5 Surprisingly deep benefits of listening to classical music

VIOLINS

Even for a country or rock fan, classical music can reduce stress and boost creativity, among other things.

Many of the greatest classical composers attributed their masterpieces to their worship of God. Johann Sebastian Bach once said, “The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.”

Classical music provides its listeners with a number of benefits, both physical and psychological.


1. It boosts brain power and creativity

Craig Ballantyne, editor of the self-improvement website Early to Rise, explains the “Mozart effect” as a mental result of listening to classical music, particularly Mozart’s. “In a controlled University of California study, students who listened to 10 minutes of Mozart before taking SATs had higher scores than students who didn’t,” explained Ballantyne. He also pointed to a study done by the University of Washington in which copyeditors who listened to classical music while editing caught 21 percent more errors than those who did not.

Author Cinda Yager raves about the psychological effect that classical music had on her. “Encouraged by the music, my imagination came out to play. It played through scenes in the novel I was working on, presenting solutions to problems, giving me ideas to flesh out characterizations, suggesting necessary edits I had not seen before. This was amazing to me.”


2. It deepens musical appreciation

The instrumentals contained in classical music are unlike those of any other genre in their ability to reach a person. Fittingly, Albert Einstein once said that Mozart’s music “was so pure that it seemed to have been ever-present in the universe, waiting to be discovered by the master.”


3. It has healing properties

If the sound of classical music results in water’s formation of elegant ice crystals, one has to wonder what it can do for our bodies, which are made up of 70 percent water. The man responsible for the study, Dr. Masaru Emoto, “sees energy as vibrations moving through matter.” These vibrations include the sound waves of music, which can affect us in various ways. Dr. Emoto refers to the vibrations as hado. He gives several examples of specific classical songs and their healing effects.


4. Acts as a stress reducer

PsychCentral reported that classical music “can have a beneficial effect on our physiological functions, slowing the pulse and heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and decreasing the levels of stress hormones.”


5. It aids in expressing one’s emotions


Southern Methodist University conducted a study in which 85 individuals were asked to verbally reflect upon their life’s most significant experience. The participants whose interview involved classical music playing in the background were found to be more expressive and detailed in their reports. This is because classical music is “cognitively and in turn emotionally arousing,” the report concluded.

Having trouble articulating your feelings? Try listening to some Mozart or Beethoven and see if it helps you express your deepest self.


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Lili Boulanger: the fragile, forgotten genius of classical music

Lili Boulanger was one of the most exciting composers of the early 20th century, until her tragically early death at the age of 24. 


 Lili Boulanger was a child prodigy 

Marie-Juliette Olga (Lili) Boulanger was born on 21 August 1893. When she was just two the great composer Gabriel Fauré – a friend of the family – spotted that she had perfect pitch. At the age of two she also contracted bronchial pneumonia. She survived, but the illness left her immune system weakened for the rest of her life. 

She came from musical – and royal – stock 

Her mother was a Russian princess who fell in love with, and eventually married, her Paris Conservatoire teacher Ernest Boulanger and both her grandparents (on the Boulanger side) had been musicians. Lili herself played (deep breath) piano, violin, cello, harp and organ. Oh and she sang. 

She was the first woman to win the Prix de Rome 


Photo: Lili with composers (L) Claude Delvincourt, Lili Boulanger, (R) Marc Delmas and Edouard Mignan.


The Prix de Rome was the most prestigious honour for artists. It was a prize, first awarded in the 17th century, that allowed the winner to live in Rome for three to five years, all expenses paid. In the 19th century it was awarded to a composer for the first time. In 1913 Lili Boulanger became the first woman to win the Prix de Rome… though the judges couldn’t quite bear to let her enjoy the honour on her own. So they also awarded first prize that year to Claude Delvincourt. 


