Gone But Not Forgotten
- Aug 18, 2002
- Reaction score
SB: Thanks for that - I was going to post something on this and forgot so this came in very handy (I've also merged it with this thread as it fits in perfectly). Anyway its:
Mozart behaving badly
Wednesday September 1, 2004
I'm not the first person to suggest Mozart suffered from Tourette's syndrome. The idea was mooted by a Scandinavian scientist who based his theory on the scatological tone of Mozart's letters. But, as a composer and somebody with Tourette's, I have a unique perspective. What I set out to do was to reassess the documentary evidence, as well as to analyse the music. Was there something there that only somebody with Tourette's would recognise?
Tourette's is often misunderstood. It is not just a matter of uncontrolled swearing; only about 20% of sufferers exhibit this symptom. Tourette's is a "cluster" disorder: because it is made up of separate symptoms, no two Touretters are the same. It consists of physical twitches, vocal twitches, obsessive-compulsive disorder and attention deficit hyperactive disorder. You can control the obsessions and compulsions for a time, but eventually they have to find an outlet, like an itch that has to be scratched.
Mozart had numerous obsessions: clocks, cats, shoe sizes, his wife's safety - he had an unnatural fear of letting her out of the house. There is evidence of him twitching, grimacing, tapping his feet together and behaving oddly. As Peter Shaffer noted in Amadeus, he loved diversions and was always the life and soul of the party; he enjoyed rhymes, silliness and playing with words; he liked jokes and sometimes went too far, in the way that Tourette's sufferers often do.
The language in his letters was sometimes filthy. In the 18th century, filthiness was largely sanctioned, but Mozart took it further than even his broad-minded contemporaries could accept. Not only did he write disgusting letters but he wrote disgusting songs, often set to the most beautiful music. That is an indication of the tension between chaos and control in Mozart's music.
When Mozart was born, counterpoint and fugue were going out of fashion. The great courts of Europe wanted nice, fluffy, tuneful dance music. But Mozart rejected the less complex, more formalised musical forms with which he had grown up and looked back to the fugues of Bach and Handel. Fugue and counterpoint became an obsession and he reinvented them: the contrapuntal complexity of his six "Haydn" quartets baffled his friends.
Fugues appear to be chaotic but are rigidly and beautifully structured. Mozart loved to write passages that broke all the rules, yet needed to keep them within a tight overall musical structure. I can't prove Mozart had Tourette's, but it would explain a great deal about the way he composed and the direction his music took. He would have been a genius anyway, but I like to think Tourette's gave a distinctive flavour to his musical processes.