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3 Classical Music Myths

March 30, 2017

Sometimes we like to get a little highbrow here at the Bathroom Readers’ Institute.
Classical Music Myths

Salieri vs. Mozart

Ironically, Salieri became famous because of the movie about how he wasn’t famous. For the 1984 film Amadeus, F. Murray Abraham won an Academy Award for playing the Mozart contemporary who was overshadowed by Mozart, a musical genius for the ages. The film (and the Peter Schaffer play upon which it’s based) concern Salieri being frustrated with being completely overlooked because he happened to be a composer in Vienna at the same time as the greatest composer of all time. Amadeus also suggests that Salieri conspired to kill Mozart. But like with many based-on-reality entertainments, a lot of liberties were taken. Salieri and Mozart were actually friends; Salieri wasn’t really regarded as a hack; and Mozart died of a severe fever, not murder.

There are no tenth symphonies

Along with the notion that any theatrical production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth will be cursed with injuries and bad luck if anyone involved says the name of the play (they call it “The Scottish Play” to ward off the darkness), the other biggest myth in the history of fine arts is the curse of the ninth symphony. It argues that no major composer has ever completed a tenth symphony—because they all died before they could. It’s probably not so much a “curse” as it is that symphonies are really hard and take a very long time to compose and arrange—getting to nine in a lifetime is still a remarkable achievement. Still, the famed Austrian composer Gustav Mahler came very close. He finished his tenth in the summer of 1910, just a few months before he died. The music was written, but he hadn’t finished orchestrating it, so it wasn’t technically complete. There’s also the matter of 20th century Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich—who wrote a whopping 15 symphonies.

Not all classical music is “classical” music

While “classical” is often used as a catchall for all old European symphonic music composed by people like Bach, Beethoven, or Brahms, the term refers to a very specific period of music history. The “classical” era spanned from about 1760 to 1820, and was a period in which major composers such as Mozart and Hayden tried to focus on melody and tone down the grand and fancy styles of composers of the previous era, such as Handel and Vivaldi—who worked in the baroque period (1600 to 1760).

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