Blas Gil Extremera (Campillo de Arenas, Jaén), is a professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Granada and a researcher who has written about diseases suffered by many famous people. Soon, he will present his latest work dedicated to diseases and the process of creating a musical genius like Mozart. Gil Extremera is a number academic at the Royal Academy of Medicine of Granada and Andalusian Doctor of the Year (2009). In addition, as Vargas Llosa said about him, “he is a restless spirit devoured by curiosity, a lover and excellent connoisseur of good music, a reader of literature and history and open to all requests from culture.”
–There are many biographies about Mozart but you have wanted to relate his medical history to creation. It’s not like that?
–Indeed, I have tried as far as possible to relate disease and creation. This is an issue to which I have been paying special attention in recent years.
– What diseases did Mozart have or what ailments did he suffer?
–As a child, Mozart suffered from scarlet fever at the age of six, rheumatic fever at seven, smallpox at eleven, and fundamentally the pathology that ended his life: end-stage renal disease. Mozart’s diseases constitute an important historical-medical enigma that has aroused numerous controversies.
–In addition, at a time when penicillin did not yet exist
–Indeed, in the 18th and 19th centuries the mortality of the general population was very high, especially due to infectious diseases. There were no vaccines, no effective drugs, and medical knowledge was very precarious. This circumstance changed radically from 1945 with the discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming.
–What documentation did you use when making the clinical analysis of the composer?
–Unfortunately the medical documentation on Mozart is very precarious. Neither did current diagnostic tests (analytical, radiology, imaging tests) exist in the 18th century. I have based myself on the written testimonies of people close to Mozart (especially family and friends), taking into account that they lacked medical knowledge and on their own deductions about possible diagnoses of the diseases suffered by the genius.
–Did these ailments have much to do with your creative process?
–These ailments for Mozart passed into the background. His only concern was composing music. There was not always a direct relationship between the mood and the musical work. For example, some festive works he wrote in moments of deep sadness.
Why do you think he died so young? What is your diagnosis?
–There are several reasons that explain Mozart’s early death. In the first place, limited diagnostic and therapeutic capacity of medicine at that time. In addition, there was a high incidence of infectious diseases (smallpox, tuberculosis, syphilis, typhus, among others) for which no treatment was available. Third, Mozart led a life of intense professional, intellectual, and social activity. Then there was the misunderstanding of the political, artistic and social powers, which treated the artists as lackeys, especially the public who came to the genius of Salzburg. And finally, we must not forget that the composer had to suffer many financial difficulties.
– Is there much to know about Mozart?
–At the present time, of a genius as great as Mozart, not everything has been said; For example, some of his works are still lost or forgotten and it is possible to think that one day they may be discovered.
Why your passion for this musician?
–My passion for Mozart arose spontaneously in my childhood, when when I was watching a film in the now-defunct Príncipe de Granada cinema, I was able to hear as a soundtrack a musical fragment of indescribable beauty that I have not forgotten ever since. Mozart’s music is beauty, feeling, harmony, capable of offering all human emotions, tensions and contradictions. Likewise, it is enthusiasm and sadness, joy and depression, tragedy and dawn. A genuine example is the String Quintet, which expresses the painful resignation of the last Mozart, the sadness of a soul that has glimpsed its end.
–You have also written another book on illnesses suffered by great figures in history. Tell me about a case of a character whose decisions have been influenced by a certain disease.
Well, there are many cases. For example, George Friedich Haëndel suffered a cerebral stroke on April 12, 1737. Treated by Dr. Jenkins, he concluded that he had never seen anyone cured of a stroke. However, Handel was cured and in gratitude to God for this miracle, he wrote one of the greatest works of music: The Messiah. The director from Granada, José Tamayo, dedicated his life to the theater. He suffered from a neurological disorder characterized by prolonged muscle contractions that led to abnormal sustained postures and movements. A condition known as primary adult dystonia, which causes, among other disorders, spasms of the vocal cords that causes broken speech with ups and downs, language difficulties and correct diction. Despite this, Tamayo produced an extraordinary work especially, with the staging of eternal pages of Spanish theater.