4 Ignoble Deaths in Classical Music History
Classical music has a long, rich history of talented people creating magnificent art. There have been composers of noble birth who, after a lifetime of moving audiences to tears with splendid music, are honored upon their deaths with great ceremony. These are not their stories.
Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687)
If you were a French aristocrat during the 17th century, you probably spent your afternoons making sure your lead-based facepaint was slathered on just right in case you ran into Jean-Baptiste Lully. The most influential and important French composer of the time, Lully was also an accomplished ballet dancer, a prolific composer of operas, and best mates with King Louis XIV.
In those days, orchestras were smaller than they are now and the position of conductor wasn’t really a thing yet. Instead, the composer (usually) stood off to the side of the ensemble, rapping the deck with a large staff. During a particularly spirited moment while conducting his own Te Deum setting, Lully accidentally jammed the staff into his big toe. In an unbelievable stroke of bad luck, this led to a nasty gangrene infection. For us, gangrene is a punch line reserved for only the most specialized tastes in pornography, but in the 17th century, gangrene was often deadly because proper treatment didn’t exist. Surprisingly, “MORE LEECHES!!” was not an effective medical solution and Lully died three months later.