July 13, 1951 - On this night - only 15 minutes before midnight - the great Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg passed away. Schoenberg had crawled into bed while in a state of debilitating terror.
Extremely superstitious, Schoenberg dreaded the number 13...and this day was Friday the 13th in his 67th year. An astrologer had recently reminded him that if he added the numbers in his age it equalled 13. Yikes!
His wife Gertrud later wrote to a friend about the bizarre ending to Schoenberg's life:
About a quarter to twelve I looked at the clock and said to myself: another quarter of an hour and then the worst is over. Then the doctor called me. Arnold's throat rattled twice, his heart gave a powerful beat and that was the end.
As a young man Schoenberg had pioneered a radical 12-tone technique of composition. His explorations of atonality were revolutionary - and when the Nazis came to power he was forced to flee as his music was labeled (along with jazz) as a degenerate art.
He eventually found his way to Los Angeles where he continued to compose and teach his expressionist style of music. One of his neighbors was George Gershwin and the two men became good friends and tennis partners.
The origin of Schoenberg's fear of the number 13 may have begun in 1908 after he wrote the 13th of 15 songs in a work he called The Book of the Hanging Gardens. Already prone to superstitious quirks - this song threw him for an extra loop when he realized that there were 13 letters in the title, "Moses und Aaron." He changed it to "Moses und Aron."