Schumann’s ‘musician’s cramp’ analysed by Gates alumna

  • October 6, 2010
Schumann’s ‘musician’s cramp’ analysed by Gates alumna

German composer Robert Schumann suffered from a neural condition, explains Gates alumna Jessica Grahn.

Robert Schumann’s ‘musician’s cramp’ was a neural rather than a muscular problem, according to Gates alumna Dr Jessica Grahn.

She spoke about the German composer, who is celebrating his 200thanniversary this year, at a meeting called The Musical Brain: Arts, Science and the Mind, which took place last weekend in London and was featured in Nature magazine.

Dr Grahn [2001] says Schumann suffered from a neurological condition called focal dystonia – a condition caused by overpractice which led to him having to give up his ambition of becoming a concert pianist.

Neuroscientist Grahn says overpractice can cause the mind to overinflate parts of the body, such as the fingers, leading the person to be unable to control them independently and to painful stiffening.

Schumann’s right middle finger was affected by age 21. Grahn says one of his compositions, Toccata Opus 7, avoids entirely the use of that middle finger.

Dr Grahn is a research scientist at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at Cambridge. She finished her PhD in Cognition Science five years ago, with the support of a Gates scholarship. Her research focused on how humans perceive and produce music, and what musical processing can tell us about how the brain works.

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