Music and Medicine

“Music exalts each joy, allays each grief

Expels diseases, softens every pain,

Subdues the rage of passion and the plague.”

John Armstrong MD (1709-79)

The Art of Preserving Health, 1744

This week I have been inspired by the connections between science and music. Both subjects require you to combine logic with creative thinking to achieve results that are both enlightening and inspirational.  During my research of Frühlingsmorgen by Gustav Mahler, I realised that the poet, Richard Leander, embodies this combination. Not only was he gifted in the art of writing but in the science of medicine.

Richard von Volkmann

Richard Leander was the pen name of Richard von Volkmann, who worked as an orthopaedic surgeon and dealt with issues relating to the bones and connective tissues (such as ligaments and tendons). As a freelance surgeon, Volkmann was assigned the role of chief physician for the German military during two wars, the Prussian-Austrian war in 1866 and the Franco-Prussian war in 1870. In reaction to his war efforts, he was appointed Professor of Surgery at the University of Halle, Germany.  Volkmann compared the mortality of civilian and war injuries and investigated the general poor hygienic conditions in civilian hospitals. His findings became the subject for the first conference of the German Society of Surgeons, (Beiträge zur Chirurgie), which he helped to found. Volkmann’s interest in this subject encouraged him to introduce Lister’s “antiseptic technique” to Germany. The antiseptic technique was founded by Joseph Lister, an English surgeon, who brought about a dramatic decrease in postoperative mortality thanks to the sterilization of surgical instruments. Volkmann’s contribution to surgical science lead him to be considered as one of the prominent surgeons of his day and his statue still stands outside of the Surgical University Hospital in Halle.

Volkmann was a gifted writer and his ability to communicate through the written word was not restricted to his scientific findings. During the wars, he wrote a collection of children’s fairy tales and poems under the pseudonym Richard Leaner. Gustav Mahler set two of his poems to music in his song cycle Lieder und Gesänge: Aus der Jugendzeit (Songs from the Youth) Erinnerung and Frühlingsmorgen.


Gustav Mahler

Es klopft an das Fenster der Lindenbaum.

Mit Zweigen blütenbehangen:

Steh’ auf! Steh’ auf!

Was liegst du im Traum?

Die Sonn’ ist aufgegangen!

Steh’ auf! Steh’ auf!

Die Lerche ist wach, die Büsche weh’n!

Die Bienen summen und Käfer!

Steh’ auf! Steh’ auf!

Und dein munteres Lieb’ hab ich auch schon geseh’n.

Steh’ auf, Langschläfer!

Langschläfer, steh’ auf!

Steh’ auf! Steh’ auf!

You can hear the latter on my album, Songs from our Balcony. Here is a translation:

Spring Morning

Poem by Richard Leander

The linden tree taps at the window

With flower-laden boughs:

Get up! Get up!

Why do you lie dreaming?

The sun has risen!

Get up! Get up!

The lark is awake, the bushes are stirring!

The bees hum and beetles too!

Get up! Get up!

And I have already seen your cheery lover.

Get up, sleepy-head!

Sleepy-head, get up! Get up! Get up!

37 thoughts on “Music and Medicine

  1. Astute and remarkable observtions here… Words/writing is like medicine as our bodies believe every word we say. We can heal or destroy our bodies. minds or spirits with our own words. <3

    1. Positive affirmation is good for you, like your lovely blog.

      All my best wishes

  2. There are many connections between science and music, and health and music. Of course Richard von Volkmann/Leander was a poet, but what is poetry if not silent music? I hope you are enjoying the spring mornings! The afternoons and evenings, too 😉 I’ve been enjoying your and George’s music and your little write ups about the songs 🙂 Have a wonderful week.

    1. I love that ‘what is poetry if not silent music’, as a singer it is wonderful to bring life to a beautiful lyric. I am very much enjoying lighter evenings, which means that I can go for a walk in the local park after working at home all day. Thank you, Trent; it’s nice to have something music related to write in a blog post!

      All my best wishes

    1. Thank you Gill, I thought it would be nice when you’re listening to be able to translate the poetry and it makes it more like one of my recitals when I give the background info on the songs, sort of makes it feel like I’m still performing.

      Best wishes

    1. Thank you, Lavinia, when I learn song cycles or lied I always like to know all about the background of each song so that when I speak with great fans of the composer I have interesting information to add to the conversation.

      Best wishes

  3. I must admit I don’t see any direct link between medicine and music. More a link between the beauty of poetry and its inspirational effect on composers. Incidently, I believe Borodin was a successful chemist and his music was a pastime! But who remembers his chemistry?

    1. Now stairs and tripping, that’s a whole new story I will have to share one day 🙂

      Have a wonderful week.

      Best wishes

    1. Were you reading the post in the reader? I’ve wondered why my likes have gone down a lot. Oh Well, never mind, WordPress is changing all the time. I noticed the like button is missing on a few of the bloggers I read.

      Best wishes Martin

      1. Nope, clicked your link in the email like I do every Sunday without fail. Yes, WordPress is constantly changing – isn’t it annoying?

      2. I’ve asked my Dad if he can take a look in case it is something I’ve done. Thanks for letting me know Martin. I can’t keep up with social media changes, it used to be so much easier to like and comment on blogs. Some sites are worse though twitter doesn’t share my posts anymore at all now my Mum thinks its ‘cause twitter is just for nasty political messages now lol.

  4. The power of music to heal is unique in the arts, maybe? Perhaps it is the internalization of the sound that may set certain biochemical reactions in motion, or simply activating the pleasure centers of the brain is enough. It is not uncommon for physicians to be creative writers as well as technical ones. I have read that many doctors find it a useful form of self-therapy to help deal with the stress of their profession. Thanks so much for sharing this post. I hope you are well.

    1. Thank you, John, for your thoughts. I also know many mathematicians that are gifted players. Some people believe that money spent on the arts is a waste and teaching children music in school is a waste of resources. I wrote a blog post about it some years ago where I got lots of very interesting comments.

      Best wishes

  5. Wow, very interesting, great to create bridges between art and sciences.

    In my side, first step ok, i got the fiber ! so il will restrt work around my workshop studio. Hope in june we could have a visio and schedule something in London to do photo and video shoots.

    The best for you my friend

    1. Merci beaucoup Pascal 😊. Je suis content que vous ayez une nouvelle fibre, envoyez-moi un e-mail.
      Best wishes to you

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