International Journal of Urologic History

The Impact of Syphilis on Late Works of Classical Music Composers

Leonidas Rempelakos, Effie Poulakou-Rebelakou, Costas Tsiamis, Apostolos Rempelakos
First Published: July 1, 2021
DOI: 10.53101/IJUH71216
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Tertiary syphilis represents an advanced stage of infection with treponema pallidum and was an endemic problem in pre-penicillin society. The disease was easily contracted and transmitted in all walks of life and the small coterie of European classical music composers was no exception. We wished to identify those artists of the genre who suffered from Treponema pallidum infection and establish potential effects of the disease on their musical output and career.


We reviewed contemporary accounts and secondary source biographic information of known syphilitics who wrote and performed in the mid to late 19th century, the period normally referred to as that of ‘classic music. We correlated known medical features of Treponema pallidum infection, and its therapy, with their potential effects on composer creative output.


We found that seven composers of the 19th century suffered from the physical stigmata of Treponema pallidum infection as well as familial and social stigmatization. Tertiary infection, and its neuro-psychiatric consequences, appears to have been directly related to premature death (e.g. Franz Schubert died at the age of 31); suicidal ideation and/or major depressive disorders (Robert Schumann, Hugo Wolf, Bedrich Smetana); persecutory manic bipolar disease (Gaetano Donizetti); blindness (Frederick Delius); and mercury-induced laryngoplegia (Niccolò Paganini).


Syphilis has been a fatal disease through ages and among its victims, authors and artists died with symptoms of mental deterioration due to neurosyphilis. The influence of the disease upon their last works can be traced especially in the case of composers, as hallucinations and horrors and psychological conflicts are reflected in their music.the need for a journal wholly dedicated to the history of urology.

Editor in Chief: John L. Phillips, MD
Journal Design: Akhil A. Saji, MD
DOI: 10.53101
US ISSN: 2769-2183