22. Doctrine of the Affections, part 1



Music of all the arts has the most influence on the passions and the legislator should give it the greatest encouragement.

R. W. Marpurg, 1749:

All musical expression has an affect or emotion for its foundation.

After the long attempts by the Church to discourage the subject of the emotions in all its forms, during the Renaissance Period we begin to see the entire subject of feelings in Music begin to appear. The late 16th century Italian madrigals and canzoni were a dramatic departure from the past and based on the evidence of their extensive publication in Venice there was a wide acceptance of this new style.

Following the lead of the composers and no doubt the enthusiasm of the listeners, the more philosophically inclined writers began to attempt to explain and classify the kinds of emotion. An early example is the Italian philosopher, Girolamo Cardano (1501–1576).

The first rule of artistic music: there is nothing more efficacious for pleasure than proper imitation. It has three parts: manner [modus], sense [sensus], and sound [sonus]. These three do not always coincide. For example, if one imitates the song of small birds, it is not necessary to imitate the sense, for their chirping has no meaning, but only their sound and manner …

We imitate by sense when there is great emotion, such as in the four moods of sorrow, joy, tranquility, and excitement …

A mood of commiseration proceeds in music in slow and serious notes by dropping downward suddenly from a high range. This imitates the manner of those who weep, for at first they wail in a very high and clear voice and then they end by dropping into a very low and rather muffled groan.

Cardanus, “Writings on Music.” American Institute of Musicology, 1973, 142ff

Another route of explanation was offered by the German philosopher, Henry Agrippa (1486–1536), a relationship with the co-called “Music of the Spheres.”

Moreover, they that followed the number of the elements, did affirm, that the four kinds of music do agree to them, and also to the four humors, and did think the Dorian music to be consonant to the Water and phlegm, the Phrygian to choler and Fire, the Lydian to blood and Air, the mixed-Lydian to melancholy and Earth: others respecting the number and virtue of the heavens, have attributed the Dorian to the Sun, the Phrygian to Mars, the Lydian to Jupiter, the mixed-Lydian to Saturn, the hypo-Phrygian to Mercury, the hypo-Lydian to Venus, the hypo-Dorian to the Moon, the hypomixed-Lydian to the fixed stars.

Agrippa, “De occult Philosophia,” II, xxv

Some of the early writers, especially those we associate withs the German philosophy known as “The Doctrine of the Affections,” tried to explain the new style on the basis of ancient physical theories. It might be helpful to review these for the reader as they are still not part of main stream medicine.

Hippocrates (fifth century BC), of the Greek island of Cos, the traditional “Father of Medicine,” believed that man’s health was influenced by four fluids, known as the ‘Humors,’ blood, phlegm, choler (yellow bile) and melancholy (black bile). It was his idea that good health resulted from a balance of these four fluids. If there was an imbalance, then he treated the patient with broth of lizard, goat eye or whatever he deemed necessary to bring the fluids into balance.

The Roman doctor, Galen (130–201 AD), often cited as the father of modern medicine, extended the idea of the four fluids by concluding they also influenced the man’s personality. Thus he equates ‘blood’ with a sanguine personality, amorous, happy, one who enjoys laughter, music and has a passionate and generous disposition; phlegm (phlegmatic), one who is sluggish, dull, pale and cowardly; choler, or choleric, a violent person quick to anger and melancholy, a melancholic or depressed, gluttonous, lazy and sentimental personality. Now the concept became known as the Four Temperaments, instead of the Humors. It was the doctor’s job, if he found an imbalance, to treat through the use of emetics, cathartics, purgatives or by bloodletting. These views were held for centuries. George Washington was subjected to bloodletting and was killed by the procedure because his doctor mistakenly thought the human body held twelve instead of six quarts.

During the next fifteen centuries there were numerous new “sciences” which branched off from the Temperaments. One of the evolutions of this theory in the eighteenth century was the pseudo-science of phrenology, founded by Franz Joseph Gall (1758–1828). Through this “science” the practitioner concluded that dominant personality traits were reflected in the shape of the skull. The practice of this study resulted in Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven being buried without their heads!

