image of an irritable composer sitting at the piano in a dark room

Some of the world’s most celebrated classical music composers have been known not just for their extraordinary musical talents but also for their fiery tempers or difficult behaviors. Their personal struggles and turbulent relationships sometimes manifested in their music, providing a fascinating insight into the darker aspects of their lives. Understanding the complex personalities behind these brilliant compositions offers a richer appreciation of their work, reminding us that even the most celebrated artists are still, at their core, human beings with their own flaws and shortcomings.

Ludwig van Beethoven

Beethoven, one of the most famous composers in history, was known for his untidy lifestyle and volatile temper. He consistently struggled with landlords due to his messy living conditions, which included uneaten trays of food piled up in the corner of his lodgings.

The composer’s temper often led to conflicts with his servants. Beethoven’s infamous “Rage Over A Lost Penny,” a nickname given to his Rondo a Capriccio, was inspired by an incident where he turned his entire apartment upside down, searching for a gold penny he believed a maid had stolen.

Jean Sibelius

The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius was notorious for his excessive drinking habits. In his youth, he founded a club where members would drink and discuss art and life for days on end.

Sibelius’s wife, Aino, was often left to pick up the pieces after her husband’s wild escapades. She would take it upon herself to search the bars of Helsinki for her wayward spouse, especially when deadlines for his compositions were looming. Sibelius’s irresponsible behavior even extended to his professional life, with one instance where he had to be dragged away from a feast to conduct a concert while heavily intoxicated.

Henry Purcell

The English composer Henry Purcell was known for his love of London’s inns and the drinking songs he composed. One theory surrounding his untimely death suggests that Purcell’s wife, Frances, frustrated with her husband’s behavior, locked him out of their home one chilly evening. The resulting bout of pneumonia proved to be fatal for the composer, cutting short his prolific career.

Gabriel Fauré

Fauré was known for his love of late-night drinking and his irreverent behavior as a church organist. He would often show up for morning service still dressed in his evening attire, much to the disapproval of the clergy, who also took issue with his habit of smoking during sermons.

Joseph Haydn

Haydn, often referred to as “Papa” for his gentle nature, had a mischievous streak that occasionally landed him in trouble. In one infamous incident, 17-year-old Joseph decided to cut off a fellow pupil’s pigtail, leading to his expulsion from school.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Haydn’s friend, W.A. Mozart, shared his love for pranks. During a performance of his opera The Magic Flute, Mozart secretly tampered with the stage machinery, causing the actor to struggle with his cues, much to the amusement of the audience. Mozart was also known for making immature jokes.

George Frideric Handel

Handel was known for his short temper and extreme sensitivity to sound. His fellow musicians were required to tune their instruments before his arrival in the concert hall, as he could not bear to hear the process. In one incident, a prankster un-tuned the instruments while the musicians were away, leading to an enraged Handel attacking his colleagues upon hearing the discordant instruments.

In spite of their challenging personalities, the contributions of these cantankerous composers can’t be denied. Their music continues to inspire and captivate humans everywhere, reminding us that creativity often thrives in the midst of chaos.

Feeling generous? 😊