Ludwig van Beethoven’s third and eighth symphonies will be performed this week at the Cultural Centre, in Tsim Sha Tsui, by the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. Signs of encroaching deafness tempted Beethoven (right) to take his life in his 30s, but he persevered and composed some of his most important works in his last decade, by which time he could barely hear. He died in 1827, aged 56. A version of the German composer’s Ode to Joy was used as a protest song against the Chilean dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet …

An average student in military school, Pinochet overthrew the Marxist government in a bloody coup in 1973 and ruled over Chile as Latin America’s most notorious 20th-century dictator until 1990. His regime executed or “disappeared” 3,200 people, and detained, tortured or exiled thousands more. Pinochet had a love for books and secretly used public funds to assemble a huge personal library. He collected works from the Napoleonic era, and amassed tomes on Marxist thinkers such as Antonio Gramsci …

The founder of Italy’s Communist Party, Gramsci had to drop out of school to support his family after his father was unjustly convicted of embezzlement and imprisoned. In 1926, Gramsci followed in his father’s footsteps and was incarcerated. At his trial, the prosecutor for the fascist government said of the communist defendant, “For 20 years we must stop this brain from functioning.” Gramsci died in 1937, a few years after being released from prison for medical care. His ashes are buried in the Non-Catholic Cemetery, in Rome, beside the remains of Romantic poet John Keats …

Born in 1795, Keats lost his parents early: his father was killed in a riding accident when Keats was eight, and his mother died six years later of tuberculosis. The Englishman left school at 16, apprenticed with a surgeon, and later qualified in the medical profession, but abandoned it to pursue literature. As The Guardian newspaper put it, he had a “peerlessly precocious flowering” as a poet and wrote most of his great poetry when he was 23, only to succumb to tuberculosis two years later. Among his many famous fans was 20th-century sex siren Marilyn Monroe …

Norma Jeane Mortenson – as she was originally known – had 12 sets of foster parents growing up and spent two years living in a Los Angeles orphanage. Despite becoming one of the world’s most famous movie stars, Monroe was relatively poorly paid: her co-star Jane Russell was paid about 10 times more than Monroe for the 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. By the time Monroe died, however, she had become a million-dollar movie star, and, in 1962, weeks after her passing, was immortalised in the Marilyn Diptych artwork by pop artist Andy Warhol …

The youngest of three sons of immigrant parents from what is now Slovakia, growing up in Pennsylvania, in the United States, Warhol suffered from a rare neurological disorder known as St Vitus’ Dance, which is characterised by rapid involuntary jerks. For solace, Warhol turned to celebrity magazines and comic books – the imagery of which inspired his later work. Shortly before his death, in 1987, Warhol chose to depict as a rock star in a series of portraits a world famous classical composer – Ludwig van Beethoven.