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Top Five Myths Surrounding Classical Music

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Last year, researchers in Paris found that concert violinists couldn’t tell the difference in sound between a 300-year-old Stradivarius and a modern instrument. While, certain skeptics such as Christian Tetzlaff may have known this all along, the study seems to contradict a long-held belief in the superiority of these legendary instruments. It’s not the only fable within the classical world. Here are our top five myths:

1. The Mozart Effect

While we’d like to think that just listening to Mozart would add a few points to our IQ, the composer’s genius can’t be tapped into through his music. The myth of the Mozart Effect began in the early 1990s with a study that linked higher scores on certain spatial-temporal tests and listening to a Mozart sonata. Their findings led to the misconception that Mozart makes you smarter. A cottage industry specializing in feeding Mozart to children sprung up overnight, however, successive studies have never been able to prove that the music has any lasting effect on intelligence.

2. Mozart’s Death

Wolfgang A. Mozart’s death also seems to have begotten another cottage industry surrounding the mystery around his death and burial. While it’s true that his body was disposed of in an unmarked grave, his death didn’t go unnoticed. In fact, dozens of people mourned him at his home and in an obituary in the Vienna newspaper, Weiner Zeitung. The Prague Orchestra arranged a memorial in its city that attracted about 3,000 people to the church, and an additional 2,000 stood outside.

3. The Great, All-Powerful Conductor

Larger than life conductors such as Arturo Toscanini, Herbert von Karajan, and Bruno Walter seem to steer classical music through the 20th century. However, music writer Norman Lebrecht punctures their glowing reputations in his 2001 book, The Maestro Myth. Lebrecht argues that these towering figures did more harm than good by commanding huge salaries at the expense of the orchestras that employed them.

4. Classical Music is Too Expensive

A common misconception among the general public is that classical music and opera tickets are unaffordable. Sure, the best tickets at the Metropolitan top out at $415, but most seats are less, including Family Circle seats, which are $25. Both Carnegie Hall and the New York Philharmonic have even less expensive options. New Yorker critic Alex Ross, who maintains a comprehensive list of affordable venues on his blog, The Rest Is Noise, pointed out that “classical events aren’t nearly as expensive as most people assume, especially in comparison with the extravagant pricing schemes for élite pop acts.”

5. The Curse of the Ninth Symphony

Noting that neither Beethoven, Bruckner, Dvorak and Schubert lived to write a tenth symphony, Gustav Mahler felt he was tempting fate as he approached those numbered symphonies. Instead, he composed the great song cycle Das Lied von der Erde, which he later called his ninth symphony, and claimed what we know as his Ninth, actually his death. “He reasoned that it was past ‘the curse’,” Alma Mahler later said. However, the fact that Mahler died with his tenth symphony unfinished only augmented this superstition. Still, Shostakovich, who composed 15 symphonies, didn’t seem to be affected.