(Roughly) Daily

“We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it”…

 

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The human body is a miraculous piece of machinery. Try as they might, scientists can’t always seem to understand its power — and susceptibility — to the strangest situations throughout history. What happens when a meteorite causes a mental health calamity? Or a laughing epidemic? From ye old French dancing fits [evoked above], to an entire village of ‘sleeping beauties’, the lesson we’ve learned from the majority of these epidemics is this: viruses are terrifying, but the mind is the most dangerous thing of all…

A curious (and captivating) collection of collective compulsion: “The Unexplained Dancing Plague & Other Epidemics of Yore.”

* Charles Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

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As we muse on madness, we might spare a thought for Ernst Theodor Amadeus (“E.T.A.”) Hoffmann; he died on this date in 1822.  A key figure in the German Romantic period, Hoffmann was an author of fantasy and horror– a phantasist and proto-surrealist– a jurist, composer, music critic, draftsman and caricaturist.  While some of his compositions survive in the canon, he is probably better remembered for his stories: they form the basis of Jacques Offenbach’s opera The Tales of Hoffmann, in which Hoffmann appears (heavily fictionalized) as the hero. He is also the author of the novella The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, on which the famous ballet The Nutcracker is based.  The ballet Coppélia is based on two other stories that Hoffmann wrote, while Schumann’s Kreisleriana is based on Hoffmann’s character Johannes Kreisler.

Hoffmann also influenced 19th century musical opinion through his music criticism. His reviews of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67 (1808) and other important works set new literary standards for writing about music, and encouraged later writers to consider music as “the most Romantic of all the arts.”

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Written by LW

June 25, 2018 at 1:01 am

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