Freud and Music


Faced with the new horizons opened by psychoanalysis, the possibility arises of understanding music according to a new perspective, the logic of the unconscious.

Psychoanalysis deals primarily with affections, while music envelops us and awakens deep emotions in us and communicates with the infinite reservoir of our unconscious prior to the words that are already more limited in order to express them.

However, we realize that this important form of expression is one of the least explored by psychoanalysis, which is based on listening to the clinic, through which speech reproduces patterns of tone, timbre, rhythm, intensity and pauses of silence. So how can one not think of a link between psychoanalysis and music? Why did Freud often speak of his limited sensitivity to music, claiming that words were indispensable to him?

In The Moses of Michelangelo (ES, vol. XIII, 1914), Freud says:

"I can say from the outset that I am not an art connoisseur, but simply a layman. I have observed that the subject of works of art has for me a stronger attraction than its formal and technical qualities, though for the artist the value of them is first and foremost in these. I am unable to properly appreciate many of the methods used and the effects obtained in art. I confess this in order to assure myself of the reader's indulgence for the attempt I made here. Nonetheless, works of art have a powerful effect on me, especially literature and sculpture, and painting less often. This has already led me to spend a long time contemplating them, trying to apprehend them in my own way, that is, to explain to myself what their effect is due to. Where I can not do this, as for example, with music I am almost unable to get any pleasure. A mental inclination in me, rationalist or perhaps analytical, revolts against the fact that I am moved by something without knowing why I am so affected and what affects me."

James Strachey, in his general preface to Volume I of the Standard Edition of Freud's Work, comments on it (1966, p. Xvi, note 1): "Many passages in his works give evidence of his interest in the visual arts; maybe his attitude toward music was not as negative as he wanted them to believe."

In Freud's view the danger of getting involved with music was the possibility of losing the rational control he had chosen as his goal. Thus, on the contrary, Freud confirmed that music is, as in the case of dreams, the royal path to the unconscious.

Despite this, Freud was somewhat familiar with some operas such as Don Giovanni, Mozart's Figaro Weddings, Mozart's Flute, Bizet's Carmen, and Wagner's Meistersinger, from which he kept records in his house.

"The attraction of the opera to someone as unmusical as Freud is by no means mysterious. The opera, after all, is music with words, song united to the dramatic action. Like most of Freud's readings, it could give him the pleasant impact of recognition; in his extravagant and often melodramatic way, opera dealt with the psychological issues that preoccupied Freud throughout his adult life: love, hatred, greed, betrayal. In addition, the opera is also a spectacle, and Freud was particularly sensitive to visual impressions. That was why he looked at his patients as carefully as he listened to them. Moreover, the opera portrays the outcome of agitated moral conflicts, leading to satisfactory moral solutions; it presents protagonists with high verbal expression trapped in the struggle between good and evil. Among Freud's five favorite operas, with the exception of Carmen, all - and more obviously The Magic Flute and Meistersinger - decree the triumph of virtue over vice, which delights the most sophisticated listener, and offers information on the struggles that are caught in the minds of men and women. " A LIFE FOR OUR TIME by Peter Gay, pp. 166-167)

Despite Freud's estrangement from music, a rare episode is part of his biography: during the summer of 1910, when Freud was on vacation in Holland, Gustav Mahler, in a state of deep depression, decided to consult him. August 26th was the last day that it would be possible to meet the psychoanalyst, who was preparing to travel with Ferenczi to Sicily. They met in a restaurant and the analytical session lasted four hours, and both Mahler and Freud were apparently satisfied with the experience.

Finally, some current psychoanalysts, without fear of getting lost in 'chaos', are able to make the crossing between the sonority of the speeches in the session and the musical scene, properly speaking. And despite the emotional involvement, the listener does not play a passive role. The process is dialectical, for it is through our listening that the work is completed.

Brainstorming this article in Portuguese Copyright 2018 by Maria Helena Rowell (01.09.18)