She wrote her cantata Faust et Hélène in just 4 weeks



It’s the piece that gave the Prix de Rome judges no choice but to give her the award. The rules of the competition stated that the piece had to be written in four weeks. So that’s what the precocious 19-year-old Lili did. It’s 30 minutes long and is written for a full orchestra. It tells the story of Faust, the man seduced by the power offered by Mephistopheles. And the music Boulanger uses to tell the story sounds Wagnerian, with hints of Debussy. It’s no surprise it won the most prestigious prize of the day. 

She was famous for her use of harmony 

In her own time she was noted for her lush harmonies, instrumentation and elegant text setting. Try this eerie setting of Psalm 130, ‘Du fond de l’abime’ (also known as De Profundis, or in English ‘Out of the depths’) 




Her final work is a beautiful Pie Jesu 

Lili was 24 when she wrote this piece. She dictated the piece to her sister from her sick bed. The text asks Jesus to grant someone ‘everlasting rest’. She died shortly afterwards. 





Nadia found a new calling 



Her sister Nadia was so affected by Lili’s death that she stopped composing and turned her attention to teaching. She went on to become one of the most renowned teachers of the 20th century and taught composers including Aaron Copland, Elliott Carter, Thea Musgrave, Leonard Bernstein and Philip Glass. 

Here she is with Leonard Bernstein, composer of West Side Story and Candide. (Picture Getty) 

And Lili’s star lives on 

Lili may have only lived for 24 short years, but there are plenty who admire her music – including the jazz pianist Herbie Hancock, who calls her one of his favorite composers. This year marks the centenary death. Perhaps 2018 will be the year her genius gets the attention it truly deserves. 

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In Daddy’s Footsteps! Franz Xaver Mozart

Rather predictably, the deciphering of the human genome has done little to provide conclusive answers to questions regarding musical talent and ability. Although we have learned that certain genes control unique sites in the brain, which in turn determine levels of pitch perception, we are also aware that encouragement, nurture, and training represent significant factors. 

Leopold Mozart was much determined to foster Wolfgang Amadeus’ natural abilities, and Constanze Mozart made sure that her son Franz Xaver Mozart (1791-1844) studied with the best teachers in Vienna. Of course you know that Wolfie married Constanze Weber, who also came from a highly talented musical family at home in Mannheim. You might not know, however, that the couple had 6 children, with only 2 surviving into adulthood. Karl Thomas Mozart, who entered into the service of the Viceroy of Naples in an administrative capacity, was never really interested in music at all. He remained unmarried and childless. And there was Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart, who was only four months old when his father died.

But then, we really can’t be sure who was actually the boy’s father. “Franx Xaver” had been the first names of Mozart’s student Süssmayr — the one who put the finishing touches on the Requiem — and when Wolfie passed away, Constanze changed the boy’s name to “Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Sohn).” No wonder Vienna was buzzing with rumors that Süssmayr might actually have been the biological father. Be that as it may, Franz Xaver received his early musical education from the Mozart student Johann Nepomuk Hummel, and from Georg Friedrich Albrechtsberger, who had taught Haydn and Beethoven. Antonio Salieri suggested, “the boy has a rare talent for music, and his future might not be inferior to that of his celebrated father.”



Franz Xaver with elder brother Karl Thomas
Of course, it was always going to be slightly difficult to fill his father’s musical shoes. Franz Xaver was certainly a gifted pianist who toured extensively through the German speaking parts of Europe, but also in Denmark, Russia and Italy, and then spent most of his life as a private music tutor in the Ukraine. He also remained unmarried and had no children, so that particular musical lineage sadly disappeared. 

In terms of personality, Franz Xaver was very unlike his father. He was introverted, constantly underrated his own talent and feared that whatever he composed would be compared to the compositions of his father, and of course, it was. His father’s shadow even followed him after his death. On his tombstone we can read, “May the name of his father be his epitaph, as his veneration for him was the essence of his life.”



Franz Xaver composed about 30 compositions, assorted Sonatas, some chamber music and 2 piano concertos, with his music remaining stylistically firmly in the mature musical style of his father. Franz Xaver was never going to be able to escape the shadow of his father, but both composers were born with exceptional musical talent and aptitude into a fertile environment that recognized, encouraged and nurtured that particular talent. And as Wolfie told us, that’s really all that matters!

