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WQXR Features

Musical Credentials: Outrageous Composers

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Though it's sometimes perceived as the most serious and starched of art forms, classical music has been the domain of some pretty outrageous characters. Check out the eccentric credentials of these composers-gone-wild and tell us who was truly the rock star of his day.

Franz Liszt

  • Dubbed the world’s first rock star
  • A womanizer, he lured a French countess away from her husband
  • Broke so many piano strings in performances that stronger instrument was invented

Carlo Gesualdo

  • Married his first cousin
  • Had his wife and her lover killed and displayed the bodies
  • Used avant-garde harmonies in the 16th century

George Antheil

  • Published an autobiography called “Bad Boy of Music”
  • Scored pieces for airplane engines, player pianos, etc.
  • Wrote a nationally syndicated relationship advice column

Niccolo Paganini

  • Fame as a violinist was matched only by his reputation as a gambler and womanizer
  • Contracted syphilis
  • Used opium

Claude Debussy

  • Left his wife for another woman
  • Wrote scandalous pieces, breaking free from traditional harmonies


Hector Berlioz

  • Used opium for musical inspiration
  • Married a woman who only spoke English; he only spoke French

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