Happy Birthday, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: A Meditation on Creative Genius

John McManamy Health Guide
  • A quick happy birthday to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, born 258 years ago today. You can’t have a discussion about creative genius without bringing Mozart into the conversation. It was as if his musical and compositional skill came straight from a higher power, with little or no effort on his part.


    The 1984 movie, “Amadeus,” played brilliantly into this myth, using the pedestrian Salieri as his foil.


    Not so fast, say a number of commentators. Malcolm Gladwell, in his 2008 book, “Outliers: The Story of Success,” popularized “the 10,000 hours” rule, based on a study by Anders Ericsson. Basically, it’s all about practice-practice-practice.

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    A 2009 piece by New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks cited two books - “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle and “Talent is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin - that endorse the 10,000 hours rule. David Brooks points out that Mozart’s early work was nothing special. The Mozart we all love is later Mozart, the product of years and years of focused effort.


    Yes, you say, but what about Salieri? At best, he was only going to be a better version of Salieri. He was never going to achieve the sublimity of a Mozart. 


    We hear you. In a 2011 New York Times piece, David Hambrick and Elizabeth Meinz cited a study by David Lubinski and Camilla Benbow that noted a major difference between the gifted and the profoundly gifted. Thus, compared with the participants who were “only” in the 99.1 percentile for intellectual ability at age 12, those who were in the 99.9 percentile were between three and five times more likely to go on to earn a doctorate, secure a patent, publish an article in a scientific journal or publish a literary work.


    So, was Mozart in a class by himself? This is a fitting day to sample his “Requiem.” You tell me.

Published On: January 27, 2014