Beatlemania (noun): extreme enthusiasm for the Beatles, as manifested in the frenzied behavior of their fans in the 1960s.
The Beatles will be remembered throughout history for their contributions to the world of music. Yet, perhaps they'll also be remembered for the way their fans act. There's something about the Beatles that make people go crazy, especially when they first arrived on the scene back in the '60s. And Ron Howard is set to show that in his new documentary, The Beatles: Eight Days A Week.
However, the Beatles were far from the first musicians to incite this type of reaction in fans. "Beatlemania" has been going on for hundreds of years, whether it was "Mozartmania" or "Elvismania." Whatever the case, musicians of all styles and backgrounds have reached unimaginable levels of fame. And with that fame came the crazy fans. Today, we'll be taking a trip through history to take a look at nine musicians who caused mass hysteria before the Beatles.
1. Mozart (1756-1791) - Classical
Let's start today with somebody I'm sure everybody is familiar with. He is extremely popular even today and has fangirls of his own (though to be fair, most of his current fangirls are musicians themselves). However, he was also incredibly popular during his own lifetime. In his early years, Mozart was a child prodigy. And when I say prodigy, I mean he was playing harpsichord (the predecessor to the piano) at the age of three, composing by the age of five, and performing for the King of France, Louis XV, by the age of eight.
During his life time, however, music was pretty much only listened to by nobility, but among those upper class circles Mozart was the go-to guy to hear some good music. In his later years Mozart decided to go public as he wanted to make music accessible to the masses. One such piece that he wrote the year of his death is known as The Magic Flute (which you have definitely heard before) and the public went crazy!
2. Franz Liszt (1811-1886) - Romantic
Now we move onto the next person on our list, Franz Lizst. Liszt was first and foremost a pianist. Sure, he was a composer, too; in fact, he mostly played his own original pieces, but he also played the works of Beethoven, Schumann, and most importantly, Chopin. If Chopin was the "Poet of the Piano," Liszt was the Romantic Era equivalent of the cool, hipster guy with the beanie at the coffee shop who knows how to read a poem in the most dramatic way possible, hitting all the right notes and a voice that makes you feel everything.
One of his most famous compositions, "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2," is incredibly difficult and jumps around all over the place — but you should at least recognize the melody that kicks in around 5:58:
That is what it was like to see Liszt perform. People fainted from hearing him play, pianos broke because he played with such passion, women collected his cigarette butts, made bracelets out of broken piano strings, and chased him down to grab clumps of his hair. Yet, all of this fan frenzy took its toll on the young virtuoso and over time he turned to solely composing and conducting to lessen the chance of somebody breaking into his room to steal his coffee grounds.
3. Clara Schumann (1819-1886) - Romantic
During the Romantic period, the modern piano was a relatively new instrument. Musicians who were able to make it sound beautiful were on the cutting edge of progressiveness. Much like Liszt, Clara Schumann was a renowned composer who was also a virtuoso pianist. She was overshadowed by her husband, Robert Schumann, in the composing world but she was by far the greatest female pianist of the time and arguably the greatest pianist, period (aside from Liszt, of course).
Schumann was a child prodigy, because that seemed like the thing to do back then. She met Robert when she was a mere eight years old (he was seventeen) and her playing skills blew him away to the point that he dropped out of law school and took up music lessons with Clara's father. Robert ended up moving into their house and the two quickly formed a bond, though they wouldn't marry until Clara was 18.
During her childhood, Clara performed to sold out crowds and often was given gifts by her male fans, including inscribed medals and an autographed copy of Schubert's Erikonig. Chopin once heard her play and described her playing as that on the level of Liszt. Schumann made major contributions to the world of piano performance, too: She was the first mainstream pianist to play from memory (a practice that is continued to this day), she changed the formatting of recitals, and even influenced the tastes of the general public. Between her and Liszt, people of the Romantic era were in love with the piano. Clara is also responsible for the popularity of the next person on this list, as she was the first person to publicly play his compositions.
4. Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) - Romantic
Oh boy, it's about to get interesting! To refresh your memory, Clara married a man nine years her senior. But she then fell in love with a man fourteen years her junior. That's right, Clara and Johannes Brahms (reportedly) had a romance. Before we get into the juicy details, a little bit of history on Brahms. Also a child prodigy (though nowhere near the level of Clara or Liszt), Brahms' family lived in poverty. To help pay for living expenses, the young man began performing piano in taverns, restaurants, and other places people frequented.
