Tag Archives: Medicine

Doktor Eisenbarth’s musical clock

The medieval German town Hann. Münden was home to Johann Andreas Eisenbarth (1663–1727), a colorful figure who became a subject of folklore to the extent that fact and fiction are now difficult to untangle.

A celebrated surgeon who was bestowed with privileges by various members of German royalty, Eisenbarth had no formal medical credentials, nor was he ever officially awarded the title “Doctor”. Nevertheless, his skill and medical innovations are matters of historical record, not least his pioneering contributions to the development of cataract surgery.

Reputed to have traveled with an entourage of up to 120 attendants including musicians, acrobats, and clowns, he is said to have plied his trade in a carnival-like atmosphere. The loud music and revelry served both to attract large crowds—potential customers for Eisenbarth’s services and bottled remedies—and to drown out the cries of his patients, who underwent procedures including tooth extractions and amputations in an era before the advent of anesthetics.

In honor of this now semi-legendary resident, a mechanical clock was installed in the upper story of Hann. Münden’s Rathaus in 1980. After the stroke of noon and a brief pause, an automatic carillon plays the tune of the comical song Ich bin der Doktor Eisenbart as automata depict the doctor extracting a huge, bloody tooth from the mouth of a terrified, gesticulating patient restrained by a hammer-wielding attendant. In addition to these central figures, a juggler, an acrobat, and a flag-bearer suggest the festive nature of Eisenbarth’s medical procedures.

This according to “Dr Eisenbarth’s automated musical clock in Hann. Münden” by Mark Singleton and Sven Heinmann (The music box: An international journal of mechanical music XXVIII/5 [spring 2018] pp. 185–87; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2018-52039).

Today is Eisenbarth’s 360th birthday! Above and below, the good doctor in action.

BONUS: A chance to sing along!

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Filed under Curiosities, Humor, Instruments, Science

Leon Fleisher’s second act


In 1964, while preparing for a tour of the USSR, Leon Fleisher experienced the first signs of a problem. Two of the fingers of his right hand began to curl uncontrollably; within 10 months they were clenched in a fist. He was not in pain, and medical experts were baffled.

“I guess my fantasy was that with the same mystery with which it had appeared, it would disappear,” he said in a 2007 interview. His attempts to regain control of his fingers ran the gamut from A to Z, he said, “from aromatherapy to Zen Buddhism.” Meanwhile, he redirected his musical energies to performing the left-hand repertory, teaching, and conducting.

Finally, some 30 years later, a diagnosis of focal dystonia, a neurological disorder linked to repetitive tasks, led to an experimental treatment involving Botox injections.

His comeback catapulted him as a symbol of the human spirit and an inspiration to a broader public. Egon Petri’s transcription of Bach’s Schafe können sicher weiden (Sheep may safely graze) has become something of a signature piece, a staple of Fleisher’s solo programs. It is to his mind “the antiterror piece of our time.”

This according to “The pianist Leon Fleisher: A life-altering debility, reconsidered” by Holly Brubach (The New York times, 12 June 2007).

Today is Fleisher’s 90th birthday! Below, the sublime Bach work.

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Filed under Performers, Science

George Harrison’s diagnosis


Today we honor both George Harrison’s birthday and National Cancer Awareness Month.

In 1997 Harrison was diagnosed with throat cancer; it did not appear to be a large tumor, and it seemed harmless. Chemotherapy and radiation showed effective results.

But in 2000, while he was working on a reissue of All things must pass, he underwent treatment for another cancerous growth in the lung, which had migrated from his primary lesion of the throat. Later he was found to have an inoperable brain tumor as well.

Harrison underwent a new type of cancer treatment in a Swiss clinic, but he finally succumbed to his disease on November 29, 2001. If the original cancer had been screened and diagnosed in time, we might be celebrating his 70th birthday today.

This according to “George Harrison” by Anirudha Agnihotry, an article posted on the blog Oral cancer awareness drive (Oral Cancer Organization, 2013). Many thanks to Dr. Agnihotry for guest-writing this post!

Above, Harrison in 1974 (public domain); below, with a few friends.

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Filed under Popular music, Science

Glass harmonica horrors

Although it was championed by the likes of Mozart and Benjamin Franklin, in its heyday the glass harmonica was also the object of considerable trepidation.

In the 18th century music was regarded by some as a form of nervous stimulation that could cause a range of maladies, and the glass harmonica was considered especially dangerous.

The glass harmonica player and composer Karl Leopold Röllig stated that the instrument could “make women faint, send a dog into convulsions, make a sleeping girl wake screaming through a chord of the diminished seventh, and even cause the death of one very young”, and physicians warned of possible ill effects including muscle tremors, prolonged shaking of the nerves, fainting, cramps, swelling, paralysis, and seeing ghosts.

This according to Bad vibrations: The history of the idea of music as cause of disease by James Kennaway (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012). Below, Thomas Bloch menaces us with Mozart’s adagio, K.617.

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Dhuns and dentistry


A 28-year-old woman urgently needed a tooth extraction, and local anesthesia was not an option.

The patient was offered all of the other anesthetizing options, but she chose music instead. A recording of a Rām dhun (Hindu devotional song for the deity Rāma) was played. The patient did not show any signs of pain or any pain behavior during the extraction procedure, indicating that analgesia was induced through music.

This according to “Extraction of a grossly decayed tooth without local anesthesia but with audio analgesia: A case report” by Manish Bhagania and Anirudha Agnihotry (Music and medicine: An interdisciplinary journal III/4 [October 2011] n.p.). Below, Morari Bapu sings the Rām dhun Hare Rām.


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Bibliography of performing arts medicine

Sponsored by the Performing Arts Medicine Association, Bibliography of performing arts medicine is a free online resource that focuses on the health problems of instrumental and vocal musicians, dancers, and actors.

The bibliography provides citations from the medical, musical, and popular literature, with emphasis on clinical problems and relevant basic science in performing arts medicine. It can be searched by author, title, publication, or keyword, and searches can be limited to music, acting, or dance.

Related article: Music and medicine

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Music and medicine

Launched in 2009, Music and medicine (ISSN 1943‑8621) is a peer-reviewed journal published by the International Association for Music and Medicine (IAMM). The journal is intended for medical professionals, aiming to be “an integrative forum for clinical practice and research initiatives related to music interventions and applications of clinical music strategies in medicine.” While it naturally includes research in music therapy, the journal also invites work on “cultural implications of music in medicine in research and practice” as well as opinion papers on controversial topics.

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