Composer Health Series Post #3: Franz Schubert

By Sara Peach

Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828)

Artist: Wilhelm August Rieder

How old was he when he died?


What was his final illness?

As with Mozart, the cause of Schubert’s death is debated. Schubert contracted syphilis a few years before his death, but his final illness may have been typhoid fever, a disease spread by contaminated water and food.

Whatever the cause of his illnesses, we do know he suffered greatly. The composer wrote, “I feel I am the unhappiest most miserable person in the entire world. Consider someone whose health will never improve and who, in despair over this, makes things worse instead of better, whose brightest hopes have come to naught, to whom the joy of love and friendship can offer but pain at the most.”

Yikes! Doctors may have treated Schubert’s syphilis with mercury, a poison that was a common treatment at the time.

How would today’s doctors have treated him?

D’Silva said she would treat a syphilis infection of unknown duration with an intramuscular injection of benzathine penicillin every week for three weeks. However, if the disease were affecting the nervous system, the patient would need intravenous penicillin infusions for at least 10 days, she said.

“Penicillin can stop the progression of syphilis, but unfortunately will not reverse neurologic damage that has already occurred,” she said.

Which piece of his is the DMO performing?

“The Unfinished Symphony,” which Schubert began composing in 1822. Come hear this composer’s enduring work at our spring 2018 concert on May 3!

Note: this post is part #3 of a series on the health of classical composers. Don’t miss post #1, an introduction, and post #2, regarding the untimely death of Mozart. Keep an eye out for posts #4 next week!

Disclaimer: This is a blog post on an orchestra’s website, not a substitute for medical advice. Please see a doctor for any medical concerns you may have.

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