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Music in the Flesh

An Early Modern Musical Physiology

A corporeal history of music-making in early modern Europe.

Music in the Flesh reimagines the lived experiences of music-making subjects—composers, performers, listeners—in the long seventeenth century. There are countless historical testimonies of the powerful effects of music upon the early modern body; it is described as moving, ravishing, painful, dangerous, curative, and miraculous while affecting “the circulation of the humors, the purification of the blood, the dilation of the vessels and pores.”

How were these early modern European bodies constituted that music generated such potent bodily-spiritual effects? Bettina Varwig argues that early modern music-making practices challenge our modern understanding of human nature as a mind-body dichotomy. Instead, they persistently affirm a more integrated anthropology, in which body, soul, and spirit remain inextricably entangled. Moving with ease across repertories and regions, sacred and vernacular musics, and domestic and public settings, Varwig sketches a “musical physiology” that is as historically illuminating as it is relevant for present-day performance. This book makes a significant contribution not just to the history of music, but also to the history of the body, the senses, and the emotions, revealing music as a unique access point for reimagining early modern modes of being-in-the-world.

360 pages | 20 halftones, 23 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2023

New Material Histories of Music

Music: General Music


“Varwig’s ambitious, highly original, beautifully crafted book dares to attempt a thorough and thoroughly believable phenomenological account of how humans in the long seventeenth century were likely to have experienced and understood music with their bodies as well as with their minds. Music in the Flesh is rich with implications for how we as a culture acquired and reified certain musical values. It is nothing less than a primer in a completely new way of thinking about scores, verbal descriptions of musical performances, and performances both live and recorded.”

Suzanne Cusick, New York University

“Varwig’s brilliant book brings to life—almost literally—the wonderfully vivid writing of early modern theorists on the entanglement of music with the ‘ensouled bodies’ of its listeners and makers. The result is a gripping account of an astonishing body of historical writing that has prescient connections with twenty-first-century thinking about music and the embodied mind, and which urges its readers to experience the music of that period in richly transformed ways. This is a book that will have wide appeal from historical musicology to the psychology and neuroscience of music and will inform and influence those fields for many years to come.”

Eric F. Clarke, University of Oxford

Music in the Flesh helps us understand how the music of the so-called Baroque is as much of the body as of the mind. With a detailed consideration of how contemporary performers and listeners might have felt during a performance, we gain insights that have totally eluded most commentators on the era. This study will become mandatory reading for any scholars interested in the different stages of the relationship between music and the emerging modern world. It will help us to sense new ways in which this music can resonate with our embodied disposition in live experience today.”

John Butt, University of Glasgow

Table of Contents

List of Figures
List of Musical Examples
A Note on Musical Examples and Translations

Part I: Embodiment
1. Words
2. Affektenlehre
3. Melisma
4. Quemadmodum desiderat cervus
5. Representation
6. Music
7. Bodies
8. Flow
9. Sound
10. Voices
11. Fili mi, Absalon

Part II: Inspiration
12. Spirit
13. Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben
14. Hearing
15. Attention
16 Affections
17. Lament
18. Pulse
19. Contagion
20. Memory
21. Partien auf das Clavier

Part III: Animation
22. Souls
23. Liquefaction
24. Softness
25. Liebe, sag, was fängst Du an?
26. Hearts
27. Chills
28. Pain
29. Beastliness
30. Mensa sonora

Primary Sources: Biographical Register and Works Cited
Secondary Sources: Works Cited

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