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date: 28 October 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This essay recovers an extended moment in Enlightenment melancholy, opening with the tenacious hold of the four temperaments and the belief that an excess of “black bile” might foster creativity or genius, a heightened sense of time and memory, even a propensity for the sublime. This melancholy temperament was turned into a musical subject by C. P. E. Bach. The literary and psychological stances embodied in the “joy of grief” were abetted by newer medical theories of nerve contractions, and a greater focus on individual sensibility found Bach expressing his own experience of saying goodbye; his Farewell to My Silbermann Clavier connects the complexities of the harmonic labyrinth to the figure of the labyrinth as a poetic emblem of melancholy embodying the paradox of enclosure and wandering. Beethoven’s La Malinconia may be seen as the unique successor to both historical strands: it creates a vivid musical labyrinth with a neurally inflected thread, and suggests a link to Scarpa’s recent anatomical discoveries about the human ear.

Keywords: melancholy, temperament, labyrinth, sensibility, C. P. E. Bach, Beethoven, anatomy, ear

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