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Music Education: More Than Just Music!



Whether your child is the next Beyonce or more likely to sing her solos in the shower, she is bound to benefit from some form of music education. Research shows that learning the do-re-mis can help children excel in ways beyond the basic ABCs.

More Than Just Music


Research has found that learning music facilitates learning other subjects and enhances skills that children inevitably use in other areas. “A music-rich experience for children of singing, listening and moving is really bringing a very serious benefit to children as they progress into more formal learning,” says Mary Luehrisen, executive director of the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Foundation, a not-for-profit association that promotes the benefits of making music.

Making music involves more than the voice or fingers playing an instrument; a child learning about music has to tap into multiple skill sets, often simultaneously. For instance, people use their ears and eyes, as well as large and small muscles, says Kenneth Guilmartin, cofounder of Music Together, an early childhood music development program for infants through kindergarteners that involves parents or caregivers in the classes.

“Music learning supports all learning. Not that Mozart makes you smarter, but it’s a very integrating, stimulating pastime or activity,” Guilmartin says.

Language Development


“When you look at children ages two to nine, one of the breakthroughs in that area is music’s benefit for language development, which is so important at that stage,” says Luehrisen. While children come into the world ready to decode sounds and words, music education helps enhance those natural abilities. “Growing up in a musically rich environment is often advantageous for children’s language development,” she says. But Luehrisen adds that those inborn capacities need to be “reinforced, practiced, celebrated,” which can be done at home or in a more formal music education setting.

According to the Children’s Music Workshop, the effect of music education on language development can be seen in the brain. “Recent studies have clearly indicated that musical training physically develops the part of the left side of the brain known to be involved with processing language, and can actually wire the brain’s circuits in specific ways. Linking familiar songs to new information can also help imprint information on young minds,” the group claims.

This relationship between music and language development is also socially advantageous to young children. “The development of language over time tends to enhance parts of the brain that help process music,” says Dr. Kyle Pruett, clinical professor of child psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine and a practicing musician. “Language competence is at the root of social competence. Musical experience strengthens the capacity to be verbally competent.”

Increased IQ


A study by E. Glenn Schellenberg at the University of Toronto at Mississauga, as published in a 2004 issue of Psychological Science, found a small increase in the IQs of six-year-olds who were given weekly voice and piano lessons. Schellenberg provided nine months of piano and voice lessons to a dozen six-year-olds, drama lessons (to see if exposure to arts in general versus just music had an effect) to a second group of six-year-olds, and no lessons to a third group. The children’s IQs were tested before entering the first grade, then again before entering the second grade.

Surprisingly, the children who were given music lessons over the school year tested on average three IQ points higher than the other groups. The drama group didn’t have the same increase in IQ, but did experience increased social behavior benefits not seen in the music-only group.

The Brain Works Harder

 
Research indicates the brain of a musician, even a young one, works differently than that of a nonmusician. “There’s some good neuroscience research that children involved in music have larger growth of neural activity than people not in music training. When you’re a musician and you’re playing an instrument, you have to be using more of your brain,” says Dr. Eric Rasmussen, chair of the Early Childhood Music Department at the Peabody Preparatory of The Johns Hopkins University, where he teaches a specialized music curriculum for children aged two months to nine years.

In fact, a study led by Ellen Winner, professor of psychology at Boston College, and Gottfried Schlaug, professor of neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, found changes in the brain images of children who underwent 15 months of weekly music instruction and practice. The students in the study who received music instruction had improved sound discrimination and fine motor tasks, and brain imaging showed changes to the networks in the brain associated with those abilities, according to the Dana Foundation, a private philanthropic organization that supports brain research.

Spatial-Temporal Skills


Research has also found a causal link between music and spatial intelligence, which means that understanding music can help children visualize various elements that should go together, like they would do when solving a math problem.

“We have some pretty good data that music instruction does reliably improve spatial-temporal skills in children over time,” explains Pruett, who helped found the Performing Arts Medicine Association. These skills come into play in solving multistep problems one would encounter in architecture, engineering, math, art, gaming, and especially working with computers.

