Aligned with the Symbolists, Camille Mauclair considered the orchestra a transposed symbol of the emotions in nature and cited Wagner’s music as an outstanding realization of this concept.
Although he was a staunch Positivist who attacked the Symbolists, Ange-Marie Auzende described the symbolic qualities of instruments and considered the orchestra a mirror of the soul. Ernestine-André van Hasselt wrote for popular audiences, characterizing instruments as expressing or even embodying various personalities and psychological states.
In the 1894 pamphlet Anatomie et physiologie de l’orchestre, co-authored by the popular occult writer Gérard Encausee (writing under his esoteric pseudonym Papus) and the young Frederick Delius, the four instrumental groups—strings, brass, woodwinds, and percussion—were associated respectively with God, the head, and the nervous system; man, the chest, and the arterial system; woman, the chest, and the venous system; and nature, the abdomen, and the lymphatic system.
Further subdivisions and associations were outlined in preparation for a larger prescriptive work for composers that never materialized.
This according to “Sound as symbol: Fin de siècle perceptions of the orchestra” by Eric Frederick Jensen (The music review LV/3 [August 1994] pp. 227–240; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1996-16688).
Above, Papus in the back room of the Librairie du Merveilleux ca. 1890; below, the opening of Delius’s Appalachia from 1896, perhaps an example of his application of such theories.
This Halloween, let’s see what a series of experiments demonstrated about the influence of skull resonance on music (non)preference.
Listeners were presented with a set of original melodies and were asked to judge how much they enjoyed each selection.
Following the melody judgments, the resonance of each listener’s skull was recorded by firmly pressing a microphone against the temporal bone while the listener tapped on his or her head. The complex spectra recording from this tapping was analyzed to determine the fundamental resonant frequency of that person’s skull.
The skull was not found to directly influence the melodies that the participants selected at all. Participants preferred a wide range of musical keys and these musical keys had no simple relationship to the resonance of the skulls.
However, skull resonance was found to moderately predict the musical keys that people disliked. Unlike the preferred music, the disliked music tended to be found in a very narrow set of musical keys. In addition, the fundamental frequency of the musical keys themselves tended to have a clear set of non-integer, complex mathematical ratios to the skull.
In short, this research suggests that the skull might influence the music that a person dislikes rather than the music a person likes.
This according to “Music of the body: An investigation of skull resonance and its influence on musical preference” by Jitwipar Suwangbutra, et al. (Acoustical Society of America: 165th Acoustical Society of America Meeting/21st International Congress on Acoustics/52nd Meeting of the Canadian Acoustical Association: Lay papers, 2013; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2013-5013).
Since the 1950s scientists have increasingly agreed that Paganini was probably a victim of Marfan syndrome—although beneficiary seems a more appropriate word than victim.
The typical characteristics of this pathological condition—a tall, thin body and particularly long, thin arms and hands—are perfectly in keeping with the virtuoso’s somatic characteristics, noted by all who described him and confirmed by the concert sketch by the writer and painter Johann Peter Lyser, the only artist known to have reproduced the violinist’s exact physiology (above; click to enlarge).
There can be no doubt that Paganini’s abnormal ligaments—together, of course, with his extraordinary musical talent—were a definite advantage in his chosen career.
When doctors discovered a tumor in Dan Fabbio’s brain, he began a long journey involving a team of physicians, scientists, and a music professor that culminated with him awake and playing a saxophone as surgeons operated on him.
A professional musician and music teacher, Fabbio suddenly started to experience hallucinations, and a visit to a hospital led to a CAT scan that indicated a brain tumor. It appeared to be benign, but doctors were concerned about its proximity to a brain region that is responsible for music processing.
Fabbio was referred to the neurosurgeon Web Pilcher, who contacted Elizabeth Marvin, a music theorist who also specializes in music cognition, and together they developed a series of cognitive musical tests that Fabbio could perform while researchers were conducting brain scans. Using this information, the team produced a highly detailed three-dimensional map of Fabbio’s brain that would be used to help guide the surgeons in the operating room.
