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Volume 5, no. 1:

Musica Poetica: Musical-Rhetorical Figures in German Baroque Music. By Dietrich Bartel. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997. [xv, 471 pp. ISBN 0-8032-1276-3. $50.]

Reviewed by George J. Buelow*

1. Introduction and Genesis of the Book

2. Part One

3. Parts Two and Three

4. Conclusion

Reference


1. Introduction and Genesis of the Book

1.1 This is one of the most important works in modern times for gaining an understanding of the complex German theoretical concept of musical-rhetorical figures. It complements my own article "Rhetoric and Music" in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1980). Bartel's work has particular significance for scholars and especially students who seek to comprehend both the historical and theoretical issues involved and, most importantly, the actual meanings of the complex family of rhetorical names, usually in Latin, at times in Greek, that have been applied to musical concepts of form and expression. The practical ramifications and uses for this book are extensive. It will be invaluable for assigned readings in courses surveying Baroque music in general and German Baroque composers in particular, especially for Heinrich Schütz and J.S. Bach. And it is an essential book for seminars examining German music theory.

1.2 The torso of his book (but in German) was completed as a dissertation at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität, Freiburg im Breisgau in 1982. It was published as Handbuch der musikalischen Figurenlehre (1985). In that form, in brief comments, Bartel introduced the concept of the "Figurenlehre," and established the relationship between rhetoric and music. The body of the dissertation cited all the musical figures as they were given by fifteen German writers beginning with Burmeister and concluding with Forkel. Also included were pertinent biographical data for each author and salient passages from the treatises dealing with the subject of musical figures. Each figure was defined, given in the language of the source, and (when required) translated into German. Comparisons were made with definitions of the rhetorical figures taken from Quintilian, Susenbrotus, and Gottsched.

2. Part One

2.1 In every sense Musica Poetica is a new work, greatly expanded in content, translated into excellent English, and given a splendid and highly readable format and typography by the University of Nebraska Press. The book now is divided into three sections: "Introduction to the Concepts," "Treatises and Sources," and "Definitions and Translations of the Musical-Rhetorical Figures." Part One is new to Bartel's work, and immeasurably increases the instructional value of his achievement. It should be assigned to every student of German Baroque music. It consists of four essays: "Luther on Music: A Theological Basis for German Baroque Music," "Toward Musica Poetica: The Emergence of a German Baroque Music," "The Concept of the Affections in German Baroque Music," and "Principles of Rhetoric in German Baroque Music." The first succinctly establishes one of the prime foundations of Protestant German Baroque music, its roots in Luther's theology of music. The second with laudable succinctness traces the developments in German music theory from the foundational concepts of musica mundana, musica humana, and musica intrumentalis, to the new and aesthetically based formulation of a musica poetica. As a parallel development to Italian advances in creating a new, singularly expressive vocal art, the German Baroque was quickly committed to a music that expressed in a new way the meanings and emotions inherent in words. In Lutheran Germany, however, this revolutionary concept did not abandon completely the theocentric, mathematical-scientific ideas belonging to medieval music theory. As Bartel underscores, one result of this assimilation of the ancient, mathematical basis of music with rhetoric resulted, effectively, in moving music from the quadrivium to the category of the language arts of the trivium.

2.2 In the third essay Bartel gives a comprehensive summary of the meaning and various musical adaptations of the concept of the affections and its centrality to all Baroque music. The last essay is the most basic in the book with some thirty-three pages of explanations as to how the ancient principles of rhetoric were systematically applied to a developing theory of musical rhetoric. Here Bartel convinces the reader that for Germany this development was closely tied to both the demands for greater humanist attention to poetic expressive dynamics in music but also the Protestant theological concerns that church doctrine, the "Word of God," would instruct as well as move congregations through the power of music. The detailed if also often conflicting ideas about how to make music more affective, more rhetorical, was a distinctly German phenomenon, and by the beginning of the eighteenth century had become a characteristic aspect of German Baroque music.

2.3 This last essay, of great importance and written with clarity by no means easy to achieve, presents the author's views on the differences between German and Italian Baroque music as related to rhetorical principles. Here the author's emphases could mislead some readers. Bartel correctly stresses the uniqueness of the German codifications of musical rhetorical figures, for the Italian, French, and English theorists did not produce such lists, nor do specific references to individual rhetorical figures appear in the treatises of these countries. Yet, it seems to me to be misleading to imply, as Bartel does, that composers of these countries, whose general education was usually grounded on rhetorical discipline, were unaware of the nature and importance of rhetorical figures in language and therefore would not have understood their importance in bringing language to life musically.

