By Sara Peach

Antonín Dvořák (1841 – 1904)

Photographer: Unknown

How old was he when he died?

62, which is not tragically young per se, but still on the young side by today’s standards.

How did he die?

It’s unclear. He began suffering from a pain in his side in late March 1904, according John Clapham, who wrote a biography of the composer in the 1960s. According to various sources, including an extensive Czech website devoted to the composer’s life, he then caught either a “chill” or influenza. After feeling well enough to eat soup with his family on May 1, he fell ill again and died that day, possibly of a stroke.

Yikes! Dvořák’s first three children with his wife Anna all died in infancy.

How would today’s doctors have treated him?

For influenza symptoms starting within the past two days, said D’Silva, “I might prescribe an antiviral medication, although it’s controversial how much it helps. The patient should rest, drink plenty of fluids, use over-the-counter medications for fever and muscle aches. Severe symptoms may need care in the hospital to support breathing and treat complications.”

But the best way to approach influenza is to prevent it through vaccination. “Everyone over six months of age should get a flu shot every year,” she said. “This can limit the size of the epidemic during flu season – November to March – and help protect our youngest, oldest, and frailest community members from this highly contagious virus.”

A stroke is an emergency requiring a 911 call, D’Silva said. As soon as symptoms begin – like sudden weakness or numbness in the face or a limb, or vision or speech trouble – every minute counts and neurology expertise improves outcomes. Doctors can treat strokes using a variety of methods, including medication and surgery, depending on the type of stroke.

Which pieces of his is the DMO performing?

“In Nature’s Realm” and “Song to the Moon,” from his opera “Rusalka.” Come hear this composer’s enduring work at our spring 2018 concert on May 3!

Note: this post is part #4 of a series on the health of classical composers. Don’t miss post #1, an introduction, post #2 on the death of Mozart, and post #3 on the death of Schubert.

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.

By Sara Peach

Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828)

Artist: Wilhelm August Rieder

How old was he when he died?

31.

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.

By Sara Peach

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791)

Portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Artist: Johann Nepomuk della Croce

How old was he when he died?

35.

What was his final illness? The cause of Mozart’s death has been debated for centuries, though it’s clear he was not poisoned as depicted in the movie “Amadeus.” More than 150 possible diagnoses for his final illness have been offered, according to music historian Robert Greenberg, who examined the leading theories in an episode of Classical Classroom, a Houston Public Media podcast. Greenberg says that Mozart most likely died after a recurrence of rheumatic fever, which is caused by an inadequately treated infection of a certain type of streptococcus bacteria. In rheumatic fever, the body’s immune system fights its own tissues, including heart valves and joints, said Dr. Marisa D’Silva, principal flutist with the DMO and internal medicine doctor at Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Duke University Medical Center.

Greenberg isn’t alone in identifying streptococcus as a cause of Mozart’s death. A 2009 investigation by European researchers , based on Viennese death records, concluded that Mozart was infected with streptococcus bacteria during an epidemic and died of complications.

How would today’s doctors have treated him?

“For an acute streptococcal infection such as strep throat, confirmed by examination and appropriate testing, I would prescribe amoxicillin tablets for 10 days,” D’Silva said.

She said amoxicillin, an antibiotic, can shorten the length of the illness and prevent it from spreading to other people. “More importantly, it reduces the chance of developing complications such as rheumatic fever,” she added.

Yikes! At age 11, Mozart contracted smallpox, a now-eradicated disease with a mortality rate of 30 percent. In other words, classical music almost missed out on all of his mature compositions.

Which piece of his is the DMO performing?

The overture to his opera, “The Magic Flute.” Come hear this composer’s enduring work at our spring 2018 concert on May 3!

Note: this post is part #2 of a series on the health of classical composers. Don’t miss post #1, an introduction, and keep an eye out for posts #3 and #4 over the next two weeks!

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.

By Sara Peach

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed more than 600 musical works, including dozens of symphonies, piano concertos, operas, and string quartets – all of that just in a few decades.

Early on the morning of December 5, 1791, he died, aged 35.

Mozart was just one of a number of beloved composers to die before reaching age 40.

Austrian composer Franz Schubert was 31 when he passed away. Georges Bizet, best known for the opera “Carmen,” died at 36. Virtuoso pianist Fryderyk Chopin left the world at 39, which is the same age that German romantic composer Carl Maria von Weber was when he died.

Those premature deaths deprived the world of an untold number of yet-to-be-written musical works. They also spawned conspiracy theories – in Mozart’s case, that he had been poisoned by a rival.

A chart showing the rise of life expectancy in England, from 37 in 1700 to 77 in the early 2000s.

Source: http://www.nber.org/aginghealth/spring06/w11963.html

But the mundane reality is that composers died young because they lived in times and places where infectious diseases like typhoid fever, rheumatic fever, and tuberculosis were common, and many people lived only a few decades. In fact, the life expectancy for a person born in England in 1820 was only 41.

As a result of modern medicine and public health interventions – a subject of interest to the Durham Medical Orchestra’s members – many infectious diseases have declined in rich countries. As a result, the average lifespan of a person born in a place with good healthcare access increased by more than 30 years during the last century. In other words, though there are no guarantees in life, a baby born today with Mozart’s talents could easily live twice as long as he did.

Read on to learn about the illnesses suffered by a few famous composers and how modern doctors would have treated them. And then mark your calendar to hear us perform works by those composers on April 22 and May 3 in Durham.

Note: this post is part #1 of a series on the health of classical composers. Want to learn more? See post #2 for details on our first composer: Mozart!

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.