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Psychoanalysis On and Off the Couch

Apr 2, 2023

"Some of the shared concepts - even words that psychoanalysis and musicians use - such as conflict, ambiguity, silences, dissonance, resolution or not, working through, is in the Mozart you've heard. What you hear in the very opening four measures was worked through this entire sonata, it was thematic. If we play the whole sonata, and even in the first movement, you get a taste of it. Those themes are present throughout the sonata just like in the patient’s associations and interactions with you -  we have music themes and we have core conflicts, and they get developed.” 


Episode Description: We begin by listening to the opening of Mozart's A minor sonata, performed by Professor Louis Nagel. Mozart wrote this during the time of his mother's death, and it was one of the very few instances of his utilizing a minor key. From that example, we explore the interface between the dynamic mind and the layering of classical music. Concepts of core conflict, displacement, and resolution represent important meanings in both fields. Julie shares clinical examples of how music enters her clinical space with her patients. She also shares with us her life story and how music played a central role in helping her negotiate tumultuous personal circumstances. She demonstrates what it means to be an ambassador for both music and psychoanalysis -  on and off  the couch.


Our Guest: Julie Jaffee Nagel, PhD is a psychologist, psychoanalyst, and musician. She graduated from The Juilliard School, the University of Michigan, and The Michigan Psychoanalytic Institute. She has presented widely on Stage Fright, Careers in the Arts, #Me Too and Music Education, The Value of Music in Mental Life, and “Injustice, Oppression, and Prejudice As ‘Heard’” in Music.” Her fantasy dialogue, A Conversation Between Mozart and Freud, was performed in Steinway Hall, NYC, in February 2020. She is the author of Managing Stage Fright and Melodies of the Mind.


She has served as chair of the American Psychoanalytic Association’s discussion group Psychoanalytic Perspectives on Music, was a member of the Program Committee, Symposium Committee, and is currently Chair of the Ticho Award Committee. She has presented at The College Music Society, Music Teachers National Conference, and National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy, from whom she received their Distinguished Service Award. Additional Awards include two Nathan Segal Awards (MPI), The Karl Menninger Award, and the Ernst and Gertrude Ticho Award for contribution to psychoanalysis and music.


Her latest book, Career Choices in Music Beyond the Pandemic: Musical and Psychoanalytic Perspectives, offers unique musical and psychological perspectives on one of the most important decisions made in a musician’s (or anyone’s) lifetime: choosing a career.


She is in private practice in Dexter, Michigan.


Louis Nagel is Professor Emeritus of Piano at The University of Michigan School of Music Theatre and Dance and the winner of the Harold Haugh Award for Excellence in Teaching at The University of Michigan

Recommended Readings:


Anderson, E. (1966) The Letters of Mozart and His Family (Second Ed. in two volumes, completed by A. Hyatt King and Monica Carolan). London, Melbourne, Toronto: Macmillan and New New York: St. Martin's Press.

Barale, F. and Minazzi, V. 2008. Off the Beaten Track: Freud, Sound, and Music; Statement of a Problem and Some Historico-critical Notes, 89(5), October: 937-57.

Cheshire, N.M. (1996) The Empire of the Ear: Freud’s Problem with Music. Int. Journal of Psychoanalysis.77: 1177-78.

Feder, S. 1993. “Promissory Notes”: Method in Music and Applied Psychoanalysis, in S. Feder, R.L. Karmel, and GJ. Pollock (eds). Psychoanalytic Explorations in Music. Madison, CT. : International Universities Press. 3-19.

Feder, S., Karmel, and GJ. Pollock (eds) 1990 and 1993. Psychoanalytic Explorations in Music.( Vols. 1 and 2) Madison, CT. : International Universities Press

Freud, S. (1914a). The Moses of Michelangelo. S.E.. XIII: 211-36.

Lipson.C. (2006) The Meanings and Functions of Music that Comes into One’s Head. Psychoanalytic Quarterly. 75 (3) 859-78.



McDonald, M. (1970). Transitional Tunes and Music Development. The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child. 25: 503-20.

Nagel, J.J. 2013. Melodies of the Mind. Routledge, London and New York.

Nagel, J.J. 2017 Managing Stage Fright: A Guide for Musicians and Music Teachers. Oxford University Press.

Nagel, J.J. 2022. Beyond the Consulting Room: How I Discovered “Heard” Immunity Through Music and Psychoanalytic Knowledge. The American Psychoanalyst.

Nagel, JJ. (2023) Career Choices in Music Beyond the Pandemic: Musical and Psychological Perspectives. Rowman and Littlefield. Lanham, Maryland.

Nagel, J.J. (2018) Music. Ch. 32. A Conversation Between Mozart and Freud. In Textbook of Applied Psychoanalysis, (Akhtar, S., and Twemlow, S. Eds.) London and New York. Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2019. ( This Conversation was revised and performed at Steinway Hall, in New York City on February 13, 2020.)

Noy, P. 1966-1967 a,b,c,d The Psychodynamics of Music. Journal of Music Therapy, 3(4) :126- 34, 4(1);7-23,4 (2);45-51, 4(3);81-94, 4(4);117-25.

Polisi, J. 2005. The Artist as Citizen, New York. Amadeus Press

Ross, A. (2007) The Rest is Noise. New York. Farrar, Straus, and Giraux



Waltz from Gounod’s Faust (Liszt-Gounod-Nagel transcription) - Louis Nagel, Piano - live performance


Variations on a Theme of Beethoven for 2 Pianos, Op. 35 , Camille St. Saens- Julie and Louis Nagel - live performance