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In Johann Georg Edlinger's final portrait of Mozart from 1790, a year before his death, the composer is painted as puffy and bloated, his face seemingly ravaged by the effects of alcoholism.
But a new book by a retired British surgeon suggests the Austrian symphonist has been unfairly maligned by his biographers, and did not have a serious drinking problem at all.
Jonathan Noble, a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons and former Manchester United club surgeon, began his research hoping to delve into the illnesses which may have sparked works of genius in the great composers. © Provided by The Telegraph
Yet after studying post mortem reports and medical notes, he found that many did not suffer from the conditions attributed to them and that tales of alcoholism, venereal disease and sexual impropriety were simply gossip.
He concluded that claims of Mozart's alcoholism have 'little foundation.'
"I started out really writing about illnesses and trying to find out what these composers actually did die of, but it soon became apparent many didn't have any diagnosis, their conditions were just hearsay," he said.
"The chapter on alcoholism is actually quite thin because so few composers actually met the criteria of being an alcoholic. It's an extremely rare condition. Alcoholism is inconsistent with serious, sustained musical composition.
"If you're a true alcoholic, there's no way you can go around composing operas, symphonies or string quartets.
"Maybe alcoholism inspires great poetry, but with music you come to a very different conclusion."
Dr Noble said he found no evidence to suggest that Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Schubert, Mozart, Brahms, or Beethoven were alcoholics, despite claims by biographers. Likewise Sibelius, who is often portrayed as chronic alcoholic lived to
90 and maintained a good relationship with his family, the surgeon points out.
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"Chronic alcoholics seldom live to see their ninetieth birthdays," he said. "Neither typically do they pursue a quiet, and seemingly well-ordered life with their wife of many years."
Neither does he believe that French composer Maurice Ravel, not Benjamin Britten suffered from syphilis. Dr Noble discovered that claims about Ravel were based purely on the word of a nurse who said she had seen his blood report years after his death.
Likewise when he was given access to Benjamin Britten's medical notes he discovered he had a diseased heart valve, not syphilis.
"For a doctor to neglect to mention a diagnosis of syphilis or not consult a specialist on the matter would be tantamount to malpractice," he said. "It's more likely, on the balance of probabilities, that he simply didn't have it."
Britten's doctor also told Dr Noble that his patient had acquired the reputation as an alcoholic from one cardiologist 'largely on the basis of being an artistic type who liked a stiff drink before dinner.
In the introduction to the book, the author states: "Many composers' reputations have been sullied. An objective attempt is made herein to do justice to their reputations."
That Jealous Demon: My Wretched Health is published by Boydell & Brewer Ltd.