The Piano Plague: Nineteenth-Century Medical Arguments about the Danger of Music to Women's Sexual Health: A lecture by James Kennaway
Monday, April 23
Center for Experimental Humanities, NYU
Nineteenth-century medicine often took a remarkably hostile view of women and girls
enjoying music. Indeed gynaecologists generally assumed that excessive time spent on piano lessons would have a direct impact on menstruation, fertility and reproductive and sexual health. However, it is striking that entirely contradictory evidence was offered to support these views. Broadly speaking, French gynaecologists argued that music was a sensual activity that would over-stimulate the uterus-nerve nexus and lead to premature or excessive menstruation and sexualisation. On the other hand, American gynaecologists suggested that music was akin to maths homework, over-stimulating the mind and drawing energy away from the uterus, leading to delayed menstruation, failed sexuality and lost fertility. This talk will consider this widespread but forgotten debate and also look at related themes, such as Ingegnerios' concept of "melosexualism", which he claimed led some ill women to achieve "complete sexual satisfaction" from playing the piano. It will conclude by pointing to some profound continuities between this Victorian discourse and subsequent media depictions of "hormonal" teenage girls and music.
Dr James Kennaway is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Roehampton in London, having previously worked at Oxford, Stanford, Vienna, Groningen, Durham and Newcastle. He has written extensively on the History of Medicine. His book Bad Vibrations: The History of the Idea of Music as a Cause of Disease was published in 2012. Other books on music and the brain, "fashionable diseases" and on manly fortitude in surgery are in the works.