“Rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul“.– Plato
This collection of classical and romantic era piano compositions provides the perfect audio backdrop for focus and concentration. Listening to piano music improves our cognitive processes – these include problem solving, memory recall and attention span. It’s easy to get distracted when working from home or trying to finish off a certain task, but research continues to show how our brains benefit from enjoying the works of Chopin, Mozart and Beethoven et al.
The collection opens with one of Chopin’s most famous Nocturnes: ‘Op. 9: No 2’. Chopin composed 21 nocturnes in his lifetime; with this being one of the earliest – first performed in 1832. He was only 20 years of age when he wrote this piece, but it still oozes maturity. This is a man who stood on the shoulders of giants – citing Bach and Mozart as the two composers who influenced his work the most.
A Rich New World
‘Chopin did focus on piano compositions, yet he was the first one who could afford to do so. It was him who transformed the piano into an instrument of unheard of potential, extracting from it a rich and new world of sounds nobody had dreamt of before, and creating within this world a plethora of masterpieces eclipsing many a symphony.’Tadeusz Andrzej Zieliński
Upbeat and Mischievous
It’s unlikely that Chopin expected his work to be enjoyed in the 21st century by students diligently working and writers with deadlines to meet. So, when did classical music begin this renaissance as a tool for cognition? It seems the idea began to popularise with ‘The Mozart Effect’ in the 1990s. It had been suggested that listening to Mozart for just 10 minutes could make you smarter. Some thought that it could literally increase your IQ. The study became something of a fad particularly in American culture, but it was eventually debunked. The spirit of the Mozart effect still lives on, though.
Mozart’s ‘Piano Sonata No 2 in F Major, II Adagio’ features prominently in this collection. First written in 1774 and one of 18 sonatas written over 15 years in total – it’s instantly recognisable. Mozart’s sonatas are famously upbeat and almost mischievous – each containing a child-like curiosity alongside his signature improvisational style. These are timeless masterpieces, still being enjoyed 250 years after their conception.
‘Mozart does not give the listener time to catch his breath, for no sooner is one inclined to reflect upon a beautiful inspiration than another appears, even more splendid, which drives away the first, and this continues on and on, so that in the end one is unable to retain any of these beauties in the memory.’– Carl Ditters von Dittersdordf
Whilst Mozart won’t increase your IQ, there have been numerous studies in recent years indicating that classical music (and instrumental music in general) can help us with concentration and other cognitive functions. Ambient music is a fine balance – Brian Eno once said that it should be as ‘ignorable as it is interesting’. It’s crucial that we are not swept up or distracted by this music if we intend to listen whilst performing another task. This usually means having to exclude music with lyrics, though this is entirely down to the individual.
Listening to classical music relaxes us and boosts our mood. This naturally improves our problem-solving abilities. There is also the ‘activation theory’ – which is the idea that we require a certain level of mental arousal in order to function effectively. The music stimulates us, which improves our attention span and therefore our overall performance. A study in 2015 showed a significant increase in alpha band brain waves whilst listening to Mozart’s work. This reinforces what we already know, as these are the brain waves linked to memory and cognition.
This listening experience continues to delight us with Beethoven’s Op 27 No 2 Piano Sonata – Moonlight. Beethoven was considered an innovator. His dramatic, emotionally led music was seen as a deviation from the lighter, more dainty music of the Classical era.
Widely regarded as a ground-breaking composer, Beethoven helped usher in the Romantic era – changing the face of music forever. Despite this, he still claimed Mozart to be his biggest influence, and even attempted to be taken on as his pupil. Sadly, the stars did not align, but ‘Moonlight Sonata’ has truly cemented itself into the culture. No matter how many times we listen to it, there is still something new to discover.
As the collection continues and we’re introduced to the likes of Debussy, Satie and Bach, it becomes clear that these virtuoso performers are all inspirational figures. Perhaps the main reason that classical music has such a profound effect on us, is due to something less tangible – we are surrounding ourselves with greatness. Every second these songs play in our ears is a reminder of what humanity can achieve. If Mozart can write music as a child, then our more menial tasks simply pale in comparison. Whilst brain waves can be recorded and analysed, there is no accounting for inspiration – it simply cannot be quantified. If we’re choosing to enjoy instrumental music as ambience, then we might as well listen to the classics – for these timeless works of art are here to stay.