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The Art of Musical Phrasing in the Eighteenth Century

The Art of Musical Phrasing in the Eighteenth Century: Punctuating the Classical "Period"

Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 378
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  • Book Info
    The Art of Musical Phrasing in the Eighteenth Century
    Book Description:

    There are, of course, no commas, periods, or question marks in music of the Baroque and Classic eras. Nonetheless, the concept of "punctuating" music into longer and shorter units of expression was richly explored by many of the era's leading composers, theorists, and performers. The Art of Musical Phrasing in the Eighteenth Century gathers and discusses, for the first time, an extensive collection of quotations and musical illustrations relevant to phrase articulation and written and unwritten rests. Among the notable authors cited and discussed are Muffat, Telemann, C. P. E. Bach, Mattheson, Marpurg, Tartini, and Mozart's father Leopold (author of the most important eighteenth-century treatise on string playing). On a larger scale, The Art of Musical Phrasing demonstrates the role of punctuation within the history of rhetoric during the Age of Enlightenment. From this, the performer of today can gain a greater appreciation for both the strengths and shortcomings of the analogy that writers of the day drew between punctuation in written language and in music. Modern performers, argues Vial, have the challenge and responsibility of understanding and conveying the nuances, inflections, and rhythmic gestures deeply embedded in eighteenth-century musical notation. The Art of Musical Phrasing, the fruit of Vial's rich experience as a cellist performing on both period and modern instruments, lays out long-needed practical suggestions for achieving this goal. Stephanie D. Vial performs and records widely as a cellist and has taught at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-712-4
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Notes to the Reader on Sources and Terminology
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Introduction: The Pledge of Allegiance
    (pp. 1-10)

    In February of 1998, the Miami Dade county school board voted to change the rhythm with which their students recite the Pledge of Allegiance, the words American public-school children have chanted in salute of their country’s flag since the late nineteenth century. More specifically, the school board agreed to eliminate thepausecustomarily made betweenone nationandunder God. The story was broadcast on National Public Radio’s Saturday morning weekend edition with Scott Simon, who invited his guest, U.S. poet laureate Robert Pinsky, to comment on the significance of the disappearing pause.¹ Pinsky’s first remark was to congratulate the...

  7. Part 1: Establishing an Historical Perspective

    • Chapter One Musical Punctuation, the Analogy
      (pp. 13-31)

      Intrinsic to the termMusical Punctuationis the analogy between music and language: like language, music expresses ideas through various grammatical and rhetorical units, such as phrases, periods, and paragraphs; these units, according to the extent to which they convey completeness or incompleteness, are more or less separated from each other through the pauses, rests, and inflections of punctuation. Such an analogy is not conceptually difficult. We are accustomed to the exchange of terminology between language and music: music theorists analyze the “sentence” and “paragraph” structure of a composition; performers determine how best to “phrase” a given passage. In fact,...

    • Chapter Two A Surprisingly Complex and Lively Picture of Pointing Theory
      (pp. 32-59)

      The title for this chapter is inspired by an observation made by Park Honan in 1960 concerning the nature of English punctuation practices (pointing theory) in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.¹ I find the remark particularly apropos, in light of our discussion thus far, because it embraces not only the very vibrant nature of the subject, but also the sense of amazement we tend to have today that punctuation could be anything other than a rather tedious if necessary element of language, most effective when barely noticeable.

      The concept of punctuation as a significant, fascinating, and vital element of spoken...

    • Chapter Three Musical “Resting Points of the Spirit”
      (pp. 60-94)

      Heinrich Christoph Koch begins his chapter “The Nature of Melodic Sections” from Part II of hisVersuch einer Anleitung zur Composition(1787), with the following statement:

      Certain more or less noticeableresting points of the spirit[Ruhepunkte des Geistes] are generally necessary in speech and thus also in the products of those fine arts which attain their goal through speech, namely poetry and rhetoric, if the subject that they present is to be comprehensible. Suchresting points of the spiritare just as necessary in melody if it is to affect our feelings. This is a fact which has never...

