“Musicians and medicine”, by Dr. Adolfo Martínez Palomo

MEXICO CITY (proces.com.mx) .– When the bicentennial of the death of Wolfang Amadeus Mozart was commemorated in 1991, the Mexican doctor, scientist and academic Adolfo Martínez Palomo (1941) began the bibliographic search, writing and public presentation of the texts now published by El Colegio Nacional in fourteen double installments.

This new compact format series includes the biographies of: Monteverdi and Vivaldi, Bach and Handel, Haydn and Mozart, Beethoven and Paganini, Rossini and Schubert, Donizetti and Bellini, Berlioz and Mendelssohn, Chopin and Schumann, Liszt and Wagner, Verdi and Gounod , Clara Schumann and Brahms, Borodin and Bizet, Tchaikovski and Puccini, Mahler and Shostakovich.

Today we offer excerpts from the second volume entitled Musicians and medicine. Clinical histories of great composers. Bach and Handel (86 pages in 12 by 18 cm format, bibliography, illustrations and iconographic credits, www.colnal.mx), written by Martínez Palomo who has stood out for his research on the painful Herpes Zoster virus.

“Two colossi of classical music Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) and Georg Frideric Handel (1685-1759), both born the same year in Germany and yet they did not get to know each other personally. Bach always stays in his country, where he has twenty children. Handel, on the other hand, makes fame and fortune in England, without getting married. Both long and prolific lives, united with a common end: blindness, caused by the clumsy intervention of the same apprentice eye surgeon. “

Creativity: inheritance or learning?

(…) With the forgiveness of fans of the hereditary theory of creativity, I would like to insist that nothing indicates in Johann Sebastian’s childhood or early adolescence the existence of a genius, rather, an exceptional effort to learn from their elders. (…)

At fifteen, our character eagerly copies compositions from others, at night, at an age when other musical geniuses have been writing music for a long time. At that age he has to leave his brother’s house, which is already insufficient due to the birth of four more nephews.

By the way, one of the physical attributes of Johann Sebastian that has caught the attention of his biographers has been… the strength of his legs! And is not for less. What a way he had to go in his youth to absorb the musical knowledge of the greats of his time! Nothing was too far away, nor was the weather so bad that it prevented him from making trips on foot in search of better knowledge. Thus, it traveled 40 km between Ohrdeuf and Eisenach and 360 km between Ohrdruf and Lüneburg. (…)

Bach, as we have said, had a foolproof health throughout his life, well into his period of maturity. A neurologist has commented, when analyzing the portrait of Bach, the obvious obesity of the composer and the presence of a slight facial paralysis, perhaps due to a cerebral infarction. If anything, the only well-documented physical weakness was his eye problem.

For ophthalmologists who have reviewed his history, Bach was probably nearsighted, judging by the appearance of the eyes in the only true portrait that survives, taken at age sixty-one [por Elias Gottlob Haussmann, en 1746, reproducido a colores en este libro de Martínez Palomo] which shows the composer “straining his eyes.” This myopia may have allowed him the hard work of reading and writing countless scores. (…)

On the advice of his friends, the composer consulted an English eye doctor, the gentleman John Taylor, who had operated, sometimes with some success, on many European personalities, including the contemporary Handel. Taylor was actually a great charlatan, dominating more of the art of advertising than of science (…)

In Bach’s time, the usual medical treatment for cataracts ranged from esoteric diets, to bloodletting and the application of leeches. The surgical procedure was followed by eye washing with a mixture of Peruvian balsam and hot water. This was followed by poultices added with cassia pulp, camphorized fosters, bandages, a light diet, and drugs to evacuate without effort.

Less than four months after Bach’s death, the operating room was installed in the Tres Cisnes restaurant (…) Three months and three weeks after the operation, Bach presented cerebral palsy of vascular origin and was unconscious. He developed a fever, possibly pneumonia, and died on the night of July 28, 1750, at the age of sixty-five, despite the best Leipzig physicians. (…)

The dear Saxon

HAMBURG, DECEMBER 5, 1704.- During the performance of the opera Cleopatra by Johann Mattheson, a nineteen-year-old German musician who leads the singers from the harpsichord. He refuses to let the composer displace him from his instruments: the dispute escalates and the two heated musicians decide to settle it in a duel. Fortunately for mankind, the sword that struck the young performer’s chest only broke a metal button on his jacket, saving Handel’s life and leaving the work of one of the greatest and most prolific composers for posterity. of music. (…)

His fame reached Italy, where he was invited by a Medici prince (…) At the age of twenty-five Handel returned for a few weeks to Germany, to Hannover. Why did he receive the appointment of “master of the chapel” of the court there, with a very high salary (fifty times higher than he had received as an organist) and permission to be absent for a year, when in reality what interested that court was send it to London? For some, this appointment disguised the true task assigned to the composer: to insert him into the English court and receive from him information about the state of health of Queen Anne, already very ill. The interest was that the direct successor to the throne of England was precisely the Elector of Hannover, Georg Ludwig, so the sickly Queen Anne died, Hannover needed to be aware of the events in London. (…)

His contemporaries described him as impetuous, brusque and authoritarian, but completely devoid of malice and wickedness, despite the many enemies that success produced him in London. From time to time he had uncontrolled bouts of irritability and rage. For example, on one occasion he argued with the famous French Italian singer Cuzzoni and said “Oh, ma’am! I know well that you are a true devil, but I am going to show you that I am the boss of all devils.” He then took her by the waist and led her to the window, where he threatened to throw her out into the street.

For much of his life Handel was physically healthy, endowed with a remarkable capacity for work. With a thick complexion like his father, he soon showed a frank tendency to obesity due to his irrepressible enthusiasm for food and his no less joyous fondness for alcohol, especially for Port and Madeira wines. His contemporaries called him “the Bear” for his corpulence and decomposed walking, but also for his tenacity, energy and strength. In it, several factors were combined that could well cause high blood pressure and hardening of the arteries in adulthood: being overweight, the habit of smoking tobacco (in the pipe), a sedentary life and economic and work stress.

Handel’s good health began to decline after the age of fifty, just at a time of great financial and administrative tension due to the difficulties of staging his operas; headaches, irritability, colic, rheumatic pain.

In 1737, after a period of great fatigue and disappointment, “the machine broke”: he suffered paralysis of the right arm that affected mainly the fingers of that hand, and consequently prevented him from playing the harpsichord and the organ. Along with the paralysis, he presented certain mental alterations, “which modified his understandings,” according to a written comment by a contemporary, perhaps referring to mental confusion or speech problems. (…)

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