Neurosyphilis in Anglo-American Composers and Jazz Musicians

Acta Clin Croat. 2017 Sep;56(3):505-511. doi: 10.20471/acc.2017.56.03.18.


Syphilis is a sexually transmitted, systemic disease caused by the spirochete bacterium Treponema pallidum. The most common mechanism of transmission is sexual intercourse. Although there are several hypotheses, the exact origin of the disease remains unknown. Newly published evidence suggests that the hypothesis supporting the theory of the American origin of the disease is the valid one. Among 1500 analyzed pathographies of composers and musicians, data on ten Anglo-American composers and jazz musicians having suffered from neurosyphilis (tertiary stage of the disease) were extracted for this report. In this group of Anglo-American composers and musicians, most of them died from progressive paralysis while still in the creative phase of life. Additionally, diagnoses of eleven other famous neurosyphilitic composers, as well as basic biographic data on ten less known composers that died from neurosyphilis-progressive paralysis are also briefly mentioned. In conclusion, neurosyphilis can cause serious neurological damage, as well as permanent disability or death, preventing further work and skill improvement.

Keywords: Biography as topic; History; Music; Neurosyphilis; Pathology; Syphilis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Music
  • Neurosyphilis* / diagnosis
  • Neurosyphilis* / epidemiology
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / epidemiology
  • United States / epidemiology