Arnold Schoenberg had a crippling fear of the number 13… and he died on Friday 13th.

13 September 2019, 17:31 | Updated: 9 November 2020, 15:19

Arnold Schoenberg
Arnold Schoenberg. Picture: Getty

By Helena Asprou

Friday 13th is upon us once again – and for one classical composer, this widely-feared date would result in a cruel twist of fate...

Whether you’re superstitious or not, today is Friday 13th – and for many people around the world, that means it’s the unluckiest day of the year.

While some people may scoff at the mere thought of a date being doomed, others are probably hiding indoors right now away from danger (and wobbly ladders).

It’s a belief that has been passed down through society for decades, and there are all kinds of theories as to why the day is particularly wretched.

13 has been considered unlucky for centuries: in religion because of Judas Iscariot – the disciple who betrayed Jesus – being the thirteenth diner to sit at the Last Supper, and throughout history works of literature, entertainment and pop culture have reinforced myths around the number.

And it seems that American-Austrian composer, Arnold Schoenberg, may have found today more stressful than most, after suffering with a life-long phobia of the number 13.

Portrait of Arnold Schoenberg (1905-6) by Richard Gerstl, oil on canvas, Historisches Museum der Stadt Wien, Vienna.
Portrait of Arnold Schoenberg (1905-6) by Richard Gerstl, oil on canvas, Historisches Museum der Stadt Wien, Vienna. Picture: Getty

Known as triskaidekaphobia, his fear is linked to 12 being a number of perfection – for example, there are 12 months in a year, 12 hours on a clock and 12 zodiac signs.

The music theorist, teacher, writer and painter is widely considered to be one of the most influential classical composers of the 21st century, but he would still go out of his way to avoid the number 13.

It has been suggested that he even deliberately misspelt his opera, Moses und Aron, as the correct spelling resulted in the title being 13 letters long.

But if you’re sitting there feeling amused, mocking the sheer eccentricity of it all, read on – because on Friday 13, July 1951, Schoenberg’s fear was finally realised.

The then 76-year-old composer had spent the day in bed, feeling unbearably anxious and believing the worst was about to happen...

And it did.

Israeli Chamber Project | Schoenberg: Pierrot Lunaire. Complete

His wife, Gertrud, recalled: “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”.

Coincidence? If that wasn’t enough to send shivers down your spine, it turns out the digits in Schoenberg’s age also added up to 13.

But for those of you who are superstitious, you’re certainly not alone as many hotels are designed without a room numbered 13, restaurants refuse to have a ‘table 13’ and some major airlines, including Lufthansa, refuse to have a 13th row.

We’ll never know for sure whether there’s any truth in it – but for now, we might just steer clear of black cats and cracked mirrors…