Mozart is an 18th-century Austrian classical composer—perhaps even the most famous composer of all time. As a child prodigy, he stunned musical circles; and as a young man, he created challenging works which are still played by orchestras today. Although he died quite young at only 35, Mozart's work has remained culturally and academically influential in the centuries since his death. Now, it seems the work of Mozart is also of medical relevance. A recent paper in Scientific Reports announces that one of Mozart's pieces—the Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major K448 (known as known as Mozart K448)—has the effect of calming the brains of people with epilepsy, alleviating certain harmful brain “events.”
Mozart wrote the Mozart K448 at age 25 in 1781. The piece contains three movements: allegro con spirito, andante, and molto allegro. The piece features contrasting melodies and unifying harmonic undertone. It is perhaps just this combination of melody and harmony which inspires the Mozart effect. A scientific study in the early 1990s discovered that listening to Mozart K448 improved spatial reasoning, at least temporarily.
To study the impact of Mozart K448 on the brains of people with epilepsy, the researchers played the tune while monitoring brain implant sensors in the subjects. The implant sensors detect events known as interictal epileptiform discharges (IEDs). These brain events are a symptom of epilepsy and are harmful to the brain. The team found that after 30 seconds of listening to the sonata, the subjects experienced noticeably fewer IEDs. This also affected the area of the brain which handles our emotions. The team further found that transitions between musical phases lead to larger effects, possibly because of anticipation being created which culminates in the pleasant nature of a shifted tune.
The subjects also listed to a minute and a half of the compositions of Wagner, another famous composer. The effect seen from Mozart's music was absent with Wagner's. This suggested to the researchers that something melodic about Mozart triggered the reduction in IEDs. The researchers hope Mozart's sonata will be further studied as a potential therapeutic remedy for epilepsy. Why Mozart's work is special remains a bit of a mystery, though. A different recent paper suggests that what “calms” the epileptic brain varies somewhat by gender. Certainly, the field of Mozart as therapy seems a promising one.