Improved Test Scores


A study published in 2007 by Christopher Johnson, professor of music education and music therapy at the University of Kansas, revealed that students in elementary schools with superior music education programs scored around 22 percent higher in English and 20 percent higher in math scores on standardized tests, compared to schools with low-quality music programs, regardless of socioeconomic disparities among the schools or school districts. Johnson compares the concentration that music training requires to the focus needed to perform well on a standardized test.

Aside from test score results, Johnson’s study highlights the positive effects that a quality music education can have on a young child’s success. Luehrisen explains this psychological phenomenon in two sentences: “Schools that have rigorous programs and high-quality music and arts teachers probably have high-quality teachers in other areas. If you have an environment where there are a lot of people doing creative, smart, great things, joyful things, even people who aren’t doing that have a tendency to go up and do better.”

And it doesn’t end there: along with better performance results on concentration-based tasks, music training can help with basic memory recall. “Formal training in music is also associated with other cognitive strengths such as verbal recall proficiency,” Pruett says. “People who have had formal musical training tend to be pretty good at remembering verbal information stored in memory.”

Being Musical


Music can improve your child’ abilities in learning and other nonmusic tasks, but it’s important to understand that music does not make one smarter. As Pruett explains, the many intrinsic benefits to music education include being disciplined, learning a skill, being part of the music world, managing performance, being part of something you can be proud of, and even struggling with a less than perfect teacher.

“It’s important not to oversell how smart music can make you,” Pruett says. “Music makes your kid interesting and happy, and smart will come later. It enriches his or her appetite for things that bring you pleasure and for the friends you meet.”
While parents may hope that enrolling their child in a music program will make her a better student, the primary reasons to provide your child with a musical education should be to help them become more musical, to appreciate all aspects of music, and to respect the process of learning an instrument or learning to sing, which is valuable on its own merit.

“There is a massive benefit from being musical that we don’t understand, but it’s individual. Music is for music’s sake,” Rasmussen says. “The benefit of music education for me is about being musical. It gives you have a better understanding of yourself. The horizons are higher when you are involved in music,” he adds. “Your understanding of art and the world, and how you can think and express yourself, are enhanced.”
 


Laura Lewis Brown caught the writing bug as soon as she could hold a pen. For several years, she wrote a national online column on relationships, and she now teaches writing as an adjunct professor. She lives in Baltimore with her husband and three young children, who give her a lot of material for her blog, EarlyMorningMom.com.

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Thomas Jefferson as a Violinist and Advocate for Music Education



Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, was also a violinist and strong advocate for music education. Family and holiday gatherings, solo performances, or as a way to have some time alone, the violin was important to him throughout his life.

His violin studies as a young man paid off during his courtship of his future wife, Martha Skelton. While she sang and played the harpsichord at parties, he would often join in, playing his violin and singing. Christmas celebrations at the White House and in his home, Monticello, included him playing the violin for family and guests.

According to Jefferson family tradition, as recorded by biographer Henry S. Randall, Jefferson’s musical ability dispelled the hopes of other suitors:

Two of Mr. Jefferson's rivals happened to meet on Mrs. Skelton's door-stone. They were shown into a room from which they heard her harpsichord and voice, accompanied by Mr. Jefferson's violin and voice, in the passages of a touching song. They listened for a stanza or two. Whether something in the words, or in the tones of the singers appeared suggestive to them, tradition does not say, but it does state that they took their hats and retired, to return no more on the same errand!

Jefferson and Martha Skelton were wed on January 1, 1772.


When time permitted, Jefferson played at least three hours a day. While he was a law student, he gave weekly concerts with other musicians. His music library at his home, Monticello, contained violin works by Corelli, Handel, Vivaldi, and other composers. His selected works by Corelli required an advanced level of skill due to advanced bowings and techniques for the left hand. He also had a violin technique book by Francesco Geminiani (1680-1762), The Art of Playing on the Violin, which further indicated his level of proficiency.


