A Reader and Author Respond to "Esoteric or Exoteric? Music in Medicine"

Thomas Brown, PhD; Claudius Conrad, MD, PhD


March 14, 2008

To the Editor,

Those who study the therapeutic effects of music generally take the somewhat elitist position that classical is the style of music that is associated with benefit. However, there are many who dislike classical music and prefer any number of other musical styles. In addition, there is strong evidence to suggest that their numbers far exceed those who enjoy classical. Therefore, directly relating to the nature of the patient groups of this and other "Mozart-and-measure" studies, there should be a discussion of this issue and, even more importantly, appropriate controls for this important variable.

Thomas Brown, PhD
Rochester Hills, Michigan

Author's Reply:

What is elitist about Mozart?

"If you are a poor numbskull then become a cleric. If you are a rich numbskull then become a [tax] farmer. If you are a noble, but poor numbskull then become what you can, for bread. If you are however a rich, noble numbskull then become what you will; only not a man of sense."[1]

Although the perception of Mozart's music today might evoke the notion of elitism in some people, Mozart's life, statements, or work were clearly none of this. Also, the author of the letter to the editor claims that there is "strong evidence" that the number of individuals who dislike classical music far exceeds the number of individuals who appreciate it. I was not able to find any evidence that would support this statement: neither "strong" nor "weak."

What are the available facts regarding the effects of Mozart's music? In a study, for example, by Smith and Joyce, comparing Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik with new-age relaxation music or reading popular relaxing magazines, the authors demonstrated a higher level of relaxation in the Mozart group using Smith's States Relaxation Inventory.[2] Rauscher et al[3] compared students exposed to Mozart’ music, to unspecified relaxation music, and [to] no music and demonstrated in their controversial study that the Mozart group had the best test results on the Stanford-Binet intelligence scale.[3] This limited evidence suggests that there might indeed be an effect specific to Mozart music.

We have stated very clearly that it was not our intent to answer the question whether Mozart music is more relaxing than other music. Our study tried to answer the question what are the pathways that induce relaxation in patients exposed to Mozart's music. The fact that music acts in a concerted effort on a cognitive, humoral, and hormonal level has not been described before. In the discussion of our original article, we propose the need for further research on whether the relaxing effect is specific to Mozart's music, the severity of the clinical situation studied, whether musical preference plays a role, or how other types of music would influence patients.

Claudius Conrad, MD, PhD
Senior Surgical Resident
Massachusetts General Hospital
Harvard Medical School
Boston, Massachusetts


  1. Stone J. Mozart's opinions and outlook. In: Robbins Landon HC, ed. Mozart Compendium. New York, NY: Macmillan Library Reference; 1990:144.

  2. Smith JC, Joyce CA. Mozart versus new age music: relaxation states, stress, and ABC relaxation theory. J Music Ther. 2004;41:215-224.

  3. Rauscher FH, Shaw GL, Ky KN. Music and spatial task performance. Nature. 1993;365:611.

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