Another evolution of the Temperaments was to combine them with astrology, with three zodiac symbols assigned to each temperament.

The most original writing of the seventeenth century on the Doctrine of the Affections occurred in France, by a very well-known writer, Martin Mersenne (1588–1648), author of the virtual encyclopedia, Harmonie universelle (1636), In his second treatise of this encyclopedia, “Traite de mechanique,” he takes the basic idea of the doctrine of affections and expands it to include a discussion of music and taste in foods.

We shall commence with tastes, the most agreeable of which must correspond to the octave. These are the sweet tastes which are found in honey, sugar, flowers of honeysuckle …

The fatty or greasy taste corresponds to the perfect fifth, since, with the exception of the sweet, it is the most agreeable taste.

The perfect fourth is comparable to the salty taste, for the salty taste is disagreeable in combination with the sweet, as is the perfect fourth when it is joined with the octave. If the perfect fourth is joined with the perfect fifth, however, it is agreeable, as is the salty taste with the fatty …

The astringent taste corresponds to the major third, and the insipid taste to the minor third. These two consonances combine well with the octave, as do the astringent and insipid tastes with the sweet. The gentle impression which the astringent and insipid tastes make on the gustatory sense is similar to that which the major or minor third takes on the ears. Although they can be mixed with the salty, the astringent and insipid tastes do not combine so well with the fatty. Similarly, the major or minor third combines better with the perfect fourth than with the perfect fifth. When the major or minor third combines with the perfect fourth, it forms the major or minor sixth. The sixths, however, are less agreeable than the thirds. Just as the thirds do not contain the octave or the perfect fifth, so the astringent and insipid tastes do not partake of the sweet or the fatty.

The major sixth corresponds to the sour taste, and the minor sixth with the acid taste. Just as the major sixth combines well with the minor third and the minor sixth with the major third, so the sour can be joined with the insipid and the acid with the astringent. Such taste combinations ought to result in the sweet taste, just as the major sixth combines with the minor third to form the octave and the minor sixth combines with the major third to form the octave. The octave thus formed, however, lacks the perfect fifth, just as the corresponding taste combinations lack the fatty taste.

The sharp taste can be combined with the sour, such as wine with pepper, and that the sharp and sour agree with the tasteless and the sweet. Just as the two sixths agree with the octave and the perfect fifth. The two sixths can not be joined with the perfect fourth, just as the two aforesaid tastes can not be agreeably combined with the salty.

The bitter taste is like the whole-tone. It is always disagreeable. The tastes of all fruits begin with bitterness, as one experiences with unripe fruits. So, too, songs often begin with the whole-tone. The whole-tone is never more disagreeable than in combination with the octave, and the bitter is never more disagreeable than in combination with the sweet.

On the other hand, the bitter is never more agreeable than in combination with the salty, just as the whole-tone is never more agreeable than in combination with the perfect fourth so as to create the perfect fifth. For this reason certain people prefer the taste of salty olives to that of pheasants.

[II. ii]

Mersenne was also interested in the relationship of color to emotion.

It should be noticed here that songs are similar to the nuances of colors, which follows the idea of not being able to pass from one extremity to another without passing through a central shade. That is why one can be instructed in making good songs by the consideration of the nuances, for as one has seven intervals, or eight sounds in the octave, so one takes seven or eight colors for each shade, as is seen in the shade of purple, blue, and chartreuse, or lemon yellow. In this way one can compare each song to each color …

One can add that if songs are made of the twelve tones in the octave, one has also twelve colors, and that a shade may have as many colors as the octaves do sounds, or intervals, for each may be divided into an infinity of degrees.

One can be instructed by an analogy to other things. Simple tones compare to simple colors. Intervals of sounds compare to mixtures of the colors, and the songs to paintings.

