The Curse of the Ninth Symphony
There is a superstition connected with the history of classical music. Some people believe that a ninth symphony is destined to be a composer’s last. The composer will therefore die while writing it, or before completing a tenth. Of course, this idea is not supported in any serious scientific evidence but several examples are regularly provided.
Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827)
He is considered to be one of history’s greatest composers. Beethoven became a professional organist when he was only 11 years old. Some of his most complex works were created after he became almost totally deaf. He had just completed his Ninth Symphony and had promised the London Philharmonic Society his tenth when he caught a cold during a trip to Vienna. He died a few months later.
Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)
As a child, he was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a village schoolmaster in Austria. But after his father’s death, Bruckner became a choirboy at the Monastery of St. Florian near Linz, where he learned to play the organ, bass, and violin. He did not receive recognition as a major composer of sacred music until the end of his life. He died while working on the final sketches of his Ninth Symphony.
Anton Dvorak (1841-1904)
He was the first composer of Bohemian ancestry to achieve international acclaim. His exceptional musical ability was first recognized when he played in his father’s band at the age of eight. In 1892 Dvorak accepted the position of director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York. He remained in the U.S. for three years and was extremely successful as a composer, conductor, and teacher. Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, From the New World, his final and best-known symphony, was first performed in New York in 1893. He died in Bohemia in 1904, a victim of Bright’s Disease, now known as nephritis.
Aleksander Konstantinovich Glazunov (1865-1936)
Glazunov had an extraordinary musical memory. Even as a child he could reconstruct a complete piece of music after hearing it only once. His First Symphony was composed at the age of 16. His last complete symphony, the Eighth, was finished in 1906. Two movements of the Ninth Symphony were completed in 1907. Leaving the Soviet Union in 1928, he embarked on a two-year tour of the U.S., which was largely unsuccessful. He then settled in Paris, where he died at 71.
Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)
Mahler was born into a family of Jewish shopkeepers in Bohemia. After discovering the piano in his grandfather’s house, the six-year-old genius was interested in nothing except music. He was taken to a professor at the Vienna Conservatory who, after hearing a few of Mahler’s compositions, labeled him a born musician. He resigned from his position as a conductor in Prague because his musical ideas were not followed fanatically. Suffering from heart disease, he had completed nine symphonies when he collapsed from overwork. Before he died Mahler raised his finger and moved it back and forth as if it were a baton. His last word was Mozart.
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
Vaughan Williams was educated at Trinity College in Cambridge and the Royal College of Music in London. His knowledge of Tudor music and English folk songs enabled him to create a very peculiar musical style. His varied compositions include choral and orchestral works, chamber music, and songs. His Ninth Symphony, a rather desolate piece of music, was completed in 1957 and premiered four months before his death.
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