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Nass, M.L. (1971). Some Considerations of a Psychoanalytic Interpretation of Music. Psychoanal Q., 40:303-316.

(1971). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 40:303-316

Some Considerations of a Psychoanalytic Interpretation of Music

Martin L. Nass, Ph.D.

Listening and hearing, particularly in their relationship with music, have interested and puzzled man for centuries. The attracting power of music and sound has appeared in literature and mythology from very early times. Orpheus charmed the wild beasts and trees with his music; Ulysses followed the advice of Circe and had his crew stop their ears with wax to avoid hearing the song of the Sirens and thus be led to destruction, as he himself was lashed to the mast of his ship while he listened to the sounds and pleaded to be released.

Sound is an enveloping experience and fills an entire presence. It is more difficult to avoid the onslaught of auditory stimuli than visual ones. Closing one's ears is a more complex task than closing one's eyes. Thus, the quality of the auditory cognitive experience is of a different order in terms of its intensity and its ability to 'hold' its receiver. It narrows object distance and is more closely related developmentally to experiences of holding and experiences of touch (25), (43). The more primitive, ambiguous nature of sound and its great capacity to encompass the totality of experience, as well as its formation into spoken words and language, have resulted in discussions in the literature of the role of sound in early development. Both Anna Freud (13) and Spitz (60) talk about sound as a line of communication between mother and child; Freud describes the superego as developing through the voice of the parent (16), and the ear as an organ of reception both of sound waves and erotogenic stimuli has had a place in psychoanalytic literature (1), (27).


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