Classical music is fraught with myths and misconceptions.
Some, like the one referenced in the title, are just plain silly and obvious in their origin; of course it was Beethoven who was deaf.
However, neither Beethoven or Mozart were blind…
Other myths, however, have been imprinted into the lexicon of popular belief through movies, word-of-mouth, and by classical music publishers alike for decades, if not centuries.
Today, we are going to examine 10 popular myths about classical music, as well as their origins and their stories.
If you are an avid classical music fan, you already know about several of these myths.
Some of these, however, are only known by the most elite classical musicians, and even a few of them were debunked as recently as 2020.
Without further ado, here are 10 popular classical music myths:
10. Mozart and Salieri Were Rivals
The origin of this story is in one of the greatest – if not the greatest – classical music movie of all time, Peter Schaeffer’s 1984 Oscar-winning Amadeus.
The movie portrayed, in fascinating detail and depth, the famed rivalry between classical era composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri.
The only problem, however, was that this rivalry has no evidence of existence.
It is probable each composer had heard of the other while living; both were well-known figures in their lifetimes.
However, there is no evidence of their rivalry, meeting, or any interaction between the two.
Now, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Movies like Amadeus are not designed to be artifacts of historical preservation, but rather large-scale, imaginative entertainment projects.
And, it’s great for classical music that a movie about Mozart won Best Picture.
9. Henry Purcell Wrote the Trumpet Voluntary
You know this famous piece – it’s one of the most recognizable melodies in classical music.
The music itself is not deep or transcendent, nor does it intend to be. Rather, the Trumpet Voluntary is a brilliant and short fanfare of a musical earworm. Once you hear it, it’s hard to get out of your head.
Henry Purcell is one of early Baroque/late Renaissance composers most beloved in the repertoire. Perhaps that is why this work has been so frequently attributed to him.
However, it was not actually Purcell who wrote this classical music fanfare.
Rather, it was one Jeremiah Clarke, another English Baroque composer, who composed this joyous fanfare so frequently used in weddings worldwide.
8. Mozart Was Deaf
What’s funny about this one is this: if you look at Google’s search term volumes (meaning how many people a month type in specific words into Google), over 3,000 people a month are asking if Mozart is deaf!
You can see evidence here (screenshotted from Ubersuggest, software that tracks Google search terms):
How is there seriously so much misconception about this!
Everyone knows it was Beethoven, not Mozart, who was deaf. There are even several posters on Quora who are wondering the same question about Mozart’s nonexistent condition.
Along the same lines as above, hundreds of people type “Was Mozart blind?” into Google as well every month.
7. Beethoven Was Deaf His Whole Life
Speaking of deafness in music, Beethoven went deaf, however he was not born this way.
Although Beethoven was born in 1770, his condition did not fully manifest until he was 45 years old.
This is a more justifiable misconception, as we rarely hear about the onset of Beethoven’s medical condition. Most people assume he was deaf his entire life; such a story only strengthens his mythology as a composer.
Although he could fully hear for the majority of his life, it is some kind of amazing Beethoven wrote his masterpiece 9th symphony after the age 45.
Maybe it is some kind of irony that one of classical music’s most beloved pieces was written by someone who couldn’t hear.
6. Mozart Was Not Poor, According to New Evidence
Mozart is frequently depicted as the perfect image of the starving artist: a musician who produced over 600 brilliant works, but passed as a pauper.
Until 2020, the classical music world accepted this as truth.
However, Billboard published an article in April of this year suggesting new evidence may prove contrary.
Documents on display at the Musikverein, a concert hall in Vienna home to the Vienna Philharmonic, show Mozart earned, in today’s dollars, $42,000 a year. Back in the 18th century, this salary would place him, actually, in the top 5% of earners.
So if Mozart was not poor, why was he buried in a pauper’s grave after he died?
Actually, he didn’t…that is another myth.
5. Only Conservatories Train Musicians
This myth is held by the general public rather than anyone in the classical music community.
Ask most people where musicians go to learn music, and they will invariably say “Juilliard and Berklee!”
While these are two fine music schools, it is hardly only conservatories that train classical musicians.
In fact, many of the great classical musicians of our time did not train in a conservatory, but rather, in a university.
Look at the following schools: University of Michigan, Northwestern University, University of Southern California, and Indiana University.
None of these are conservatories, but rather universities.
It is true they have attached music schools, and that some may consider these conservatories.
However, plenty of small music departments in colleges & universities train accomplished musicians as well.
4. Composers Die After Their 9th Symphony (Aka “The Curse of the Ninth”)
Many have believed in the “curse of the ninth,” a classical music superstition where composers die after completing their ninth symphony.
What’s funny about this one, however, is that only one major composer was actually afflicted with this curse, and that was Beethoven himself.
Schubert is known to have written 9 symphonies, however they are posthumously numbered; his 9th symphony, the “Great” C Major Symphony, was actually what Schubert considered his 7th.
It was changed to 9 later after two unfinished symphonies of Schubert’s became numbered.
Bruckner technically did not write 9 complete symphonies: his last symphony is famously unfinished.
Dvořák similarly passed after his ninth symphony, or so it seemed.
In his lifetime, Dvořák’s 9th symphony was originally written as his 5th symphony. It is unclear if Dvořák considered all 9 of his symphonies to be mature, complete works that would fit in his repertoire.
Even the lesser-known Classical era composer Louis Spohr wrote a 10th symphony, only to later withdraw it from his catalog.
You can see more analysis of this subject covered here.
3. Ling Ling Is a Musician Who Practices 40 Hours a Day
Popularized by the classical music comedy duo Twoset Violin, Ling Ling is the greatest classical musician ever who practices 40 hours a day.
Of course, for anyone who watches more than a few videos by Twoset, Ling Ling is a fictional person the comedy duo came up with.
In Brett and Eddy’s depiction of Ling Ling, he is the epitome of musical perfection who practices 40 hours a day.
In fact, some have even asked in serious threads on Reddit who this mysterious figure is.
So often in their videos does TwoSet Violin reference major classical musicians that their name dropping of Ling Ling seems like just another famous person they reference.
2. What Is the Most Famous “Classical Song?”
Because most music people listen to has vocals and is not entirely instrumental, most music can indeed be categorized as “songs.”
However, if a classical music piece does not have lyrics sung by a vocalist, then it cannot be called a “song.”
So, while there are many famous works of classical music, don’t refer to it as a song.
Instead, classical music should be referred to by its genre, such as “symphony,” “string quartet,” “chamber music,” “solo work,” etc.
1. Classical Music Is Dead
Certainly doesn’t seem like it.
Thanks to streaming services, Beethoven’s immortal symphonies have experienced hundreds of millions of plays between YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Prime, and more.
Similarly, streaming services have provided a platform for many other classical musicians to share and stream their work.
Certainly in the midst of the pandemic, it may seem like live concerts are a thing of the past.
However, the human spirit is resilient, and as long as there are people who like classical music, there will be performers, orchestras, and organizations to fulfill the need.
Hundreds of publications have decried the end of classical music for decades, but to the contrary, classical music businesses and performers are booming.
There are now even streaming services dedicated specifically to classical music, such as Idagio and Primephonic.
Tens of thousands of passionate musicians study classical music at college & conservatory every year.
New research was published earlier this year about classical music surging in popularity on streaming services.
Classical music, in both its champions and consumers, continues to evolve, and as such, its facts – and myths – will continue to propagate the collective consciousness of fans worldwide.