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Saturday morning quotes 8.40: Dr. John Case

April 16, 2022

Dr. John Case (c. 1539 – 1600) was a very active Elizabethan scholar whose works included Summa veterum interpretum in universam dialecticam Aristotelis (1584), Speculum moralium quaestionium in universam ethicen Aristotelis (1585), and Sphaera Civitatis, a commentary on Aristotle’s Politics, published in 1588. Largely responsible for the late sixteenth-century English fascination with Aristotelian philosophy, Case enjoyed a sterling reputation as an engaging teacher who encouraged critical thinking. Among modern scholars of Elizabethan music, Case is known for the anonymous but fairly securely attributed Apologia musices tam vocalis quam instrumentalis, et mixtæ, which argued in defense of music in worship at a time when Puritanism was steamrolling across the Continent and gaining a strong foothold in the British Isles.

In Apologia musices, Dr. Case makes a “case” for the value of instrumental music, in ecclesiastical settings but also in civic life and in the theater, mentioning some of the preeminent musicians of the time (1588) with a list that includes the twenty-five year old John Dowland:

“…And what cause is there now, why we should not mention, with their just praise, these still surviving men, Bird, Munday, Bull, Morley, Dowland, Johnson, and others (today very many) highly skilled upon instruments?”

– John Case, Apologia musices, p. 44.

Dowland returned the favor of mention by dedicating a pavan for solo lute to Dr. Case, a piece that occupies pride of place appearing in the very first pages of the revered Mathew Holmes lute manuscripts now in the Cambridge University Library.

As the title of his 1588 work indicates, Case describes three kinds of music; vocal, instrumental and mixed (vocal and instrumental), to which he ascribed a singular power to affect the passions.

“In the practise of music there is a salutary activity of the lungs, which generates generous spirit and heat in the inward parts, digests the thick humours with which youth abounds, and purges all the vapours and clouds flowing from the head or in flux. And finally, it has an innate power to moderate the affects, for…it penetrates through the air and the ear right into the mind, and holds it marvellously beneath its sway and its power.”

– John Case, Apologia musices, p. 52.

Today, we readily dismiss the power of music and its effects on our emotions, instead treating music as a consumer product while enabling the marketing industry unchecked power to use music in ways that influence mass behavior. Elizabethans knew very well the power of music, and to them it was held in high esteem as a science. Today, we are told to trust science while those in the know use science to numb the public’s mind and pick their pocket. But it is possible to gain an understanding of historical practice and thought to illuminate our lives today, although access to untainted historical information is increasingly fraught.

“Case’s tantalisingly brief statements on the ecstatics of music give some insight into the extent sixteenth-century hearers hoped – perhaps even demanded – to be moved by the music they heard. Yet Case was careful to point out that the delight we take in music should not merely be aesthetic; rather, it should move us to contemplate virtue and act accordingly. He explains that just as images (phantasmata) are impressed on the secret powers of the mind (animus) by the other senses, likewise music is transferred from the hearing to the intellect, and from the intellect to the will. An ethically positive message that reaches us by means of music thus has the capability of making us just, wise and blessed.”

Grantley McDonald, “Music, Spirit and Ecclesiastical Politics in Elizabethan England: John Case and his Apologia Musices,” in Steffen Schneider (Editor), Aisthetics of the Spirits: Spirits in Early Modern Science, Religion, Literature and Music, V&R unipress, GmbH, 2015, p. 481.

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One Comment
  1. Claire Andrus permalink

    Excellent message for the day. Dr. Case. Thanks! And Happy Easter.

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