History of Urology Forum
Presentation Authors: Jubin Matloubieh*, Ronald Rabinowitz, Rochester, NY
Introduction: Marin Marais was the favorite viol player of the Sun King, Louis XIV at Versailles, and an early composer of music depicting a scene (program music). His 1725 Portrait of the Bladder Stone Operation, a procedure he either underwent or witnessed, is a notable example of program music. This paper unravels the musical devices Marais uses to reveal details of this secretive operation.
Methods: A literature review and musical analysis of Le Tableau de l’Opération de la Taille (Portrait of the Bladder Stone Operation) was performed.
Results: The work begins in E minor, an anguished key. The opening, marked “the appearance of the operating table,” moves to a tense, unresolved “cry.” The protagonist starts “trembling at its sight,” depicted with tremulous notes. With a flourish, the protagonist feels “determination when mounting,” but becomes meek while “climbing in.” The section ends with a bare chord evoking a prayer.
Next, there is a “descent into the apparatus” followed by a musical pause, where the protagonist has “serious reflections”. The surgeon “knots silk restraints” as the music twists and turns. “The incision is made,” and the protagonist yelps. Tension builds while “the forceps are introduced.” The trembling motif returns as “the stone is drawn.” Finally, the protagonist reaches the height of pain and screams, and “the voice falters.”
“Blood flows” quickly, then slowly, as the music descends, softens, and slows. While mulling in pain, “the silks are unknotted,” and the music unwinds to the home key. The protagonist is “taken to bed” with the music showing the transfer from the apparatus to a bed. Ultimately, the protagonist is left alone in misery with another prayer-like bare chord.
Frère Jacques, who treated members of Louis XIV’s family, was likely the lithotomist depicted here. His method involved the “major apparatus,” on which the surgery was performed. Marais’ Portrait depicts the mounting of this apparatus followed by tying of silks to keep the patient still during the lithotomy. This operation probably took place without anesthesia, as there is no mention of an analgesic. Frère Jacques died in 1720, so Marais probably gained firsthand knowledge of this operation during the last years of Frère Jacques’ life, when he was finally performing successful lithotomies, as described in the Portrait.
Conclusions: Marais’ Portrait of the Bladder Stone Operation is striking not only because it is an early example of program music, but also because it reveals details of a secretive 18th century lithotomy. The modern listener is left to mull the macabre scene that unfolds, grateful that modern anesthesia exists.
Source of Funding: None