Tag Archives: Mozart

On Mozart

“Monday Musings” for December 6, 2015

Volume V. No. 50/258

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Mortal Anniversary of Mozart: The Mystery of Mozart’s Genius

By: Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

 

Saturday marked the mortal anniversary of Johann Chrysostom Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, one of the most enigmatic individuals of the 18th century. He was born on January 27, 1756. Before his death on December 5, 1791, he was in poor health. Throughout his short life, he had smallpox, tonsillitis, bronchitis, pneumonia, typhoid fever, rheumatism, gum disease, and possible cirrhosis of the liver and hepatitis all caused by excessive use of alcohol and possible sexual indiscretions. Toward the end of his life, he had poor hygiene, most likely because of poverty, and had to move a smaller apartment with limited accommodations and facilities.

Mozart was enigmatic because of ineptness, inelegant personal conduct, and his lack of social grace. Yet in his operas, he demonstrates deep understanding of human nature. He takes us through a most complex circuitous labyrinth of psychological wonders that is humanly impossible. As I listen to his operas over and over again, I keep asking myself how did he know so much? For example, his opera King of Crete, Idomeneo, set in 1200 BC, is an incredible psychological study of human possibilities, frailties, feelings and complex psychodynamics of behavior. Medical literature do refer to Mozart’s scatologia/lalia and coprophilia as symptoms of Tourette Syndrome, a neurologic disorder the victims of which experience uncontrollable urge to make foul noises and use curse words. Modern medicine has pinpointed the biochemical etiology of the disease, namely excess dopamine concentration in the basal ganglia of the brain. This condition is neuroendocrinologically the opposite of Parkinson’s disease where there is a paucity of Dopamine in the basal ganglia.

Dispensing with superlatives and avoiding the use of adjectival palates of hero-worshiping, nonetheless, an observer is made to confess that Mozart was undoubtedly a genius. Shakespeare, Goethe, Ferdowsi, Avicenna, Ibn Rushd (Averroes), there are only a handful of them…Classical music, especially Mozart’s music, like classical books, such as Virgil’s Aeneid, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Plato’s Republic, Dante’s Oeuvre, have a theme, are written in noble language and are lasting across generations. All of Mozart’s 626 pieces are abundantly endowed with these basic qualities. They have a theme, they are written in noble and elegant musical notes and are transgenerational.

In his short life of 35 years, Mozart composed a known body of work, 626 pieces, of lasting elegance and complex musical intricacies, some of which are miraculous. Let’s take the summer 1788. How could anyone compose symphonies and operas in a hot summer, combating illness and mourning the death of his mother, in six short weeks, composing four master pieces of unequal elegance and sublimity? And, yet in the depth of despair and depression, he composed the glorious Jupiter Symphony in C Major K 551. It is beyond mortals. It took more than six weeks to sit down eight hours a day to just copy the music of the fabulous compositions in that hot summer of 1778 when Mozart’s was mourning the death of his mother, and processing his father’s lament and accusation that Mozart killed his mother, because of his ill behavior and leaving the nest. Reading Maynard Solomon’s biography of Mozart with focus on summer of 1778 leads one to believe in Mozart as a miracle…

There are literally billions of words written about Mozart, his life and music. In addition to Solomon’s book, I have found another respected musicologist and dramaturge, Joseph T. Kerman, Emeritus Professor of Music at the University of California, Berkeley, whose credible analysis of Mozart’s music is most enlightening. Kerman, too, has much to say about Mozart’s summer of 1788 and his final composition, Mozart’s Requiem K 626.

Readers of this space recall an essay on special children of God, we listed Mozart as follows: “Not four score and seven years before Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, but about ten thousand years ago, the age of Neolithic man, God set out to send man on the road to perfection. He sent the ancient Persian prophet, Zaratustra (Zoroaster), as early as 500 BC, to bring us the concept of good and evil which in modern day philosophy is known as epistemological dualism. The Sumerians brought us literacy and language.

The Egyptians taught us social order and government; the Persians, participatory democracy; the Greeks, city-state and citizen representation; the Babylonians gave us devotion and discipline; and Jesus came bringing us civility, hope andlove.1215 years later, the Anglo-Saxons brought us the Magna Carta. And in 1756 we were given Mozart through whom music flowed like water running through the fountains of Tivoli.”

