The project

In this project I am exploring the links between music, health, morality and well-being in the thoughts and actions of musicians and others during the nineteenth century. The history of modern music therapy is usually traced to the 1940s. Yet the connections between music and the emotions go back far into the mists of time. There are numerous stories, myths and historical accounts of the power of music to move and to heal. Music was also closely connected to science until the late eighteenth century. We know that the moral status of music during the nineteenth century was dubious: music was promoted as ‘rational recreation’ for the working classes (i.e. preferable to drunkenness), but musicians themselves often seen as socially and morally questionable. The power of music could be viewed as a positive or negative influence: music brought order into the world, but could also stir strong emotions and even lead to madness.

As music’s identity changed, its potential impact – whether for good or evil – became increasingly important. Within this context, the nineteenth century stands as an important point in the changing status of music and its associations, as well as the root of many modern medical beliefs and practices. Throughout this project I will be tracing both attitudes towards music and practices relevant to its relationship with health, happiness and well-being in an attempt to untangle complex ideas and explore attitudes that underpinned much Victorian musical activity.

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