Peculiar Facts About the World’s Greatest Composers. Part 1.
Yes, they are geniuses. No doubt in that. It is a well-known fact, however, that genius and peculiarity often go hand in hand. And whilst the music immediately recognised by billions of people all around the world and from all walks of life is deemed perfect, it’s creators were most certainly not. It is a fact, however, that it is their quirks that spark our interest in our attempts to understand more about their life, centuries after they’ve gone and to discover their human side — the ingredient that makes their perfection so special and unobtainable.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
The womanizer as he was, Mozart was well-known far and wide not only for his brilliant talent and magnificent skills but also for his rudeness and occasionally appalling behaviour. Not only was he extremely extravagant in his lifestyle choices and spent his earning faster than light travels but he also loved joking… Especially when the topic in hand was scatology. That’s right. Mozart was fascinated with jokes about human excrements. Of course, a man who is capable of writing Don Giovanni’s overture on the morning of its premiere, whilst suffering from a heavy hungover is allowed to explore any topic he wishes. And he did. He wrote a few canons dedicated to… yes. Poop. Here’s a sneaky peek.
The lyrics to Bona Nox (K. 561):
[Latin] Good night!
You are quite an ox;
[Italian] Good night,
My dear Lotte;
[French] Good night,
[English]Good night, good night,
[German] Sh** in your bed and make it burst;
Good night, sleep tight,
And stick your ass to your mouth.
And the even more famous Leck mich im Arsch (K. 231)
Maybe this was a way to unwind. Who knows! It is said that Mozart was extremely concentrated when it came to his work habits so it is no wonder that one might need to find a way to let the pressure out. Possibly, though, relaxation was a state of mind and body he could not achieve. It is well documented that he could have suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder, characterised by extreme attachment to objects and people, which made him constantly worried. Letters to his wife Constanze read that she was to stay at home at all times and not go for walks, because this terrified him. Also in one of them he pleaded to his wife that she would not take baths every day but every other day and for not more than an hour. BUT, if she wished him really in peace, she should not take a bath at all until he comes back home! The reason for these requests remains unknown but the most likely one would be that he was afraid of her drowning by accident. The brilliant composer was indeed a troubled man and despite his mastermind had to endure human problems. Probably even more than most of us do. He was only 35 years old when he died and there are more than 118 known possible reasons for his untimely death but the truth still remains a mystery.
Ludwig van Beethoven
Whilst Mozart was mainly obsessed with his wife, Beethoven was preoccupied counting his coffee beans. Yes, he would drink his coffee with exactly 60 beans. No more. No less. He would perform the act every time he made coffee for every cup he made. But his “Moonlight Sonata” could also be inspired by his other habit of dipping his head in icy water prior to composing. It surely gets the blood flowing!
We also know that he didn’t enjoy teaching, though like most of the composers at the time, he had to. But he would handpick all his students, who consisted of only a few very talented men and a lot of beautiful women with no regards to their musical abilities or talent. This does not mean that he was a Casanova though. In fact he was very unlucky in his love life and never married. This may be due to his temper and lack of patience — if whilst performing, someone in the audience would become uneasy and would start making too much noise, Beethoven would stop playing and walk off stage.
This may be due to his difficult childhood, which consisted of his alcoholic father forcing him to rehearse constantly so that he can make him “the next Mozart” and can profit from his abilities. The rumor has it, when Beethoven started playing he was so young, his father had to make him stand on a stool so that he can reach the keys of the piano. Life didn’t become easier when Tobias Pfeiffer joined the picture. The piano teacher suffered from insomnia and literally used to drag Beethoven out of his bed in the middle of the night for practice.
It is safe to say that the notion of childhood was foreign to the great composer. His brilliance and breathtaking music, however, keep us dreaming like children every time it starts playing.
Johann Sebastian Bach
This is a man who had it all together. Unlike the other two composers which we talked about, this man was on top of his game not only in his musical career but also in his personal life. In fact he had twenty children — seven from his first wife (who was also his second cousin!) and thirteen from his second wife. Not bad at all for a man who was one of the busiest composers of his time. He was so good that one of his employers actually imprisoned him because apparently Bach dared to give in his notice… The brilliant composer didn’t waste his time and for the almost four weeks he spent there composed part of ‘The Well-Tempered Clavier’.
Similarly to Mozart, Bach also led quite a hedonistic life but unlike the former he would indulge into eating chocolate and drinking… coffee! He even dedicated his cantata BWV 211 to the hot steamy beverage and called it ‘Be still, stop chattering’. It is now more famous as simply ‘The coffee cantata’. And again… A man, who could play one melody with his thumb and index finger and another melody with his ring finger and pinky, can write about whatever he wants!
If you enjoyed this story make sure to read the second part, where we will be talking about Handel and Tchaikovsky.