Musical Poetics

Musical Poetics

Joachim Burmeister
Translated, with Introduction and Notes, by Benito V. Rivera
Copyright Date: 1993
Published by: Yale University Press
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  • Book Info
    Musical Poetics
    Book Description:

    Joachim Burmeister's early seventeenth-century treatise on the making of music is generally acknowledged to be central to the understanding of Baroque musical practice: it was the first systematically to explore the connection between rhetoric and music that became a cornerstone of Baroque musical thought. But until now neither a reliable modern edition nor a full translation of this seminal work has existed. This much-needed edition by Benito V. Rivera contains a critical transcription of the Latin text and an annotated translation on facing pages. In a lengthy introduction to the book, Rivera reviews Burmeister's two earlier treatises on musical composition, analyzes Musical Poetics as a whole, and places it within its historical context. An appendix to the edition reproduces the passages of music cited by Burmeister, greatly facilitating the interpretation of Burmeister's explanations of the rhetorical figures. The book will be of interest to music historians and theorists as well as to scholars of rhetoric.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16211-0
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword by the Series Editor
    (pp. vii-x)
    Claude V. Palisca

    Of the three categories of music theory exercised in the sixteenth century—musica theorica, musica practica, and musica poetica—musica poetica was the last to be recognized. It is also the last to be represented in the Music Theory Translation Series. In Boethius, Fundamentals of Music, Calvin M. Bower translated a work that was the fount and model for musica theorica, or speculative music theory, in the West. We shall soon be publishing, in a translation by Walter Kreyszig, Franchino Gaffurio’s Theorica musice (1492), which defined that field for the Renaissance. Gioseffo Zarlino’s Art of Counterpoint and On the Modes,...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-lxii)

    Melanchthon’s commentary on the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans is a striking example of rhetorical theory made to serve textual interpretation.¹ Crucial to the German humanist’s analysis was what he understood to be the precise meaning of Paul’s teaching on Christian faith and justification. According to Melanchthon, previous interpreters had dismissed many early sections of the Epistle as mere digressions, devoid of doctrinal substance. He set out to prove them wrong by expounding the underlying oratorical structure of the first four and a half chapters and by bringing their main propositions or issues to a focus. He methodically exposed...

  6. Musical Sources Cited
    (pp. lxiii-lxiv)
  7. Musical Poetics

    • Dedicatory Letter and Poems from Friends
      (pp. 5-16)

      Most honorable sirs, outstanding in learning, virtue, and practice, most renowned and most skilled: As I finally arrive at the task of explaining to some individuals this art of music and its third branch which is called musical poetics, I feel impelled by a faith which all must feel who take it upon themselves to explain an art. Faith bids me to present the subject by providing definite rules, pulling at my ears and reminding me that no liberal art can be handed on to anyone without rules. It bids me open myself to make believe that with or without...

    • Musical Poetics: Enumeration and Definition of Its Parts
      (pp. 17-19)

      Euclid calls musical poetics melopoiia and defines it as the use of materials subject to harmonic treatment, for the purpose of elaborating upon a given theme.² It is that part of music which teaches how to put together a musical piece by combining melodic lines into a harmony adorned with various affections of periods, in order to incline men’s minds and hearts to various emotions.³

      This definition entails three points for consideration: (1) pitches, (2) concords arising from the combination of pitches, (3) affective harmony. Because pitches cannot be studied and discerned without the aid of specific symbols, alphabet letters...

    • Chapter 1 Notation
      (pp. 21-40)

      Notation consists in a perpendicular array of certain characters that differ in some graphic form, appearing in columns that are separated from one another by lines or discernible spaces. The columns have a definite measurement that is divisible and distinct, wherein the combined pitches can, in the manner of a chart, be viewed at one glance to see whether they blend harmoniously or not, according to certain criteria that one must know for that purpose.

      There are two kinds of notation: staff notes and alphabet letters. In notation by staff notes, the intended pitches are represented by the symbols of...

    • Chapter 2 The Voice Parts
      (pp. 41-47)

      A voice part is a melodic line that is made up of a collection of pitches, whose ascent and descent are intended for singing.

