What started out as a bit of fun for April Fools’ Day – faking up the frontispiece of an imaginary 17th-century treatise on the Practice of Rhetoric in Music – got me thinking more seriously. This is just the kind of book I would love to study – many other Early Music scholars and performers too, I’m sure. So why doesn’t it exist? And, what would it say, if we were to find it after all?
What’s the Use?
Those are deep questions to consider carefully, but after three weeks the title of my imaginary treatise – stolen from Zacconi (1596) read more here – which I chose quickly, on impulse from the Subconcious, has revealed to my Conscious mind the gap in HIP sources and practice. We have an overwhelming abundance of primary sources to tell us what Rhetoric is, and some fine modern-day writing that describes how Rhetoric was written into renaissance and Baroque Music. The vital question is how we can apply the Art of Musical Rhetoric in Practice – in individual study, ensemble rehearsals and public performance. We have studied the Science of Music, we are learning the Art of Rhetoric, but we want to acquire practical skill in its Use. More on the period concepts of Science, Art and Use here.
To bridge this gap, since the late renaissance or early baroque Prattica di Retorica in Musica seems not to exist, I decided to write it myself. Remembering medieval trobadors and trouvères, ‘such as found out musical tunes and recited verses in writing’; and inspired by the rhetorical canon of Inventio, by which one seeks to discover the best arguments for the case at hand; my aim is not to invent but to search for a true resemblance of this unicorn-book.
Clearly, there is some serious work of Dispositio (organisation of the material) to be done. Perhaps the most effective format – Elocutio – could be to adopt the position of a blog-poster, discussing the Prattica chapter by chapter, supported by ‘citations of the original’. My hope is to instill Memoria, as if recalling an elusive memory; for my Retorica should deliver nothing new, but should rather be a declaration – a oratorical Pronuntiatio – of truths that we already hold to be self-evident. And all this should lead to Actio: putting rhetoric into practice in Musica.
So perhaps you can imagine what follows as a modern editor’s commentary on a recently discovered historical source…
It was Monteverdi scholar Tim Carter (don’t miss his inspiring yet thoroughly practical survey of Monteverdi’s Musical Theatre ) who first guided me towards an unorthodox and creative way of investigating historical performance practice: beyond the analysis of surviving works, have a go at creating (re-constructing would be too strong a word) what is missing. The idea is to confront the same questions and challenges that creative musicians encountered back then, starting from a tabula rasa and testing, questioning, reviewing everything you create, to complement the standard approach of gazing at the beauty of an extant masterpiece.
It’s like lifting the bonnet of the car and tinkering with the engine – you will learn from your mistakes, and you’ll certainly learn more than by merely reading the workshop manual. After all, mathematics students have to solve problems themselves, as well as studying worked examples by famous mathematicians of the past. And Rhetoric itself begins with three Canons of creativity, and continues with the reflective process of Memorisation, before culminating in the final Canon of Delivery.
In 2017, with expert guidance and thought-provoking challenges from Tim, I re-made Monteverdi’s lost masterpiece Arianna based on the surviving libretto, a musical fragment – the famous Lamento – letters and other music from the time of the first performance in 1608. The resulting work, Arianna a la recherche was performed at the OPERA OMNIA International Baroque Opera Studio, re-establishing Rinuccini’s Tragedia as the fourth opera in the Monteverdi trilogy. Why re-make Monteverdi’s Arianna? here
And now, for this project on the Practice of Rhetoric in Music, I’m once again investigating by creating. Of course, Creative Research is no longer a new concept, and it has already been applied to Early Music, but usually by creating something new out of old material. My aim is different – I want to supply new material that will fill a gap in what has come down to us, like a restorer patching a threadbare section of an old tapestry, weaving strands of carefully researched threads into a plausible picture that fits well with the old stuff. Or like a luthier, who constructs a ‘historical instrument’ that is simultaneously a carefully researched ‘replica’ of a period original, and a creative work of art in its own right.
In the workshop of Rhetoric, my power-tool is energia – the communicative spirit that energises the mind in performance. To drive forward the research process, I imagine how such a historical treatise might have been read aloud by a fine orator, and how we today might apply its period pedagogy to training and rehearsal for future concerts, recordings and opera productions.
Before I can look for answers to the big questions of Musical Rhetoric in Historical Practice, I first have to find out what those questions are. See Deep Thought. In the search for better questions, I’ve started by pondering why we, today’s Early Musicians, want this book. And why was it not written back then? These deceptively simple questions are fundamental to the project, and need careful consideration.
