This article seeks to broaden our conventional historical account of the intersection between music and rhetoric by examining that intersection in the music-theoretical writings of Marin Mersenne (1588–1648). Mersenne’s discussion of rhetoric, found chiefly in his Harmonie universelle (1636–37), emphasizes delivery (pronuntiatio or actio) rather than style (elocutio) as the basis for comparing the two disciplines. As such, it offers a notable contrast to the more familiar analogies put forth by the German theorists who have tended to dominate our perspective. At the heart of Mersenne’s theorization is the notion that both musical performance and oratorical delivery share their foundations in the physical world of sound channeled through the vibrating vocal apparatus of the human body. Delivery is thus in principle amenable to the physical analysis that Mersenne so valued as a scientific thinker. This emphasis on the voice, moreover, lets him situate rhetoric in terms of the relationship between the voice and the soul, thus linking delivery with divinity. With both oratory and music being understood as specialized forms of sound production, music is shown to aid rhetoric just as much as rhetoric aids music—perhaps even more so. Since Mersenne locates the commonality between music and rhetoric in the human body, his theory attempts to define a rhetoric of emotional persuasion, rather than one of stylistic surface. Emotional persuasion is effected through vocal inflections, which he terms “accents of the passions.” Most important, for Mersenne these “accents” achieve their highest purpose when used for religious persuasion through preaching.
André Redwood; Mersenne and the Art of Delivery. Journal of Music Theory 1 April 2015; 59 (1): 99–119. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00222909-2863400
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