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Lunchtime work-in-progress seminar: Pathological versus Aesthetic Listening: From a Philosophical, Medical and Psychiatric Perspective around 1850

Wednesday 19th October, 2016

13.00, Room 2.17, Arts Two.

Pathological versus Aesthetic Listening: From a Philosophical, Medical and Psychiatric Perspective around 1850
Andrea Korenjak (Austrian Academy of Sciences).

Without doubt, Eduard Hanslick (1825–1904) is regarded as one of the most influential music critics and pivotal musical thinkers of the 19th century. In his famous book On the Musically-Beautiful (1st edition in 1854), Hanslick devotes a whole chapter to the “aesthetic comprehension of music”, which he differentiates sharply from “pathological listening”. Remarkably enough, he refers far more frequently to a “pathological form” of music perception than to “pathogenic music”.

Whereas the “aesthetic listener” would listen for the sake of music or the composition, respectively, according to Hanslick, the “pathological listener” would enjoy music “half-awake” and “snuggled into an armchair” rather than follow music’s structure or compositional technique. Essentially, “pathological listening” is characterized by Hanslick as a kind of “enthusiastic hearing”, in other words, hearing with passion or passionate listening. According to Hanslick, however, the purpose of music is neither to express nor to provoke emotions.

Apart from his reflections on a “pathological form of listening”, Hanslick is also aware of the many successful attempts to integrate music into psychiatry around 1850, even though he doubts its compelling evidence. Hanslick deems these attempts rich in “interesting curiosities”, but unreliable in observation and nonscientific in explanation.

In my paper I want to bring up the following themes and questions for discussion:

  • What did Hanslick mean by “aesthetic-” and “pathological listening” and what concept of “pathology” did he refer to?
  • How was music applied in psychiatry in Prague and Vienna, and what might Hanslick have known about it?
  • How was music’s beneficial effect on the mentally ill explained from a medical and psychiatric standpoint around 1850 and also from Hanslick’s perspective?

The paper is related to my current project “Music, Medicine and Psychiatry in Vienna (c. 1780–1850)” at the Institute for the History of Art and Musicology, Austrian Academy of Sciences, generously sponsored by the Austrian Science Fund [P 27287].

All talks are free, booking not needed. Lunch will be provided.

The talk will take place in the Arts Two building (room 2.17), Mile End Campus, London E1 4NS. For directions to Mile End and a campus map, see bit.ly/QMcampusmap.