An interdisciplinary collaboration between the Faculties of Arts and Medicine & Health at the University of Leeds
Can music make you ill? Can it make listeners hysterical or brainwash them? James Kennaway’s new book examines the history of medical fears about the potential effect of music on health.
Music has been used as a cure for disease since as far back as King David’s lyre, but the notion that it might be a serious cause of mental and physical illness was rare until the late eighteenth century. At that time, physicians started to argue that excessive music, or the wrong kind of music, could over-stimulate a vulnerable nervous system, leading to illness, immorality and even death. Since then there have been successive waves of moral panics about supposed epidemics of musical nervousness, caused by everything from Wagner to jazz and rock ‘n’ roll. It was this medical and critical debate that provided the psychiatric rhetoric of “degenerate music” that was the rationale for the persecution of musicians…
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