Yes, in my view, Mozart, a flawed human was basically a divine prophet. With unparalleled beauty and sublimity, he was ordained to fulfill what Bach started with Clavier Book I and Book II. We also recall in the essay in this space on Thomas Jefferson and his fondness for music, how he arranged to meet Mozart. Jefferson had planned to ask Mozart to compose a piece in memory of Jefferson’s late beloved wife, Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson, very much like Bach’s commissioned pieces by the Goldberg familyThe Goldberg Variations. However, Jefferson was turned off by Mozart because of his “ineptness and lack of grace… The gentleman is socially uncouth and frivolous…” Jefferson said. Yet, Jefferson loved Mozart’s “heavenly music” and travelled long distances to listen to professional performances of Mozart’s music.

Yes, Mozart belongs to the circle of Gods in the distant cosmos of tomorrows…We are thankful for having Mozart, and today, with acute awareness of the gift of Mozart, we mourn his death, but enjoy celebrating his music.

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, Life Member, American Medical Association; Life Member, Southern Medical Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012).

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On the Importance of Music

Monday Musings for Monday May 12, 2014

Volume IV. No. 18/175

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The Mozart Effect

By Assad Meymandi, MD PhD, DLFAPA*

We have had a number of letters from young parents and prospective parents asking about the “Mozart effect”. As of late the media has been touting the notion that exposure to Classical music including of course Mozart’s music during pregnancy and early childhood makes the child smarter. The question requires some recollection of Mozart as a person, artist and genius; and some reflections:

Faithful readers of this space recall that Johann Chrysostom Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was and remains one of the most enigmatic individuals of the 18th century. He was born on January 27, 1756. Before his death on December 5, 1791, he was in poor health. Throughout his short life he had smallpox, tonsillitis, bronchitis, pneumonia, typhoid fever, rheumatism, gum disease, and possible cirrhosis of the liver and hepatitis, all caused by excessive use of alcohol and possible sexual indiscretion. Toward the end of his life, he had poor hygiene, most likely because of poverty, had to move in smaller apartment with limited accommodations and facilities.

Also, Mozart was enigmatic because of ineptness, inelegant personal conduct, and his lack of social grace. Yet in his operas, he demonstrates deep understanding of human nature. He takes us through a most complex circuitous labyrinth of psychological wonders that is humanly impossible. As I listen to his operas over and over again, I keep asking myself how did he know so much? For example, his opera King of Crete, Idomeneo, taking place 1200 BC, is an incredible psychological study of human possibilities, frailties, feelings and complex psychodynamics of behavior. Medical literature do refer to Mozart’s scatologia/lalia and coprophilia as symptoms of Tourette Syndrome, a neurologic disorder the victims of which experience uncontrollable urge to make foul noises and use curse words. Modern medicine has pinpointed the biochemical etiology of the disease, namely excess dopamine concentration in the basal ganglia of the brain. This condition is neuroendocrinologically the opposite of Parkinson’s disease where there is a paucity of Dopamine in the basal ganglia. There is no question that Mozart was a genius. Now, the question is can we make our children smarter by exposing them to Mozart’s music.

The myth of Mozart “the eternal child” invented by his father, Leopold, has been exploited for financial gain first by Leopold himself and later by music publishers in Salzburg and Vienna. Now 200 years plus after his death, the myth continues to be exploited by the media. Worship of Mozart is a major industry with billions of dollars involved. Commercialization of Mozart has attracted the best and also the most crooked brains in marketing, ballyhooing, and concocting false products. “The Mozart effect” is one of them. The notion that Mozart’s music, and for that matter classical music makes us smarter is a clever but false claim.

However, what Mozart and classical music do can be understood by explaining a bit of basic neurobiology. We have hard data to document that listening to classical and harmonically rich music prolong the life of the neurotransmitter called acetylcholine (AcH) in the synaptic junctions of nerve cells (neurons), thereby making the basic thinking process more efficient. The same principle works when milking cows are subjected to prolonged exposure to classical music. The animals produce more milk. The explanation is that the animals produce more dopamine in their brain, leading to secretion of more prolactin and eventual production of more and higher quality milk. Classical music does not make the cows smarter. It does make the milking factory more efficient.