      [11] There are two classes of voice parts: primary and secondary. A primary voice part is that first and principally used during the early beginnings of music. It has four categories: (1) discant, (2) alto, (3) tenor, and (4) bass.

      The discant. (The word, which is a composite of dis and cantus, seems to signify that by virtue of this prefix [dis], the cantus is very high and very elevated, because in composite words dis sometimes...

    • Chapter 3 Instruction on Consonant and Dissonant Pitches
      (pp. 49-55)

      A pitch is a quality resulting from a string made to vibrate by the plucking of a quill, or from the projection of a voice, continuously moving the air until it is heard.

      There are twenty-eight pitches, grouped in five ranks. To see this, one should consult the first chapter of this book, where alphabet letter notes are discussed.

      Some pitches are called primal [primitivus], others derived.¹

      A primal pitch is any pitch belonging to the next-to-lowest [parhypaton] rank of pitches, namely, ABCDEFG. A primal pitch is called primary by Boethius.

      A derived pitch is any pitch taken from the...

    • Chapter 4 Combination [Syntaxis] of Consonances into a Harmony
      (pp. 57-106)

      Musical syntax is the method of combining the pitches of two or more melodic lines into a harmony to produce musical movement.¹

      A melody is an affection² consisting of an intervallic sequence of pitches, devised or made to produce musical movement that will evoke affections in a man who is not altogether unmusical.

      A harmony is a musical piece made up of the melodies of several voices that are combined into a harmony to produce musical movement. The species of harmony can be as many as the variety of songs that present themselves in few or in many voices.


    • Chapter 5 Cadences
      (pp. 107-120)

      A cadence (clausula, a word derived from “closing”) is a musical passage consisting of three parts (or pitches), namely, the beginning, the middle, and the end. It is used for terminating the affections (that is, the periods) of melodies and for ending the harmony itself.

      There are two types of cadence: tou meleos, or that pertaining to melody, and tes harmonias, pertaining to harmony. A melodic cadence is the cadence of one voice extracted from the combined structure of a harmonic cadence. It consists of a beginning, middle, and end and is aimed at terminating the melodic period and the...

    • Chapter 6 The Musical Modes
      (pp. 121-134)

      Mode is a means of regulating a musical piece. In a specific system,¹ mode governs and determines the consonances within the octave-species (as well as the octaves themselves). The octaves are brought into a pleasing complex combination according to a certain disposition [temperamentum], and the [said] consonances are arranged in proportion with one another, in order to safeguard the nature or state of the mode.

      There are two types of mode: that which regulates melody [melodimeter] and that which regulates harmony [harmonimeter]. A mode that regulates melody is that which sets the boundaries of melodies. A mode that regulates harmony...

    • Chapter 7 The Transposition of Modes
      (pp. 135-141)

      Transposition (here considered in the proper sense) is the transfer of the mode from one system to another, the systems being of different qualities.

      There are two varieties of transposition: one raised or upward, the other lowered or downward.

      A raised or upward transposition is that wherein the system of a certain mode is converted to another at the distance of a raised diatessaron, and by that permutation of systems the quality is likewise changed. A lowered or downward transposition is [46] that wherein the conversion of the mode and of its quality occurs at the distance of a lower...

    • Chapter 8 How to Start Singing a Composition
      (pp. 143-145)

      Although this instruction on the proper way to start singing a composition pertains to musica practica, nevertheless, because I know that it would not be unappreciated by my listeners and perhaps even by other devotees of this art if I briefly explain it here, I have decided to deal with its peculiar aspect in this chapter. I present the following definition of the subject.

      The way to start singing a composition means the norm for correctly starting and beginning a composition at a moderate level, so that it is neither too high nor too low, and the height of the...

    • Chapter 9 The Ending of Melodies and Harmonies
      (pp. 147-152)

      It is a rule among musicians that the ending of a melody or harmonic piece is in the form of a diapente chord [chorda], sound, or consonance.¹ Also, the ending is the final passage of a composition. In a melody it will have a tenor cadence most of the time, or else a discant cadence. [52] In a harmonic piece it will be a series or combination of consonances having the mark of a particular cadence, especially a “triphonic” cadence, whereby the final termination of the piece or composition is established, and the song is brought to silence.

      There are...

