A New Documentary Suggests That Mozart Had Tourette's Syndrome
Wednesday, September 01, 2004
By Lauren Taylor
A TV documentary is to suggest that the musical works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart were influenced by the obsessive-compulsive disorder Tourette's syndrome. The claims are made by British composer James McConnel, who himself has the condition, which can lead to uncontrollable swearing or twitching.
The documentary, What Made Mozart Tic?, was produced and directed by Marion Milne, of 3BM Television, and is due to be screened on Channel 4 in October. In the programme Mr. McConnel says that although very little is known about Mozart's life, the clues are to be found in his letters and music.
Mr. McConnel, 46, said: 'He wrote some absolutely disgusting letters and although people in the 18th century were pretty crude anyway, he took it to another level. 'He wrote songs with titles such as 'Hung like an ox' or 'Lick out my arsehole' which is really just his sense of humour going wrong, as can often happen with people who have Tourette's.'
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart He said Mozart's fascination with wordplay and making each line in his letters rhyme, his obsession with clocks, shoe sizes and gadgets and his documented foot-tapping and twitching all suggested Tourette's syndrome.
He says the strongest clues are to be found in his music. 'It's a mixture of chaos and control. Tourette's is a constant battle between the two, having a compulsion and trying to control it, and that translates into music.
'He used a great deal of fugue in his music which is very complicated but was very unfashionable at the time. He lets his music run off in chaotic directions but then always brought it back under control.'
While Mr. McConnel suggests the syndrome might have directed the nature of Mozart's works, he says it was not the root of his genius.
He said: 'He was a genius and he had Tourette's syndrome, and while it may have affected the way in which his genius manifested itself and made him go against the grain, he would have been a brilliant composer without it.'
Austrian-born Mozart died at the young age of 35 in 1791, leaving a fantastic legacy of music which began with his first work at the age of four and his first symphony at the age of eight.
The documentary also features professional opinions from Tourette's syndrome specialist Professor Mary Robinson, Professor Hugh Ricards of Birmingham Hospital, and Julian Anderson, professor of composition at the Royal College of Music.
Mr. McConnel, who lives in Norfolk and composes music for documentaries, films and stage shows, says the documentary is a positive reflection on Mozart and Tourette's. His own symptoms, which are also well documented, include twitching, switching off lights, counting car number plates and lining up shoes.
He said: 'It's not embarrassing for people to be with me. I'm not a freak and I can control my twitching for hours at a time, but it does eventually have to out itself.'
Producer Ms. Milne said: 'It's a very positive documentary. We are not seeking to discredit Mozart but celebrate who he was and his extraordinary achievement. When you see this through James's eyes, it's very engaging because it is a strange condition and by the end of the documentary a lot of the medical and music experts can see where his arguments are coming from.'
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