The Power of Music: Psychoanalytic Explorations

Author(s) : Roger Kennedy

The Power of Music: Psychoanalytic Explorations

Book Details

  • Publisher : Karnac Books
  • Published : July 2020
  • Cover : Paperback
  • Pages : 192
  • Category :
  • Catalogue No : 95047
  • ISBN 13 : 9781912691739
  • ISBN 10 : 1912691736
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Emotion is an integral aspect of musical experience; music has the power to take us on an emotional and intellectual journey, transforming the listener along the way. The aim of this book is to examine the nature of this journey, using a variety of perspectives. No one discipline can do justice to music’s complexity if one is to have a sense of the whole musical experience, even if one has to break up the whole experience into various elements for the purposes of clarification.

The issues raised have some relationship to psychoanalytic understanding and listening, as after all psychoanalysis is a listening discipline; its bedrock is listening to the patient’s communications. While of course there are significant differences between understanding of, and listening to, a musical performance and a patient in a consulting room, the book explores common ground.

Evidence from neuroscience indicates that music acts on a number of different brain sites, and that the brain is likely to be hard-wired for musical perception and appreciation, and this offers some kind of neurological substrate for musical experiences, or a parallel mode of explanation for music’s multiple effects on individuals and groups.

After various excursions into early mother/baby experiences, evolutionary speculations, and neuroscientific findings, the book’s main emphasis is that it is the intensity of the artistic vision which is responsible for music’s power. That intense vision invites the viewer or the listener into the orbit of the work, engaging us to respond to the particular vision in an essentially intersubjective relationship between the work and the observer or listener. This is the area of what we might call the human soul. Music can be described as having soul when it hits the emotional core of the listener. And, of course, there is ‘soul music’, whose basic rhythms reach deep into the body to create a powerful feeling of aliveness. One can truly say that music of all the arts is most able to give shape to the elusive human subject or soul.

Reviews and Endorsements

The power that music exerts on human beings has been recognised since ancient times, but how and why it does so remains something of a mystery. As a psychoanalyst and music-lover, Roger Kennedy is well placed to undertake an examination of the effects of music on the mind and the relation of music to the unconscious. This book offers an accessible and engaged exploration of this fascinating area of investigation.
Armand D’Angour, Fellow and Tutor in Classics, Jesus College, Oxford

The book betrays the enormously wide reading, interests, and sympathies of its author, by his multiple points of reference. Roger Kennedy discusses in-depth ideas from composers, psychoanalysts, performers, philosophers, literary authors, and musicologists. Seeing music in the round may be the most important feature of this deeply original book. His literary style combines scholarship and clarity. As you would expect from a psychoanalyst, he is particularly interested in relationships: the relationships within composers’ minds that have brought compositions into being, relationships between performers, critics and music lovers, relationships within pieces, between the notes themselves. I highly recommend this book.
Francis Grier, composer and psychoanalyst

Roger Kennedy’s The Power of Music: Psychoanalytic Explorations is a masterful multidisciplinary account of the relationship between music and emotion. Drawing on infant research, neuroscience, and evolutionary theory as well as musicology and psychoanalysis, Kennedy leads his reader on a musical journey to the origins of musicality in infantile and social experience and its lifelong development in unconscious receptivity.
Neil Vickers, Professor of English Literature and the Health Humanities, King’s College London

I found it fascinating throughout, and drew comfort from an underpinning narrative that seems to centre on the importance of listening. An inability to listen, rather than to simply hear, causes so many problems, but music forces us to listen, and makes us better at it. I also loved the notion of ‘musicking’, bringing all involved in music together, whether writing, listening, or playing.
Mark Wigglesworth, internationally renowned Olivier Award-winning conductor

‘His book is researched in a scholarly way while remaining easily readable, and it provides a wealth of fascinating information from a variety of fields and perspectives. I would recommend it to all those who, like myself, feel passionate about music and are keen to understand why, in its multifarious forms, it should play such a powerful role in so many of our lives.’
Andrea Sabbadini, Fellow, British Psychoanalytical Society, British Journal of Psychotherapy

‘Kennedy dips with ease into research from neuroscience, musicology and social theory, and reminds us that in both music and psychoanalysis much of the work is done in the unconscious.’
Helen Whitaker, Psychodynamic therapist and professional musician, Sussex Counselling & Psychotherapy News (SCAP), Spring 2021

‘The author invites readers to re-evaluate their current beliefs about music in therapy, as he presents a compelling argument that musicality acts as the basis of all human communication’ […] Accessible to therapists from all modalities […] The power of music is a well-considered and thoroughly researched study of a topic that might sit outside the everyday awareness of most therapists. The book gave me the opportunity to reflect on my practice from a totally new angle. I now notice the timbre and pitch of my patients’ voices, revealing a new pathway to the unconscious’
Aiden Duffy, applied psychologist and BACP registered therapist – BACP Healthcare Counselling and Psychotherapy Journal April 2021

‘Kennedy guides us on a fascinating journey through child development, neuroscience, musicology and psychoanalysis. […] This book will be of particular interest to practitioners with a love of music and a curiosity about its power to touch our deepest feelings yet elude explanation.’
Omar Sattaur MBACP (Accred) – Therapy Today, April 2021

'Overall, it is a very readable book that is interesting and enriching for not only music lovers and psychoanalysts. He takes the reader on a journey to explore the nature of the musical experience from a psychoanalytic perspective, which is informative and rewarding. Although there is already some recent literature on the subject, Kennedy's work is characterized by its comprehensive and compact way of juxtaposing and relating the results of empirical studies, history, and psychoanalytic knowledge. The diversity of the literature, which he places in interesting contexts, is impressive. In this way, he makes an important contribution to understanding the phenomenon of the power of music.'

Ingrid Erhardt, clinical psychologist, psychotherapist, music therapist, and psychoanalyst, International Forum of Psychoanalysis, Jan 2024

Table of Contents

About the author


Early musical experience as a root of music’s power

Origins of music’s power

Music and emotion, first movement

Music and emotion, second movement

Finale – Musical and Psychoanalytic Connections


About the Author(s)

Roger Kennedy is a psychoanalyst in private practice, a training analyst and President of the British Psychoanalytical Society. He is Consultant Psychiatrist at the Family Unit, Cassel Hospital, and author of nine previous books, including Psychotherapists as Expert Witnesses (2005), and The Many Voices of Psychoanalysis (2007). He is also a published poet.

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