SW In a fun survey by BBC Music Magazine**, fifteen of the world’s top classical composers are outed for their “bad-boy” behaviour. Things like: Beethoven’s rudeness plus totally messy housekeeping; Purcell’s bawdy, disorderly drinking bouts; Thomas Weelkes’ habit of urinating on the Dean at Chilchester Cathedral (and that was in 1616!!!). Not to mention Handel’s public rages, Berlioz’ murderous intentions and Gesualdo’s fully- enacted homicides (he got away with murdering his wife and lover…..). And Oh yes, Peter Warlock rode around on his motorbike….naked! But the prize for the most outrageous composer-badness probably goes to Gerald Tyrwhitt, who found ingenius and cruel ways to torture animals.
On top of this “run-of-the-mill” bad behaviour, the sexual excesses of the great composers are apparently so overwhelmingly present (past and present) that the guilty parties’ names are not individually listed….apart from Bax, Debussy, Delius and Wagner as adulterous personalities. Instead they are clustered together as names so numerous as to overflow the “end of your sheet of A4” (the list, that is). If you want further evidence, take a scan of our previous posts.
Conclusion: composers indulge in excessive behaviours of all types.
Contrast this with the sober, self-disciplined approach to the composing craft which emerges from interviews with 20th century composers: compiled in a scholarly book by Ann McCutchan (see reference below). Possibly excessive behaviour has diminished over the 20th c. (among composers?), or maybe deviant sexuality is not as much fun as it used to be. Or perhaps it is not mentioned in a formal interview. Probably the latter.
**15 composers behaving badly, BBC Music Magazine (January 2013), pp 50 ff.
Ann McCutchan (1999), The Muse That Sings, Composers speak about the Creative Process. Oxford University Press.