There is music in stores, malls, elevators and swimming pools. Its purpose is to sedate us. Much of it is semi-classical music in innocuous arrangements – defanged, neutered. We are so used to it that if it were turned off we would feel there was something missing. We would notice it only if a dissonant note intruded.
Obviously, music has many uses. It can make us dance. It can scare us. What would horror films be without it? Baroque composers wrote Tafelmusik, i.e., music to be consumed at table. Mozart and his colleagues did not hesitate to write divertimentos.
There is music therapy in which a trained therapist uses music to help clients – patients? customers? – to improve their health. Mozart would no doubt make a little Viennese joke about it but he would not object.
But what would he say about the article “The Weaponizing of Classical Music,” which appeared in The Globe and Mail on March 8? In the U.K. classical music is being used as a deterrent against young people’s bad behaviour. In some places in the U.K. kids are taught to think “danger” whenever they hear Mozart’s Requiem. Some are forced to endure two hours of Mozart and others to relax them. Classical music is being beamed into certain public places “to make youngsters flee.” We are told that in Toronto, too, classical music is played at certain malls with a double purpose – chase away the kids and please the parents.
In the WWII novel The Saviour by Eugene Drucker, the first violinist in the Emerson String Quartet, the main character, a German violinist, is asked to play Bach and other composers to inmates of a concentration camp as part of an experiment devised by a music-loving commandant to study the effect of music on men in extremis. It is designed in the same spirit as the medical experiments of Dr. Mengele.
One of the responses is a violent attack on the violinist.