The Glass Piano is a wonderful BBC Radio 3 programme about Princess Alexandra of Bavaria who thought she had swallowed a glass piano.
The programme was created by writer and poet Deborah Levy who “considers the true story of Princess Alexandra Amelie of Bavaria, 1826-1875 who at the age of 23 was observed awkwardly walking sideways down the corridors of her family palace. When questioned by her worried royal parents, she announced that she had swallowed a grand glass piano.”
As we’ve discussed previously, glass delusions were quite regularly reported by physicians in the 19th century but are now seemingly extinct in a curious cultural shift in madness.
People who experienced the delusion believed that their body was entirely, or in part, made of glass
The Glass Piano is a curious blend between a drama and documentary that recounts the case of Princess Alexandra and explores the history of this curious conviction.
It has some fantastic insights from historian of psychiatry Erin Sullivan, a trauma specialist, and rather more unpredictably from psychoanalyst Susie Orbach who makes some genuinely insightful comments while at other times sounding like she’s been smoking a glass pipe:
“Certainly she would not have walked like a princess because in order to bear a piano inside of her she would have had to had her legs quite far apart. We want to think Freud because its that moment in history where Freud discovers that we’re all sexual beings. So you could say that her legs are far apart for that reason.”
You could indeed.
I have to say, however, that these somewhat whimsical comments are actually in the spirit of the piece, which mixes conjecture with solid historical research, original musical and drama.
Unfortunately, the audio for the piece was only available for a week but an mp3 of the programme has mysteriously found its way online which you can get here.