The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music notes: Mozart had Asperger’s, says expert, Beethoven maybe | December 29, 2009

By Jacob Stockinger

I just received an interesting answer to questions about music and Asperger’s Syndrome that I dealt with in my review of music critic Tim Page’s memoir “Parallel Play: Growing Up With Undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome.”

My original post was on Nov. 17 and the comments included one from Tim Page himself (right).

Here is another response that, because of its length and detail and later date, deserves a posting of its own.

Let me know what you think:

Hey Jake,

I believe I can answer a lot of your questions regarding genius and Asperger’s Syndrome.

I am a 51-year-old psychologist who was diagnosed with A.S. when I was 46, and I have come to make it my “special interest.” I conduct two Adult with Asperger’s groups in Minnesota. I have a blog in the Autism hangout website and I am an expert in the “ask the expert” (on the subject of Autism).

I think if one is high functioning with their Asperger’s, they will likely avoid being diagnosed as a child and go into adulthood, as I and countless Aspies have. One doesn’t just receive a diagnosis of A.S.; it is a discovery. Because to be successful with the diagnosis, one has to incorporate the characteristics of A.S. into their identity. However, we all know that we are “different” from early in our life.

There is no doubt that creativity plays a major role in our lives, as we don’t just think outside the box — we live outside the box. Therefore we are always thinking about novel ways to do things that neurotypical people have established as standard procedure.

There isn’t any medication for the diagnosis nor is there a direct treatment not cure for A.S. But the so-called co-morbid diagnosis like anxiety, depression and obsession is likely treated with medication. We have executive functioning issues so we, like ADHD individuals, have difficulty staying on task and focused.

I focus on Theory of Mind and discovering the significance of A.S. to one’s identity as goals in therapy.

The blogs that I write are designed to help the general public understand how it affects a person on a daily basis and forms the unique and creative characteristics that we have. One thing I cannot tolerate is for us on the Autism spectrum to be considered a mystery or symbolized as a missing puzzle-piece.

We are not some mysterious, enigmatic creatures; we are human beings who are as appreciated as much as one wishes to appreciate us. The problem usually comes when people try to change us into behaving like a neurotypical person. We are differently-abled, not disabled.

My upcoming book is titled “USER MANUAL” and is a book of journal inscriptions to help people know how to effectively interact with us. It is due for publication in mid-2010.

Lastly, I cannot say much about Beethoven’s possibility as being on the ASD, as I have only begun to study his life and mannerisms.

But I can say with much confidence that Mozart was one of us, from everything that has been said about him and how he was portrayed in the movie “Amadeus,” in particular his manner of composing. To use a billiard ball as a timing devise to compose the notes is such a example of eccentric repetition that it is hard to imagine a NT person would do that.

Oh yeah, one more thing. An Aspie usually likes to write — so many of the ones I know love to write — but it is very difficult for us to structure our own work well. There is a tremendous need for a trusted editor who might have an insight to what creative vein we might be taking.

I enjoyed your review and keep up the good work. Feel free to read my work and correspond with me.

Paul Johnson

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Posted in Classical music

17 Comments »

  1. I found myself at this site through an inquiry about Bach,rather.My curiosity sprung from the uncanny interpretations of Bach by,of course Gould,and whether there was a deeper link,a synching if you like, of style and interpretation.
    Also of curiosity,Bartok,Kodaly,Schoenberg.
    Absolutely no disrespect is intended to felt by those who have this syndrome.I am simply very curious about commonalities that I perceive,or,believe that I perceive in structure,seeming discordance,or simply a presentation of musical ideas that frankly strikes me as fascinating.

    Comment by James Wolff — March 3, 2013 @ 9:42 pm

  2. amazing

    Comment by RaeKisha Nasae Wiggins Jones — December 26, 2012 @ 5:17 pm

  3. [...] [...]

    Pingback by Sacred Geometry - Page 9 - Religious Education Forum — September 9, 2012 @ 5:02 am

  4. The play and especially the movie “Amadeus” can’t be taken as an accurate account of Mozart’s personality. It was based on Mozart’s letters, which are in the public domain and have been available in print for decades.

