Past Event

Music and the Body Between Revolutions: Paris, 1789-1848

March 31, 2017 - April 1, 2017
2:00 PM - 5:00 PM
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The Heyman Center (Second Floor Common Room), Columbia University, New York

The workings of the corporeal and spiritual body were repeatedly reimagined in France between 1789 and 1848, as successive revolutions fundamentally transformed understandings of bodily autonomy and moral responsibility. Discourses in philosophy, aesthetics, and the sciences were strongly affected by these events, as the radical reconfiguration of the institutional landscape from 1789 onwards led to the emergence of Paris as an international center for modern science and medicine in the first half of the nineteenth century. At the same time, Paris also became a crucial locus of activity in the musical sphere, a city of innovative composers, virtuoso performers, and instrument designers as well as a rising culture of musical ‘dilettantes’

Understandings of the body, as shared between the musical and the scientific spheres, will lie at the heart of our exploration. The late eighteenth century saw various conceptions of the body set into flux, influenced by the writings of philosophers such as Rousseau and Diderot. In the domain of the medical sciences, Jean-Nicolas Corvisart and René Laënnec regarded the body as a site from which to develop new understandings of timbre and listening, while Xavier Bichat reinvigorated the Vitalist frameworks of sympathy and harmony in order to examine the relationship between various executive organs of the body. This period also saw the rise of new “moral” approaches toward insanity associated with Philippe Pinel, as well as the phrenological classifications of the Paris-based Franz Joseph Gall. The repercussions of these developments were directly felt in the musical realm, and played out on the operatic stage, in the soundscapes of Revolutionary festivals, and in theoretical, medical, and governmental inquiries into the relationships between music and human behavior.

This interdisciplinary workshop will examine the interaction between music, science, and medicine in Paris, as they were influenced by the reframing of the self in the aftermath of successive revolutionary upheavals. It will bring together scholars from the fields of musicology, performance studies, literature, and the history of science and medicine in order to explore historical and emerging contemporary perspectives on the body.

This event is sponsored by the Society of Fellows in the Humanities, The Heyman Center for the Humanities, The Center for Science and Society, Université Paris 8 and Institut universitaire de France.