In academic literature it's called "The Mozart Effect": first popularised by Dr. Alfred A. Tomatis in his 1991 book Pourquoi Mozart?, the Mozart effect is the study of how classical music stimulates the brain. Dr Tomatis argued that listening to Mozart's music can have a beneficial effect on the brain. However, his theory has had its fair share of fans and detractors over time.
I have spoken about the therapeutic effects of music in a previous article about choir singing.
I had the opportunity to put this theory to the test recently, when I was kindly invited to attend a classical music concert at St Martin-in-the-Fields, in London Trafalgar Square, by Amazon Local. The programme included pieces by Mozart, Handel and Bach in the beautiful settings on St Martin in Trafalgar Square. These concerts are held regularly and have a special atmosphere because they are held by candlelight.
The performers were from the chamber ensemble London Concertante, founded in 1991.
During the concert, we were reminded how listening to classical music makes us smarter: studies found that, while you get the most cognitive benefits from learning to play classical music, even listening to classical music can have some benefits on the brain.
Of course, there have also been detractors to the Mozart effect theory, claiming that the beneficial effects on the brain are only temporary or even a myth.
So, where does the truth lie (if you pardon my pun)?
The New Scientist reported that there is evidence that listening to Mozart improves memory and learning. The University of Southern California looked at research into classical music and learning and found that having classical music playing in the background at lectures or while studying create a heightened emotional state that makes you absorb information better.
Mozart's music is claimed to have patterns that are similar to the rhythmic cycles in our brains. Clinical experiments with Alzheimer's disease patients and epileptic patients showed playing Mozart had a positive effect, respectively, on cognitive function and on calming the brain's electric activity that triggers seizures.
Not all classical music was created equal, and while Bach and Handel produced some glorious music, Mozart had a keen eye on what would be popular and composed accordingly. It seems the greatest impact that this type of music has on the brain is its ability to influence moods. Appreciating music can have various effects on the mind, from a calming effect to an energising effect.
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
If you are not familiar with the work of Mozart, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik is a great place to start. Vibrant and effervescent, you will instantly recognise the music: it is frequently used in films and advertising. It is worth listening to all the four movements (Allegro, Romanze, Menuetto, Rondo) to really appreciate this sun-drenched, feel-good work.
Mozart was a true "rockstar" of the era, an anti-conformist who rebelled against tradition and died in poverty aged 35.
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik was the final piece in the programme that I went to see (the concert ended with an encore featuring an energetic Hungarian Polka), and it gave me goosebumps. There is something about this music that has the ability to engage you emotionally and take you to a different state of mind, which in my case was enthusiasm.
Did I feel smarter after listening to Mozart? I believe that the sense of uplift from Mozart's music is undeniable: his music has a sparkling quality to it that elevates the spirit.