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Communications to the Editor |

Musical Snoring Musical Snoring FREE TO VIEW

A. G. Gordon, BSc
Author and Funding Information

Affiliations: London, UK,  University of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, PA

Correspondence to: A. G. Gordon, BSc, 32 Love Walk, London, UK SE5 8AD



Chest. 2001;119(5):1621-1622. doi:10.1378/chest.119.5.1621
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Henschel’s report1of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) in Brahms is, amazingly enough, not the first or best OSA description in a musician. Indeed Glinka’s2 1840 observation (Fig 1) seems to be the earliest account of OSA anywhere. There are striking similarities—a humorous account of OSA in good musicians by a fellow touring musician after, no doubt, drinking sessions. It does seem more than coincidental that the (only?) two good 19th century descriptions of OSA were in musicians, but there is no obvious explanation (syphilis?).

Syphilis was very common in classical composers (Wolf, Beethoven, Haydn,3 Schubert, Smetana, etc), attributable to residence in cities occupied by Napoleonic armies that effectively spread the disease. In early stages, the ears are irritated, leading to musical hallucinations, a plausible source of musical creativity.34 Glinka had syphilis2 and reported a likely musical hallucination (Fig 1, left). He also complains that “thoughts crowded my brain unasked” (Fig 1, right).

Whilst I have not studied Brahms’ medical history in detail, a quick check1,5 shows many risk factors for otosyphilis. He had been born and raised in the poorest district of a major port; lived in Hamburg and Vienna, occupied by Napoleonic troops; frequented bordellos; alcohol problems; prominent seasickness; unexplained rejection of intimacy and marriage; unexplained personality change, irritability, and depression; obscure sexual functioning; premature death from a multisystem neurologic condition3; and possibly slept with Clara Schumann, whose husband Robert probably had syphilis.

Figure Jump LinkFigure 1. Pages from the book Memoirs, by Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka. Reprinted with permission.2Grahic Jump Location
Margolis, ML (2000) Brahms’ lullaby revisited.Chest118,210-213. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
 
Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka. Memoirs. Translated by: Mudge RB. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963.
 
Gordon, AG Seeking Haydn’s secrets [letter]. Cerebrovasc Dis. 1999;;9 ,.:54. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
 
Gordon, AG Creativity and mental health [letter]. J R Soc Med. 1996;;89 ,.:728
 
Entry: Brahms, Johannes. In: Encyclopaedia Britannica. 15th ed. Chicago, IL: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1982.
 
To the Editor:

I thank Gordon for calling attention to Glinka’s perceptive portrayal of a colleague with possible obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), dating from 1840. However, I cannot agree that this “is the earliest account of OSA anywhere.” Descriptions of OSA date as far back as 360 BC at least, to the time of Dionysius, and they include the famous 1836 description of Joe the fat boy in Dickens’ Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club.1

I see no link between the two 19th century accounts of OSA mentioned by Gordon and syphilis in musicians. Instead, the use by Henschel and Glinka of terms like “ringing” and “crescendo” may speak to a common musical context in which they describe their observations about loud snoring.

While Brahms had many “risk factors” for syphilis, there is no credible medical evidence I know of to sustain the hypothesis that he suffered from an otologic (or any other) form of the disease. That he did not die from a multisystem neurologic disease seems plain.

Finally, Gordon’s assertions about Beethoven, Haydn, hallucinations and musical creativity, and Clara Schumann are debatable, to say the least, but reflect the ongoing keen interest in the illnesses of the great musicians of the past among contemporary authors.

References
Kryger, MH Sleep apnea: from the needles of Dionysius to continuous positive airway pressureArch Intern Med1983;143,2301-2303. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
 

Figures

Figure Jump LinkFigure 1. Pages from the book Memoirs, by Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka. Reprinted with permission.2Grahic Jump Location

Tables

References

Margolis, ML (2000) Brahms’ lullaby revisited.Chest118,210-213. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
 
Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka. Memoirs. Translated by: Mudge RB. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963.
 
Gordon, AG Seeking Haydn’s secrets [letter]. Cerebrovasc Dis. 1999;;9 ,.:54. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
 
Gordon, AG Creativity and mental health [letter]. J R Soc Med. 1996;;89 ,.:728
 
Entry: Brahms, Johannes. In: Encyclopaedia Britannica. 15th ed. Chicago, IL: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1982.
 
Kryger, MH Sleep apnea: from the needles of Dionysius to continuous positive airway pressureArch Intern Med1983;143,2301-2303. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
 
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