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The Arts and Medicine
May 9, 2017

The Center Cannot Hold: Medicine, Music, and the Mind

Author Affiliations
  • 1Institute for Social Medicine, Epidemiology and Health Economics, Charité University Medical Center, Berlin, Germany
JAMA. 2017;317(18):1822-1823. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.4690

Opera features medicine more than many may recognize—not surprising, given the emotional intensity and extremes associated with illness and death. Physicians’ great voices beguile when emotional abysses crack open; consider, for example, the roles of doctors Dulcamara (Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore), Malatesta (Donizetti’s Don Pasquale), Grenvil (Verdi’s La Traviata), and Miracle (Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann) in the canon. Psychiatric symptoms especially are associated with a distorted sense of objective reality, touching on dimensions that may be expressed hauntingly in music, such as the unfolding psychotic symptoms leading to murder and suicide in Berg’s Wozzeck and to hospital admission of a military general in Hans Werner Henze’s We Come to the River.