Le livre des mélancolies (1999)

Jean Lesage

string quartet, and clarinet

Commission: SMCQ


  • 1. I
  • 2. II
  • 3. III

Program Notes

Each of the four Hippocratic constitutions — phlegmatic, choleric, melancholic and sanguine — possessed an astral correspondence. Melancholy was paired with Saturn, a wretched planet according to common belief, and whose influence would bind a person to the ground and have a paralyzing effect. Medieval theologians tried to explain any suspicious behavior as a result of melancholy. They professed that a state of melancholy would predispose a person to the undertakings of the devil: “Melancholia balneum diaboli.” Both the daydreams of melancholy and the despondency of such were outposts of Hell. The Faust legend proves it. In an attempt to avoid any mythical or religious interpretation, the physician-philosophers of the Renaissance tried to link mind disorders to natural causes. Hence an excess of black bile in the body (mela: black; khôle: bile, in ancient Greek) explained why a person was fearful, sad or delirious more conveniently than the grip of ancient demons, or the night’s mysterious influence. However, many poets still gave Satan the seductive look of melancholy. Others associated it to some female figure, such as Mère Ancolie (Mother Ancolie). According to some psychiatric theories, melancholy should essentially be understood as a modification occurring in the structure of temporal objectivity… A definition of music?