III, ii, 6

Regarding color, it is interesting that Mersenne thought it might be helpful if the composer arranged to have his music actually printed in color to help identify the emotions he had in mind. Therefore, the diatonic, a joyful set of intervals, might be printed in black; the chromatic, whose half-steps arouse sad, amorous, and ravishing feelings, could be printed in red; and the enharmonic, since it is particularly fitting “for ravishing the mind in the contemplation of heavenly things,” could be reproduced in blue.

Mersenne also assigned significant responsibility to the performer for the communication of the emotions in music to the listener. Since Mersenne was primarily interested in song, his discussion centers on the singer.

The Italian [singers] observe several things in their solos of which ours are deprived, since they represent as much as they can the passions and the affections of the soul and the mind, for example, choler, wrath, spite, rage, lapses of the heart, and several passions, with a violence so peculiar that one would almost judge that they felt the same affections which they represent when singing, whereas we French are content with only charming the ear, and use a constant mildness in our songs, which hinders their vigor.

IV, vi, 6

We find the most interesting comments by Mersenne on the subject of the performer are those which deal with the problem of the emotions and their actual notation symbols. He wishes for a notational system which was more helpful and he is correct: we do not have a single written symbol which is addressed to feeling!

There are a number of passions which we can make appear in singing, for which we have not yet devised symbols, such as the great exclamations of Italian airs, and the representations of lapses of the heart. It appears that if the circumflex accent had not been used for the double-flagged notes…it would be suitable for representing these great cries and excesses of the voice, since it is composed of the acute and the grave accent, just as the exclamation of despair and of pain is composed of a cry of the voice and a small rest which descends to the third, the fourth, the minor sixth, or other intervals, according to its magnitude and the strength of the voice which sings …

We lack symbols to represent the notes or syllables which we should sing more strongly, as we have some bowing strokes much stronger than others. Since the voice has as many degrees of force as of intervals, we can divide this force into eight degrees, as we divide heat and the other qualities, so that the first degree is suitable for expressing very weak echoes, and the other seven degrees designate the different degrees of the most vehement passions up to the eighth, which will represent the greatest exclamation which can be made, such as that of despair and of any great pain of the mind or the body, such as we can imagine that of Esau when he roared and cried when demanding the benediction of his father Isaac. These different degrees of force can be designated by numbers, or by as many dots or accents. Since, however, they have already been used for other purposes, there would be need to add new symbols, although if we retain the ordinary usage of notes, which carry the value of time with them, numbers can serve to indicate the differences of force of the voice.

IV, vi, 7. An error in Mersenne’s original publication incorrectly numbers the propositions from this point on, beginning with 8, instead of 7

It seems clear that at least part of Mersenne’s introduction to the Doctrine of the Affections came from the writings of Pontus de Thyard (1521–1605), who was the theorist in residence of Baïff’s Academy, for Mersenne specifically quotes from his writings on this subject.

Pontus de Thyard also speaks thereof in his second Solitaire, in which he says that the agreement of the four humors is called health and the discord thereof is called sickness. The changeability of the pulse attests to this; it is like the master of the music of the human body. Philosophers have considered three kinds of movement in the spirit, namely, desire or concupiscence, ire, and reason, which produce an intellectual harmony in man when they accord with the will of God. Otherwise they yield a very disagreeable dissonance.

Desire has three divisions. Ire has four, and reason has seven. The divisions are called virtues. The first division of desire is Temperance, which despises the voluptuous. The second division is Continence, which suffers failure and poverty without tiring. The third division of desire is Shame, which rejects any rejoicing over the voluptuous.

Ire has four divisions, namely, Clemency, Courage or Assurance, Fortitude, and Constancy.

Reason has seven divisions, namely, Understanding, Perspicacity, Curiosity, Counsel or Consideration, Wisdom, Prudence, and Experience.

Temperance taken from the ternary of the perfect fourth, Fortitude drawn from the quaternary of the perfect fifth, Prudence drawn from the septenary of the octave, and Justice taken from the perfect consonance (inasmuch as it unites the powers of body and soul) make the perfect quaternary of the Pythagoreans, in which all the perfect consonances can be found.

