is an uncanny science, a carefully articulated system of gesture
and method that allows music, that "aerial and rational animal", to move souls, to bring tears, to evoke joy, and to speak directly to the heart.
Introduced by Listenius in his Rudimenta musica (1533)
to designate a new division of musical theory, joining the Boethian
musica theoretica and musica practica, the term musica poetica
treats of the relationship of music and words, and of a style of musical composition
based not only in the quadrivial mathematics, but also in oratory and rhetoric.
Joachim Burmeister's systematic exposition of the musical-rhetorical style,
culminating in his Musica poetica (1606), established the first
vocabulary of musical figures, parallels of their rhetorical counterparts,
and essential building-blocks of the practice of musica poetica
for the succeeding two centuries.
This site (still very much under construction) will, it is hoped,
become a web resource for those interested in the phenomenon of
musica poetica. Contributions from site visitors are welcome.
Submissions may be emailed to
firstname.lastname@example.org, and must be accompanied by
the author's name, address, phone number, professional
association, and a biographical sentence or two.
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1 Marsilio Ficino, De Vita coelitùs comparanda (Florence, 1489), in D.P. Walker, Spiritual and Demonic Magic from Ficino to Campanella, p. 10; cf. the Musicapoetica.net Bibliography for the complete citation.
Of special interest is the following, again quoting Walker, "The matter of song, he [Ficino] continues, is 'warm air, even breathing, and in a measure living, made up of articulated limbs,
like an animal, not only bearing movement and emotion, but even signification, like a mind, so that it can be said to be, as it were, a kind of aerial and rational animal.'" Cf. also Diderot, writing in 1751: "In music, the sensuous pleasure depends upon a particular disposition not just of the ear, but of the
entire nervous system.... How is it then that of the three arts that imitate nature, the one in which expression is most arbitrary and least precise is that which speaks to the heart most powerfully?"; quoted in Charles Rosen, The Classical Style, p. 184.
2 Cf. Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy, pp. 47ff., "There is another kind of experience in which we may find an example of the way in which rational elements in our feeling-consciousness may be thus penetrated by quite non-rational ones, and an example even more proximate to the complex feeling of the holy than that just described -- 'erotic' experience; -- in so far as the non-rational element is, like the numinous feeling but unlike the sexual impulse, at the same time supra-rational. I refer to the state of mind induced in us by a song set to music. The verbal text of the song expresses feelings that are 'natural', homesickness perhaps, or confidence in time of danger, hope for a future good, or joy in a present possission -- all concrete elements in our 'natural' human lot, and capable of being described in conceptual terms. But it is otherwise with the music, purely as music. It releases a blissful rejoicing in us, and we are conscious of a glimmering, billowy agitation occupying our minds,
without being able to express or explain in concepts what it really is that moves us so deeply. And to say that the music is mournful or exultant, that it incites or restrains, is merely to use signs by analogy, choosing them for their resemblance to the matter in hand out of other regions of our mental life; and at any rate we cannot say what the object or ground of this mourning or exulting may be. Music, in short, arouses in us an experience and vibrations of mood that are quite specific in kind and must simply be called 'musical'; but the rise and fall and manifold variations of this experience exhibit -- though again only in part -- definite, if fugitive, analogies and states, and so can call these into consciousness and blend with them. If this happens, the specific 'music-consciousness' is thereby 'schematized' and rationalized, and the resultant complex mood is, as it were, a fabric, in which the general human feelings and emotional states constitute the warp, and the non-rational music-feelings the woof. The song in its entirety is therefore music 'rationalized'."
And further (p. 49), "We can only succeed in very partial and fragmentary fashion in 'schematizing' the non-rational factor in music by means of the familiar incidents of human experience. And the reason is just this, that the real content of music is not drawn from the ordinary human emotions at all, and that it is in no way merely a second language, alongside the usual one, by which these emotions find expression. Musical feeling is rather (like numinous feeling) something 'wholly other', which, while it affords analogies and here and there will run parallel to the ordinary emotions of life, cannot be made to coincide with them by a detailed point-to-point correspondence. It is, of course, from those places where the correspondence holds that the spell of a composed song arises by a blending of verbal and musical expression. But the very fact that we attribute to it a spell, and enchantment, points in itself to that 'woof' in the fabric of music of which we spoke, the woof of the unconceived and non-rational."