Music and Mental Health: Guess Who (IV)
- January 12, 2018
Addiction is a difficult aspect of mental health, for those who are addicts and also for those who care about them. It may be even more difficult when the substance one is addicted to is socially acceptable: here is where we find alcohol. Many brilliant people may have been alcoholics, some may just hide it better than others. Some go on to achieve amazing things despite their alcoholism, some achieve a few great things but their alcoholism prevents them from succeeding further, while still others are completely stunted in their greatness due to the addiction coming before anything else. My father falls into this last category, and as a loved one of his, it makes me very sad. I desperately want my father to achieve so much more than he currently is, because I know he is capable of it, but I have come to accept the fact that it may never happen because he has become an expert at justifying why notand rationalizing his addiction. Some well-known people of the first category include Elizabeth Taylor, Vincent Van Gogh, Stephen King, and Samuel L. Jackson.
In the grey middle ground of that second category lies a famous Russian composer, known as one of “The Five.” A virtuoso, he began playing the piano when he was six. By age nine, he was able to perform pieces of Liszt, at age ten he studied under a noted pianist in Saint Petersburg, and by age twelve, he had composed his first piano piece: a polka. Under his family’s wishes, he joined Cadet School at age thirteen which is likely where his path to alcoholism began. The director of the school was rumored to have been proud when cadets returned from leave drunk with champagne. Though during this time, he still continued lessons on piano. Over the next several years he began to learn composing, initially leaning mostly toward foreign models in his compositions. Only a part time composer, he began to act on the desire to express the Russian soul, and turned away from the more Western models. He had amazing talent and raw individuality in his pieces, but his contemporaries critiqued his underdeveloped technique. At this time, alcoholism was a behavior pattern which showed opposition to the establishment and it was idealized as ethical and aesthetic. Over the years, alcohol influenced his decline and decreased his productivity both at his day job and as a composer. His best pieces were written while his alcoholism was “in check.” Although the combination of alcoholism and lack of technique led to many of his pieces being re-orchestrated, his work inspired many to come including the likes of Shostakovich and Prokofiev. One of pieces even featured in Disney’s Fantasia. He died fairly young, most likely in part due to his alcoholism, and many viewed his death as a tragic loss for music.
I encourage anyone struggling with addiction to seek help so that you can go on to do great things; don’t let your life be stunted as this composer’s was.
https://paintedbrain.org– Painted Brain Intern