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Music and Madness

Music and Madness
 
PHILIP THE FIFTH of Spain had the chronic blues or, pathologically speaking, melancholia. He sat in his sumptuous palace at Madrid brooding over the loss of Gibraltar, the Spanish Netherlands, Milan, Sardinia and Naples. He saw his kingdom dissolving before a flood of enemies he was unable to stop. Now, apparently, his mind was ebbing in a fog of irrepressible gloom.

The court, in consternation, tried every thinkable remedy. Doctors, quacks, priests, alchemists, wise men, jesters and everyone failed to bring back the reason of the monarch. Then someone suggested music as a last resort.
 
The most famous singer of the time (1736) was Carlo Broschi, better known by his stage name of Farinelli, a male soprano, born in Naples in 1705. Farinelli was a pupil of the great Porpora. He had a large repertoire of operas in which he made historic successes. Indeed, we may almost say that we have to thank Farinelli for Handel’s “Messiah” and the other Handel oratorios. It came about in this way. During the opera war in London Farinelli joined the ranks of Handel’s enemies and by reason of his unlimited success defeated Handel so badly that the great composer turned his attention from opera to oratorio.
 
Philip’s advisors sent for Farinelli. In a comparatively short time his art so fascinated the deranged king that His Majesty was restored to mental health. No one knows just what Farinelli’s musical therapeutics were, what tonal remedies he employed. The fact remains that, whatever he did, it worked, and worked marvelously. Philip retained him in Madrid at the fabulous annual salary of 50,000 francs, a worthy fee for a doctor, musical or otherwise.

Through the centuries, we have fragmentary records of the innumerable human attempts to relieve darkened minds through the employment of music. Just how much benefit the harp playing and the psalm singing of David may have been to King Saul, no one can tell, because the medical men of that day were little above the level of voodooism. Indeed, even at this hour, there is nothing that even approaches a specific use of the tone-art for scientific therapeutic results.

All that we know is that the marvelous phenomenon called music has at certain times an uncanny influence upon mental conditions normal and abnormal. After the great war there were reported numerous instances of shell-shocked men who had been brought back to normal conditions through careful medical attention and through recollections of their former selves first established through hearing some well-known musical theme. Thus music at the time was given great credit for mental cures in which it played a part.

All this was followed by well-meaning but often scientifically untrained zealots, who sought to exploit music as a panacea for all manner of ills. Men of science, however, always reticent in admitting discoveries until proved beyond all doubt, were forced now and then to witness some results, achieved through the employment of music, which pointed to progress.
 
The subject of disordered minds is interesting to all of us, because we instinctively realize that heredity, an injury to the skull, a ruptured blood vessel, an unnatural mental or emotional strain or even an overload of microbes in the system, might put any one of us behind the interminable series of locked doors which separate the mind- sick from society. Added to this, we are more than ordinarily interested to discover whether we have in music something which will help us all to set free those emotions which, if repressed, may lead to brain collapse. When we remember that the barrier between sanity and insanity often is only paper thin, we realize how vital to all of us this subject may be.

The oft-disputed philosophy of Dr. Sigmund Freud of Vienna has commanded the attention of the world and bewildered the masses. All that they have been able to make of it is that some great savant has been trying to tell them that desires, emotions and ambitions, ruthlessly repressed by whatever cause, might result in mental and physical illness. Immediately certain psychologists and musicians have reasoned that through musical expression many emotions are freed, and, therefore, music might really be used as a beneficial treatment in hospitals for mental hygiene, to say nothing of the millions of cases of people with disturbed minds, who make up no small part of the fabric of modern society.

Let it be noted that such terms as “Mad House,” “Lunatic Asylum” and “Insane Asylum” have been very generally discarded as casting a cruel opprobrium upon the mind-sick unfortunates who tenant them. Instead they are called “Hospitals for Mental Hygiene” or some similar term. They mark the difference between the old-time methods of curing the inane and the modern. Doubtless you have seen the famous painting of a courtyard in an ancient madhouse with the victims, chained to posts, being disciplined by a ferocious keeper with a leather knout. This condition existed in many parts of the world up to the middle of the last century. It was succeeded by the more humane repressive tools such as the padded cell, the leather muff and the straight-jacket.

