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Mozart linked to Tourette's again

September 05, 2004

In 2001, a U.S. doctor theorized that what killed Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1791 was a worm-infected piece of pork. Now, the Austrian composer has had a new affliction laid at his door. A BBC Channel 4 documentary made by British composer James McConnel claims that Mozart had Tourette's syndrome.

McConnel himself has the condition, defined on the website of the New York-based Tourette Syndrome Assn. as "an inherited, neurological disorder characterized by repeated and involuntary body movements (tics) and uncontrollable vocal sound."

In the documentary, which will air in October, McConnel claims that Mozart's fascination with scatological language and wordplay and his obsession with clocks, shoe sizes and gadgets all point to his having had Tourette's.

The claim is not new. According to the website, the British Medical Journal published an article in 1992 by Los Angeles endocrinologist Benjamin Simkin (accompanied by a dissenting editorial by neurologist Oliver Sacks) speculating much the same thing. The story was widely disseminated by the Associated Press. But the AP account was so full of inaccuracies that the wire service issued a retraction.

-- Chris Pasles

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