Although having very little in connection with Gesualdo, here seems to be a good place to write a little about those composers with a more ‘unusual’ biography. František Kocžwara (or Francis Kotzwara) seems to fit the bill.
Kotzwara (c. 1750 – 1791) was something of a jack of all trades, he reputedly played viola, double bass, piano, violin, cello, oboe, flute, bassoon and cittern (List taken from his Grove Article). If that wasn’t enough he also composed his own music and forged compositions by other famous composers of the day, which he then flogged to publishers. Although originally from Bohemia, he moved to London and in the last quarter of the eighteenth century began to carve a successful compositional career in writing music for amateurs.
His most successful composition The Battle of Prague (1788) is extremely incidental and is littered with explanatory descriptions helping the performer/listeners follow the technical progress of the battle; it also includes the National Anthem. There are two performances on youtube if you’re interested, neither are very good in terms of sound quality or playing, but then neither is the music really! I guess it was very fashionable in his time.
Kotzwara’s personal life is in fact more interesting than his music. He had very peculiar sexual habits and was known to visit brothels. After dining with a prostitute by the name of Susanna Hill, he asked her to cut off his testicles but she refused and instead tied a rope around his neck and attached it to the door and had sex with him whilst asphyxiating him in a spurt of auto-erotic pleasure, which was the first ever recorded case of auto-eroticism. However, when she had finished having intercourse with him she found that he had suffocated and died. Hill was later tried and acquitted for his murder.
It’s characters like Kotzwara that make music history all the more enjoyable.
If you want to listen….