As he sat down to put pen to score, what did Mozart think his music might achieve? Something on the lines of pleasing listeners, challenging performers, satisfying patrons and keeping the wolf from his own door, we suspect.
Think again, Wolfgang – you’ve underestimated yourself. Undisputed genius though he was, he can surely have had little idea how, two centuries later, masterpieces such as Eine kleine Nachtmusik and The Magic Flute would be credited with powers stretching well beyond the concert hall and opera house.
It was Alfred A Tomatis who, in 1991, suggested that listening to the great man’s music helped brain development. Dr Tomatis’s ‘Mozart Effect’ has generated no little debate since, but by then he had lit the touch paper – suddenly, inquisitive scientists, innovative farmers, ingenious marketeers and the like were looking at just what the great Austrian could do for them.
Here, we present 15 of the finest examples of how Mozart has been put to use in the modern day…
1. More alcoholic wine
Let’s begin in the rolling hills of Tuscany. For Carlo Cignozzi, a wine-maker from Siena, playing The Magic Flute to his vines has become an important part of the production process.
Since 2005, the Italian has been piping Mozart’s opera over 56 speakers in one of his Brunello vineyards – the grapes ripen in 14 days as opposed to the normal 20 which, we learn, in turn increases the wine’s alcoholic content.
‘From this vineyard,’ says Cignozzi, ‘a special Brunello is born: “Flauto Magico”, the first wine in the world ever to have been grown completely in tune with Mozart’s musical harmonies.’ BBC Music Magazine is hoping that Signor Cignozzi may feel the need to sent us a bottle or two for, ahem, research purposes. Or perhaps a case.
2. Less alcoholic students
The joys of the grape and the grain can, of course, be taken a little too far. But, thankfully, Mozart is here to help too.
In 1999, officials at Pittsburgh University got so fed up with the sight of students rolling around paralytic that drastic action was decided upon: Eine kleine Nachtmusik was subsequently played through loudspeakers on campus between 10pm and 2am in the hope that it might encourage a little behavioural moderation.
Whether or not it worked, the choice of composer certainly caused uproar on campuses elsewhere. ‘Mozart is the most conservative and middle-brow of the lot,’ fumed Zoe Abrams of Manchester University students’ union very, very angrily, if not entirely accurately. ‘What gives them the right to inflict such punishment?’
3. Clearer water
Should you prefer water to wine, do make sure that it is similarly Amadeus-enhanced. Research carried out in the late 1990s by Masaru Emoto, an entrepreneur and doctor of alternative medicine, apparently shows that water which has had Mozart played to it produces clearer crystals when frozen than water that has been exposed to heavy rock music.
Interestingly, as Emoto explains in his series of books called The Message From Water, Mozart-water is similar in terms of crystal clarity to that of pure mountain streams. We are not making any of this up.
4. More plentiful milk
Milk-drinkers should give thanks to Mozart, too. In 2007, dairy farmer Hans Pieter Sieber was delighted to discover the power of the composer’s Concerto for Flute and Harp on his herd of 700 Friesian heifers in Villanueva del Pardillo, Spain.
When playing the work to his cows as they lined up for milking, Sieber noticed a general air of bovine calm and contentment, which soon equated in real terms to an increased production of milk of up to six litres per animal.
‘It is relaxing music for them but, at the same time, it is dynamic, it keeps the cows active,’ explained Sieber’s son Nicolas. ‘The trick is not to have music that is too relaxing.’
5. Eggier Eggs
And while we’re on the subject of dairy… Leading up to the 2003 Mannheim Mozart Festival, the organisers thought it might be a good wheeze to play 14 days of solid Wolfgang Amadeus to 3,000 hens at a local farm, just to see how it affected egg production.
The answer was, in terms of quantity, not a jot. However, when served the Mozartian eggs at the festival, concert-goers said they ‘definitely tasted better’. Possibly not the most scientifically informed study ever.
6. Calmer dogs
In 2006, an RSPCA rescue centre in Somerset unleashed a veritable pack of ‘Woofgang Amadeus’ headlines when it revealed that it had installed a £2,000 sound system to help out when some of its canine residents were getting a little feisty.
The dogs, said staff at the West Hatch kennels near Taunton, would quickly relax to Mozart and Bach, but not so pop or dance music. ‘It definitely works,’ enthused deputy manager Anita Clarke. ‘It’s quieter in the kennels now.’
7. Friskier sharks
Now over to the aquarium where, in 2007, love was, alas, most certainly not in the air. Or, rather, not in the water. When Bloodnose, a 20-year-old male brown shark, consistently showed little interest in 15-year-old Lucy, scientists at the Blackpool Sea Life Centre played him the Romanza from Eine kleine Nachtmusik to try and get him in the mood. Hmmm.
