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The Most Interesting Hoaxes in Classical Music

  • Posted on: June 5, 2018
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Classical music has never been directly associated with gossip and hoaxes, but there have been many classical music hoaxes throughout history. Doing some research, anyone can make curious findings like: fake compositions, myths and unfounded rumours that have been talked about over the last couple of centuries. From the outrageous lives of some composers to ironic pieces that were never meant to be taken seriously, there’s a lot to be discovered.

Were Beethoven and Mozart Alcoholics?

This rumour was first started in 1790, thanks to the portrait painted by Johann Georg Edlinger of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, about a year before the death of the maestro. It came to be because of what was probably the last portrait of the composer, though the authenticity of the painting and the history behind it are still a mystery. Research to figure it out has been ongoing for over 80 years. In the picture, Mozart is seen with a swollen face and reddened cheeks, two features that over the years became proof of the supposed alcoholism of the genius musician. Recent research has issued a denial about this rumour unfounded by unfairly maligned biographers. The so-called “Edlinger Mozart” can be seen now in the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin.

A similar thing has been said about Ludwig Van Beethoven, who a century after his death was diagnosed as a  syphilitic alcoholic. Though, take that with a grain of salt, for many years the deaths of many classical music maestros have been associated with different misdiagnoses based on misinformation, possibly with the intention of tarnishing their reputations. Fortunately, there’s a British former surgeon of the Royal College of Surgeons who dedicates his time to researching the existing medical records of major composers like Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and others on an effort to enlighten people about any possible fake stories.

Dr Jonathan Noble has published That Jealous Demon: My Wretched Health, where he demystifies all the post-mortem reports and medical notes based on gossip that attribute problematic behaviour to those great composers. He said in an article posted at The Telegraph, that he found no evidence of any of the health issues associated with a serious drinking problem or STDs, what he did find was a propensity among the biographers to link those musicians to certain diagnoses like alcohol abuse and venereal diseases without actual proof. In his words: “Alcoholism is inconsistent with serious, sustained musical composition. (…) If you’re a true alcoholic, there’s no way you can go around composing operas, symphonies or string quartets.”

Who Was Really Gaetano Pugnani?

Fritz Kreisler is considered one of the biggest violinists in history, he was idolized for years for the uniqueness of his interpretations. But there’s a little-known fact in the early twentieth century, -when he was not occupied by his medical career or the army- he gave a series of concerts in which he included small pieces composed by himself. However, he didn’t admit the authorship of any of those pieces, but instead, he claimed that those melodies were from other great composers, such as Couperin or Vivaldi.

He also presented some of his work under the name of Gaetano Pugnani,  it was not until 1935 that he finally admitted that this was his pseudonym. But, why all this mystery? Well, Kreisler was deeply concerned about the opinion the critics would have about his work as a composer. This was his unorthodox method to fool those critics, and those unable to distinguish pieces by renowned composers from the work of others.