II, iii

In this same place, Mersenne also paraphrases Ptolemy, concluding,

There are certain sounds which excite some to voluptuousness, others to pity and mercy, and still others to rage and ecstasy. The passions of the soul are changed according to the sounds, songs, and modes which are used.

II, iii

Mersenne begins the discussion of his own theories on the relationship of music and the temperaments with a number of general observations on the nature of the emotions and music. He begins by considering the “voices of animals,” which he finds serve to “signify the passions of the soul, but does not always signify the temperament of the body.”

Experience points out [that] … birds, dogs, and other animals make another sound when angered than when complaining, or when sick than when well again and in good health. For bile makes the voice high, melancholy and phlegm make it low, and the bloody humor renders it tempestuous. Thus the height is compared to fire, depth to earth and water and tempestuousness to air.

III, I, 7

Mersenne concludes that pitch itself is not an infallible indication of temperament, in either man or animal. However,

As for the other qualities of the voice, such as sharpness, sweetness and agility, they seem to be able to give us more certain indications of temperament. For those who speak swiftly and brusquely are ordinarily testy, and those who speak slowly are melancholy. But those who speak moderately are cheerful and of a good temperament … One can say in general the hardest and roughest voices are the most appropriate for signifying the passions, and griefs and displeasure; and the sweetest voices are most appropriate for the amorous passions, and that the great cries best represent the great sorrows and sadness.

Now Mersenne begins to wonder if it might be more effective in expressing our feelings, if we substituted singing for speech. In fact, he concludes that song seemingly is more appropriate and natural for expressing the passions.

For the song of an interval of a second is appropriate for expressing sadness and that of a third is appropriate for expressing joy. And if one were to examine the nature of all intervals, one would find the conformity they have with each thing, such that he could enjoy them in place of our ordinary speech for making us understand and for expressing the nature of things.

But, he admits, that persons with limited vocal resources would thus have trouble expressing themselves. In III, i, 36, Mersenne offers a remedy for clearing the throat, a potion of the grain of ground cole-wort mixed with sugar, or with Spanish licorice, or with tobacco syrup. He adds, “I leave out all the extraordinary remedies and many ways that actors and preachers use to preserve their voices.”

It would seem a given conclusion to a seventeenth-century philosopher such as Mersenne that ‘happy’ songs should be more agreeable to the listener than sad ones. But to his astonishment, he found the opposite was sometimes the case!

Nevertheless all musicians are of contrary opinion, and the listeners who sing confess that they receive more pleasure from sad and languishing songs, than from gay ones …

However one can first consider that men have much more melancholy and phlegm than bile, and they embrace the earth more than air, or the skies, and the gay airs being of an aerial nature, representing fire, are not so suitable to the nature of men as the sad and languishing songs which represent the earth, melancholy, and phlegm. I have proved in the 31 propositions of the ‘Book of Sounds’ that the high sounds are more agreeable than the low ones, because they partake more of the nature of air and fire. This does not mean however that sad songs must be less agreeable than gay ones. But the reason is not enough, since one meets bilious men, who are pleased with sad songs, as well as melancholy ones, in a way that it is necessary to take the nature of the sad songs in mind, since some listeners differ in their opinion.

It is necessary to consider the nature of sad airs, which consist of several things, for the melody of sad airs represents languor and sadness by its continuation, by its weakness and its trembling. The half-tones and sharps represent the tears and complaining because of their small intervals which mean weakness. The small intervals which are made in rising or falling are similar to children, to the old, and to those who arise from a long illness, who cannot walk in large steps …

And then when one takes a long time to shift from interval to interval that shows a great weakness, which makes its impression in the soul of the listener … Gay songs are so rapid, that one has not as much time to notice them, since they do not remain long enough in one place to make an impression on the soul. I do not wish to speak here of the text which augments sadness, when it makes us review the unhappy accidents of life with which we have been tormented, since sad airs can exist without words.