Will it surprise you to learn that, in the modern institutions, the padded cell, the leather muff and the straight-jacket have given way to music, games and warm baths? Instead of cruelly restricting and repressing the patient, he is urged to employ any healthy form of expression.

One of the men who have helped in bringing about this great change is Dr. Willem Van de Wall of the Department of Welfare of the state of Pennsylvania. Dr. Van de Wall is a musician of distinguished attainments. He has played in several of the great symphony orchestras of the world, his instrument, Lord bless you, being that of King David, the harp. A humanitarian and altruist of extraordinarily self-sacrificing outlook, he trained himself for this great work. Dr. Van de Wall saw that one of the things that mankind needed most was mental poise and life development through expression. He wisely realized that whatever he did in his work with the abnormal mind would have to be done in conjunction with and under the supervision of the trained physician. Thus he has given years of his life to working out his theories, in hospitals of mental hygiene, in association with some of the most experienced psychiatrists of the world.
 
He has no panacea, no “cure all,” no specific for special cases. There can be no question, however, that what Dr. Van de Wall has done has helped to make thousands of unfortunates happy and has restored some to normal lives in the great outside world. Recently we went with him to the so-called violent ward of that model institution, the “State Homeopathic Hospital” at Allentown, Pennsylvania. In past years few observers were ever admitted to such parts of a hospital. Even now it is far from a pleasant experience. Yet in the old days, when repression instead of expression was the rule, most of the raving maniacs were people who raved merely because they were bound down and trying to get free. Now, when the victim is seized with a violent spell, he is gently but firmly led to a warm bath and kept there until relaxed. Then he is taken out and dried off and led to the music room and game room where a teacher earnestly and actively sings and plays with a persistence that baffles the ordinary observer. Singing, playing the piano, playing instruments of the toy symphony type, dancing, or anything to develop interest through play, melody and rhythm is used. The results are so infinitely more humane that there is no comparison with the old, semi-barbaric methods. Of course there are some cases that are beyond help or even being interested in such treatment. Others show improvement entitling them to promotion toward a cure. We heard one group sing, very creditably, complicated choral numbers; and, upon another occasion, we saw given upon the stage, under Dr. Van de Wall’s direction and with surprising effectiveness, a musical revue which lasted a whole evening.

Following is an extract from the sixteenth annual official (1928) report of Dr. Henry I. Klopp, M.D., F.A.C.P., Superintendent of the Allentown State Hospital. Dr. Klopp is one of the most distinguished psychiatrists in America; and his attitude toward the results achieved through music under Dr. Van de Wall’s direction is one of the most interesting evidences of progress in the treatment of mental disease.

“The Music Department was recognized in January, 1927, and placed in charge of an experienced and competent director, since which time there has been definite and satisfactory progress.

“Music in the Allentown State Hospital is classed not as a therapy but a diversion: nevertheless
it has a certain amount of therapeutic value. Instances can be cited where patients have been helped directly or indirectly by music. A “Patients’ Choral Class” was organized, consisting of thirty members. They made their first public appearance in a concert of Negro Spirituals on April 6, 1927, following which they also gave a radio concert in Allentown. Nine of this number are on furlough. Music alone is not responsible for this condition but it was an aid in making it possible. The same may be said in regard to plays and pageants given by the patients at the Christmas season and at other times.

“The past two years, out-door pageants staged for the benefit of the patient-audiences have been repeated for the benefit of the public. The systematic training and appearance before the public gives the patient self-control and poise. Patients often come to the music room in a depressed or disturbed state of mind; for these music has a beneficial effect. The depression disappears or the disturbed patient becomes quiet and eventually joins in the singing or playing with manifest interest. The same applies in the ward group singing; generally the most disturbed patients become quiet and listen or take part in the singing. One morning each week a trained mixed quartet visits the bed patients who look forward to their coming. Some of these patients ask for books and join in the singing, while a majority request their favorite selections. It has been of interest to note that “jazz” is seldom requested, the patients preferring a higher tvpe of music.

“The Occupational Therapy and Physical Education Departments are important adjuncts to the Musical Department in the presentation of pageants and plays. The latter has a definite part in the programs by giving folk dances drills and marches; the former, in the preparation of properties and costumes, which are made by the patients.”

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You are reading Music and Madness from the March, 1929 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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