Yes, classical music and Mozart make a child’s mentation, perception and cognition more efficient. They do not make the child smarter. Also, families who are musically oriented and live in a rich intellectual and verbal environment create a better chance for their children to do better in school. Turn the television off. Read to your children and create a family environment enriched in music, books, arts, and robust conversation.

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

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On Rosh Hashanah and Music

“Monday Musings” for Monday September 2, 2013

Volume III. No. 33/126

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Back Bay Dedication Post-Boston Marathon Bombing

Rosh Hashanah, Jewish Year 5774

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

In the space of fewer than 11 days two holy occasions that ennoble the calendar are upon us. The first one is Rosh Hashanah which begins at sundown day after tomorrow, Wednesday September 4, 2013.The etymology of the word Rosh Hashanah is RAAS (HEAD OR BEGINNING) AL (OF) SENNEH (YEAR or DATE), THUS ROSH HASHANAH, the beginning of calendar. Wednesday marks the Jewish year 5774. Some reflections:

Moses was born 1590 BC, and reportedly lived 120 years until 1470 BC. Scholarship about birth of Moses, 3590 years ago and Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish calendar 5774 years ago is very interesting. The relationship between the two dates has gone through many twists and turns. The struggles very much remind me of the struggle of C-major and C-minor in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, battling back and forth for attention and primacy. The final note is the celebratory C-major coming through triumphantly. The currently perceived resolution of these two competing dates is simply that it was approximately 6,000 years ago when the world’s oldest religions simultaneously began to emerge. Abram of Ur renamed Abraham by the Lord (Genesis 17) had much to do with this remarkable emergence. We could say that this year marks 5774th year of the dawning of the human awareness of God…and the dawn of monotheism. It sends a chill down one’s spine to get in touch with human connectedness and history. Occasions like Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Islam’s Eid-Al Fetr, celebrating completion of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, worship, and purgation of the soul (was observed on August 15), Easter Sunday and Purim, the Jewish Holiday that marks liberation of the Jews by Cyrus the Great (Book of Esther), collectively elevate our awareness that we are children of God and regardless of labels that separate us, we are inextricably inter-connected.  We wish everyone a joyful 5774 and life. Next week’s “MM” will be devoted to Yom Kippur and a book review on Moses Maimonides of Cordoba, the Rabbi, the formidable physician/clinician, the awe-inspiring medical researcher and discoverer, the superb medical ethicist, and the remarkable writer. Shana tova.

Music: Mankind’s Saviour

The recent New York Metropolitan Opera performance of Mozart’s masterpiece, Idomeneo, was a good reminder that Mozart was an ordinary man with all the flaws and scars of alcoholism, syphilis (from Pamena of Magic Flute), kidney failure and periodic bankruptcy, with an extraordinary and truly God-like mind to produce and write music of such complexity, architectural soundness of structure, yet immense sublimity and transcendence that is beyond any mortal’s comprehension. The gift of Mozart is available to all lovers of music. This particular performance was super special, because the international cast involved countries of Australia, England, Canada, South Africa, India, New Zeeland, and France. Our own Maestro James Levine, veteran Met Opera Music Director, and now conductor of the Boston Symphony, born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio,  who conducted the feast, was America’s contribution. The virtuous performance of the star-studded cast and Levine’s skillful directing once again proved that music is the universal language of peace, understanding and love bringing the message of brotherhood and connectedness to mankind.

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 *The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

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Remembering Mrs. Thatcher

Monday Musings for April 15, 2013

Volume III 14/117

Mourning Maggie

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

 (Editor’s Note: The passing of Lady Thatcher was a blow.  Condolences to all. In observance of the occasion, we are re-running “Monday Musings” below for your reading enjoyment, and the link for your viewing pleasure. 

 Link on WRAL:

http://www.wral.com/news/local/video/12318911/#/vid12318911

Vol. 2 / No.20

Thatcher

From left to right, Dr. P. Geoffrey Feiss, Lady Margaret Thatcher, Dr. Assad Meymandi.