The surgeons wanted to know if they were successful in preserving Fabbio’s ability to perform music, so they decided to bring his saxophone into the operating room; once the tumor had been removed, they gave the go-ahead for Fabbio to play it. “It made you want to cry,” said Marvin. “He played it flawlessly and when he finished the entire operating room erupted in applause.”
Recent research suggests that tango dancing may be an effective strategy for influencing symptoms related to mood disorders.
In one study, 41 participants were randomized to tango dancing for 1.5 hours, four times per week for two weeks, or to a wait-list control condition. Self-rated symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, insomnia, self-efficacy, satisfaction with life, and mindfulness were assessed at pretest, posttest, and one month later. The tango group participants showed significant reductions in depression, anxiety, stress, and insomnia at posttest relative to the controls, whereas satisfaction with life and self-efficacy were significantly increased. At a one-month follow-up, depression, anxiety, and stress levels remained reduced relative to the wait-list controls.
In another study, 22 tango dancers were assessed within four conditions in which the presence of music and a dance partner while dancing were varied in a 2 x 2 design. Before each condition and five minutes thereafter, participants provided salivary samples for analysis of cortisol and testosterone concentrations and completed the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule. The data suggest that motion with a partner to music has more positive effects on emotional state than motion without music or without a partner. Moreover, decreases of cortisol concentrations were found with the presence of music, whereas increases of testosterone levels were associated with the presence of a partner.
“I know a distinguished pianist, of tremendously nervous temperament; he often has trouble urinating, and often is subject to all the trouble in the world without being at liberty to satisfy his needs; yet whistling or a few chords on the piano frees this obstruction in an instant.”
So wrote Jan Matuszyński in an 1837 doctoral thesis for the École de Médecine in Paris, referring to his best friend and former school- and then flat-mate, Frédéric Chopin. Matuszyński’s topic, the concept of sympathetic nerves, was in the vanguard of Parisian physiological theory in the 1830s.
His thesis in his study of the suffering pianist was that “the intimate connection existing between the human ear and the abdominal viscera by the sympathetic nerves permits these organs to have a significant influence upon the organ of hearing.”
This according to “Reflecting on reflex, or, Another touching new fact about Chopin” by James Q. Davies (Keyboard perspectives II  pp. 55–82). Below, the composer’s celebrated “Raindrop” prelude, which may now be open to reinterpretation.
In an experiment, direct high-speed video observations of an elephant larynx demonstrated flow-induced self-sustained vocal fold vibration in the absence of any neural signals, thus excluding the need for any purring mechanism. The observed physical principles of voice production apply to a wide variety of mammals, extending across a remarkably large range of fundamental frequencies and body sizes, spanning more than five orders of magnitude.
This according to “How low can you go? Physical production mechanism of elephant infrasonic vocalizations” by Christian T. Herbst, et al. (Science CCCXXXVII/6094 [3 August 2012] pp. 595–599). Below, a podcast interview with Dr. Herbst provides examples and further details (including the fact that the elephant had died of natural causes).
Today, on the 230th anniversary of the death of virtuoso castrato Farinelli (1705–82), let’s make a pilgrimage to his grave, as did the authors of a study that involved exhuming him to gain insight into his biological profile.
Born Carlo Broschi, Farinelli was castrated before puberty to preserve the treble pitch of the boy’s voice into adult life, and his powerful and sweet voice became legendary. His skeleton displayed some characteristics that are probably related to the effects of castration, including long limb-bones, persistence of epiphyseal lines, and osteoporosis.
In particular, the frontal bone was affected by severe hyperostosis frontalis interna (HFI), a symmetrical thickening of the inner table of the bone. HFI is relatively common in postmenopausal women but very rare in men. In the case of Farinelli, castration was probably responsible for the onset and development of this condition.
This according to “Hyperostosis frontalis interna (HFI) and castration: The case of the famous singer Farinelli (1705–1782)” by Maria Giovanna Belcastro, Antonio Todero, Gino Fornaciari, and Valentina Mariotti (Journal of anatomy CCXIX/5 [November 2011] pp. 632–37).
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