    Those letters span his entire life, from a teenager on, yet Peter Schaeffer has amalgamated them into a composite personality that’s neither adult nor child. What’s more, many of the letters were written in a substitution code used by Mozart’s family for the sake of privacy and cannot be read literally.

    Furthermore, it’s unlikely in the extreme that the character portrayed in the movie by Tom Hulse would ever have had the emotional maturity to achieve the understanding of human nature evident in Mozart’s operas. That Mozart would never have understood the librettos they are based on. “Tom Hulse’s” operas would have been utterly different.

    And it’s this very ability to grasp and express emotional states—as well as their underlying social context—that is the strongest argument against Mozart having any form of Autism. Don’t get me wrong here: I would admire the man no less if it could be proven that he had Asperger’s. But this diagnosis seems to be a bad fit.

    What’s more, the vast majority of the reminiscences recorded about Mozart’s character and behavior were written down and cited only decades after he died. They emerge, moreover, from an essentially pre-scientific worldview of the early 19th century.

    If you study and understand Mozart from the perspective of a trained musician, you realize that he had an extremely unusual, one-of-a-kind mental make up.

    The particular, unrivaled subtlety of his music, in its form, harmony and melodic development, is not something that can be ascribed to a psychological diagnosis. It’s also of a completely different order from the many documented cases of people with uncanny musical memory or facility—but who otherwise have only limited functionality.

    Mozart not only absorbed and regurgitated music, but evolved the language of Western music in ways analogous to similar 18th century advancements in science and mathematics, etc.

    If I’m going on about this, it’s only to encourage you to look deeper into your subject in a more holistic way. Mozart’s achievement can’t be “explained” by Asperger’s: it’s the result of unprecedented talent and unrelenting hard work, discipline and dedication.

    That nonsense about the billiard ball can’t explain the detailed contrapuntal complexity of the “Jupiter” Symphony or countless other works. It also can’t account for the emotional depth of the operas or the piano concertos.

    That’s because music wasn’t just a game or a pre-occupation for Mozart. It was a serious line of work at a time when composing still had a function in society.

    In the end, you may prove your point. I’m not a neurologist or a psychologist. But to do so, you need to get beyond silly, trivial parallels and give your topic the respect it deserves.

    Comment by Mark Laporta — July 13, 2012 @ 3:10 pm

  5. As someone with autism myself, I look at the way Mozart put his music together and it just makes SENSE to me, but the people around me struggle with it. His music always has a pulse that matches exactly to one of my natural finger wiggling stims. I don’t think an NT would write music so perfectly in tune to a stim unless they were autistic too.

    Comment by C — May 9, 2012 @ 2:15 pm

  6. Neither Bach nor Mozart had Aspergers. They had no problem expressing their emotions and crying and laughing over their loved ones and life. Upon losing his first wife Bach was very distraught. Read all that there is on these composers in both English and German, and please educate yourselves better–in this pop culture it is so easy to assign things to people. As a musician and singer I have read extensively about both composers and think more people should. They were brilliant but were also men with families and jobs and worries and composing and teaching. and they loved living life as best as we all try to–thanks.

    Comment by Duanna Ulyate — April 17, 2012 @ 12:52 pm

  7. I’m an Aspie. I’m social, I’m awkward, I’m awkwardly social, and socially awkward. But I love who I am and poke fun at myself because I don’t feel I need to “change.” or be “boxed.” I, too, love to write, but it sometimes can be clouded and confusing to others. (Especially my English professors.)
    -Max

    Comment by Max Kirchdorfer — March 21, 2012 @ 2:24 pm

    • Hi Max,
      Thank you for reading and replying with such personal candor.
      You will help enlighten others about Asperger’s.
      And we need that.
      Keep up what you do
      and be true to yourself.
      Good luck to you.
      Best,
      Jake

      Comment by welltemperedear — March 21, 2012 @ 5:49 pm

  8. A few minutes ago I heard a radio interview to Venezuelan girl with Asperger’s. Very bright and although she speaks English and Spanish, has started writing in German by listening to a Mozart melody, even without knowing the language. In summary, of curious things about it, she could decode messages through their Mozart´s music. Has any one information about the specialist or institution that it could be useful? I would like to call to station radio to recommend them.