Lunch with Maggie

I recently saw the movie Iron Lady starring Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher. We are not big movie fans, may be go to one or two a year, and often if the subject is disappointing, I leave after the 10-15 minutes but not this movie. Iron Lady is a movie depicting the biography of Lady Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of England (1979-1990). It was on her watch, and that of the late President Ronald Reagan, that the Soviet Union crumbled. Throughout the movie, I had a hard time keeping my composure.  It was hard not to cry.  I was weeping for Lady Thatcher, I was weeping for losing her warm, but elegant friendship, I was weeping for losing the promise and possibility of her accepting the invitation of the National Humanities Center to become a Distinguished Meymandi Fellow and give lectures to the RTP audiences. But above all I was weeping for the world losing a remarkable woman, another Lady/Empress Matilda Maude (1102-1167) who pre-wrote Magna Carta (King John, 1215).  The history of our relationship goes back to many years ago.  Below is a reprinted account of our initial luncheon meeting, first published in Wake County Physician magazine.

Seven other people, my wife and I were privileged to lunch with Lady Margaret Thatcher in the Plumeri House of William and Mary College. Our host, P. Geoffery Feiss, Provost of the College, seated me at the left side of the Iron Lady, because that is her “good ear”. The lunch and conversation went on at a leisurely pace. With the after-lunch-picture-taking-and book-signing ceremonies, the Lady stayed around for a good two and a half hours. Nonetheless the entire experience was an extravagant moment, but too short and too fleeting…Her trip was a hush-hush affair.  She was the mystery guest at the commencement ceremonies of the previous evening. The principle speaker was Ms. Halaby (Queen Noor of Jordan).But with the Lady Thatcher’s sudden appearance in the academic procession; the crowd erupted into a spontaneous ovation.  The Lady gave a fifteen minute unrehearsed speech.

Conversation around the round dining room table started with prosaic platitudes, and gradually escalated into an intense exchange of ideas. Of course, most of us listened while the Iron Lady spoke of the Falkland War, her friendship with Ronnie (President Reagan) and Nancy. We also spoke of the former (now the late) NC Senator Jesse Helms and Gorbachev.”The gentleman was devastated when his wife Raisa died”, the former Prime Minister of England informed us.

Thatcher sees no use for the United Nations. She abhors indecisiveness, appeasement and unprincipled diplomacy. She insisted that in our global collective and diffuse culture, individuals do make a difference. Our host invited me to tell the Lady my opinion on this thesis. I politely and dutifully suggested that the Lord, in order to provide Neolithic man with role models, sent Zarathustra to bring us enlightenment; Abraham to give us faith; Moses to demonstrate the possibilities of discipline; Christ to teach us love; Prophet Mohammad, peace be with him, to show us structure and system approach to problem solving; Mozart, to give us the gift of music; Thomas Jefferson and the framers of the US Constitution, the fresh concept of a working, living, breathing Republic where the rule of law is supreme. And then I added the name of Margaret Thatcher to this pantheon of deities who showed us how conservatism, private enterprise, and individual initiative elevate the majesty of human achievement. The lady seemed to enjoy the discourse. She indicated that she is willing to come to NC at a future date, perhaps as a Meymandi Distinguished Fellow at the National Humanities Center.

On a personal note, Lady Thatcher showed a bit of disdain for sensation seeking journalists who emphasize her “grocer” father, but neglect to say that the gentleman was a civic leader, chairman of the town library board, a civic leader and prominent in the cultural life of his hometown. It was her father who inculcated the love of books and reading in the future Prime Minister of England. Thatcher went on to study Chemistry at Oxford, because of the possibility of a better job. For a while a student she actually made and sold ice cream… I asked the Lady what force has been most influential in her rise to prominence. Without hesitation, she named Winston Churchill, and went on to extol the Gentleman’s virtues including his military career and becoming Prime Minister when he was well into his sixties.

The Lady gave me two autographed books which occupy a prominent place in my private library. And in my heart.

State Anniversaries for the month of May:  Wisconsin, State number 30, joined the Union on May 11, 1848.  Motto: “Forward“.  South Carolina, original colony number 8, May 23, 1788.  Motto: “While I breathe, I hope.”  Rhode Island, original colony number 13 (the last one), May 29, 1790, Motto: “Hope“.

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

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