The Use and Abuse of Mozart

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.


5 responses to “The Use and Abuse of Mozart

  1. Madeline Koch

    Wouldn’t it be funny if all the students started deliberately misbehaving so that they would be sent to detention to listen to Mozart?

  2. Erick:

    You should call the blog “In Praise of Older Koch.”

    Feuilleton is a word I like to use too, and indeed I so used it to describe my own collection of them titled “Whistle While You Work.” You have a real knack for writing feuilletons. (Sketches is I suppose the closest equivalent of the French in English; I suggest half a dozen others in that book.) I think of it as an Austrian literary form for reasons too complicated to recall right now. I have now read a number of the entries in the Archives and I particularly enjoyed the two on Vizinczey, the one on SF, and David Brooks (who, by the way, was born in Toronto, though nobody seems to know it). I’m afraid the rumour that you are trying to launch plays second fiddle to today’s news report that the Sarkozys may be about to separate. Ruth was delighted when I related your memory of her denunciation of Muslim head coverings. I will dip into the Archives from time to time. No doubt you have the makings here of a lively, book-length collection of non-fiction prose. Title? “Koch Tales.” Well-done blog. Felicitous encounter yesterday at Indochine.


    • You have made my day, my week, my month….
      The compliment of a master means a lot to me.
      As to the possibility of a book, let me remind you of a prediction you once made when I tried out a book-idea with you: “Such a book,” you said, “would only be read by (at the most) two members of your family, and perhaps (at the most) two of your closest friends.” Sixteen Canadian publishers agreed with you.

  3. Back to Mozart … Adriaan de Vries has a letter in the March 10 Globe that makes a good suggestion:

    “Instead of sacrificing the great classics in its battle with rowdy youths in its transit stations, the BART system in the San Francisco Bay area used Mitch Miller and Mantovani to achieve the desired result, and Western culture did not have to be sacrificed (The Weaponization Of Classical Music – March 8).

    (There’s more: )