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Teaching Through The Coronavirus—A Historical Perspective

While venues for music performance may be temporarily closed as we flatten the curve via self-isolation, that doesn’t mean that music itself stops. There are many alternatives to be found on the Internet, such as live-streaming, posting performance videos on YouTube, as well as online collaboration and instruction. Since most music is consumed on the Internet, the need for music instruction isn’t going away—if anything, it now increases as a bulwark against boredom and depression born of isolation.

While music has been primarily a social event and the need to interact with other musicians and an audience will never go away, music education is a slightly different animal. Conservatories such as The Juilliard School or The Eastman School of Music exist to promulgate ensemble music. Classes progress at the rate of the slowest student and being business entities, universities have become quite skilled in the art of writing course descriptions to attract students. If you’ve taken classes in any discipline at the college level, course descriptions are rarely, if ever executed to completion.

It’s commonly accepted that when it comes to studying music, the best way to learn is one-on-one with a master. That’s why all music conservatories include private study as part of the curriculum, and many students, in order to obtain the education that a conservatory’s reputation implies, seek out private instrumental and theory teachers of repute.

From plague to plagal cadence

Mozart was able to accomplish a great deal at a very early age because he was instructed by his father, Leopold, a music teacher under the patronage of the Archbishop of Salzburg. Mozart also suffered ill health through most of his life. However, since there were no medical records, there is much conjecture regarding his ultimate demise.

During his illness, Wolgang suffered delusions that he had been poisoned, and wrote letters to that effect. Some advanced the theory that he was poisoned by Antonio Salieri in a fit of envy, since his light was dimming as Mozart’s star became more luminous. However, such accusations were completely unfounded and plagued Salieri throughout his lifetime, contributing to his nervous breakdown.

In his day, Salieri was quite the heavyweight and taught operatic composition to Beethoven, Liszt, and Schubert—so not the jealous hack that the 1831 play by Anton Pushkin, and later the movie Amadeus depicted him as. Salieri maintained a good relationship with Mozart, conducted two of his symphonies, and taught music to Franz Xaver Mozart after Wolfgang had died. The two even collaborated on a composition, but it wasn’t very good, and probably led to the rumors of Salieri’s jealousy.

So what ended Mozart’s life? We know that medical knowledge in the 18th century was primitive and lifespans were short due to chronic and epidemic conditions. However, Mozart died at 35, at least 10 to 20 years shy of the average lifespan of his day. And Salieri lived to the ripe old age of 74. What was ultimately responsible for Mozart’s premature demise has remained a subject of conjecture and heated debate for over two centuries.

An award-winning essay published in the Journal of The Royal Society of Medicine in 1990 diagnosed Mozart with a culmination of chronic disorders, as opposed to an acute epidemic fever. Much like the ugly rumor of poisoning at the hands of Antonio Salieri was discredited, recent findings from the New York Historical Museum suggest that Mozart died from a strong form of plague that was prevalent in Europe during that time.

We have all been here before

Apart from a little diversion, the point is that what we are experiencing now is not a new phenomenon in the annals of human experience. Mozart composed right up until his death in 1791 despite his illnesses. If nothing else, it proves that not only can music serve as an uplifting diversion through personal difficulty, we can weather a little isolation until modern medicine comes up with a vaccine. And what better to see us through a crisis of isolation than music?

If you’re ready to take your first steps into a new and exciting world of musical enjoyment, or wish to continue your learning after a long (or short) hiatus, please visit https://vibomusic.com/online-music-lessons/ where you can sign up for a free lesson. For more information, email us at info@vibomusic.com or go to our Contact Us page and a VIBO School representative will contact you ASAP.