Date Published: August 2014
Certain musical modes, tones, and instruments have been used to represent evil for centuries. From the torturous musical instruments depicted in Hieronymus Bosch's famous "Garden of Earthly Delights" to the dark tones that announce the presence of Darth Vader in the Star Wars films, from the cantatas of Bach and the operas of Mozart to heavy metal, music has been used to represent a gallery of rogues and demons including the devil himself. But can music do more than suggest the presence of evil? Can certain music actually embody evil? Since antiquity many have thought so. And this belief combined with religious and philosophical concepts drawn from Eastern cultures has influenced the direction of Western culture, its mythology, cosmology, theology, and politics, and consequently the structure of Western society itself. This book recounts the history of demonic music and its extraordinary influence on Western culture.
Like other distinctive cultures, Western culture has long struggled against its own particular demons. Especially during the period from the Dark Ages through the Renaissance, Europeans viewed this struggle literally as a battle with the Devil and his cohorts for the souls of humanity. By the eighteenth century, however, many Western thinkers had come to view the dark forces that their ancestors so feared and struggled against as essentially a product of destructive beliefs, social institutions, and practices. They disputed philosophies that promoted absolute rule, a rigid class system, impoverishment of the vast majority, and extreme judicial inequality; and they disputed the idea that a rigidly structured human hierarchy was justified as part of a divinely ordained order. This challenge to traditional authority reached a culmination during the eighteenth century Enlightenment and helped precipitate the revolutions that followed. It brought with it eventual change to societal institutions and, among other things, put a formal end in the West to one of the world’s great evils: slavery.
Much of what occurred is well-documented. What has been largely overlooked is the sizable role that Western music and the affective theories that helped shape it have played in this history. This book recounts the dark side of that extraordinary and often surprising influence on Western culture and history.