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Gomperts, C.D. (1951). 'Psycho-Analysis of Music.': André Michel.. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 32:265-266.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: 'Psycho-Analysis of Music.': André Michel.

(1951). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 32:265-266

'Psycho-Analysis of Music.': André Michel.

C. D. Gomperts

The Music Review, November, 1950; extract from a book shortly to be published.

As music so far has not received much attention in the field of applied psycho-analysis, M. André Michel's attempt to relate musical expression to our psycho-analytical knowledge is to be welcomed. He mentions the various pre-genital instinctual sources behind the drive towards musical expression and discusses the complementary relationship between pre-genital fixation points and certain characteristics of the work of individual composers. This leads him to speak of oral (Chopin), anal (Stravinsky, Ravel) and phallic composers, the last being subdivided in two categories, viz. those whose work reflects a struggle to solve their Oedipal conflicts (Debussy) and those who have actually accomplished this task (J. S. Bach).

Though it is not his intention definitively to reduce any composer to a specific category, such a correlation, based as it is on a qualitative appreciation of pre-genital drives, seems to us not to explain in what way the composer's fixation to a particular stage of libidinal development would account for the high level of satisfaction which a heterogenous audience derives from his music. One would suppose that fixation, by its very nature, is more likely to act as an impediment both to the creation of any true work of art and to the enjoyment of it by others. If, to quote one of the author's examples, Ravel's music were 'anal magic' it would meet with little response from those in whose libidinal make-up anality plays only a minor part. Conversely, genital characters would find a greater affinity with their own libidinal condition in Bach's fugues (in whose polyphonic style the author sees the musical expression of a capacity for a multi-object oblative relationship) than in the music of say, Mozart (who had many infantile character traits); an assumption which lacks foundation. In the case of Mozart it is of special interest to note that it was only as a musician he was able to reach maturity, and that at an unusually early age and to an astonishing degree. It remains, none the less—a fact which would apply to any work of art—that component instincts and early object relationships can be traced in musical creation. This is shown with the aid of some very interesting examples taken from Debussy's score of Maeterlinck's Pelléas et Mélisande. The author also shows that musical and rhythmical expression allows of a greater subtlety of dramatic representation—e.g. by the use of a theme or part of a theme as a means of alluding to an affective state or to a person or situation giving rise to it—than words can convey. This strikes us as the best and most convincing part of the paper. The author's contention that through the medium of music there becomes possible the conscious rendering of thought which cannot be expressed verbally, is, however, open to criticism. The word 'conscious' here can be meant only in its descriptive sense, and if we understand the author's meaning, he would like to equate tone-cathexis with word-cathexis as alternative psychic paths both leading to conscious thought expression. The fallacy may well lie in confusing what is conscious in the musical creation with what is its latent counterpart. A striking

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feature of the technique employed in musical composition is its resemblance to that of dream formation and wit. In the art of the composer we find abundant use of the same devices as are employed in the dream work: condensation, displacement, turning into its opposite, omission, etc. Michel seems also to have this similarity in mind: 'Most musical thoughts are unthinkable in words. Moreover, several musical thoughts superimpose themselves at various levels of the psyche and the language of words is able to express but one at a time. If it had to compensate for this inability by necessarily successive explanations, the least of the words would be burdened with an intolerable dull commentary, which a few notes of music would easily replace.' However, if a psychic equivalent for musical thought has to be found among other modes of ideational expression, and comparisons made, the search would have to be made in the direction of the manifest dream content rather than in the sphere of conceptual thought processes.

The substitution of verbal language for musical language which the author recommends as a means of communication in the analysis of musicians as a means of reaching a deeper understanding of their art can have at most a strong romantic appeal.

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Article Citation

Gomperts, C.D. (1951). 'Psycho-Analysis of Music.'. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 32:265-266

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