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  • Mark Brafield

K 361

I recently saw, for the second time, the National Theatre production of 'Amadeus'. I say for the second time because I saw the original production in 1979 with Paul Scofield as Salieri and Simon Callow as Mozart when I was a student.

Although this makes me feel old, I have always been grateful to 'Amadeus' for taking me deeper into Mozart and, in particular, helping me to hear just how sublime his music is. It is the tragedy of the play that Salieri has precisely enough talent to realise just how far his own ability falls short of the genius of Mozart and no more.

But if his ability as a composer falls short, he has the ability - voiced by Shaffer - to lead us into the heart of the miracle, starting with his wonderful description of the Adagio of the B flat Serenade, K361; 'The beginning simple, almost comic. Just a a rusty squeezebox', before the oboe comes in with a line of beauty so exquisite that it pierces his heart; 'A single note, hanging there, unwavering. Until a clarinet took it over, sweetened it into a phrase of such delight !....This was music I had never heard. Filled with such longing, such unfulfillable longing. It seemed to me that I was hearing the voice of God'.

In this way, Salieri helps us to hear and understand what we would not otherwise have appreciated, and much of our learning is of this type. This is modelled in the brain by the anterior cingulate cyrus, which has sometimes been likened to the 'executive secretary' of the brain. If we are able to engage the anterior cingulate, it will notice things which we would not otherwise have been aware of, and once that happens, we start to notice and learn new things all around us. And if we can understand that, we can learn that by paying attention to those thoughts that we want to develop, and detaching ourselves from those unhelpful thoughts that we no longer wish to act upon, we can literally re-wire our brains to a new and more positive outlook.

Antonio Salieri. Patron saint of mediocrity. But a model of our anterior cingulate. Of which more in my next post.

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