Jefferson’s Music Technique Book




Francesco Geminiani (1680–1762). Rules for Playing in a True Taste on the Violin German, Flute, Violoncello, and Harpsicord. . . .  London: J. Johnson, 1751. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (S. 4255) (40.00.00)

Music, according to Jefferson, was his “favorite passion” and the violin his preferred instrument. Jefferson was schooled in music at an early age and cultivated his love of music throughout his life. As an accomplished violinist and music aficionado, Jefferson owned four violins, including a so-called “kit,” an instrument small enough to fit neatly into a coat pocket. He was known to take his kit along on his travels to practice while away.

The instrument's body is very small, but its fingerboard is made long relative to the instrument's overall size in order to preserve as much of the instrument's melodic range as possible.

Many violinists in the eighteenth century used kits because of their portability. Thomas Jefferson owned at least two kits.

At home, he could play his other instruments as well as consult his personal copies of contemporary musical treatises such as this one by Francesco Geminiani. Jefferson rarely wrote in his books, but this book includes Jefferson’s inscription of Charles Burney’s discussion of violin technique.

Jefferson insisted that his daughters and granddaughters learn to play the violin. He hired Frances Alberti, an Italian immigrant, as a music tutor. Jefferson felt that a music education was “invaluable,” especially pertaining to young women, and that it provided “recreation” and “respite” from the concerns of the day, which would last through the rest of one’s life.

Monticello has several instruments on display that reflect the Jefferson household. In addition to violins, daughter, Martha, played harpsichord, and his other daughter, Maria, played guitar. He encouraged them not to neglect their music.



A violin owned by Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States

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The composer and his muse: Richard Strass and Pauline de Ahna



It is often said that behind every great man there is a great woman; but not every great composer can claim to have achieved a long and happy – if somewhat tempestuous – marriage to his muse. The soprano Pauline de Ahna was the powerful presence behind Richard Strauss: his wife, his inspiration and a diva in every sense. Over his many decades he drew on plenty of different spurs to musical action, but none more consistently or more powerfully than the soprano voice.

Strauss’s operas remain arguably his finest achievements and the Royal Opera House is marked the 150th anniversary of his birth with a new production of Die Frau ohne Schatten (1918), the most complex, symbolic and magical of his collaborations with the playwright Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Despite its baffling fairytale premise – for example, the woman without a shadow is an Empress who is a transformed gazelle – it deals at heart with the human and domestic.

Richard Strauss enjoyed an impressive female following, particularly in the gallery of heroines that he brought to the stage as a composer. Yet by the time of his 37th birthday he was still a bachelor with no scandalous love affairs to his name. And so it came as a complete surprise when Richard proposed to his former student and operatic soprano Pauline Maria de Ahna in the middle of a turbulent rehearsal for his opera “Guntram” in 1894. Apparently, his student Heinrich Zeller was unable to master the insanely taxing vocal part and Strauss had to repeatedly interrupt the rehearsal. Then came the time for Pauline’s scene in Act III, which she knew well. In spite of this, she did not feel sure and envied Zeller because he had
Pauline in Richard Strauss' now obscure early opera "Guntram
been given so many chances of repeating. Suddenly she stopped singing and asked Richard, to whom she had been secretly engaged since March 1894, why he was not interrupting her. Richard replied, that she knew her part well. Pauline retorted, “but I want to be interrupted” and threw the piano score at Richard’s head, but to the delight of the orchestra it landed on the desk of the second violinist. Having thus made her point, she stormed off the stage and locked herself in the dressing room, with Richard hurriedly following her. Once Richard returned to rehearsal the orchestral musicians enquired as to what kind of reprimand he had in mind for the temperamental soprano, to which Richard replied, “I am going to marry her”! And so he did, with the wedding taking place in a small chapel adjacent to the castle in Marquartstein on 10 September 1894.

