‘Competition kills composers’

A study at the University of Southern Denmark has found that peer pressure and competitive stress shortens the lives of creative people. ‘Competition has a negative and significant impact on longevity,’ said Dr Karol Jan Borowiecki.

He went on to say: ‘The stress intensified when they were living in the same cities as their peers. It is likely, for example, that limited access to concert halls may have triggered increased stress levels, especially in cities with a greater number of other composers.’

Do we believe a word of this pointless academic speculation?

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  • Provisions for composers are better in Denmark than in the UK but not sure it reaps a more interesting new music scene. I’d like to be contradicted on this one!

    • Since WW II, in small countries without any remarkable musical tradition in terms of composition like Denmark, Holland, Luxembourg, Andorra, Switserland and Liechtenstein, the state created a subsidized territory where new music could florish protected from the ravages of the real world. But then, a situation resulted like too many animals in a small cage, which is – even for composers – a rather stressful context.

  • I read the linked article.

    A simpler hypothesis would be that living in high population density areas in the 19th century reduced life expectancy. Given the frequency of cholera and other epidemics in cities at the time, that should be no surprise.

    Much of the analysis seems to be drawing a chain of conclusions based on previous conclusions, with little additional data beyond the original tiny sample size of 144.

    On the face of it, not good science.

    • Absolutely right! In the opera world, competition is fiercer than in the world of musical composition – a veritable arena filled with very hungry lions ready to devour you. And yet, singers seem to have a pretty good life-span, not to mention length of career: by way of example I mention but three – Giuseppe
      Taddei (still performing into his eighties), Gina Cigna who died aged 101 and Magda Olivero, who died last year aged 104!
      Stress undoubtedly affects people’s health generally – but creative people in particular? I think the jury’s still out on that one!

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