By David Whitwell Essay Nr. 27: On the Doctrine of the Affections All musical expression has an affect or emotion for its foundation



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What is this pleasure derived from sad things? How is it engendered in listeners? I would say only that there are two types of sadness, one moral, because its motifs are drawn from deprivation, the other is natural, and comes from the melancholic humor, or from the phlegmatic, when one has sinned to excess. Sad songs do not engender either, but leave the listener in whatever humor he was previously in. If we use reason, we see that the melancholiacs derive more pleasure from gay songs than from sad ones, since the brusque and lively movements of the chansons are more suitable for dissipating excessive humor of melancholy, rather than the slow and languishing movements of lamentations. One is cured by the contrary of his ailments, if we believe Hippocrates rather than Paracelsus, who believed that people are cured by similar things.15
Mersenne now extends this discussion of a man’s temperament to include the subject of laughing. First the interesting observation is made that all laughter uses one or other of the five vowels (Ha, Ha, Ha; He, He, He, etc). From this the following discussion ensues.

Now since a greater ardor is necessary for moving the wings of the lungs when the laugh is made on a, it can be said that those who form a while laughing have more ardor than those who form o and i, and that e signifies a greater ardor than u. A shows the moistness and facility that the glottis has in opening, and, consequently, that one is full-blooded. But e, o, and i show its dryness and that those who form these letters while laughing are of a cold and dry temperament. Just as the vowel u signifies that one is cold and moist, the vowels i and o show that one is hot, dry, and bilious. E signifies melancholy, and u signifies phlegm, and those who form the said letters while laughing are subject to the maladies deriving from these humors, or are appropriate to the virtues that these same humors favor. This is why I conclude that a and o signify audacity and liberality when they are made by a quick movement, and that e and u signify avarice; that those who form a and o are loved by those who form e and i, who look for ardor to be perfected and conserved; and that those who form the same letter are loved reciprocally because of the resemblance; that those who form a and o have a quicker and sharper mind; and that those who form e have better memory and less imagination, and that they are more opinionated; that the vowels i and u show a short life and the others a long life; such that the spring of his life who forms a lasts 25 years, which he similarly confers to the summer, autumn, and winter of life.16
Mersenne’s own special area of interest, within the general topic of music and the emotions, was the relationship of the vocal accents of speech and the melodic accents he heard musicians add to the music and how these might be related to the “temperaments” and the “humors.” He begins by considering the use of accent in general.

With regard to the ordinary accents of which the Greeks, the Latins, and the other nations speak, they admit only three, namely, the grave, the acute, and the circumflex, or the accents of grammar, rhetoric, and music....17
Mersenne now wonders if the individual use of these accents may identify “the temperament and humor.” First, he points out that one can easily identify persons from different parts of France merely by their accents. To him it followed that,

Experience teaches that those who are hasty and abrupt in their actions and who are easily upset have an abrupt and high accent, and that those who are gloomy have a low, slow, and heavy one. Just as there are quite as many temperaments and different humors as there are men, likewise there are just as many different accents and different manners of speaking.... This can apparently arise only from the difference of their humors and the diversity of their organs, which arises from the difference of their temperaments.18
Mersenne now offers the proposition: “The accent of which we speak here is an inflection or modification of the voice or the word with which we express the passions and the affections naturally or artificially.” He then sets forth in some detail his own theory that “Each passion and affection of the soul has its proper accents by which its different degrees are explained.”
Every day we experience that choler is expressed by an accent different from that of admiration or sorrow. If we follow the division which philosophers make of the passions of the soul, we shall establish eleven kinds of accents. For they admit eleven passions, namely, six in the concupiscible appetite, which resides on the right side of the heart, or in the liver, as the Platonists wish, and five in the irascible appetite, which is on the left side of the heart, or in the gall, or in other places according to this Latin distich,

The heart savors and the lung speaks, the gall awakens wrath,

The spleen causes laughter, the liver urges love.19
The first passion of the concupiscible appetite, or of concupiscence, is love, which is the root of all the passions. For we do not hate anything except when we believe that it is opposed and is contrary to that which we love. Thus all the disorder of the passions arises from love, which is divided into desire and joy, according to the different movements which it gives to the soul.

