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n. the lever or mechanism on a typewriter that would cause the cylinder on which the paper was held (the carriage) to return to the left margin of the page

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A hoax is a hoax,of course,of course…

Constanze MozartSome time ago it came to my attention that a photograph of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s widow,Constanze,had surfaced in Altötting,Germany,a small town in Bavaria,the southeastern most state in the country. The photograph,a copy of an original daguerreotype,was believed to be one of the oldest surviving photographs in Bavaria. Constanze Mozart was said to be the left-most figure in the photograph (which appears at right),the elderly lady in black widow’s garb.

The BBC reported that the photograph had been found back on the 7th of this month,and the article remains on-line for viewing. Before reading any further,I suggest you check out the article to familiarize yourself with the story.

Sadly,it seems someone has put one over on the ‘Beeb.

A few experts have weighed in on the claim,and it appears that the photograph in question does not contain the image of Constanze Mozart for a variety of reasons. I was particularly amused to find out that this isn’t even the first time this particular photograph has been “found.”More on that particular bit of information later on in the story.

WHFT PhotoThe most damning evidence in the case regards the technological state of photography at the time the picture supposedly was taken. One of,if not the earliest of outdoor portraits on record,taken by the pioneering Englishman William Henry Fox Talbot (and displayed at right),dates from 1842,the year Constanze Mozart died.

The reason for the exactness of the dates stems from the issue of exposure time,which,for a daguerreotype in the 1840s still amounted to around three minutes in length. This was significantly decreased from the previous exposures of twenty minutes,but certainly too much for an image of such clarity to be taken at the time. During this period the subjects of the photograph had to remain perfectly still,which is easy if one is photographing fruit or a landscape,but people,even the extremely patient folks of yesteryear,would need to consciously exert quite a bit of self-control to not move their head for three minutes,let alone a hand or elbow. Heaven forbid someone should sneeze.

When motion disturbance is exhibited in early photography,it tends to take the form of a blank white space,not the streaky image we are more familiar with today. This is because the methods of photography weren’t yet advanced enough to even register motion. In fact,the lenses needed for such outdoor photography hadn’t yet been invented by the time this photograph had been taken. Joseph Petzval,the inventor of the optics necessary for clear images in outdoor photography,made his findings in 1841,which,along with other substantiating evidence,makes it extremely unlikely that the visage of Constanze Mozart appears in the photograph as claimed.

The corroborating blow to this story comes from Agnes Shelby,author of Constanze,Mozart’s Beloved. By the time the photograph was taken Conztanze Mozart was already unable to travel due to particularly bad arthritis. Furthermore,it appears that her last communication with Max Keller,who supposedly was her host when the photograph was taken,occurred some fourteen years previously. Constanze was a meticulous diarist,and no record of either correspondence or travel to visit Keller exists after 1826,the year her second husband died.

The final blow to this story is delivered by a Dr. Michael Lorenz,from the Institute of Musicology at the University of Vienna,Austria. In an email to the blog Sounds &Fury,the site which has done the most to expose this hoax,Dr. Lorenz supplies the following juicy nugget:

“The ‘newly discovered’picture of Constanze Mozart has already been published twice [emphasis mine] in the 1950s,the last time in an article by E. H. Mueller von Asow in the Österreichische Musikzeitschrift,March 1958,p. 93. For decades it has been known as a hoax among Mozart experts.”

Far be it for little old me to accuse the BBC of being taken in by the oldest trick in the book,but it certainly does appear that they fell for this one hook,line,and sinker. I’ll admit,the idea of Constanze Mozart having her picture taken was pretty exciting. In fact,I shared the story with Jo the morning after I read the original BBC article,and both she and I agreed that an actual existing photograph of Constanze was incredibly cool. I added that I had originally thought that it was fake,stating:

“When I first read the headline,I was like,“But they didn’t have cameras when Mozart was alive.”

And then I read it,and I felt a little stoopid.”

I might not have known exactly why I was right to believe something was out of whack,but I’ve gotta say,I don’t feel so “stoopid”anymore.

If anything,I’m actually more excited about this story now than I was when I actually did think it was Constanze. Who the heck is the lady in the picture? Photography experts think the photo dates not from the 1840s,or even 1850s,but from the 1870s. Constanze would have been dead for about thirty years by that point,and though I haven’t checked the dates,and maybe I should,just to be safe,I’m willing to bet Keller,her “host”at the time the picture was allegedly taken,was,too.

This entire event has not only captured my imagination,but it has completely superseded the Paul is Dead and Cottingley Fairies hoaxes as my favorite attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the public. I might believe in vampires,ghosts,and a bunch of other completely silly stuff,but the blatant attempt to get away with resurfacing an already exposed hoax and passing it off as new completely takes the cake. If I come across any more details related to the photograph or the hoax,they will be posted here.

1 comment to A hoax is a hoax,of course,of course…

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