Monday, February 05, 2007

The Mozart Effect

Back in 1997 a man named Don Campbell popularized the so called Mozart Effect in a book of the same name. Campbell claimed that listening to Mozart's music, his piano concertos in particular markedly improved IQ among a grand panoply of other benefits, acuity, well being , peace of mind and so on, in a similar all encompassing vein.

Campbell's declarations were based on highly liberal interpretatio
ns of earlier work.

Dr Alfred Tomatis
in 1991 had conducted research published in a book Pourquoi Mozart, where he had found tentative evidence listening to Mozart's piano concertos temporarily improved IQ scores of a sample of learning disabled children in temporospatial activities on the Alfred- Binet scale.

Campbell had seized on the possible effect and in the grand tradition of snake oil salesmen everywhere discovered a new found panacea for a
host of human ailments

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart may have been turning in his grave, but it would hardly have been the first time.

The great composer's own story swept into popular imagination on the heels of
Milos Forman's 1984 multiple Oscar nominated film Amadeus

The story was cast in a mythic mold. Mozart portrayed as an unlikely boorish man seemingly channelling a divine source of inspiration to produce works of genius without deliberation of any kind. Salieri a contemporary composer played the foil to Mozart, sophisticated and cultured but completely humbled by Mozart's talent; Jealousy then ultimately driving him to destruction of his rival out of spite of a a god who would deny him and instead give such gifts to vulgar man like Mozart.

It made for great drama. Modern audiences warmed to the idea of an effortless genius who was really just a party animal under
all that stuffy classical music decorum. The scheming villain who undermined the witless genius further turned the wheel of melodrama.

Yet History shows that Salieri was in truth a benign fellow composer who may may have been awed by Mozart's talent but did not play a
ny part in his down fall.

The film was based on Peter Shaffer's play, an adaptation of the biblical story Cain and Abel, concerning the fratricidal jealousy invoked by an unequal distribution of natural gifts between brothers, thus shedding some light on the seeming antiquity of its theme.

The genius of Mozart,however, was no fictional creation. It's not difficult to find detractors that try to downplay the fluent and prodigious output of the composer but it is just as easy to find others who will say that "yes" he did just write perfect compositions from scratch and without much apparent forethought.

There is also good evidence to account for the boorish Mozart
who loved dirty jokes and low living. This fact is heartening for the casual observer.

As for the Mozart Effect, it has not been discounted. Many cr
itics were probably more inflamed by Campbell's attempt to claim the new found ground as his own than deny the implications of the findings.

For the casual observer once again though the findings are almost empirical in their simplicity, beauty begets beauty and so quality gives rise to further quality.

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