Hatred is opposed to love, and has its advancement in flight and in sorrow. Thus the six passions can be reduced to these two capital ones, since they are an advancement of love and of hatred, and since we do not desire anything, or rejoice in anything other than those we love, just as we shun nothing and grieve at no things other than those we hate.

Hope, boldness or daring, choler, fear, and despair belong to the irascible appetite....

We can conclude from this that the ancients established these four passions, namely, joy, pain, fear, and hope, as the four elements, or the four humors, of the appetite which we have in common with the animals. We can, however, admit love and hatred instead of joy and pain. We must see in what the movement of these passions consists before establishing certain accents for them.

In the first place, the heart enlarges, blossoms out, and opens in joy and hope, just as heliotrope, roses, and lilies do in the presence of the sun. It is from this that the complexion of the face is rosy, because of the vital spirits which the heart sends above. Thus if joy is so great that the heart remains without a great enough quantity of these spirits, we faint, and sometimes die laughing.

On the contrary, when sorrow is excessive, the same spirits withdraw to the heart in too great a multitude, and smother it, since it can no longer move nor open. Thus these two passions are like the ebb and flow of the sea. For joy is like the flow which brings a great quantity of stones, shells, and fish to the shore of the sea, and joy brings a quantity of blood and spirits to the face and the other parts of the body. Fear and pain, however, are like the ebb, which withdraws that which was gathered. For fear and terror render the face pale and the countenance bleak and hideous by withdrawing the blood and the spirits, and cause melancholy to corrupt the little blood which remains in the veins, and fills the imagination with frightful dreams. It is necessary, therefore, that the accents with which we express the different affections and passions of the soul be different, and that some of them imitate and represent the flow of spirits and blood, and others the ebb, that the former be quick, lively, cheerful, and similar to the flowers and odors of spring, and the latter be similar to rain, snow, winter, and all that is disagreeable, that the former be similar to consonances and ensemble pieces, and the latter to dissonances and disturbing noises, and finally, that the former have as many perfections as the latter have imperfections.

We must see whether it is possible to establish four principal accents according to these four different passions. For the accents of which we speak here can be called the word or discourse of the passions, just as words and ordinary discourse are called the discourse of the mind, which partakes more of artificial means than of nature, just as that of the passions partakes more of nature than of artificial means. Consequently, the latter is less subject to concealment than the former. With regard to the accent of joy, it is certain that it is different from that of sorrow. That of joy, however, includes that of desire and love, just as the triangle includes two right angles, and just as the rational soul includes the sensitive and the vegetative. This accent is cheerful, pleasant, and quite agreeable, and can be divided into as many other accents as there are different degrees of joy and love.

The accent of sorrow is slow, gloomy, and troublesome. That of hatred is more violent, and approaches that of indignation, which is contained in that of choler. With regard to the accent of flight, it is related to that of fear, and that of desire is like that of hope. The accent of despair follows that of sorrow, just as that of boldness follows that of hope and desire. It is difficult, however, to express all these accents.20
The final sentence, above, reflects the fact that Mersenne realized that his ideas were far too complex to be notated in either speech or music. He therefore urges that the time has come to invent new symbols for the “passions.” To be sufficient to express the necessary range of emotions, Mersenne finds the need for nine new symbols. He expresses this in the proposition, “All the accents which we use to express the three passions to which we have related the others have need of nine different characters to be explained and understood, namely, three for the three degrees of choler, and just as many for the degrees of love and of sorrow.”

The first degree of choler is noted in the voice when it rises a little higher and when we speak with more vehemence. If we touch the pulse, we shall quickly judge that the heart beats more swiftly or more strongly. We must observe, however, whether this pulsation is sesquialtera that of the natural pulsation, or whether it observes some other proportion, in order to establish the first degree of choler and to have its internal character by the movements of the pulse or by that of the respiration, and its external character by the height or force and speed of the voice.

Since this accent originates from the bile, we could represent this first degree of choler by one dot of flame or of fire, or by some other symbol which designates how many degrees it must raise or strengthen and hasten the word to the first degree of choler. This could perhaps be done with flagged notes and the fredons of music.

The second degree of choler gives a stronger blow to the reason, which begins to yield to passion. It can be explained by two dots of flame. If the pulse of the first degree of choler is sesquialtera that of the natural, the pulse of the second degree will be double in swiftness the natural, and consequently, sesquiteria that of the pulsation which the second degree makes, for the double ratio is composed of the sesquialtera and the sesquitertia. We must, nevertheless, note that the natural pulsation does not pass at once to the second degree, nor does that of the second degree to that of the third. It is enough, however, to have established the final point of these degrees, which we can reach either all at once, or by several intervals, just as we can go from the lower sound to the fifth without using degrees, or with the ordinary degrees.

