To align the rhetorical principles of speech with the techniques used to make good-sounding music

"Rhetoric" in music refers to the use of musical elements and techniques to convey or evoke specific emotions, thoughts, or messages within a composition. Just as rhetoric is employed in language and literature to influence an audience, musical rhetoric aims to communicate and interact with the listener on emotional and intellectual levels.

Here are some key aspects of musical rhetoric:

  • Expressive Techniques: Composers and performers utilize various expressive techniques to convey emotions or depict specific scenes or moods within a work. These techniques include dynamics (loudness and softness), tempo (the speed of the music), articulation (how notes are played), and phrasing (shaping musical phrases), among others.
  • Figurative Language: Figurative language in musical rhetoric, such as musical gestures, themes, or thematic variations, can be used to represent or symbolize specific ideas or characters within a work. For example, a recurring theme may represent a particular character or emotion.
  • Ornamentation: Ornamentation includes adding decorative elements to the music, such as trills, grace notes, and embellishments. These ornaments can enhance the expressiveness of the music and add rhetorical flair.
  • Imitative Techniques: Imitation in music involves one voice or sound responding to or imitating another voice or sound and is often used to convey dialogue or communication between musical elements. This technique appears in various forms, including canons and fugues.
  • Musical Description: In vocal music, composers frequently employ musical description, where the music mirrors the textual meaning of the lyrics. For instance, a rising melody may represent joy, while a descending melody may represent sadness.
  • Rhythmic Patterns: Rhythmic patterns and meters can be used to create a sense of tension, excitement, or calmness, aligning with the emotional message of the music.
  • Harmonic Progressions: The choice of harmony and chord progressions can significantly influence the emotional impact of a piece. Dissonant harmonies may create tension, while consonant harmonies can provide resolution and tranquility.
  • Key and Modulation Changes: Shifts in key (modulation) or transitions to different tonalities can signify changes in emotion, mood, or narrative within a composition.

Rhetoric in music often involves the use of musical figures or gestures that evoke specific associations or emotions. For example, a descending chromatic scale may represent sadness or melancholy, while a rising scale may symbolize triumph or joy. Musical gestures such as trills, tremolos, or sudden dynamic changes can add drama or intensity to the music.

Furthermore, musical rhetoric encompasses the organization and structure of a musical composition. Just as a written text is divided into paragraphs or sections, musical compositions may have distinct sections or formal structures that help guide the listener's understanding and interpretation of the music.

The study of rhetoric in music involves examining the rhetorical devices used by composers and performers throughout history, as well as understanding the cultural and historical context in which the music was created. It offers insights into the expressive power of music and the ways in which it can engage and move its audience.

Example of Rhetoric

Bach and the Art of Rhetoric (ft. Nigel North)