A Sixteenth-Century Warning to Students of Music

Why do serious students of music often go mad?’

This is the question posed by Elizabethan academic, John Case, in his Apologia Musices tam Vocalis Quam Instrumentalis et Mixtae (1558). (quotations are from Dana Sutton‘s online translation and edition)Medieval-university

One wonders if Case was speaking from experience: he had been a chorister at New College and Christ Church before becoming a scholar and then a Fellow at St John’s college (all in Oxford). He continued to teach for St John’s even after resigning his fellowship in order to marry. Among his colleagues at St John’s was Matthew Gwinne who was appointed to read lectures in music in 1582 (though he was allowed to discontinue these on the grounds that music ‘if not useless is little practised’ (Carpenter, p.156)). Case also practised medicine, although he did not yet have his medical degree by this date. His response to the question of musical study and madness merges his musical and medical knowledge.

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