The Earliest Publications on Music Therapy

Richard Brocklesby and his Reflections on the Power of Music (1749)
The life of James Leonard Corning
Publication of the experimental study
Apparatus
Results
References


Richard Brocklesby and his Reflections on the Power of Music (1749)

Born in 1722 in England, Richard Brocklesby earned his Medical Degree at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Leyden. In 1749, Brocklesby published one of the first books to mention music in a therapeutic sense. Reflections on the Power of Music noted music’s power to induce emotions, and made recommendations for individuals who experienced the emotions of fear, joy, and sadness in excess. His book describes how music has the power to lift the spirits, and suggested it be used in alleviating the pain of pregnant women (Rorke, 2001).

Richard Brocklesby

In his book, Brocklesby stated:

“It is remarkable that different tunes affect different persons, but generally the briskest airs do most service to this melancholy people; and such is the power of music at the time, that they of- ten fall a dancing upon hearing it, though before they could scarce speak, or be supposed capable of any degree of motion; and in this ecstatic way they continue until their former health of body and mind is restored” (Rorke, 2001).

The life of James Leonard Corning

Born in Connecticut in 1855, James Leonard Corning always showed an medicine and science. He traveled to Germany to receive his education at the Stuttgart Polytechnic, and then the University of Heidelberg. It is likely that Corning met Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920) during his time in Germany. Wundt is known as the founder of experimental psychology, and may have influenced Corning to pursue experimental psychology in the area of music. He went on to earn his Medical Degree from Wurzburg University in 1978, and then did research in Vienna, London, and Paris. Upon his return to the United States in 1880, Corning found employment at different psychiatric institutions in New York, as a psychiatrist and neurologist (Davis, 2012).

James Leonard Corning

 

Publication of the experimental study

In 1899, James Leonard Corning published the first experimental study using music therapy. The publication was in The Medical Record: A Weekly Journal of Medicine and Surgery. His participants were individuals diagnosed with behavioral and emotional disorders.. In the article Corning explains that his views on emotions come from Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), a British psychologist who saw feelings as a result of both external and internal forces (Davis, 2012).

Corning sought to control the human’s emotional responses by using aural stimuli on patients who were drowsy. He believed that in a state of sleep or almost sleep, individuals become “open to the full suggestive power of impressions, by reason of the absence of that inhibition which is the penalty, so to speak, of full consciousness.” Therefore, by providing the patient with “musical vibrations” while in such a state, Corning believed that he could exert power over an individual’s emotional state (Davis, 2012).

Apparatus

Corning’s equipment consisted of a large helmet with openings for ears. This was connected to an Edison cylinder phonograph to provide the aural stimulation.  Corning preferred to use the music of German composer Richard Wagner (1813-1883) in his experiments. Wagner’s compositional style included thick harmonies and many minor chords in arpeggiated form. Through innovative use of equipment and music, Corning was able to maintain a consistent environment from trial to trial (Davis, 2012).

Results

Corning found that the human nervous system was affected by musical vibrations. He concluded that such musical vibrations were a necessary component for optimal mental health. Interestingly, he noted that the effects were seen to the largest extent with patients suffering from depression. Depressive patients became more active and more likely to take on responsibilities in their daily lives after receiving aural stimulation in this experiment (Davis, 2012).

References

Davis, W. B. (2012). The First Systematic Experimentation in Music Therapy: The Genius of James Leonard Corning. Journal of Music Therapy, 49(1), 102-117.

Rorke, M. A. (2001). Music Therapy in the Age of Enlightenment. Journal of Music Therapy, 38(1), 66-73.

By: Claire Growney

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