1911 – Gustav Mahler dies

Gustav Mahler was one of the greatest modern composers, generally classified as one of the Late Romantics. He wrote ten symphonies (although he died with the last one unfinished), and numerous other works, and was one of the most respected and popular composers of his era.

Mahler and his wife Alma had moved to New York in 1908, but as his health failed – he suffered from bacterial endocarditis, complicated his defective heart valves, and almost universally fatal before antibiotics – he and Alma returned to Europe. Mahler died in Vienna, and was buried in Grinzing.

Referenced in:
Alma — Tom Lehrer

1980 – Ian Curtis commits suicide

Ian Curtis was only 23 years old when he killed himself on the eve of his band Joy Division’s first American tour. Curtis had suffered from intermittent depression for years prior to this, but his death came as a surprise to most of his closest associates, coming as it did at a time when his prospects seemed to be looking up.

The lead singer and primary lyricist of Joy Division, Curtis had a devoted, cult-like following at the time of his death, and would become one of the early icons of the nascent goth scene. His writings would receive greater critical respect in the years after his death – and his bandmates would continue to play, and reach greater financial success, under the name New Order.

Referenced in:

Ian Curtis — Thursday

1048 — Omar Khayyám is born

One of the most well-known Middle Eastern poets in the West, largely due to an apparently neverending series of translations of his Rubaiyat, Omar Khayyám was also a mathematician, an astronomer, and as his poetry tends to indicate, a philosopher. He’s one of the few people in history that could have dealt with Leonardo da Vinci as an equal, a true polymath whose work remains influential even today. Notably, he was one of the reformers who modified the Persian Calendar in 1079 – the new calendar, known as the Jalali calendar, is still in use (with some minor corrections) in Iran and Afghanistan.

Of course, he was also damned cool – legend has it that he was a boyhood friend of Hassan i Sabbah (and if you don’t know who he was, you’re in for a surprise), while modern historical research has uncovered evidence suggesting that he devised a heliocentric model of our Solar System centuries before Copernicus. Frankly, he’s a candidate for interesting historical fictions just waiting to happen.

Referenced in:

Awake — Asia
The Road to Morocco — Bing Crosby
Rave On, John Donne — Van Morrison
Roccococooler — Edgar Broughton Band