Intended for healthcare professionals

Views & Reviews Review

Music and the art of being human

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 08 December 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c6965
  1. John A Mathews, emeritus consultant, musicians’ clinic, Department of Rheumatology, St Thomas’ Hospital, London
  1. jamathews{at}

The “neurology of music” has long been a mutual interest of doctors and musicians. John Mathews is impressed by a book that takes what we know about music and the brain to a new level

Music and medicine have an association as long as recorded history. In the past few decades clinical research and a revolution in brain scanning techniques have enabled neurology and psychology to break through the previous boundaries of knowledge. The time is ripe for a modern, all encompassing, and challenging text on this subject.

Retirement takes several forms. My NHS post in rheumatology ended a decade ago, allowing more time for playing music, listening, attending courses on music history and theory, and also seeing musicians with their rheumatological problems. The twice monthly musicians’ clinic at St Thomas’ Hospital attracted hundreds of players—with their instruments (and was also popular with the BBC television documentary City Hospital). Retirement also provided time for me to do clinics for the British army in Germany and, serendipitously, to visit the prestigious Institute for Music Physiology and Musicians’ Medicine in Hanover.

Until the 1990s virtually my only book on this topic was Music and the Brain: Studies in the Neurology of Music, coedited by R A Henson and Macdonald Critchley and published in 1977.1 This book’s 24 chapters emanated from the Danube symposium, a meeting in Vienna in 1972 on the topic “neurology of music”—“the first occasion when the subject had been submitted to serious discussion.” I had thought, perhaps wrongly, that this kind of book was directed at specialists, and by the time I had taken the reviewers’ advice to heart to read it it was out of print, hence my gratitude to Dr Henson, who posted me a spare copy in 1993. This volume prompted Lord Platt to …

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