Singing Death : Reflections on Music and Mortality book cover
1st Edition

Singing Death
Reflections on Music and Mortality

ISBN 9780367231507
Published February 7, 2019 by Routledge
228 Pages 13 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

Death is an unanswerable question for humanity, the question that always remains unanswered because it lies beyond human experience. Music represents one of the most profound ways in which humanity struggles, nevertheless, to accommodate death within the scope of the living by giving a voice to death and the dead and a voice that responds. This book engages with the question of how music expresses and responds to the profound existential disturbance that death and loss present to the living. Each chapter offers readers an encounter with music as a way of speaking or responding to human mortality. Each chapter, in its own way, addresses these questions: How are death and the dead made present to us through music? How does music, as composed, performed and heard, respond to the brute fact of death for the living, the dying and the bereaved? These questions are addressed from a wide range of disciplinary perspectives: musicology, ethnomusicology, literature, history, philosophy, film studies, psychology and psychoanalysis. Singing Death also covers a wide range of musical genres from medieval love song to twenty-first-century horror film music. The collection is accompanied by a website including some of the music associated with each of its chapters.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Music for the Dead and the Living Helen Dell

Part One: Going home
Chapter 1: Into the Profound Deep: Pulled by a Song Samuel Curkpatrick
Chapter 2: ‘Farewell Vain World, I’m Going Home’: Negotiating Death in the Sacred Harp Tradition Frances Miller
Chapter 3: Crossing Over, Returning Home: Expressions of Death as a Place in George Crumb’s River of Life Abigail Shupe

Part Two: ‘Lest we forget’: music, history and myth
Chapter 4: Public Mourning, The Nation, and Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings Kip Pegley
Chapter 5: Swinging in Heaven, Boppin’ in Hell: Jazz and Death Walter van de Leur
Chapter 6: ‘Sad and Solemn Requiems’: Disaster Songs and Complicated Grief in the Aftermath of Nova Scotia Mining Disasters Heather Sparling

Part Three: Approaching by turning away: metaphorical death
Chapter 7: Moving between worlds: Death, the otherworld and traditional Irish song Mary McLaughlin
Chapter 8: Dying for Love in trouvère song Helen Dell

Part Four: The restless dead
Chapter 9: To the Tune of "Queen Dido": The Spectropoetics of Early Modern English Balladry Lindsay Ann Reid
Chapter 10: ‘Break on through to the other side’: Songs of Death in Supernatural Horror Films Penny Spirou and Natalie Lewandowski
Chapter 11: ‘And the Stars Spell out Your Name’: The Funeral Music of Diana, Princess of Wales Helen M. Hickey
Chapter 12: Barthes’s Orphic Quest: music and mourning in Camera Lucida Henriette Korthals Altes

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Helen Dell is a Research Fellow in the School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne. Her main area of research is medieval song. Her PhD thesis was published by Boydell & Brewer in 2008 as Desire by Gender and Genre in Trouvère Song. A recent focus has been the nexus between music and death. Recent publications include ‘Music Medievalism and the Harmony of the Spheres’, Cambridge Companion to Medievalism, 2016; ‘Haunting Music: Hearing the Voices of the Dead’, Music and Mourning, Routledge, 2016, and ‘The Medieval Voice’, Since Lacan: Papers of the Freudian School of Melbourne, 25, Karnac, 2016.


Helen M. Hickey is a researcher with the Australian Research Council Centre for the History of Emotions and the School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne. Her research encompasses medieval poetics, histories of early medicine, and material culture. She has publications on the inquisitions of insanity in medieval poetry, medical diagnosis in early modern England, and grass-roots medievalism in the Labor movement in Australian culture. Recent European research has focused on the cult of the relic of La sainte larme (the Holy Tear) in France and ophthalmological miracles. She is a member of the International Health Humanities Network.