Three years have since passed, and the lack of any announcements of a new brood of Don Giovanni-loving sharklets rather leads us to conclude that the experiment, described as a ‘little bit nutty’ by Bloodnose’s supervisor Carey Duckhouse, has not been entirely successful. A pity.
8. Super rodents
How do you get rats to negotiate a maze in double quick time? Simple – play them Mozart’s Sonata in D Major for Two Pianos, as former cellist-turned-experimental-psychologist Frances Rauscher discovered in 1998.
While enjoying this very diet of special K488, her lab rats at the University of Wisconsin were able to negotiate a labyrinth far faster than when there was silence – asked to explain the phenomenon, Rauscher suggested that the music was stimulating certain neuron connections in the abstract reasoning part of the brain.
Interestingly, similar results have also been observed in separate experiments on mice, which not only moved quicker to Mozart, but also ground to almost a halt when exposed to hard rock music. And then attacked each other.
9. Sportier athletes
Mozart can make people move faster, too. In April 2004, just before his country was due to host the Olympics, Dr Thanassis Dritsas, cardiologist and adviser to the Greek Olympic team, pointed out the benefits of listening to the composer’s works as part of a training routine.
‘Before every workout there should be 10 to 15 minutes of classical music at a slow, easy pace, so that exercise begins at a low pulse-rate to aid the blood flow to the muscles,’ he advised. Four months later, Greece won six gold medals, its biggest haul since 1896.
10. Fewer yobs
What, or rather who, does it take to prevent louts from making people’s lives misery in public spaces? Yes, you’ve guessed right. In the early 2000s, Tyne and Wear Metro successfully scared unruly types away from its station with occasional blasts of Mozart and Vivaldi.
‘They seem to loathe it,’ said a delighted spokesman. ‘It’s pretty uncool to be seen hanging around somewhere when Mozart is playing.’ Which is all a bit depressing, really.
11. Quicker growing babies
So now for one of the more heart-warming discoveries. Doctors in Tel Aviv say that playing Mozart to premature babies has been shown to make them grow faster.
The reason, they say, is because babies use less energy when lying back and listening to the gentle strains of the composer’s music than when left in silence, and so put on weight more quickly. But, they insist, it has to be Mozart.
‘The repetitive melodies in Mozart’s music may be affecting the organisational centres of the brain’s cortex,’ says Dr Dror Mandel. ‘Unlike Beethoven, Bach or Bartók, Mozart’s music is composed with a melody that is highly repetitive.’ It’s suggested that, in enabling babies to go home earlier, the finding could save hospitals millions of pounds.
12. …and quicker growing fish
Sadly for gilthead seabream, they also appear to grow more rapidly when serenaded by a little Mozart.
A discernable acceleration in growth was observed when bream at the Applied Hydrobiology at the Agricultural University of Athens were played the Romanza from Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (see also No. 7 – it must be a fish thing) for the first 89 days of their lives and, it seems, they were better developed too.
Given that a date with a dinner plate and a hungry Athenian probably awaited them, one imagines that the fish themselves were none too chuffed about this little speeding up of matters…
13. Tastier ham
Likewise, how would one break it to a poor pig that the real reason he is going to be treated to a bit of Mozart is to make him tastier in the long run? This, though, is exactly what happens at the Embutidos Fermin meat company in La Alberca, Spain.
‘When it’s time for them to meet their maker, they play them Mozart,’ said Don Harris, whose company imports the meat to the US, in 2008. ‘After Mozart, they go to bed for the night. The next morning they go off to piggy heaven. They want them very mellow. If they’re scared, they produce epinephrine. If they’re not stressed, the meat is fine.’
14. More breakdownable sewage
What is it about The Magic Flute? Not only does it help grapes ripen quicker (see No. 1), it also makes faeces decompose faster. Or so says Anton Stucki, chief operator of the sewage centre in Treuenbrietzen near Berlin.
Earlier this year, we reported how Stucki has recorded a noticeable speeding up in the breakdown of biomass since he started playing Mozart’s opera throughout the plant – so much so that the centre is expecting to save around 1,000 euros a month.
‘We think the secret is in the vibrations of the music, which penetrate everything,’ Stucki explained. ‘It creates a certain resonance that stimulates the microbes and helps them to work better. But of course you need the right frequencies and the right music, and Mozart hits the spot.’
15. Gigglier biologists
Finally, the most remarkable Mozart effect of all. In 2001, researchers at Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas showed how plants exposed to the sound of the Concerto in G photosynthesise more quickly than if left in silence or, amazingly, than if they ‘listen’ to Bach. Or did they?
While the research paper comes complete with tables of figures and long words than non-biologists don’t understand, the citing of that nebulous ‘Concerto in G’ raises suspicions of inauthenticity – which are confirmed when the likes of B Spears, J Brahms and WJ Clinton appear in the list of sources at the end. Ho ho. Those wacky lab researchers.