The Powers and Effects of Music: English Theories from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


How early modern authors conceptualized music was profoundly shaped by a literary tradition, the laudes musices—Praises of Music, which went back to Greek antiquity but was still a lively genre in the Renaissance. The dimension of the praise of music tradition that has always generated the most interest— including my own—is its focus on music’s marvellous effects on people, both in antiquity and in the present day, with a view to persuading readers and listeners of its value and necessity.1 Between the sixteenth and the eighteenth centuries a number of English authors addressed various aspects of music’s effects and their causes in a diverse range of writings. Because of its recognized power over souls
and its affinity with spirits of various kinds, music was germane to debates in natural and moral philosophy, as well as in medicine and divinity, in this period. In order to explore this rich tradition, I propose to focus on three main themes: music as a source of pleasure, music’s ethical effects—a topic that links to the overall theme of this volume because theories of musical ethos were part of theories about perfect harmony—and lastly music’s power to cure mental diseases. My aim is to show that there are distinct continuities in thinking over the period under discussion, but at the same time to demonstrate that there are significant changes in natural philosophical and medical explanations of music’s effects on people that constitute part of a larger intellectual shift.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPerfect Harmony and Melting Strains
Subtitle of host publicationTransformations of Music in Early Modern Culture between Sensibility and Abstraction
EditorsCornelia Wilde, Wolfram Keller
Place of PublicationBerlin
Publisherde Gruyter, Walter GmbH & Co
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9783110422061, 9783110422139
ISBN (Print)9783110426373
Publication statusPublished - 10 May 2021

Publication series

NameTransformationen der Antike
PublisherDe Gruyter


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