fauxklore (fauxklore) wrote,

Dangerous Music

The subject of tonight's "Music and the Brain" lecture at the Library of Congress was "Dangerous Music." Norman Middleton and Jessica Krash discussed three related topics. The first had to do with "diabolus in musica," or "the devil in music." This refers to the tritone (a music interval spanning three whole tones), which has been used as a symbol of evil since medieval times and was, in fact, banned through the Renaissance. The dissonance of that interval has, however, found a lot of use in more modern times, sometimes as a symbol of evil. It gets used a lot in heavy metal, for example. But it also shows up in other contexts, e.g. "Maria" from West Side Story and the theme song from "The Simpsons."

The second topic had to do with censorship and ranged from Nazi bans on music by Jewish composers through Tipper Gore's attacks on lyrics in rock. Finally, they touched on music that may have inspired murders and suicides. One of the more interesting things they talked about in that section had to do with the threat of execution for mistakes in music which was reported for both Indian ragas and certain South Pacific music. However, this is always reported as something that used to happen but has been replaced by symbolic punishments. (Here in the West, of course, we merely have critics killing careers.)

There were also stories about musicians (and composers) who are alleged to have sold their souls to the devil. Apparently, the claim that Tartini has a dream in which the devil appeared to him and inspired the "Devil's Trill Sonata" is an urban legend. But Robert Johnson really did sell his soul to the devil at a crossroads. (Okay, they didn't actually say that.)

All in all, it was another interesting lecture in a series I am enjoying immensely.
Tags: music, neuroscience

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