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Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Rhetoric and Music

  I was driving to and from the California desert yesterday and thinking a whole lot about the relationship between rhetoric and music.  For if it is often stated that "music is a language," then surely the discipline of rhetoric applies, since rhetoric involves the understanding of language and its impact on the Audience. This being 2013 I was able to find an article online covering that very topic, and one of the co-authors may actually be someone I know- an attorney in San Diego who left to become a philosophy professor- also a musician/vinyl fan etc.  There will be additional posts on this subject.

From Rhetoric and Music by BLAKE WILSON (I, 1), GEORGE J. BUELOW (I, 2–4), PETER A. HOYT (II)

Interrelationships between music and the spoken arts – artes dicendi (grammar, rhetoric, dialectic) – are at once obvious and unclear. Until fairly late in the history of Western civilization, music was predominantly vocal and thus bound to words. Composers have therefore generally been influenced to some degree by rhetorical doctrines governing the setting of texts to music, and even after the growth of independent instrumental music, rhetorical principles continued for some time to be used not only for vocal music but for instrumental works too. What still remains to be fully explained is how these critical interrelationships often controlled the craft of composition. These developments are unclear partly because modern musicians and scholars are untrained in the rhetorical disciplines, which since the beginning of the 19th century have largely disappeared from most educational and philosophical system. It was only in the early 20th century that music historians rediscovered the importance of rhetoric as the basis of aesthetic and theoretical concepts in earlier music. An entire discipline that had once been the common property of every educated man has had to be rediscovered and reconstructed during the intervening decades, and only now is it beginning to be understood how much Western art music has depended on rhetorical concepts.

Selected English Language Bibliography

J. Stevens : Words and Music in the Middle Ages: Song, Narrative, Dance and Drama, 1050–1350 (Cambridge, 1986)
D. Harrán : ‘Elegance as a Concept in Sixteenth-Century Music Criticism’, Renaissance Quarterly, xlii (1988), 413–38
V.K. Agawu : Playing with Signs: a Semiotic Interpretation of Classic Music (Princeton, NJ, 1991)
M.E. Bonds : Wordless Rhetoric: Musical Form and the Metaphor of the Oration (Cambridge, MA, 1991)

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