    • Chapter 10 The Alignment of the Text
      (pp. 153-154)

      Text alignment means the appropriate placement of the text under the notes. Thus the accent of the words is observed, so that a syllable which is pronounced with a perceptibly long vowel should not be assigned to a note of smaller value; and that which is known to be short should not be applied to a note of greater value.

      Observations. The text is aligned with the notes in three main ways:

      1. A $ \left { { \text{long}\atop \text{short}} \right} $ syllable should correspond to a note which in performance is recognized to be of $ \left { { \text{long}\atop \text{short}} \right} $ or $ \left { { \text{more}\atop \text{less}} \right} $ value.

      2. Sometimes one single syllable suffices for several notes...

    • Chapter 11 Orthography
      (pp. 155-155)

      Orthography¹ is that which teaches the correct way of writing out a piece of music.

      Observations. Orthography has three main requirements:

      1. the exact placement of a syllable under the note to which it properly belongs;

      2. the clear separation of notes so that a text syllable can be easily assigned to any of them;

      3. the completion of the whole tactus so that it occurs where the last note of any staff is placed.²...

    • Chapter 12 Musical Ornaments or Figures
      (pp. 155-197)

      A musical ornament or figure¹ is a passage, in harmony as well as in melody, which is contained within a definite period that begins from a cadence and ends in a cadence; it departs from the simple method of composition, and with elegance [virtus]² assumes and adopts a more ornate character. There are two types of ornament: one pertaining to harmony, the other to melody. In an ornament of harmony a harmonic period consisting of any number of voices adopts a new character that is incompatible with a simple arrangement consisting purely of consonances. We enumerate its sixteen species: (1)...

    • Chapter 13 The Genera of Songs or Melody Making
      (pp. 199-199)

      A melodic genus is one whose character it is to have a tetrachord—for [71] there are four pitches following one another in stepwise order—containing a certain movement of small intervals within the diatessaron. From this a certain characteristic way of performance is achieved.

      There are three melodic genera: (1) diatonic, (2) chromatic, (3) enharmonic. The diatonic genus is that whose tetrachord proceeds by minor semitone, tone, tone, or the reverse. (A minor semitone is the smaller half of atone. For a tone broken up into its smallest parts, namely nine commas, cannot be divided into two equal parts....

    • Chapter 14 The Types of Polyphony
      (pp. 201-201)

      Polyphony (otherwise called counterpoint) is the harmonic combination of notes of equal or unequal value. There are three types of polyphony: simple, in which all the notes coincide in equal values; fractured, in which the notes combine in diverse values, and specifically only a few are colored black while most are not; colored, in which a greater number of colored notes are combined with few uncolored ones. Many examples of all these are obvious, and from the description of each type they can easily be recognized....

    • Chapter 15 The Analysis or Arrangement of a Musical Piece
      (pp. 201-206)

      Musical analysis is the examination of a piece belonging to a certain mode and to a certain type of polyphony. The piece is to be divided into its affections or [72] periods, so that the artfulness with which each period takes shape can be studied and adopted for imitation. There are five areas of analysis: (1) investigation of the mode; (2) investigation of the melodic genus; (3) investigation of the type of polyphony; (4) consideration of the quality; (5) sectioning of the piece into affections or periods.

      Investigation of mode is the consideration of those aspects which are essential for...

    • Chapter 16 Imitation
      (pp. 207-211)

      Imitation is the study and endeavor to pattern and model our musical compositions after the works of master composers, which are skillfully examined through analysis. There are two types of imitation: the first is general, the second is specific.¹

      General imitation is called genike, wherein we set before ourselves as models for imitation all the outstanding masters and their works. It consists both in the invention and arrangement of subject matter which suggests the choice of musical ornaments, as well as the connection and performance of concords. The subject matter can securely be borrowed [tuto peti possunt] from the masters,...

  8. Appendix A1 Introductory Letters and Poems in Hypomnematum musicae poeticae
    (pp. 213-227)
  9. Appendix A2 Introductory Letter and Poems in Musica autoschediastike
    (pp. 229-245)
  10. Appendix B Musical Examples Cited by Burmeister
    (pp. 246-302)
  11. Index
    (pp. 303-306)