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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

We're all mad here: Rachmaninoff and Hypnotherapy

Rachmaninoff fell into a deep depression after the disastrous debut of his First Symphony in 1897, and underwent hypnotherapy as a result. He reportedly produced his Piano Concerto No. 2 through the help of regular sessions. The composer himself stated: “… I heard the same hypnotic formula repeated day after day while I lay half asleep in an armchair in [Dr. Nikolai Dahl]’s study. ‘You will begin to write your concerto. … You will work with great facility. … The concerto will be of excellent quality.’ I felt that Dahl’s treatment had strengthened my nervous system to a miraculous degree. Out of gratitude I dedicated my Second Concerto to him.” (source: Philadelphia Orchestra)
I used to believe that hypnosis was in fact, not an altered state of consciousness, but one in which one finds one's own expectations and the expectations of others vastly altered, so that you believe in yourself. I saw it as a kind of extreme placebo effect. And, as a fervent believer in the power of belief (naturally), I was satisfied with that.

But, I'm beginning to believe in the wonders of hypnosis as going behind the mind, or perhaps more aptly stated, having physical influences (mind to body), as Rachmaninoff remarks, "strengthened my nervous system to a miraculous degree". All this is more compelling by the accepted use of self-hypnosis to allow women to undergo natural childbirth with minimal pain, as one example. I'm starting to wonder, where do we draw the line between mind and body? (Related post: Body and Soul)

Interestingly though, Rachmaninoff's statement reminds me of the power of religion, which is itself the power of belief manifested in a different form--"had strengthened me... to a miraculous degree...out of gratitude I dedicated my Second Concerto to him." I'm a bit of a skeptic of hypnosis and religion, yet I have a respectful sense of awe toward both.

Just a thought. Also another thought--Rach 2 is mad. It's so often associated with madness. In Rachmaninoff's case, it's a journey out of the madness of depression. For the case of the schizoaffect-ed pianist, David Helfgott, it's said to be the piece that brought "madness" upon him. It's mad in so many ways and we love it in so many ways.

Well, I guess for us musicians, scientists, skeptics--"We're all mad here."


  1. i've always loved/wanted to play this piece...perhaps you're right, we're all a little mad inside.
    are we entirely sure the mind and body are two separate entities, and not just two realizations of the same thing? who knows xD

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