Friday, January 3, 2014

The Curse of the Ninth: An Absurd Musical Trivium; Short Note by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

The Curse of the Ninth: An Absurd Musical Trivium
By Payman Akhlaghi (A Short Note, originally 2014, Draft 2)

(*) First published at on January 2nd, 2014, under:
The Curse of the Ninth: An Absurd Musical Trivium.

Although Mozart wrote 41 symphonies, and Haydn completed 104 of them, it was the unprecedented stature of Beethoven's symphonies, and the fact that he never finished a 10th, that would cause the subsequent generations of composers some real trauma.

Schubert died young with only 9 symphonies completed. Schumann made it only to the fourth. Brahms, an otherwise quick and daring composer, didn't start to write his first symphony until he was 21, and it took him another 21 years to bring it home. Eventually, like his friend Schumann, he only dared to write 4 symphonies. Bruckner almost made it to the end of his 9th, but he died before he could complete it. Sibelius's 8th symphony was left incomplete and missing. Dvořák managed to finish his 9th, and no more.

By the time of Mahler the superstition must have taken some really strong roots. Mahler had written 8 symphonies, before he composed his symphonic song cycle, Das Lied von Der Erde. When he started working on his 9th symphony, however, he used to quip that he had indeed completed his 9th, meaning Das Lied, although he had not named it as such. But even he couldn't "cheat death": he wouldn't make it to complete his (officially) 10th symphony.

With such a background, we can only imagine how Shostakovich must have felt when he managed to complete his 10th symphony and still breathe, even survive to write his 15th. Later on, the prolific Hovhaness, as if in a gesture of defiance against gods, kept writing symphony after symphony, probably more than 70 of them.

Altogether, according to the logic of superstitions, those who wish to be on the safe side better brace themselves for the worst and consider some kind of insurance, if they're about to tempt the gods of music and embark on writing their 9th or especially 10th symphony. In other words, you're welcome to write your 10th, but you may do so please at your own risk.

While at it, if you are a non-musician, you may consider to wish your composer friends a life long enough to allow them to complete their 10th symphony, and beyond.

-- Payman Akhlaghi,
January 2nd, 2014, Los Angeles.


(*) Sources for some names, numbers and dates:

(*) Wikipedia also has a dedicated entry for this topic, which I did Not consult until after completing my short note. There you may see quotes by Schoenberg (which I didn't have in mind to include above), an analysis of the superstition, and a long list of "counter-examples":

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

P.S. (11.04.2015) On occasion, classical music needs its own share of humor. Otherwise, for a serious discussion of Mahler by this author, see my graduate paper from 2001, Gustav Mahler's Everlasting Influence: A Brief Discussion of Abschied from Das Lied von der Erde, available at, and

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

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