Whether a recent story about proclivities of Admiral Lord Nelson is true or false, it rather proves that the sexual lives of the renowned dead provide good copy.
This has always been the case with composers. A theory put forward in Paul Kildea’s widely praised 2013 biography of Benjamin Britten speculated that, rather than dying of a congenital heart problem, the condition was actually a result of tertiary syphilis. It is a disease that has been linked to countless other composers, including Scott Joplin, Delius, Hugo Wolf, Smetana, Glinka, Donizetti, Schubert, Beethoven and Mozart.
A new book by fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons Jonathan Noble seeks to put the record straight. Interviewed about it in the Guardian he observed that “The list of composers who had syphilis is short. The list of composers said to have had syphilis is enormous.” And of Benjamin Britten’s syphilis he believes that ‘The evidence for that is scant,’ deriving as it did from ‘hearsay and an elderly doctor who “had nothing to do with Britten’s care”’.
In total Noble’s book That Jealous Demon, My Wretched Health: Disease, Death and Composers examines the deaths of 70 composers, in a number of cases debunking tales of “venereal disease, alcoholism or sexual impropriety.”
Read the full story at the Guardian.