The third degree of choler which ascends to wrath, can be represented by a flame with three dots. The pulsation of the heart will be triple that of the natural, either in speed or force, or in both. We can relate to this the range of the voice which in pain rises more than a twelfth from the tone of the ordinary word which is used without passion, to the cry of wrath and despair. For if the voice ascends higher, it becomes raucous and disagreeable and should be called a squeal rather than a human voice. Thus those who have arrived at this degree no longer say a word, or if they talk or cry out, they lower the tone. Moreover, it is difficult, and perhaps naturally impossible, for the pulse to beat more than three times more swiftly in choler than outside of it. Since, however, we must avoid as much as possible the innovation of symbols, an acute accent can designate the first degree of choler, two the second, and three the third. If we wished to use specific letters, they can carry with them any point or sign we wish, by which those who read the discourse will be warned that it is necessary to pronounce the end or some other part of the sentence with the first, the second, or the third accent of choler.

The same thing must be said of the accents of the passion, of joy, and of sorrow, which have their beginnings, advancements and endings, as do choler, illnesses, and the other things of this world, although the pulse and the voice of these two passions are not as easy to explain as those of choler. We can, nevertheless, establish accents and symbols for them in proportion of those of choler.

Some have believed that the passions change the weight of the body, and that the man in choler is lighter by eight pounds per hundred than when he is sorrowful, by a thirteenth when he is in the final degree of choler, and by a twenty-fifth when he is extremely joyous. These remarks, or rather these imaginations, however, are quite false, for inflammation and death bring a greater alternation to beasts and the human body than do all the passions of the soul of the body. Nevertheless, the living body is not lighter than the dead one, nor the warm and inflamed breast than the cold one, as we have experimented quite exactly.21
Next he considers to what degree the various “passions” he has been discussing can be expressed in musical notation and he finds the problem much more difficult than in the case of speech.

This is quite difficult to explain, so much so because it appears that music desires a certain delicacy and agreeableness which cannot be compatible with the vehemence and severity of the passions, particularly with choler. For with regard to the accents of sorrow and pain, it is easy to make them by means of the semitone which the voice forms when yearning. This is almost the only accent in French songs, in which we sometimes mix also the accents of joy, love, and hope, appropriately enough. The Italians, however, have more vehemence than we do for expressing the strongest passions of choler with their accents, particularly when they sing their verses for the theater to imitate the scenic music of the ancients. The accent of choler is made by rushing the final syllables, and by strengthening the last sounds. If we reflect upon the elevation of the voice, we shall note that it is often raised an entire tone, a third, and a fourth, when pronouncing the final syllable of words which are used in choler and sometimes by the same intervals or by the diapente when sustaining the voice on the antepenultimate syllable. The manners in which choler is expressed, however, are so diverse that there is almost no interval at all which it does not use, according to its different degrees and the other passions which accompany it. Thus the musician should consider the time, the place, the characters, and the subject for which the accent should be made, in order that he indicate it on the syllable which the voice should sustain, and which it should raise and strengthen.

I have noted that the tone of voice of choler often ascends an entire octave or more all at once. This is difficult to perceive, unless we try to place these intervals into music by forming the same intervals slowly, and little by little, so that the imagination might have the time to understand the interval of choler. The same thing must be said of the accent of spite, displeasure, and the other passions, which will often be found on a tone of voice much higher than we believe, although it is also made sometimes on the same pitch by striking it more strongly and more quickly.