He would later meet violinist Joseph Joachim and despite neither of them playing their own compositions in public, they played for each other and quickly became friends. Due to his connection to Joachim, Brahms was offered residence with the Schumanns and the couple praised his talent to the public, which quickly began requesting compositions.
For the longest time Brahms simply lived with the Schumanns and composed. Clara and Brahms grew close, but merely as friends. However, when Robert Schumann went crazy from hallucinations about angels (and later demons), he attempted to kill himself by jumping off a bridge into the Rhine River. Clara had no choice but to have her husband institutionalized. During his two-year confinement, he only saw Clara once, two days before he died.
All of this was too much for Clara to handle and she became depressed. It was during this time that many historians believe she began her love affair with Brahms. After being away showcasing his compositions, Brahms returned to Clara as soon as word of Robert's suicide attempt reached him. At first, he was mostly quiet and provided her company and support, simply playing for her to ease her mind. Based on what we know from letters the two exchanged, they both clearly loved each other but Brahms had such a deep respect for both Robert and Clara that he never made any advances. His love for Clara was so strong that he even considered suicide due to the fact he would never be able to be with her. Yet, when Robert died, Brahms abruptly left the Schumanns' residence without even saying goodbye to Clara. Despite all of this, it appears Brahms was in love with Clara romantically, whereas she viewed him as a son and held a maternal love for him.
If it weren't for the Schumanns, Brahms would not be nearly as recognized as he was during his life time. The couple took him in like a son and marketed his music to the public. People loved him and his music and his influence even reached to America where inventor Thomas Edison invited him to create an experimental recording. He was so loved by the public that eventually it was declared that he had created symphonies so wonderful that he had toppled Beethoven as the greatest symphonic composer of all time.
5. Richard Wagner (1813-1883) - Romantic
Richard Wagner (pronounced VAUGH-ner because he's German) was a celebrated opera composer and theater director during his time. Today he is best known for his Ring cycle (a series of "musical dramas" which includes the famed Valkyrie) and Tristan und Isolde. Most people loved his music and his opera house was extremely popular and successful. But Wagner had unconventional political ideals and was forced to flee his home country of Germany after an unsuccessful socialist uprising.
However, years later Germany would recognize the works of Wagner as the "national music." Who decided to make his music the official music of the country? Just a little somebody you might have heard of: Hitler. That's right, Hitler loved Wagner's music and declared him a German hero. Hitler frequented the theater house that Wagner established and forced many of his soldiers to attend it, as well. Wagner was one of the few composers approved by the Nazi regime for the public to listen to, and as such he greatly grew in popularity. There are also unsubstantiated reports that his music was playing as people were murdered in Nazi death camps... So people were definitely crazy for Wagner and not always in a good way.
6. Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) - Late Romantic
Now recognized as one of the most important composers in the early 20th century, Mahler's music paved the way for expression and freedom in the largely atonal 20th century era. However, during his own life time, Gustav Mahler was not a renowned composer, but was famed and applauded for his conducting. Mahler mostly conducted scores written by the previous entry on our list, Richard Wagner.
But Mahler was known as arguably the greatest opera director of his time, perhaps ever; he was innovative and held the whole production to high standards. During his lifetime, he attracted thousands of fans and critical acclaim. Fear not, however, for toward the end of his life, Mahler did see some outstanding recognition for his final symphony, his "8th Symphony" which is often referred to as the "Symphony of Thousands." This performance, given just a year before his death, reportedly had fans celebrating non-stop for half an hour after its finish. That's pretty crazy for 'classical' music!
7. Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) - 20th Century
Moving further away from the Romantic Era, we come to composer Igor Stravinsky. Stravinsky has a long, long list of compositions and he was a rather polarizing figure during his time (some loved his work; others hated it), so today we'll be focusing solely on the three ballets he wrote for Ballets Russes. The first piece he wrote for choreographer Sergei Diaghilev is called The Firebird. This ballet is a personal favorite of mine (not only of his music but of 20th century music in general) and it was his first musical piece to reach mainstream success. People loved it! They loved the music, the dancing, and everything else about the performance.