  8. Part 2: The Art of Interpreting Rests

    • Chapter Four Written and Unwritten Rests
      (pp. 97-120)

      Stop, Breathe, Pause, Suspend, Take Time, Rest, Divide, Separate. . . . Such injunctions dominate eighteenth-century (and nineteenth-century) discourse on the Art of Punctuation. As we established in Part 1, the manner in which phrases are formed and differentiated (our “complex and lively picture of pointing theory”) encompasses a broad array of subjects: syllabic feet, metrical stress, accent, emphasis, dynamics, inflection, as well as considerations of gesture, affect, compositional type and style, etc. But a quick glance through the chart in appendix B reveals punctuation’s defining role as the delineation of phrase structure through pauses, or musically speaking, rests ....

    • Chapter Five Punctuation vs. Articulation
      (pp. 121-149)

      Articulationin the daily discourse of the modern musician has acquired such broad usage that its significance is often obscured. We speak of “articulating” this or that passage in a kind of catch-all manner with any variety of meanings and on any number of levels, many of which easily merge into the realm of punctuation. Take for instance the following two definitions of articulation fromThe New Harvard Dictionary:

      (1) In performance, the characteristics of attack and decay of single tones or groups of tones and the means by which these characteristics are produced. Thus, for example, staccato and legato...

    • Chapter Six Affective Punctuation
      (pp. 150-176)

      Thus far in our efforts tointerpret rests, we have established that music is far more “pause-ridden” than might otherwise meet the eye; its notation expresses rests that are both written and unwritten. However, many of these rests do not always express pauses which are directly related to punctuation, and furthermore, their notation, explicit or implicit, must necessarily remain somewhat imprecise. This concerns where the pauses fall, how regularly or irregularly they occur, and where they lie on the scale from scarcely perceptible (including those that admit of no repose at all) to highly conspicuous. But if we demand too...

  9. Part 3: Case Studies in Musical Punctuation

    • Chapter Seven Musical Prose—F. W. Marpurg’s Essay on the Punctuation of Recitative
      (pp. 179-202)

      Music and language, as we established in chapter 6, agree on a general categorization of subject matter according to prose and verse, where in the strictest sense the one expresses strong subjects through an irregularity of rhythm, metrical accent, and phrase structure, while the other expresses milder subjects through a contrasting homogeneity. Music and language, however, inevitably disagree as to which category presents the greater challenges for the composer and performer. There is so much music in spoken verse and so much speech in musical prose, the basis for the continuing analogy between the two, that the nearer one medium...

    • Chapter Eight Musical Verse—Johann Mattheson’s “Curious Specimen” of a Punctuated Minuet
      (pp. 203-230)

      In the previous chapter, on recitative, we discussed the way in which musical punctuation seeks to express the most predominant structures of language, those of prose. In this chapter, we now turn the tables to view musical punctuation, still as it seeks to imitate language, but from the perspective of music’s most predominant structures. The general consensus among eighteenth-century music theorists, as expressed above by Koch, is that the basics of musical punctuation are to be derived from the most recognizable and distinctly defined forms of the day, what we are describing as the verse-like structures of music. These verse...

  10. Afterword
    (pp. 231-232)

    I find, in the end, that I come to the same general conclusion that eighteenthcentury composers, theorists, and performers did themselves: except for didactic purposes, it is not, after all, desirable to insert directly into musical notation the punctuation marks of language; these are, in effect, already implicit in the notation. The more specificity and detail we demand from our notation, the less helpful it becomes, rigidly prescribing that which is animate and spontaneous, and sometimes so subtle and intangible that any attempt at written expression renders it essentially ineffectual. Ironically, it is our arrival at such a seemingly negative...

  11. Appendix A Translation of Marpurg’s Lessons on Musical Punctuation, from His Kritische Briefe über die Tonkunst, vol. 2
    (pp. 233-259)
  12. Appendix B Chronological Chart of Punctuation References
    (pp. 260-278)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 279-324)
  14. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 325-342)
  15. Index
    (pp. 343-358)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 359-362)