Born in 1756 in Salzburg, Austria, Wolfgang Mozart showed a talent for music from an early age. In fact, born to a musical family, Mozart proved to be a prodigy, playing in the courts of various European royals. As an adult, Mozart’s compositions drew praise from other well-respected musicians, and his works became popular with the Austrian aristocracy. Nonetheless, Mozart struggled financially and died at the age of 35. His work remained popular after his death, and his influence could be seen in the music of his close friend Joseph Haydn. Today, Mozart is considered one of the greatest composers in the history of Western music.
Nicolas Copernicus was a Renaissance astronomer born in modern-day Poland in 1473. Copernicus developed a theory called heliocentrism, which asserts that the solar system revolves around the sun. Though we take heliocentrism for granted today, it was heretical in the sixteenth century. Copernicus died shortly after the publication of his manifesto, and his ideas took a long time to catch on. It wasn’t until the astronomer Galileo was tried for heresy in 1616 for his views on heliocentrism that Copernicus’ ideas resurfaced. Today, Copernicus’ work is considered the starting point for modern astronomy.
Poet Emily Dickinson was almost entirely unknown until after her death. Born in 1830 to a prominent family in Amherst, Massachusetts, Dickinson was well-educated for a woman of her time. She experienced the deaths of many friends and family members and lived her later years as a recluse. She was a prolific writer, though, and wrote letters and poems to her many friends. Her style was unique for the time period, and though she published some of her work, it was often altered by publishers. After her death in 1886, Dickinson’s sister, Lavinia, published collections of poems she found in Emily’s locked trunk. As critics and fans recognized the value of Dickinson’s work, her fame grew rapidly, and today she’s considered one of the foremost American poets.
Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent Van Gogh was a Dutch painter born in 1853. He died at 37 of a gunshot wound to his chest—most likely self-inflicted. Van Gogh lived a troubled life and went through frequent periods of depression and anxiety. Throughout his troubles, though, Van Gogh’s style of painting developed and improved. In his last few years, his work received recognition from other artists and critics. In the decades after his death, his fame steadily grew with exhibitions of his art in European capitals. Today Van Gogh is recognized as one of the finest painters in history, and his works have fetched record prices.
Singer-songwriter Otis Redding became famous in the early 1960s for his unique soul sound. Influenced by the music of Little Richard, Redding developed his own soulful, emotional style. In 1962 Redding’s debut album Pain In My Heart peaked at number 20 on Billboard’s R&B chart. In 1967, Redding played the Monterey Pop Festival, an important music festival that marked his appeal to both black and white audiences. Tragically, Redding died in a plane crash in Wisconsin in December 1967, at age 26. Three days before his death, he had recorded “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay,” which became a number one hit. Redding was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” remains a soul standard today.