The cerebral functional anatomy of music appreciation in six young healthy, musically naive, right handed French subjects was determined, using a high resolution PET scanner and oxygen-15 labelled water, at the University of Caen, France, and the Wellcome Department of Cognitive Neurology, Institute of Neurology, London, UK. Four activation tasks on the same auditory material, consisting of 30 sequences of notes on tape, were used: 1) identification/familiarity with tunes; 2) attention to pitch task; 3) timbre task; 4) rhythm task. Based on the neuropsychological literature concerning music perception in brain-damaged subjects, the timbre and pitch tasks were expected to activate the right hemisphere, and rhythm and familiarity tasks to involve the left hemisphere. In agreement with the literature, familiarity and recognition of tunes, and the rhythm task caused activation mainly in the left hemisphere; the timbre task activated the right hemisphere. In contrast to previous studies, pitch processing caused activation in the left hemisphere, specifically the left cuneus/precuneus, in proximity to primary visual areas, and reflecting a visual mental imagery. [1]

COMMENT: The perception of music is a complex neurocognitive process involving various neural networks, with some anatomical specificity for the different basic auditory components of music (rhythm, pitch, timbre, and melody). Furthermore, visual cognitive imagery appears to be involved in pitch appreciation. Despite the recent interest in music lessons as an aid to education and academic achievement in school children, studies of the neural anatomy of music perception are fragmentary and involve mainly brain-damaged subjects. The authors cite only one previous PET study in which different components of music perception were tested for brain activation (Mazziotta et al, 1982). In their sophisticated scanning procedure, Platel, Frackowiak and coworkers have demonstrated the functional independence of sub-components of musical expression. The left hemisphere is dominant for rhythm, tune recognition, and pitch perception, while the right hemisphere is involved in timbre or quality of tone perception. Within the left hemisphere, the inferior frontal and superior temporal gyri represent melody recognition and familiarity, Broca’s area and the insula process rhythm and sequencing of sounds, and the cuneus/precuneus areas, reflecting visual interpretations, are involved in differentiation of pitch. As my violin teacher, Dr Marvin Ziporyn, correctly comments when I err on pitch of a chromatic scale, “It’s all in the head, not in the fingers!”

In an interesting note concerning music and art by Phillip Huscher and linking the auditory with visual interpretation (Comment on Henri Dutilleux’s composition, Timbres, espace, mouvement, based on van Gogh’s painting, The Starry Night. In: Notebook, Program of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, April 3, 4 & 5, 1997;53C-E), few composers have transposed artistic canvases into musical compositions, whereas many artists have been inspired by music, notably Rubens and Raphael, in their depiction of Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of music. (P.S. I am sure that many of our readers could supply lists of musical compositions or songs based on museum works of art. PNB Publishers will offer a complimentary copy of the Editor’s new book, Progress in Pediatric Neurology III, to the PNB subscriber submitting the longest list of composers with verifiable compositions based on museum works of art.)