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Observations placeholder

Liszt - The passage he played produced a visible effect on her similar to that of an electrical discharge



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Music as cause and cure of illness – Dr Cheryce Kramer

Romantic music was tonic as well as toxin. In 1840 the Czech physician, Leopold Raudnitz, published a popular book on music therapy summarizing the views of his French and German counterparts and presenting his own findings as director of the Prague insane asylum.

Raudnitz claimed to have witnessed delirious patients 'cease to babble', melancholy ones 'find comfort and calm', maniacs 'relax their tense posture', idiots 'become relatively animated' and even delusional patients 'show marked improvement' under the influence of restorative music. Raudnitz dedicated this book to Liszt, the very man whose music allegedly produced those same mental disorders. Yet this was not as paradoxical a gesture as it might seem.

Besides driving his listeners out of their minds, the young Liszt also dabbled in some amateur music therapy. Around 1830, he seems to have started visiting the hospitals of Paris. A newspaper cutting that survives from the Paris journal variete, datable to 1831-32, reveals the headline 'L'idiote melomane'.  As Liszt's biographer, Alan Walker, reports, the cutting

tells the strange story of a sixty-year-old woman who had been a patient in the Salpetriere hospital for the insane from childhood. She was incapable of understanding anything, of dressing herself, of working, and even of speaking . .. It was noticed, however, that she responded at once to music. She was able to sing back melodies that were sung to her, and she could even recall them after a lapse of time

Liszt was invited to visit the hospital and play to her, a piano having been set up in her cell.

The moment Liszt's fingers touched the keyboard, the old woman's eyes became fixated on them. Gnawing her fists, she appeared to enter a highly charged state, and she vibrated to every cord struck by the young musician. The passage he played produced a visible effect on her similar to that of an electrical discharge.

The source of the experience

Liszt, Franz

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps





Brain damage
Manic depression


Music therapy