From the History of Relationship between Music and Rhetoric

Issue #1 • 1006

From the History of Relationship between Music and Rhetoric Rhetoric (from Greek Rhetorike) is oratorical art, and in the broad sense of the word, it is a science that deals with belles-lettres prose. The special significance of rhetoric was determined by its place in the system of arts up until the end of the 17th century. Originally developed with reference to oratorical art, for several centuries it played the role of a kind of generalizing and synthesizing aesthetic theory. Only in the 17th century, Garcian, theoretician of Spanish literary baroque, suggested – and his opinion was widely embraced – that “rhetoric is incapable of covering all art-related phenomena and specificities of aesthetic cognition of the universe” (1, p. 137).

As the scholars of olden days noted, rhetoric is related to logic and dialectics. Aristotle wrote: “Rhetoric is an art that is in conformity with dialectics, since both concern subjects, the knowledge of which can, in a way, be considered an asset of all and sundry, and which do not belong to the domain of any particular science” (2, p. 15).

Among three objectives long since known to be intrinsic to rhetoric – docere, delectore, movere, that is, convince, please, excite – the first one belonged to logic and dialectics. Besides, this objective was achieved in a similar, sometimes identical way – by means of explanation and argumentation, employing syllogism, for example. An orator, however, did not necessarily have to find and assert the truth. No matter how extensively the oratorical art employed the devices of logic and dialectics, much more important here was not a strictly logical argument, but the emotional impact of speech upon people’s emotions. Here the decisive factor is not something in which the orator is trying to convince his audience, but the way he does it. This is where the two other objectives of rhetoric come forth: to excite, to move and to please. People often came to listen to an orator, as they do now to listen to a musician – not to learn anything new as much as to enjoy his art – speech style, creativity in developing a theme, and ability to produce impact upon the emotions of listeners. This is where lay a hidden danger of oratorical art turning into something completely artificial – into “rhetoric” in the negative sense of the word.

Let us now turn to the issue of connection between music and rhetoric. Music has long since been put next to rhetoric. For instance, from ancient times music theory included, along with teaching about music, teaching about the composition of verses and oratorical and stage performance thereof. In the writings of Quintilian we find a characteristic mentioning of “a certain man named Hyperbolos who admitted that he knew nothing about music apart from grammar” (3, p. 55). Later on, it often happened that the same teachers taught music, grammar and rhetoric. Besides, music and rhetoric were among the so-called septem artes liberals – Seven Liberal Arts – a system that from early Middle Ages was mandatory to study in schools. However, according to O. I. Zakharova, up until the 16th century, science did not know of any specific extended links between music and rhetoric. The available materials suggest that until that time the connection between music and rhetoric did not go beyond drawing general, sometimes speculative analogies in the propositions made by some musicians. To a certain extent, the exception was allegory that dominated the entire medieval art – a device that, as is well known, belongs to rhetoric and was described in rhetoric. Still, this kind of connection with rhetoric could not produce any substantial impact on the development of music.

Musical rhetoric proper begins from the 16th century. From that time music- rhetoric connections stop being accidental and go increasingly deeper into musical practice, so that towards the end of the century there evolves a streamlined system of devices, which are described in detail in music theory in their connection to those of rhetoric. The development of music theory was encouraged by aesthetic requirement of humanism with its focus on human and earthly matters. This was primarily manifested in a new treatment of word in music, in the way it reflected the meaning of text and even its individual words, and in the appropriate performance manner that was supposed to convey this meaning to the audience. Things, which not so long ago were considered irrelevant, now become important enough to earn the status of some kind of a formal directive. So, Marcello, the Pope of Rome, whose name is associated in a legend with a famous Palestrina Mass, required that singers understand the meaning of words and perform the music in conformity with the spirit of text – something that was not at all necessary before. And the aforementioned Pope Marcello’s Palestrina Mass “was intended to demonstrate how word… can be realized in music” (4, p. 155).

The influence of rhetoric and similar sciences on music was also facilitated by the overall rise of philology, which, in turn, was encouraged by the interest in antiquity – the cradle of oratorical art. At that same time people become enthusiastic about Greek language; antiquity texts get translated (for instance, Aristotle’s works) and “purified” of medieval distortions. Oratorical art being an integral part of the literary heritage of antiquity becomes the immediate object of study.

In the art of the 17th and the first half of the 18th century changes in the ways of communication made rhetorical influences particularly strong and relevant.

Relationships between the artist (his work) and the addressee (listener, reader, viewer) came close to those between the orator and his public. One can speak about a peculiar rhetorical situation with characteristic prominence of individual, author’s origin opposed to the addressee, the audience, and, at the same time, dependent on them. For instance, B. Vipper remarked: “The 17th century personality… always depends on the environment, on nature, on human mass, to which it wants to show itself, to impress and to convince. This trend of having a desire, on the one hand, to impress the mass, and, on the other, to convince it, is one of the key features in the 17th century art” (5, p. 11).

