Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: Myths of Mayhem and Murder!

Here We Go Again . . .

It has come to pass. I have been writing these Music History Monday posts for long enough that Monday dates and events have begun to repeat. And as a result, December 5, which was a Monday in 2016, once again falls on a Monday today. Ordinarily there are enough events on any given Monday to keep me from having to deal with the same topic. But December 5 is a special date for one particularly terrible musical event, an event that demands to be revisited.

Dates That Will Live in Infamy

We consider: there are some dates that, for events that marked them, will live in infamy.

I would suggest that what qualifies as an “infamous date” – that is, a date we will all remember to our dying day – is generally dependent upon when one was born. For example, for someone born in the United States in 1854 (that’s 100 years before I was born), those dates of infamy might include:

Dred Scott (1795-1858) in 1857
Dred Scott (1795-1858) in 1857

March 6, 1857: the date of the Dred Scott decision, which saw the U.S. Supreme Court rule 7-2 that an enslaved human being (Dred Scott) who had resided in a free state and territory where slavery was prohibited was not entitled to his freedom; that African Americans were not and could never be citizens of the United States; and that the Missouri Compromise of 1820 (which had declared all territories west of Missouri and north of latitude 36°30′ to be free from slavery) was unconstitutional.

Some other such infamous dates for someone born in the United States in 1854:

April 12, 1861: the opening of the bombardment of Fort Sumter near Charleston, South Carolina, which initiated the American Civil War.

April 14, 1865: the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, who died early in the morning of April 15.

Now: for me and my generation, such “dates of infamy” would include:

November 22, 1963: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas.

April 4, 1968: the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, in Memphis, Tennessee.

September 11, 2001. We all know what happened on that day.

January 6, 2021. Again, we all know what happened on that day.

For those good people who will be born in 2054, their dates of infamy will – again – reflect their own time and experience.

Mozart at 24 in 1780; detail from portrait by Johann Nepomuk della Croce
Mozart at 24 in 1780; detail from portrait by Johann Nepomuk della Croce

However, there are some dates of infamy we can all agree on, whether we were born in 1854, 1954, or 2054. Among them is December 5, 1791, 231 years ago today: the day Wolfgang Mozart died in his Viennese flat at the age of 35 years, 10 months, and 9 days.

As previously observed, December 5 last fell on a Monday in 2016. My Music History Monday post for that day was entitled “Mozart: A diagnosis.” Based on contemporary reports of Mozart’s symptoms and modern interpretations of those reports and symptoms, that post offered up what is almost certainly the correct cause of Mozart’s death: a relapse of Rheumatic fever.

Today’s post – “Myths of Murder and Mayhem!” – will deal with some of the many falsehoods that came to surround Mozart’s death almost from the moment of his death!

But first, a little background.…

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