kotzwara strangled himself to death while having sex with Hill.
Kotzwara’s death at the age of 61 made him one of the earliest known recorded deaths to be caused by auto-erotic asphyxiation. Hill was tried for the murder of Kotzwara but was found innocent of any wrong doing.
(January 20th, 1855 – June 10th, 1899)
Ernest Chausson was a mildly successful French composer during the latter half of the 19th century. He studied under Massenet at the Paris Conservatoire and failed in his bid to capture the Prix de Rome, a prestigious prize in music composition. During his life he was the secretary for the National Society of Music, and he was an avid collector of paintings.
Today, Chausson is remembered for the manner in which he died. While riding his bike, Chausson took a wrong turn down a hill. Presumably losing control of his bike, and while riding at a high speed, Chausson rode straight into a brick wall, which killed him instantly. He was only 44 at the time of his death.
Portrait of Stradella
Portrait of Stradella | Source
(July 27th, 1867 – March 21st, 1916)
Enrique Granados was a successful Spanish composer who lived during the turn of the 20th century. Granados is widely remembered for his piano suite Goyescas, a suite based off the paintings of Francisco de Goya, and for his fear of water. Granados’s death is filled with ironies and tragedy.
During World War I, Granados was in France when he was invited to give a piano recital to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. In order to get to the U.S. he would need to travel by ferry to England first, and then take a ship out to the U.S. Granados missed his scheduled departure to England in order to record some live player-piano rolls.
His delay put him on the ill fated ferry called Sussex. While crossing the English Channel with his wife, the Sussex was torpedoed by a German U-Boat. Granados managed to make it to on a lifeboat, but while the lifeboat began to sail to safety he saw his wife flailing about in the ocean. Despite his lifelong fear of water, Granados jumped in the ocean and attempted save her. Unfortunately he couldn’t swim and they both drowned.
Ironically the cabin on the ferry where Granados was staying did not sink, and it was eventually towed back to England. All of the people on that cabin during the attack managed to survive.
(April 3rd 1639 – February 25th – 1682)
Alessandro Stradella was an Italian composer during the middle of the Baroque Era. During his time Stradella was an immensely successful composer. His fame would later be surpassed by Vivaldi and Corelli, but he remained an important influence on their music. Stradella was also an important pioneer in writing the concerto grosso. The concerto grosso became a popular composition structure and would later evolve into the concerto.
Stradella today is remembered for his affairs with the wives of powerful noblemen. During the early part of his career, while composing music in Rome, Stradella unsuccessfully attempted to embezzle money from the Roman Catholic Church. He also had had affairs with a number of noblemen’s wives in Rome by this time. His poor behavior resulted in a bounty being put on his head, and Stradella was forced to flee Rome permanently.
Rome would not be the only city Stradella would have to flee during his life, and ultimately his affairs would catch up to him in Genoa. In 1682 an assassin hired by an unknown noble stabbed Stradella to death outside the Piazza Banchi. Stradella was 42 at the time.
(March 7th, 1875 – December 28th, 1937)
Maurice Ravel was one of the most important composers in the early 20th century. Along with Debussy, Ravel was frequently associated with impressionism in music, a classification he disagreed with. Ravel was famous for his chamber works, solo piano pieces, and concertos.
His demands on solo piano performers in his compositions increased the virtuosity required for performers of his piano music. His large scale orchestral works were known for their textures and instrumental combinations. Ravel’s Bolero and his ballet Daphne and Chloe were highly influential compositions and the orchestral textures are still being mimicked today.
While riding in a taxicab in Paris, Ravel’s driver hit another cab causing Ravel to slam his face into the window. Over the next five years after this accident, Ravel’s slowly lost all of his memory and eventually slipped into a coma and died after an unsuccessful attempt to fix his deteriorating brain.