Music and Magic by Angela Voss

In The Cambridge History of Sixteenth Century Music, eds R.Wistreich & I. Fenlon, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 472-501.

Introduction: approaches and challenges
To write about music of any era as an operative magical power in the world poses an epistemological challenge, since it requires the use of discursive and descriptive language to convey intentions and experiences which, in their immediacy, are far removed from any attempts to theorise, categorise or observe from a distance. It follows that the question of how music may be therapeutic – in the sense of effecting psychological and spiritual transformation or wellbeing – is not just a historical one, but has ontological and phenomenological implications. What follows attempts to weave together the two strands, presenting some cultural contexts of musical magic in the sixteenth century, drawing those contexts into a broader framework of significance in order to engage the reader’s own imagination. 

Here is not the place to attempt a survey of the vast scholarship on the relationship between music, magic and esotericism in the sixteenth century. This chapter explores the premises of the deeply held conviction of Renaissance magicians and musicians alike that music heals because of its profoundly symbolic function of revealing in sound connections, or sympathies, between the human soul and a hidden, underlying order of reality seen as ‘divine’. In other words, they located music within what we would now call a grand metaphor of reality, a metaphor which originated in the Pythagorean and Platonic world view of the Timaeus and became integrated into Christian cosmology in the early centuries after Christ.

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