I leave the investigation of symbols necessary to indicate this passion and the others, to composers who desire to write songs in which nothing is lacking, and particularly, who have the intent to accent them in all kinds of ways. This will give such a charm and such an air to the songs and the solos, that all who hear them will acknowledge that they are animated and full of vigor and spirit, of which they are devoid without these accents. Composers can be instructed in this by considering the striking of chamades, charges on the drum, and those of trumpets, whose last sounds of each beat represent choler by the promptness and the force of the blow of the stick or the tongue. With regard to the promptness, we have flagged or double-flagged and triple-flagged notes, which are quick enough to indicate the speed of all the degrees of the most rapid passions, just as we have those of sixteen, twelve, eight, six, four, three, and two beats, which are slow enough to indicate the listlessness of the greatest sorrows. Thus we are only lacking symbols which designate the impetuosity, the vigor, and the force of these passions. For example, we can designate the first degree with the same mark by which we indicate the first minutes, namely, by this small straight line, /, by the second by the sign of the seconds, //, the third by the sign of the thirds, ///, etc. Those who teach singing, however, should show all these different degrees of the passions to children, just as they teach them cadences and various passages and trills, so that they might be lacking in nothing to accent all the syllables and the notes indicated by the composer, who should strive for a knowledge of the movements and degrees of each passion, in order to represent them as simply as possible.

If the composer of songs judges that he cannot form the accents of the passions with the ordinary intervals of the diatonic and chromatic, that is, with the music which we ordinarily use, it is easy for him to use the enharmonic dieses which I have explained in Book Three, and in those on lutes and the organ. For example, if he finds that the major third is too small to express some passion and its accent, he can increase it by any diesis he wishes, that is, by the one which makes only a quarter tone, or by that which makes a third of a tone, or by any other interval he judges suitable for his intent. I have wished to add to this so that we might not think that the Greeks have had, or were able to have, any other degrees or intervals than those which we can use just as well as they did in all kinds of situations, without there remaining any reason for us to doubt that they were able to write better songs than ours, particularly if we accommodate to them all which we have said....22
Mersenne now turns to the role of rhythm in the communication of emotions in music. In the following proposition, the word “movement” is used to refer to emotional character, not speed or as a term to distinguish part of a larger form as we use the term today.

Rhythmics is an art which considers movements and which regulates their succession and their mixture to excite the passions and to maintain them, and to increase, decrease, or calm them.23
He begins here a discussion of the application of the Greek rhythmic modes to composition, but he admits it is difficult “to prescribe what the succession of these movements should be to excite the listeners to the given passion.” It is equally difficult to persuade composers to observe these, not only because they find the application of these modes result in tedious rhythms, but because they would prefer to write what comes to them solely from their imagination.

The second French philosopher who wrote at length on aspects of the doctrine of the affections was Rene Descartes (1596 – 1650). Although his analytical style induces the reader to hope for interesting insights, unfortunately most of his conclusions are only weird-science. After presenting the definition of human passions as “something which moves the soul to want the things for which they prepare the body,”24 Descartes concludes there are only six principal [“primitive”] passions: wonder, love, hatred, desire, joy and sadness. All others are contained in these, or composed of them.25

Wonder, is a “sudden surprise of the soul” which causes it to devote unusual attention to objects that “seem to it unusual and extraordinary.” Since this passion is concerned primarily with knowledge, it is not accompanied by changes in the heart or blood. A stronger form of Wonder, astonishment, has an added element of surprise which “causes the spirits in the cavities of the brain to make their way to the place where the impression of the object of wonder is located.” Descartes observes,

Although it is only the dull and stupid who are not naturally disposed to wonder, this does not mean that those with the best minds are always the most inclined to it.
Excessive Wonder may become a habit, he notes, when we fail to correct it.

Regarding Love and Hatred, he writes,26

Love is an emotion of the soul caused by a movement of the [animal] spirits, which impels the soul to join itself willingly to objects that appear to be agreeable to it. And hatred is an emotion caused by the spirits, which impels the soul to want to be separated from objects which are presented to it as harmful.
Descartes distinguishes between benevolent love (a wish for the well-being of the object) and concupiscent love (to desire the object) and notes that there an abundance of passions which are also associated with love: the desire of the ambitious for glory, the miser for money, the drunkard for wine, etc. He also associates affection, friendship and devotion with whether we esteem the object as less, equal or more than ourselves.

Desire is a passion in which an agitation of the soul caused by the animal spirits disposes the soul to wish, in the future, for something agreeable.27 Descartes finds there is no single opposite for Desire, but that there are many kinds: curiosity for knowledge, desire for glory, desire for vengeance, etc.

Joy and Sadness,28 he defines as follows,

Joy is a pleasant emotion which the soul has when it enjoys a good, which impression in the brain represent to it as its own.... Sadness is an unpleasant listlessness which affects the soul when it suffers discomfort from an evil or deficiency which impressions in the brain represent to it as its own.


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