University of Sussex
Kennedy,_Barbara_Cecily.pdf (3.84 MB)

Healing music and its literary representation in the early modern period

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posted on 2023-06-08, 16:17 authored by Barbara Cecily Kennedy
This interdisciplinary thesis explores how music is used in the art of healing in two distinct ways in the early modern period: namely, through the use of performed music accompanying the healing process itself, and as ‘speculative music’, the latter providing a philosophical model for understanding the interplay of music with body, mind and soul. Redefining an existing enquiry in a specific way, my research seeks to enhance an understanding of the construction of a therapeutic modality that revitalizes the ancient belief in the healing powers of music, manifest since antiquity through the classical legends of Orpheus and Pythagoras. The Pythagorean hypothesis – that earthly music reflected the celestial harmony of the spheres – was believed to govern the internal music of the human body, giving credence to the notion of the harmonious balancing of the four bodily humours. Tracing the tradition of healing music from antiquity, I argue that Marsilio Ficino’s paradigmatic magico-musical philosophy refashions the Pythagorean and Neoplatonic explanations of music’s curative potentiality, offering a new interpretat ion of music’s effective power to heal the rift between body and soul. I examine how this Ficinian interpretation is discernible in the work of Robert Fludd, Michael Maier, William Shakespeare, Robert Burton and Thomas Campion. I analyse their observations of the body’s physical and emotional response to music’s healing power. Drawing on early modern models that appropriate the rhetoric of the music of the spheres, I argue that a cultural moment is established in which the motifs and tropes of Neoplatonic love and the healing power of music culminate in allegories of philosophical contemplation and spiritual fulfilment in the Jacobean court masques. In conclusion, my thesis’s examination of music as a healing modality provides a historical framework to support the contemporary use of music as a recognized therapeutic intervention.


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University of Sussex

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