January 25, 1918:

On Saturday, raise a glass of your favorite Austrian beverage to toast Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was born on January 27, 1756 in Salzburg. 

At the age of three, Mozart would listen as his seven- year-old sister, Nanneri, received piano lessons from their father, Leopold, and then emulate her music on a clavier. By the age of five, Wolfgang was playing the keyboards flawlessly and was creating musical compositions. 

When the boy turned seven, Leopold took his two child prodigies on a three-year tour of Europe where they performed at royal courts and met some of the world’s greatest composers. At the age of eight, Wolfgang wrote his first symphony and was introduced to Johann Sebastian Bach who would become a major influence on the wunderkind’s life. 

Of course, musical genius has never guaranteed financial success. From his early teens, Mozart was employed as a court musician by Archbishop Colloredo of Salzburg and was basically treated as a servant. Mozart got his opportunity to escape Salzburg when he accompanied the Archbishop to Vienna to see Joseph II ascend to the Austrian throne. Duly impressed by the prodigy, the new emperor gave Mozart a part time position accompanied by generous commissions. In Vienna, Mozart gained renown as a pianist and a composer. He became friends with prolific Austrian composer, Joseph Hayden, who told Mozart’s father “I tell you before God, and as an honest man, your son is the greatest composer known to me by person and repute,” 

Soon after Hayden made this statement, Mozart’s fortunes took a turn for the worse. Royal commissions tightened because of the Austro-Turkish war and Mozart, being a profligate spender, fell into debt. However, the resilient wunderkind continued to break new ground in almost every musical genre including symphonies, operas, concertos, and string quartets and eventually found new benefactors to support his lavish lifestyle. 

Death at an early age
Mozart suffered a variety of illnesses during his lifetime and became bedridden due to severe swelling and pain on November 20, 1791. He died two weeks later at the age of 35. Mozart’s death is shrouded in mystery and still debated centuries after the fact. Some say he was in a deep depression, but others point to his last year’s prolific output as proof he was not depressed.  Forty years later, his rival, Antonio Salieri claimed that he had poisoned Mozart. These claims were dismissed because the Italian composer was suffering from severe dementia. Besides poisoning, researchers have theorized at least 118 causes of Mozart’s death including rheumatic fever, influenza, and trichinosis.

The Mozart Effect
In 1993, researchers at The University of California coined the term “Mozart Effect” after finding that students scored higher on the spatial IQ test after listening to a Mozart’s piano sonata. They concluded that Mozart’s music had the potential to boost babies’ IQs and make adults smarter and more creative, 
Eight years later, Dr. John Jenkins, from the University of London found that 80% of patients with severe epilepsy exhibited a decrease in epileptiform activity after listening to a Mozart piano sonata, Some patients’ epileptic activity dropped from 90% to 50%.  Interestingly the results were not tied to enjoyment of the music as many of those studied were asleep during the tests. 

The Mozart effect isn’t limited to human behavior. A 1998 study found that rats negotiated a maze faster and more accurately after hearing a Mozart piano sonata than rats who were played no music, white noise or minimalist music. 
Experiments by dairy farmers in Israel, France and Spain determined that playing classical music to cows improved production but only the music of Mozart. Exposing the 700 cows on his Spanish farm to Mozart, Peter Sieber found that his cows produced anywhere from one to six more liters of milk per day than their non-Mozart listening counterparts.  A study in Vermont showed that Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge over Troubled Waters” increased milk production but nowhere near the success of the Mozart experiments. Researchers conclude that Mozart’s combination of placid harmonies and uplifting allegros bring out the best in humans and bovines.

Leave it to the industrious Germans to take the studies of large mammals and apply them to smaller organisms. A pioneering waste treatment facility outside of Berlin discovered that playing Mozart on an elaborate sound system greatly increased the ability of microorganisms to break down sewage. The increased production helped the facility reduced monthly operating costs by 1,000 euros per month.

Have a great weekend and enjoy that glass of Austrian fruit schnapps. 
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Ted Curtin