2.4 That Italian, French, and English treatises do not explicitly codify musical rhetorical figures and that individual rhetorical figures are not named, does not mean they were unknown. It is, of course, much easier to see the rhetorical influences on German Baroque composers, but the music of the Baroque in other nations often contains strong evidence of employing musical-rhetorical figures. One need think only of studies such as Massenkeil's 1952 dissertation, Die oratorische Kunst in den lateinischen Historien und Oratorien Giacomo Carissimis (Mainz, 1952), or Leslie Brown's discussion of musical-rhetorical figures in the Tragédie lyrique (in her dissertation, The Tragédie lyrique of André Campra and his Contemporaries, University of North Carolina, 1978) as typical examples of previous research that has shown that musical-rhetorical figures were employed in Baroque music outside of the German repertory. While the documentary evidence is slim, more than one non-German writer confirms that music shares with rhetoric comparable figures. To cite only one example, Mersenne, in his L'harmonie universelle (1636) in writing de la musique accentuelle, says "d'user de toutes sortes de figures & de passages harmoniques, comme l'Orateur, & quel l'Arte de composer des Airs, & le Contrepoint ne cede rien à la Retorique." The pervasive influence of rhetorical doctrine on music throughout the centuries in all European culture still remains to be examined in greater detail, even though the evidence must be drawn largely from the music and not from the wealth of theoretical evidence found in Germany.

3. Parts Two and Three

3.1 Part Two, "Treatises and Sources," introduces fifteen German theorists and their contributions to musical-rhetorical figures. The biographical information is brief and to the point, and the importance of these writers' contributions to the body of rhetorical knowledge as applied to music is concisely presented. Part Three contains the heart of the book, a catalogue of eighty-four musical-rhetorical figures, as well as cross references to the many more figures which in different sources bear different names for the same figure. Each figure is given a succinct, single sentence definition. This is followed by (1) an essay tracing the source history of the figure, and (2) the quotation of a series of definitions as found in every important source presented in its original language and, in a facing column, in English translation. Bartel's knowledge of these many sources and his command over the often complex and even obscure language employed to define the figures contributes to the superb achievement of his work. Many of the figures receive lengthy essays, tracing their changing meanings through the Baroque. This in itself is an important contribution, proving that the old idea of a Figurenlehre, i.e. a catalogue of musical figures that continued unchanging throughout the Baroque, never existed. Rather, there were various "theories" of musical-rhetorical figures that often employed the same or similar terminology for different musical concepts. The book closes with four invaluable appendices: I. Summary of Figure Definitions; II. Summary of Figures by Category-a. Figures of Melodic Repetition, b. of Harmonic Repetition (fugal figures), c. of Representation and Depiction, d. of Dissonance and Displacement, e. of Interruption and Silence, f. of Melodic and Harmonic Ornamentation, and g. Miscellaneous Figures; III. List of Figures by Author; IV. Summary of Figures by Author.

4. Conclusion

4.1 The concept of a Figurenlehre originated in German musicology of the early twentieth century, especially in the writings of Arnold Schering, and subsequently in works by musicologists including Hermann Kretzschmar, Heinz Brandes, Arnold Schmitz, and especially in the major dissertation by Hans-Heinrich Unger. These and many other authors have frequently employed the language of rhetoric to analyze textual/musical relationships in the music of the German Baroque. More often than not, these discussions have been difficult to understand; indeed to many students they were incomprehensible, because the very nature of the discipline of rhetoric has disappeared from their general education. The handicap to instructors as well as students in this country has been the formidable problem of understanding the complexities of musical-rhetorical aspects of Baroque music when little material existed in English to which one could turn for explanations and illumination. Bartel's comprehensive study is therefore to be praised as the first and best source where at long last we have clear and authoritative guidance for ourselves and our students to this complex subject matter of such importance to German Baroque composers and their music.

 


Reference

*George J. Buelow (buelow@indiana.edu) is Professor Emeritus of Musicology at Indiana University. His career has centered on the history of Baroque music, its performance practices and theoretical documents, as well as the history of opera. His publications include Thorough-bass Accompaniment According to Johann David Heinichen. He is past president of The American Bach Society.
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