It seems that music has always been a controversial topic. From the halls of Athens to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, music has been seen by some as art, and by others as a threat. But few arguments have lasted as one in particular, a claim that has been used for centuries to strike fear in the hearts of good people and to hold back progress in a field that has given us so much beauty. Some music, it seems, belongs to the devil.
Episode 177 of the Lore podcast, “Strings,” draws the listener in right from the opening moment, as host Aaron Mahnke references a secret code embedded in Plato’s writing (every twelfth line has a reference to music). From there, Mahnke goes on to discuss the role music played in the witchcraft panic of centuries past (a time when the phrase “dance with the devil” had an ominous significance). The curious careers of Giuseppe Tartini and Niccolo Paganini, a pair of Italian violinists alleged to have experienced a fiendish influence, are considered. Appropriately enough (although this reviewer wishes Mahnke had ended by delving into the Satanic Panic surrounding 80’s heavy metal), the episode concludes with the story of the legendary Robert Johnson, whose meteoric rise to blues guitar mastery conveyed quite a whiff of brimstone. Fans might be wary about playing this devil-dealing episode backwards, but I’m betting that they won’t hesitate to listen to such a finely haunting arrangement more than once.