This is the second post inspired by an April Fools’ Day joke, for which I faked up the title page of an imaginary Baroque treatise on The Practice of Rhetoric in Music, starting several trains of thought: Why does such a book not exist? What might it have contained? What would we hope to learn from it? What is lacking in modern-day writing on Musical Rhetoric? And why shouldn’t I try writing it for myself?
The first post in this series, Prattica di Retorica in Musica – Inventio, introduces the project by means of the Five Canons of Rhetoric and imagines the first pages of our Unicorn-Book, which might include an Address to the Reader and a Dedicatory Poem.
The next pages would probably consist of the Table of Contents, i.e. an ordered list of chapter-headings. For a book-printer, this table would only be assembled once the main body-text was complete. But for a rhetorical writer, these chapter-headings are advance planning of the structural organisation of the material: they present that second Canon of Rhetoric, the Dispositio (Arrangement).
Arranging the Dispositio
In an endlessly recursive process, the structuring of any writing on Rhetoric is itself a work of Rhetoric. My material for this project is the Practice of Rhetoric in Music, and the organisation of this material is inspired by the Modes of Rhetoric, in the style of a list of book-chapters, which I have considered – consciously and subconsciously – over the last month. Turning ideas over in your mind is linked to the processes of memory, which (as modern science tells us) is not merely the recall of fixed data, but a creative process of apprehending, reviewing, connecting and reassembling complex understandings. And now I deliver this structure to you…
In this blog-post, the Dispositio is now my material, which I have organised into two sections (this discursive article, and – below – the presentation of the list itself), in two contrasting styles (modern-day semi-formal prose and 17th-century formal list), carefully considered, and delivered in this blog-post.
The style – a list of chapters – has also become material to be discussed here, and functions as an organising device that delivers new thoughts.
The processes of memory and thought likewise are now material to be written about, functioning to organise themselves by thinking about thoughts, to refine style, and (by remembering memories) to deliver results.
Those results are the material that will be organised, stylised, considered and delivered as the output of the entire project.
And – just in case you didn’t notice – that 5-paragraph description of the nested processes of writing rhetorically about Rhetoric was itself rhetorically made: its material was the rhetoric of Rhetoric, its organisation was iteratively rhetorical, the style was as rhetorically clear as I could make it, it seemed to spring from my mind as if I were remembering something I already knew, and I delivered it in a happily spontaneous flow.
So now you have a rhetorical account of a rhetorically made description of the rhetorical process of writing about Rhetoric. And we could continue this all night, unless you counter with a refutatio or I reach a peroratio!
Digressio – an allegorical digression
One of the period delights of Rhetoric was the enjoyment of rhetorical discourse for its own sake, like an athlete enjoying the working of their own muscles during training, or a spectator watching that athlete. If the spectator is also an athlete, there is an opportunity to learn, or to sharpen ones analytical insight. Which muscle moved there, and what effect did it have? We can compare the trained and untrained body, we can notice the physical results and competetive benefits of particular training exercises for specific applications. If we are fans or practitioners of Rhetoric, we can observe its work whenever we encounter words.
Thesis – back to the underlying concepts
I will probably re-organise this Dispositio as I go along. But it is currently linked to these thoughts:
The ‘original book’ does not exist, perhaps because Rhetoric was so deeply internalised for musicians of this period that they applied it, without needing further instruction, to any means of expression. In another sense, every period treatise on music discusses the Practice of Rhetoric because music itself is a rhetorical art: to practise music is to practise rhetoric. My task is then not to invent new principles, but to identify (from amongst well-researched historical practices) instances where rhetoric is at work in music.
As musicians, we hope for clear practical advice, for tools that can be applied in the rehearsal room and in performance. As performers, we hope for ideas that will be effective with our audiences.
This is perhaps what is lacking in the modern literature on musical rhetoric. After reading some scholarly tome, we may think “how interesting, how beautiful!”, but we may not have a clear strategy of how to apply its ideas in our next rehearsal. At best, we might hope that it has given us some inspiration that will emerge in our musicking, by some mysterious process. I do believe in inspiration and mysterious processes, but in the rehearsal room (or as an individual’s pre-performance mantra), we usually need concise, precisely encapsulated suggestions, rather than yards of woffle and dollops of hope.
What period sources there are, and also much modern writing on musical rhetoric, tend to concentrate on Figures and Tropes. And whilst knowing stuff is fun, and knowing what anaphora is helps one notice when anaphora is at work, that doesn’t necessarily let you know what to do with anaphora, no matter how many times you see or hear anaphora in an aphorism, no, no! And even if you know that the use of adnominations and homophones is not strictly anaphora, this doesn’t necessarily help your audience. So although it is not wrong to define Rhetoric in terms of Figures and Tropes (and indeed, this definition becomes increasingly relevant during our period), it is not the most direct path towards practical application in music.
Since Rhetoric is directed outwards – to persuade the listener; to delight, teach and move the passions of the audience – and since we, as performers, want to put it into practice, the book we need must tell us how to apply Rhetoric to good effect. So my dispositio focuses on fundamentals of good Oratory in musicking, ideas that performers can apply in order to produce results that audiences will appreciate.
Hypothesis – focus on particular ideas
Words: Readers would expect the introduction to discuss what Rhetoric is. But we also need to consider what Music is – and what Science, Art and Practice are too – because our modern assumptions differ from period understandings.
Ethos: Rhetoric is delivered by one person to others: we must consider who does what.
Logos: The most important section of the book should link the performance of music to Good Delivery in Oratory. The more our musicking deals with words, the more eloquent its oratory will be.
Pathos: The most profound result we hope for is to move the passions of our listeners. This Part tells you how to do it.
Kairos: How does the moment of opportunity for Rhetoric present itself? Shifting the focus from historical practices to the ephemeral instant of performance, Plato’s eternal now, this Part attempts to reconcile period understandings of Rhetoric and Humours with 21st-century neuro-science. What is the structure of magic in music?
The vital heart of Rhetoric, which sends the life-giving Sanguinity of passion to the singer’s voice and the instrumentalist’s hands, is structure. How dry that might seem, how Melancholy! But this sturdy, earthborne structure supports a mighty tower, rising proudly as if with Choleric ambition to reach the highest heavens of eloquent beauty.
The achievement of our art must be to conceal the scaffolding and reveal the architecture. But the process of building begins with a well-wrought foundation. Dispositio precedes elocutio.
The Introductory Part: on Words
What is Rhetoric?
What is Grammar?
What is Logic?
What is Music?
What is Practice?
What is Art?
What is Science?
What is the Practice of Rhetoric in Music?
What is the Art of Rhetoric in Music?
What is the Science of Rhetoric in Music?
The First Part: on Ethos
The Practice in Music of the Five Canons of Rhetoric
The Practice in Music of the Three Aims of Rhetoric
The Practice in Music of the Topics of Rhetoric
The Practice in Music of the Four Modes of Rhetoric
The Second Part: on Logos
The Practice in Music of the Decorum of Rhetoric
Of Joining & Separating
The Third Part: on Pathos
The Practice in Music of the Four Humours of Rhetoric
The Practice in Music of the Gestures of Rhetoric
The Practice in Music of the Figures of Rhetoric
The Fourth Part: on Kairos
Of the Mind
Of New Language of Persuasion