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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Regarding the doctrine of the affections, to the extent that one means developing specific formulas or rules for expressing specific emotions through composition, Heinichen says, “forget it.” He reports that no one has any interest in that idea at all, not “even the slightest introduction” to the subject.

What a bottomless ocean we still have before us merely in the expression of words and the affections in music. And how delighted is the ear, if we perceive in a refined church composition or other music how a skilled virtuoso has attempted here and there to move the feelings of an audience through his galanterie and other devices that express the text, and in this way to find successfully the true purpose of music. Nevertheless, no one wants to search deeper into this beautiful musical Rhetorica and to invent good rules. What could one not write about musical taste, invention, accompaniment, and their nature, differences, and effects? But no one wants to investigate the matters aiming at this lofty practice or to give even the slightest introduction to it.43
In retrospect, it is clear that Heinichen was correct. Some philosophers were excited about theories of the doctrine of the affections, but they do not appear to have influenced actual composition. Composers during the Baroque were certainly interested in communicating strong emotions through their music, but they arrived at this result through the heart and not by following someone’s rules. Of course, generally speaking, it was always the case that composers composed music and the theorists and philosophers came along later and issued their contentions. It has rarely worked the other way around. In addition, as we know from clinical brain research today, if not from common observation, theorists and philosophers use rational left-hemisphere language, something which is not particularly conversant with the right-hemisphere realm of music and the emotions.

It is for these reasons that one finds little more than a passing reference to the doctrine of the affections in standard music history texts which deal with Renaissance or Baroque music. One might as well conclude the whole subject is one without merit. However, that being said, one is left with some unsettling perceptions. Modern clinical research has proven that a certain affinity with particular melodic patterns seems to be genetic. If that is the case, perhaps there is indeed some ancient connection between melodic patterns and specific emotions. One recent writer whom we believe has very successfully explored this idea is Deryck Cooke and we highly recommend his book.44

In addition we are not yet comfortable with writing off the idea that tonality may be related to emotion. Certainly, from a rational perspective, when one considers the absence among all countries before the 20th century of agreed common pitch (such as A = 440), the idea that a particular key should communicate a specific emotion to everyone in every country makes no sense. Nevertheless, common experience suggests that perhaps once again rational explanation (left-hemisphere) may not quite explain musical experience. For example, modern theorists explain that the distinction between major keys is merely a different starting point, followed by identical organizations of half and whole-steps. That is true, as a rational fact. But is there a musician anywhere who would not confess that the key of F Major sounds somehow different from the key of G major? Does the key of A Major communicate the same feeling as Ab Major? Can one imagine Beethoven’s A Major Symphony transposed and performed in Ab Major? Would the feeling, even of the opening bars, be changed?

Perhaps we may yet have more to learn.

1 These fluids were also associated by the basic elements so important to even earlier philosophers, hence blood = air, phlegm = water, yellow bile = fire and black bile = earth.

2 For more, see Plato “Meno,” 87cff and “Euthydemus,” 278eff.

3 Act I, 79.

4 Jean Bodin, Method for the Easy Comprehension of History, trans., Beatrice Reynolds (New York: Columbia University Press, 1945), 103.

5 Clement Miller, Hieronymus Cardanus, Writings on Music (American Institute of Musicology, 1973), 142ff.

6 Henry Cornelius Agrippa, De occulta Philosophia, II, xxv. The best modern edition, which is highly recommended, is Donald Tyson, Three Books of Occult Philosophy (St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1993).

7 Marin Mersenne, Harmonie Universelle, II, ii. English translation is taken from John Egan (Bloomington: Indiana University, unpublished dissertation, 1962).

8 III, ii, 6.

9 IV, vi, 6.

10 IV, vi, 7. An error in Mersenne’s original publication incorrectly numbers the propositions from this point on, beginning with 8, instead of 7.

11 II, iii.

12 II, iii.

13 III, i, 7.

14 In III, i, 36, Mersene offers a remedy for clearing the throat, a potion of the “grain of ground cole-wort mixed with sugar, or with Spanish licorice, or with tobacco syrup. He adds, ÒI leave out all the extraordinary remedies and many ways that actors and preachers use to preserve their voices.”

15 III, ii, 26.

16 III, i, 46.

17 IV, vi, 10.

18 IV, vi, 11.

19 Cor sapit, et pulmo loquitur, sel commovet iras, Splen ridere facit, cogit amare iecur.

20 IV, vi, 13.

21 IV, vi, 15.

22 IV, vi, 16.

23 IV, vi, 18.

24 “The Passions of the Soul,” xl, li.

25 Ibid., lxixff.

26 Ibid., lxxixff.

27 Ibid., lxxxviff.

28 Ibid., xciff.

29 Ibid., xcviff.

30 Ibid., ciiff.

31 Letter to Chanut, February 1, 1647.

32 “The Passions of the Soul,” ii.

33 “Compendium of Music,” Walter Robert, trans. (American Institute of Musicology, 1961),14ff.

34 Ibid., 15.

35 John Donne, “Paradoxes and Problems,” in Selected Prose, ed., Helen Gardner (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967), 12.

36 The Works of William Harvey, ed., Robert Willis (Reprinted New York: Johnson Reprint Corp., 1965), 116ff.

37 Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680), Musurgia Universalis, quoted in Paul Henry Lang, “Musical Thought of the Baroque: The Doctrine of Temperaments and Affections,” in William Hays, ed., Twentieth-Century Views of Music History (New York: Scribner’s, 1972), 195.

38 Musurgia Universalis, I, Bk. I, iii, 6.

39 Johann Mattheson, Der vollkommene Capellmeister (1739), trans., Ernest Harriss (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1981), I, iii, 52ff.

40 Ibid. Here we use the translation by Hans Lenneberg in the Journal of Music Theory, April, 1958.

41 Johann David Heinichen, General-Bass Treatise [1711], quoted in George Buelow, Thorough-Bass Accompaniment according to Johann David Heinichen (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1986), 282.

42 Ibid., 283.

43 Ibid., 326. In a footnote, Heinichen observes that some attempts at expressing emotions in music sound mannered and make people laugh. Thus, he says, “a mighty chasm stretches between knowledge and ability.”

44 Deryck Cooke, The Language of Music (Oxford: Clarendon Paperbacks, 1959), see pages 113ff.





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