For now, I decided just to have some more fun, by cooking-up an ‘original Preface’. Don’t panic, I have no intention of switching permanently to Ye Olde Worlde style. But I am thinking seriously about how a 17th-century writer would frame his address To the Reader, and taking the opportunity to practise a bit of Rhetoric myself.
So how would you feel, if you discovered an exciting, hitherto unknown, historical source in the original? You might savour the promises offered by the Frontispiece, and get a first taste of food for thought from the formal Dedication and Preface, before settling down to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the detailed chapters of the principal text. In that spirit, I invite you to consider this ‘modern editor’s introduction’ and the ‘original Preface’ below as hors d’oeuvres. Bon appetit!
To the Reader
Transcriber’s note: We are fortunate that a period translation survives, apparently made from a holograph now lost. Sadly, the original date is indecipherable. Nevertheless, the handwritten annotations in faded red ink appear to be contemporary with the document itself.
PRATTICA DI RETORICA IN MUSICA
To the musicall Reader
In the beginning was the WORD, & the Word was spoken in the ORATORY of the Holy Prophets, & the same was sung in the MUSIC of King David, whose Harp could soothe the wrath of Saul; and in the image of the Word was man created: wherefore my Heart is inditing of good Matter, whence I do make the Things of which I speak & sing; the Instrument of my Tongue being like unto the Pen of a ready Writer: for, as my Mind was taught by the Orators of Ancient Greece & Rome, as my Ears delight in Dante, Shakespeare & other Poets of our times, and as the affections of my Soul are moved by the Music of Heaven, by the Harmony of Human Hearts, & by the Sound of earthly Instruments and Voices; so am I persuaded that such a Book as this was never seen, though greatly needed: and Necessity is the Mother of INVENTION.
Thus may my Words, though few and unworthy, light the true Way, & illumine certain sure Principles, by which you may make practicall Use of the ancient Art of Rhetoric, even in the very Science of Music: fitting the Pronouncing & the Action of your Delivery to the Matter of the Invention, as well as to the Arrangement of the Verses, & the Eloquence of the Music; and through the Mystery of Memory, from time to time both recalling & re-creating what hath been already made: according to the Aims & Canons of Rhetoric, the Virtues & Graces of Writing, the Devices & Figures of Speech, & the Art of Gesture: and such will be this Book’s ARRANGEMENT.
The ancient Poet sang of Arms and of a Man, & this my Book will speak of Instruments as well as of Voices; for Rhetoric may be expressed with the sound of the Trumpet, with the Psaltery & Harp, with the Timbrel and Dance, with stringed Instruments and Organs, and upon loud Cymbals & high Cymbals, as well as by everything that hath Breath: for Love of the Word maketh sounding Brass to become the tongues of Men & Angels; and giveth even a tinkling Cymbal ELOQUENCE.
And let none say that Rhetoric & Rhythm are not Brethren, nor that they cannot dwell together in Unity; for the Master cannot teach, who comes not betimes to School; the very Whirlwind of Passion cannot move, if the Actor misseth his Entrance; the Dancers cannot delight, who reel to & fro, and stagger like a drunken man: for the Eloquent Orator is like unto a Knight on Horseback, whose one Hand must hold the Reins of Rhythm, that the Steps and Pace be in good Measure; whilst the other Hand doth strike with the Sword of Rhetorick, that toucheth even unto the Heart: and this in Music requireth great Skill, & diligent Study, whether the Song be pricked on Paper, or printed in the MEMORY.
The End of all this my RHETORICK being Practicall, let the attentive Reader also take Pains to practise the Examples that follow, pronouncing them in Action; that, by sowing the Seeds of Rhetorick in the fertile Ground of Music, ye may know the Fruit of good DELIVERY,
And live happily!
As in many such treatises, the following page contains a poem in support of the author’s work. The content of this sonnet strongly supports the indicated connection to Richard Barnfield, whose most famous work was attributed to Shakespeare in The Passionate Pilgrim (1599), though it had previously appeared in Barnfield’s Poems in Divers Humours (1598).
OF RHETORIC IN MUSIC
By a Friend of Mr Richard Barnfield
If MUSIC & sweet POETRY agree,
As they must needs, the Sister & the Brother.
Then let this Book create twixt me and Thee
Accord, pronouncing one alike the other.
Dowland to us is dear, whose heavenly Touch
Upon the Lute doth ravish human Sense;
Shakespeare strikes Hearts, for Plays of Words are such,
As playing Instruments need no defence.
We practise the high Art of charming Sound
That Phoebus’ Lute, the Queen of Musick, makes,
Yet Listeners in deep Delight are chiefly drowned
Whenas our Musick moveth Passions for their sake.
Guard Harmony & Verse, mark the Words well,
That RHYTHM & RHETORIC as one may dwell.