    Comment by Alfred — December 9, 2011 @ 10:28 am

  9. The question whether Mozart had Aspergers is discussed in my recently published biography, “Bohuslav Martinu, the Compulsion to Compose” (Sacrecrow press). Martinu (1890-1959), like Mozart, was a highly prolific composer who had absolute pitch and was a music savant. We believe that the reason they were so compulsive was that they were tranquilized by their own music–it could be fun for them.

    However, unlike Martinu, who has compelling evidence from traits in his personality that support the DSM-IV criteria, we unfortunately know so little about Mozart’s personality. Such questions like: did he lack social reciprocity? Was he unusually shy? Was he awkward in dancing? Did he “zone out” and dissociate himself from his world when he pondered about music? Did he not fight back when attacked? Such questions as these we probably will never find answers to. If anyone comes across valid accounts about his personality, I would love to learn about it.
    F. James Rybka, MD

    Comment by F. James Rybka, MD — August 18, 2011 @ 12:52 pm

    • Dear Dr. Rybka,
      You make good points.
      Perhaps you will hear from readers with more biographical information about Mozart — or perhaps from newly published scholarly work.
      In any case, I wish you well in your investigations.
      Best,
      Jake

      Comment by welltemperedear — August 18, 2011 @ 3:43 pm

  10. Mozart could not have had AS. He was interested in almost everything and was very social. He was rather childlike, but that was common in those times (some of the jokes he writes in his letters seem crude to us, but they were things that even his mother would write)

    Comment by Sandy — August 6, 2011 @ 6:41 pm

    • Not all AS aren’t social. My son has AS and is VERY social .. he is just very awkward and can’t read body language. Please do not put every AS person into one box. We all are different in our own way, as are individuals with ASD.

      Comment by Tina — September 28, 2011 @ 12:13 am

  11. I do not think Mozart has Asperger’s syndrome, because you can tell he has no problem understanding human’s emotion from his operas….and Amadeus is just a movie.

    Comment by kiki — March 4, 2010 @ 11:47 am

    • Hi Kiki,
      Thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment.
      I do not know enough about Asperger’s or even about Mozart to have a truly informed opinion. So for me the verdict is still out.
      I do think advocates for certain diseases and disorders often see it as more prevalent than it really is because it helps them make a case.
      But I also believe that a lot of talented people suffer from the same problems or conditions that less talented people do.
      In short, I admit the possibility that Mozart had Asperger’s — and am very anxious to see the evidence from people who are in a better position to judge because of their expertise and research. But even then, many of these historical questions — like exactly what mental illness did Robert Schumann suffer from — will remain mysteries open to conjecture.
      I hope to read more of your thoughts in the future.
      Best,
      Jake.

      Comment by welltemperedear — March 4, 2010 @ 1:40 pm

      • kiki, many Aspies actually have A LOT of understanding of human emotion … They express it differently than we do .. and it IS possible Mozart was aspie…and Music was his way of expressing himself. Many aspies find ways to show their empathy and understanding through art and writing and music, etc. Some of these comments upset me because it means that people who are neuro-typical don’t seem to understand that people on the autism spectrum DO understand more than we know. And they DO want friends and many can be very social and many even have a sense of humor … Stop boxing every ASD person in and see them for the individuals they are. They just have different ways of expressing their feelings.

        Comment by Tina — September 28, 2011 @ 12:18 am

  12. i worked with an “aspie” over the summer at a camp i was at. the kid was a walking medical dictionary and could solve about any medical problem or question we had. he was pretty brilliant for being 8 years old.

    Comment by currious reader — December 29, 2009 @ 2:04 am


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