Curse of the Ninth

I am still researching odds and ends for the second part of my novel. If I had been writing it thirty years ago, I imagine I would be in some reference library somewhere with a very clear idea of what I should be looking up and in which volumes to search. I imagine that I would be far more focused than I am these days.

The internet, home broadband and no particular deadline all add up to both a blessing and a curse. In fact, the blessing and the curse are almost the same thing. You can surf and daydream simultaneously, streaming the endless data at your fingertips into your brain. You can daystream. You bounce from your original idea to something so unconnected that, after a few minutes, you can no longer remember what it was you were looking for. Although, in my case, that may be due to my age too.

In the course of daystreaming, I came across this urban(e) myth:

Classical composers who write nine symphonies never complete their tenth before dying.

Proof? Beethoven. Mahler. Er, no-one else really.

In fact, there are lots of arguments about a number of others, centred around when a symphony is actually a symphony or whether works not actually called symphonies can be counted. I can imagine that some of these debates have ended in fisticuffs, probably between musicians of an orchestra in the car park after the gig, with the violin section all pulling their Second Violin away from some recalcitrant flutist yelling “He’s not worth it! He doesn’t know the difference between andante and andantino!”

But orchestral bruisers in the car park aside, the way Humans see patterns where there are none is quite amazing. There is a Jim Carrey film, called “The Number 23” I think, where he sees the number 23 everywhere and becomes convinceed that there is some kind of conspiracy on a huge scale. Similarly, some composers avoided writing their ninth symphone for fear of the curse descending before they finished their tenth. Of course, there are very few in fact that did that – there must be hundreds of composers of symphonies and only a handful have ever reported being a bit careful as they approached the fateful milestone.

Yesterday I went to see the Olympic Torch as it passed my way on its journey through Wales. Ten minutes before it arrived in my little town, the sky turned from azure blue to a mirky black and started to drizzle. Not enough to give the plants a decent watering but just enough to gently soak the waiting throng. The flame passed and as it left the city limits (as it were), the sky cleared and the sun came back out. This was the first time it had rained on the torch. And the superstitious significance of this event? It was the ninth day of the torch relay.

Now admittedly, the world wasn’t robbed of some fine genius of a composer and as far as I know, no-one of any profession lost their life as a result of the rain but it starts to make you think. What other nine-related events are there, thus proving the curse is real after all?

The best known curse of all is that of Tutankhamen. Apart from the fact that the curse was made up by a novelist* and fed by a media frenzy, pretty much everyone who entered the tomb lived reasonably long times. Howard Carter died in 1939, Lord Caernarvon’s daughter died aged 79, Dr Derry, who carried out the first autopsy of the mummy of Tut, died in 1969 and Richard Bethell, Carter’s personal secretary, died in 1929. So no curse there then and certainly no nines involved. Phew!

Well, I guess if you look for these sorts of things, you find them, as with many things in life.

Am I worried that this is my ninth post? Well, if there isn’t a tenth, you’ll know I was.


* You just can’t trust them, can you?

Categories: BATDIG, General silliness, Superstition, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Curse of the Ninth

  1. Hmm, suspicious, yet I don’t believe in curses. There has been many a time where I will get a chain email that tells me to do something or bad things will happen to me. Yet, here I am!

    Intestesting about the whole composer thing. That would be a bit of information I didn’t know. Did any composers just skip the ninth one and label it ten?

    Great post. 🙂


    • Glad you liked the post! In my extensive research (OK, ten minutes of daystreaming) I discovered that Roy Harris, an American composer, skipped his 13th symphony but not his 9th; Phillip Glass completed his 9th and 10th in quick succession possibly to ensure that the curse wouldn’t have time to get to work and some Chinese hotels miss out floors with a 4 because in Mandarin the number four (sì) sounds like the word for death (sǐ). Do Chinese composers miss out the 4th symphony? I feel some more daystreaming on the way…


  2. Pingback: Thirteenth Time Lucky « writinghouse

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