The next ballet Stravinsky wrote for the company was even more successful. Titled Petrushka, the ballet is often regarded as one of the greatest ballets of all time. These two successes led to the creation of the most important musical performance in 20th century history, the premiere of The Rite of Spring.
At this point, it seemed as if Stravinsky and Diaghilev could do no wrong. They had created two wonderful ballets within the span of two years. Fans were going crazy; they wanted more. Yet, the ballet that Stravinsky wrote, based on a vision he had while composing The Firebird, would prove to be one of the most memorable performances in history.
Choreographed by acclaimed dancer Vaslav Nijinsky under the direction of Diaghilev, the premiere of the ballet resulted in a riot. The riot actually started before any of the dancers even took the stage. The music opens with a high bassoon line that set the audience to laughing, yet the music began to take a darker turn into chaos. The crowd was getting pretty riled at this point and when the dancers finally took the stage and began performing bizarre movements reminiscent of violent pagan rituals, the audience lost it.
They started fighting amongst themselves, pushing and shoving, hitting and slapping. Then they started throwing vegetables at the orchestra and other objects towards the stage. It got so loud in the theater that the dancers couldn't even hear the music and relied solely on shouts from Nijinsky to continue dancing.
Somehow, the whole ballet was allowed to finish and, well, the performance was met with so much hate that the ballet wasn't performed for another nine years (this time with different choreography. Even today, the ballet is hotly debated. Some people love it, some people hate it, but nobody is in the middle.
8. Louis Armstrong (1901-1971) - Jazz
The very roots of rock 'n' roll can be traced back to Louis Armstrong. Known as the "Father of Jazz," Armstrong saw huge success during his lifetime and his influence on modern music is undeniable. During his life, Louis Armstrong changed the face of music. His performances were hot events to attend; everybody was listening to him, everybody was dancing to his music, and everybody loved him. He had 19 "Top Ten" records, was regarded as one of the greatest trumpeters ever, and popularized scat singing. His career lasted from the 1920s to his death in the '70s.
One of his most notable songs is "Hello, Dolly!" which reached number one on the Billboards Top 100 (knocking the Beatles off the top in the process). The song also gave him a record for being the oldest artist to reach the top position, with him being 63 years old at the time.
Louis Armstrong was surely a force to be reckoned with. He also helped desegregate America: Due to his immense talent and popularity his was allowed to stay in hotels normally exclusive to white people only, he ate at restaurants other black people weren't allowed to eat at, and he even cancelled a tour in the Soviet Union (which he was supposed to do on behalf of the U.S.) due to President Eisenhower's inaction during the conflict over school desegregation in Little Rock.
9. Elvis (1935-1977) - Rock 'N' Roll
From the Father of Jazz to the King of Rock and Roll. I feel like I don't even need to explain Elvis' popularity. Everyone knows he was a huge star and remains widely popular today. When you talk about screaming fangirls, it's easy to picture Elvis fans. His sensual performance style, his smooth vocals, and his interpretations of songs placed him on top. Just listen to the screams of his fans during his second appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show:
Like Armstrong, Elvis helped blur racial lines through music. He was influenced by all types of music, regardless of the color of the person who originally wrote it. Because of it, he had a huge fan base, won three Grammy awards, and is the best-selling solo artist in history. He lived a short life, but in that little amount of time he cemented himself in history and like all those mentioned above, will probably never be forgotten.
- 8 Reasons To Watch The New Beatles Documentary, 'The Beatles: 8 Days A Week'
- 'The Beatles: Eight Days A Week': Exploring The Psychology Behind Fandom And Social Media
- 8 Facts About The Beatles You Probably Didn't Know
As Time Passes, Music Changes, But The Fans Don't.
There will always be crazy fans. People who want hair from their favorite band member, people who idolize and obsess over people they've never met. That's what brings people together. You feel crazy for falling in love with a musician, but then you hear your friend say they fell in love with them, too, and you don't feel alone anymore.
Music is a magical thing; it can erase social class lines and ease racial tensions. The Beatles might have been the first to coin the term "Beatlemania," but the fan reaction has been going on for hundreds of years and will continue for hundreds more.
Ron Howard's "The Beatles: Eight Days A Week" is currently streaming on Hulu!