The Bizarre Deaths of Historical Clarinetists

You probably know by now that October is my favourite month. I love feeling the brisk chill in the air, indulging in sugary seasonal coffee drinks, and enjoying the magnificent foliage around me. But what I love most about October is Halloween – the scary stories, horror movies, and everything macabre.

I have quite the lineup of all things spooky and clarinet-related, so gather ’round the virtual campfire as we celebrate Halloween, Jenny Clarinet style!

Prepare to be spooked by the peculiar demises of these historical clarinetists:

  • Anton Stadler (1753-1812) – You would think the celebrity garnished as “Mozart’s Clarinetist” would secure a cushy lifestyle, but that wasn’t the case for Stadler. After incurring many debts in his later life, he died of emaciation.
  • Johann Simon Hermstedt (1778-1846) – As the muse for most of Spohr’s clarinet compositions, Hermstedt maintained a heavy concert schedule throughout his life. The throat disease which killed Hermstedt was rumoured to have been caused by his clarinet.
  • Adolphe Sax (1814-1894) – Unconfirmed theory: Adolphe Sax had to be part cat, because he certainly had 9 lives! During his life, Sax was met with a variety of misfortunes: he fell from a height of three flights and hit his head; drank a bowl of acid (to be fair, he thought it was milk); narrowly escaped drowning; swallowed a pin; nearly asphyxiated from furniture varnish (on a few different occasions); fell face-first into a hot cast-iron skillet (???); got struck in the head by falling debris; and was burned by exploding gunpowder. After all this, he survived lip cancer. Sounds like he could have used some Felix Felicis!
  • Louis Cahuzac (1880-1960) – I’m here to dispel any rumours regarding the death of renowned French clarinetist and composer Louis Cahuzac! Many people believe that Cahuzac died in a motorcycle accident on the Champs-Élysées, but this is not true! (Although anybody that’s walked this street can you tell you how dangerous the traffic is!) Here’s the truth, told by Cahuzac’s grandson to Philippe Cuper: a truck hit Cahuzac’s shoulder in December 1959, which rendered him unable to perform or conduct. Cahuzac became understandably depressed, but he died of a cerebral hemorrhage in his sleep in Luchon on August 9, 1960.
  • Rudolf Gall (dates unknown) – Rudolf Gall performed with the Concertgebouw and Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, and he was a jury member of the first Ard competition in Munich. Despite his successful career, Gall became depressed after the death of his wife, and he committed suicide after squeaking in a concert.
  • Georges Grisez (1884-1946) – French-born clarinetist Georges Grisez moved to America after winning first prize at the Paris Conservatory. He performed with several prestigious orchestras in America, including the Boston Symphony and Philadelphia Orchestra. He died in a concert in 1946 after his performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. (I wonder if the death certificate lists cause of death as “death by glissando.”)
  • Sidney Vigne (c. 1890-1924) – Jazz clarinetist Sidney Vigne was coming home after a New Year’s Eve gig in New Orleans when he was hit and killed by a meat truck. The drivers sped away, and their identity remains a mystery to this day.

It’s not just clarinetists who’ve died under strange circumstances – many composers have succumbed to the clarinet curse after composing for clarinet! Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

2 thoughts on “The Bizarre Deaths of Historical Clarinetists

  1. >[Adolf Sax] drank a bowl of acid (to be fair, he thought it was milk); fell face-first into a hot cast-iron skillet…
    So, that’s where all those stereotypes about wind players originally come from? 😉

    1. I guess so! Although I think there are different stereotypes for different instruments – I like to think clarinetists aren’t this clumsy/unlucky!

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