I feel fine
Music has a long history in the healing arts
In ancient Greece, Apollo was the god of both healing and music. Music was seen to have a powerful influence over people. It was divided into three forms:
- Phrygian: stirring, martial music
- Dorian: solemn and slow, noble and pious
- Ionian: jolly and joyful.
The meaning of these terms has changed somewhat since then.
Internal balance of the four bodily humours (black bile, yellow bile, phlegm and blood) was seen as particularly important, an idea that survived until modern times. Music could exert its influence by acting on the humours.
Music was thought to be detected in the ear by animal spirits, which transmitted reverberations through the body in the bloodstream. The 17th-century German physician Athanasius Kircher illustrated the concept by showing how music affected vessels filled with different kinds of fluid, representing the different humours.
As more mechanistic views of nature developed (in which explanations of phenomena were linked to their physical causes), the German scientist Hermann von Helmholtz linked the physics of sounds and the anatomy of human hearing. He proposed reasons for perceptions of consonance and dissonance and later showed how several physiological factors were affected by various aspects of music (pitch, loudness, etc.).
Music therapy has often been applied in mental health. In the 18th century, the singing of the castrato Farinelli reputedly brought King Philip V of Spain out of depression, and a daily dose of singing kept him well until his death ten years later. As treatments of mentally ill people became more humane in the late 19th century, music sometimes formed part of their therapy – either in the form of listening or music making.Lead image:
Wellcome Library, London CC BY