Richard Strauss composed “Cäcilie”, the second song of his Op. 27, as a wedding present for his future wife one day before their nuptial ceremony. Their marriage, which can properly be filed under the category of opposites attract, lasted almost fifty-five years. Although Pauline became the perfect housewife and mother, she really never lost her high-strung temperament. And Richard, who liked to have a couple of beers in the local brewery and play cards with his friends remarked, “my wife is often extremely harsh, but, you know, I need that”.


Anecdotes aside, their relationship was highly complex and based on a mutual passion for music. When he traveled without his wife, he wrote her long love letters nearly every day. And Pauline was entirely devoted to her husband’s well being. She made him concentrate on his work, provided regular meals, and the couple went for long nature walks every single day. In addition, she inspired and musically featured in a variety of his compositions. When Richard composed his autobiographical tone poem “Ein Heldenleben”, the Hero’s companion is clearly modeled after Pauline. Strauss writes, “It’s my wife I wanted to portray. She is very complex, very much a woman, a little depraved, something of a flirt, never twice alike, every minute different to what she was the minute before”.



And when the celebrated diva Lotte Lehmann visited the couple in Garmisch, she reports “I often caught a glance or a smile passing between her and her husband, touching in its love and happiness, and I began to sense something of a profound affection between these two human beings, a tie so elemental in strength that none of Pauline’s shrewish truculence could ever trouble it seriously. In fact, I rather suspect that they were always putting on a kind of act for their own benefit as well as for that of outsiders”. If we want to know about their sex life, we once again have to turn to Richard’s music. The “Symphonia Domestica”, portrays daily worries and joys, their son Bubi splashing around in the bathtub, a domestic argument between the couple and a passionate and all-consuming reconciliation. There has never been any suggestion or evidence that Richard was unfaithful to Pauline or vise versa. In fact, Pauline was intensely jealous of her husband. At the tender age of eighty, she told a friend “I would still scratch the eyes out of any hussy who was after my Richard”. When Richard died on 12 September 1949 Pauline’s will to live was also broken, and she died only a couple months later in May of 1950.

Beethoven and Napoleon: Beethoven's Eroica

 Beethoven in 1804 by Horneman (L); Napoleon in coronation costume by Robert Lefebvre1807.


Beethoven called his Third Symphony Eroica (“Heroic”). The Eroica is two hundred years old yet still seems modern.

In this symphony Beethoven began to use broad strokes of sound to tell us how he felt, and what being alive meant to him. The piece caused a sensation and changed the idea of what a symphony could be.

When Beethoven called this piece “heroic,” he wasn’t kidding. It’s bigger, longer than a symphony had ever been. It’s confessional, even confrontational.

Just the scale of it was huge, unprecedented—and daunting for its first listeners. It foreshadowed the world that Wagner and, ultimately, Sigmund Freud would explore—the realm of the unconscious. That’s what was so revolutionary.


By late 1803, Beethoven had sketched out his new epic symphony, the Eroica. It was inspired by the ideals of the French Revolution and dedicated to its hero, who then seemed to be the great liberator of the people: Napoleon.

Beethoven thought of himself as a free spirit, and he admired the principles of freedom and equality embodied by the French Revolution. He thought he recognized in Napoleon a hero of the people and a champion of freedom, which was why he intended to dedicate a huge new symphony to him.

But when Beethoven heard the news in late 1804 that Napoleon had crowned himself Emperor of France, he
was disgusted. “He’s just a rascal like all the others,” he exclaimed.Beethoven violently erased Napoleon’s name from his manuscript—so forcefully, in fact, that he erased his way right through the paper, leaving holes in the title page.

So this revolutionary piece of music that was originally to be The Bonaparte Symphony became simply Eroica—the heroic.

But if the hero of the music was no longer Napoleon, who was it? The Eroica explores what it means to be human. In facing his own demons and choosing to continue making music, to continue living, Beethoven embraced the heroic in everyman and, ultimately, in himself.

Beethoven said that this symphony was his favorite. In it, he envisioned where his music was going and in fact where the music of the future was going.

All the works that followed it—by Schumann, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Mahler—would have been impossible without the pathfinding steps that Beethoven took in this symphony
.

Read more about the movements of Beethoven's Eroica