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A weekly show where we debunk common misconceptions. This week, Elliott discusses some misconceptions about famous composers!
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Hi I'm Elliott and this is Mental_Floss video, today I'm gonna talk about some misconceptions about famous composers.

[Mental_Floss intro plays]

Misconception number one: Mozart was poor. This myth probably emerged because Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was buried in an unmarked grave. While that sometimes was assigned to poverty, Mozart and his wife did not struggle financially too much; they did spend some time in debt, but that was very common at that time. His grave probably wasn't marked because that was normal in Austria at the time. Emperor Joseph the second had encouraged people to make funerals more basic.

Misconception number two: Mozart's wife was unintelligent and didn't support his career. Many believe that his wife Constanze was immature, didn't understand his career, and caused those non-existent money problems I just mentioned, and the film Amadeus definitely encouraged this myth, but it turns out that most negative stories about Constanze didn't emerge until years after Mozart died, so they're not super reliable. According to Mozart expert Paul Johnson, "[Mozart] never expressed criticism of her household management... the truth, so far as I can judge, is that Constanze was always a good wife and mother, ran the household well, but was out of action a large part of the time, either pregnant or nursing or in Baden in desperate attempts to regain her health and strength."

Misconception number three: Mozart was poisoned by a rival composer. There was a popular story that he was killed be Antonio Salieri and Salieri allegedly confessed to doing so, but evidence suggests otherwise. First of all, Mozart died of a fever and his doctors did not suspect that he was poisoned. Secondly, Salieri later claimed "I can assure you on my word of honor that there is no truth in tat absurd rumor; you know that I am supposed to have poisoned Mozart. But no, it's malice, pure malice, tell the world." Heavy words man. Plus experts aren't even convinced that the two had a huge rivalry. Salieri was already a popular composer when Mozart was just starting out, so he probably wasn't that threatened by him.

Misconception number four: Beethoven was born deaf. For about 26 years of his life, Ludwig Van Beethoven actually was able to hear, then in the late 1700's he developed tinnitus which made it difficult and this got worse and  worse throughout his life, but he learned how to play the piano when he was a child and he still had decent hearing.

Which brings me to misconception number five: Beethoven wrote his best music while he was deaf. Beethoven was already an established composer when he started going deaf which is part of the reason why he took it so hard. We don't know for sure when the tinnitus became debilitating, but there is a letter from 1801 in which he wrote to his friend, "For almost two years I have ceased to attend any social functions, just because I find it impossible to say to people: I am deaf." And that's probably around when it happened. By that time he'd already written some of his most popular pieces like some of his string quartets and piano sonatas, and he didn't go completely deaf for another couple of decades, so he was able to hear enough to continue composing. The story goes that he composed the ninth symphony while almost totally deaf.

Misconception number six: Tchaikovsky composed nationalist Russian music. A lot of people classify Peter Tchaikovsky's pieces as "Russian music" but his views on nationalism changed during the course of his life. Between around 1870 and 1876, he was attracted to Russian nationalist music and composed quite a bit of it, but most experts agree he grew disinterested with nationalism after that. Then he started composing music more influenced by western trends like German romanticism. And if you don't believe it, here's a Tchaikovsky quote. "Born Russians, we are at the same time even far more Europeans, and we have so resolutely and deeply fostered and assimilated their forms that to tear ourselves from them, we would have to strain and do violence to ourselves."

Misconception number seven: Schubert died before he achieved fame. Nope. Franz Schubert was a successful composer in the early 19th century. He was well known to the people of Vienna as a composer. This myth probably got it's start because his fame increased after his death and some of his pieces weren't performed in public until after he died.

Misconception number eight: Bach wrote all of the pieces attributed to him. It turns out there's a lot of debate on which pieces said to be written by Johann Bach were actually written by him, and he's not the only composer with this problem. Many of Mozart's works are still debated because it's difficult to confirm the genuine author. As far as Bach goes, there's a theory that his second wife, Anna Magdalena wrote some of his music form him, and a handful of Bach's pieces have already been attributed to other people like his uncle and his father in law.

Misconception number nine: all composers of classical music were men. Since I mentioned Bach's wife, it's worth noting some confirmed famous women composers, like Louise Farrenc, who composed music throughout the 19th century. She also insisted that she would be paid the same amount as male composers, good for you! Earlier in time was Hildegard von Bingen who lived from 1098 through 1179 and composed over 70 pieces, and there were tons of other women who composed classical music.

Misconception number ten: there's a curse of the ninth symphony. OK, we're gonna end this with a fun superstition. The story goes that whenever a composer writes their ninth symphony it will be their last. Examples have included Gustav Mahler and Beethoven, but stories of the curse are often debatable. For instance, people say that Schubert suffered from it but his final symphony was actually his seventh, but some now list it as ninth because they include his unfinished works. And tons of composers have written more than nine symphonies, including Tubin, Schumann, and many more. Say that with me, Tubin, Schumann and many more, it's actually a song that I'm working on.

Thanks for watching misconceptions on Mental_Floss video. If you have a topic for an upcoming misconceptions episode that you'd like to see, of course let us know in the comments and we'll check it out. I'll see you next week. Bye.

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