Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Out of Tune with Mozart

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Out of Tune with Mozart

Article excerpt


What Made Mozart Tic? C4

THE world of classical music may appear refined and genteel, but it's full of people with a pronounced interest in scatology. Take a famous pianist friend of mine, for example, who in his younger days hired the Royal Festival Hall and planned to give a recital there of pieces by genuine (though obscure) composers, all of whom had double entendres for names: Fux, Scheidt, Blow, Titz, Suk, and a whole family of Koks (if you don't believe they exist, check Grove).

Tragically, the authorities rumbled his scheme, and refused to allow the concert to take place, but it remains the only keyboard recital in history to have been banned purely on grounds of taste and decency. Which seems harsh, because if he'd done a little more research, he could have made the programme filthier still, by including works by Kuntze, and the Franco-Russian composer Amedee Wanka.

Long before the end of last night's What Made Mozart Tic?, I'd come to the conclusion that presenter James McConnel was a bit of an Amedee.

" I believe Mozart had Tourette's syndrome," he'd told us at the outset, but although he'd begun by claiming that he could "prove" this assertion, his case turned out to be nothing more than unsubstantiated speculation, a no-nonsense mangling of the historic record, and his own "insight" as a sufferer from this unusual condition (whose symptoms include twitching and outbursts of swearing).

It's well-known that the great Austrian composer had a foul mouth and a filthy sense of humour, but to allege that Mozart's music contains conclusive proof of the disorder (as McConnel did) was to confuse the origin of the claim with its justification, in a classic example of what the philosopher William James referred to as the Genetic Fallacy.

Indeed, McConnel also seemed to have confused scatology with eschatology, because instead of discovering the ultimate cause behind the creativity of the composer he called "God", he spent an hour serving up a huge steaming pile of musicological crap.

Given that the involuntary facial tics associated with Tourette's are unmistakable, and that none of the hundreds of eyewitness accounts of encounters with Mozart ever mentioned that he suffered from these, you might think that McConnel's thesis (first proposed some 20 years ago by a Scandinavian psychologist, only to be shot down in flames by scholars) was doomed from the start.

"Mozart had none of the symptoms - no motor tics, no vocal tics," observed Professor Mary Robertson (a Tourette's specialist and the sole voice of reason in the entire programme), but McConnel wasn't downhearted by her forthright dismissal, telling us: "I'm not bothered. - because I have Mozart's entire life history in the music. …

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