Strong dependence on the addressee clearly distinguished baroque “individualism” from the expression of personal origin in later periods (take romanticists, for example). The main objective of this “individualism” is to maximize the impact of the addressee, which has little to do with self-expression. Here it is the power of this impact that becomes a kind of measure of the personal origin.

Certain ambivalence of the author’s “ego” (emphasizing it, on the one hand, and strong dependence on the addressee, on the other) was directly reflected in the use of artistic means, which were truly liberalized by the propagation of authors’ rights copyright and universal priorities expressed in the baroque aesthetics in the process of creating original pieces. Without negating each other, these were not interconnected either. How the aforementioned priorities appeared in the 17th and the first half of the 18th century music? This provision can be considered by looking at the practice of vocalists. Here the personal origin manifested itself with greater precision (particularly in the 17th century) in quickly developing art of solo performance. Soloists won over the greatest part of the audience, while choir and orchestra, which used to be on the foreground, were sidelined. This is how the formation of the now traditional performance categories was completed. Similarity between soloist and orator grew stronger as the communication of the author’s text to the audience was taking a more peculiar form in the 17th-18th century music. This was a synthesis between the demonstration of the soloist’s bright individuality, his “ego”, and unbound improvisation at the same time. The 17th-18th century theoreticians understood that musical and oratorical performances were related. Specifically, A. Werkmeister stressed that if a true vocalist made himself heard in figurative music and sang a spiritual text from it, then this phenomenon would be of the same order as the performance of a good orator who makes every effort to excite the audience by various appeals to good.

In the abovementioned analogies in the 17th and the first half of the 18th century art the decisive element was the producing of a targeted impact on the audience. It is characteristic that the understanding of “rhetorical quality” of art at that time began, primarily, with the recognition of the fact that it indeed produces this kind of impact. In the baroque art the formulated objectives of rhetoric – educate, please, and excite – were proclaimed as key objectives, around which the entire creative process is organized. This orientation prompted many important discoveries that pushed the limits of arts very far, which is particularly noticeable is solving the problem of the most powerful emotional impact – to excite, to shock. After all, for many centuries, art (perhaps, music especially) was dominated by the opposite pursuits: not to trouble and not to excite passions, but pacify.

In view of the targeted impact objectives, baroque artists developed a method, the fundamentals of which had been carefully designed by rhetoric. The method is characterized by a clear understanding of objectives and techniques of achieving them.

In certain kinds of art, in painting and music, for instance, the baroque rhetorical method manifested itself in all its specificity. During that time, the distinction of this kind of art from the art of a spoken word was believed to be insignificant. The prevailing trend was not to draw demarcation lines between different kinds of art, but, on the contrary, to connect them, or, rather, to try and break their boundaries: painting and music desired to speak, and literature, to picture. In this they sourced additional means of producing an impact. In this disruption of boundaries a special role was played by the gravitation towards the art of a spoken word with its specific semantic insignificance. During that period, “literary” potential of music and painting was greatly developed. Both arts were regarded as direct analogy to the art of a spoken word. It is indicative that it was exactly in the 17th century when the understanding of music as “language” of expression, capable of communicating very different and rather definite emotions and notions, as the musicians of that time believed, began to be widely embraced. This understanding, specifically, was resident among the Florentine Camerata.

It is known that rhetorical technique belongs to the absolutely essential “rigging” of a new-Persian poem. This inner form is as essential as the thought. Academician Yan Ripka in his article titled “Rhetorical Devices of Firdausi” wrote: “Totally unusual, in our view, dimension of the role played by the form, is evidenced by the fact that in the development of the new-Persian classics until mid 17th century, the rhetorical shell grew and expanded continuously – naturally, to the detriment of the thought itself” (6, p. 427).

The influence of rhetoric on oriental music was noted by Al-Farabi as early as in the 11th century: “Melody cannot be composed of any random sounds of indefinite number and sequence, just as all other things that emerge from multiple components. Thus, a rhetorical statement cannot consist of any random expressions of indefinite number and organization. As for poetic qasida, it cannot be composed of any random substitutes and expressions, in any metre, or sung by any voice” (7, p. 205).

R. Musulmankulov noted that “Medieval researchers, when considering the components of poetic pieces, indicated that a poem should have an introduction (nasip) and the main part”. On this subject Nasip at-Din Tusi wrote: “It should be known that just as rhetoric (hitobat) has components such as introduction (sadr), exposition (ihtibos), returning (tasvir) and conclusion (hatima), a poem also consists of the opening (mat-la), introduction (tashbit), transition (tahallus), glorification (du’a), [and] ending (mahta). Specificity of each part determines the application of appropriate rhetorical figures.” (8, p. 145). Just as medieval Muslim scholars of the East considered poetics a component of logic, they developed music theory and, accordingly, music aesthetics as disciplines, along with arithmetic, geometry and astronomy.

Rhetoric continues to stay in demand and be interesting for experts who study particular cultural strata.


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Shokhistahon Bekniyazova

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