Reviews Art

The unkindest cut: emasculated musicians

BMJ 2006; 332 doi: (Published 20 April 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:980
  1. Colin Martin, independent consultant in healthcare communication (
  1. London

    Although we are now circumspect about even circumcising infant boys, many thousands of prepubes-cent choristers were castrated during the 17th and 18th centuries to prevent their larynxes enlarging and preserve their soprano or contralto vocal ranges, supported by adult male lung capacities. The testes of boys as young as eight were removed by scrotal incision or resection, without antiseptic and with minimal anaesthesia provided by alcohol, opium, or carotid artery compression. It is estimated that only 1 in 200 of those who survived the operation, and endured the eight year vocal training period for …

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