However, it is necessary to notice that all men are more subject to sadness than to joy, for if each one could reflect on the actions that he does, or on his thoughts, he would find a dozen of the sad ones for each gay one. Sadness fell upon us after the original sin, and is natural to us. In contrast, joy comes to us by accident, as happens in joyous gatherings, where each one forces himself to give pleasure to his companion (which he does not always succeed) and there are many who have laughed while the heart was sad. But it seems that often one lets himself follow the common opinion that there are sad songs, and that one should say they are gay, since they bring contentment to the listeners. Many times musicians call songs sad when in reality they are not, but rather they fit the voice of those who lament, particularly well.

What is this pleasure derived from sad things? How is it engendered in listeners? I would say only that there are two types of sadness, one moral, because its motifs are drawn from deprivation, the other is natural, and comes from the melancholic humor, or from the phlegmatic, when one has sinned to excess. Sad songs do not engender either, but leave the listener in whatever humor he was previously in. If we use reason, we see that the melancholiacs derive more pleasure from gay songs than from sad ones, since the brusque and lively movements of the chansons are more suitable for dissipating excessive humor of melancholy, rather than the slow and languishing movements of lamentations. One is cured by the contrary of his ailments, if we believe Hippocrates rather than Paracelsus, who believed that people are cured by similar things.

III, ii, 26

Mersenne now extends this discussion of a man’s temperament to include the subject of laughing. First the interesting observation is made that all laughter uses one or other of the five vowels (Ha, Ha, Ha; He, He, He, etc). From this the following discussion ensues

Now since a greater ardor is necessary for moving the wings of the lungs when the laugh is made on a, it can be said that those who form a while laughing have more ardor than those who form o and i, and that e signifies a greater ardor than u. A shows the moistness and facility that the glottis has in opening, and, consequently, that one is full-blooded. But e, o, and i show its dryness and that those who form these letters while laughing are of a cold and dry temperament. Just as the vowel u signifies that one is cold and moist, the vowels i and o show that one is hot, dry, and bilious. E signifies melancholy, and u signifies phlegm, and those who form the said letters while laughing are subject to the maladies deriving from these humors, or are appropriate to the virtues that these same humors favor. This is why I conclude that a and o signify audacity and liberality when they are made by a quick movement, and that e and u signify avarice; that those who form a and o are loved by those who form e and i, who look for ardor to be perfected and conserved; and that those who form the same letter are loved reciprocally because of the resemblance; that those who form a and o have a quicker and sharper mind; and that those who form e have better memory and less imagination, and that they are more opinionated; that the vowels i and u show a short life and the others a long life; such that the spring of his life who forms a lasts 25 years, which he similarly confers to the summer, autumn, and winter of life.

III, I, 46

Mersenne’s own special area of interest, within the general topic of music and the emotions, was the relationship of the vocal accents of speech and the melodic accents he heard musicians add to the music and how these might be related to the temperaments and the humors. He begins by considering the use of accents general.

With regard to the ordinary accents of which the Greeks, the Latins, and the other nations speak, they admit only three, namely, the grave, the acute, and the circumflex, or the accents of grammar, rhetoric, and music.

IV, vi, 10

Mersenne now wonders if the individual use of these accents may identify the temperament and humor. First, he points out that one can easily identify persons from different parts of France merely by their accents. To him it followed that

Experience teaches that those who are hasty and abrupt in their actions and who are easily upset have an abrupt and high accent, and that those who are gloomy have a low, slow, and heavy one. Just as there are quite as many temperaments and different humors as there are men, likewise there are just as many different accents and different manners of speaking … This can apparently arise only from the difference of their humors and the diversity of their organs, which arises from the difference of their temperaments.

IV, vi, 11

Mersenne now offers the proposition: “The accent of which we speak here is an inflection or modification of the voice or the word with which we express the passions and the affections naturally or artificially.” He then sets forth in some detail his own theory that “Each passion and affection of the soul has its proper accents by which its different degrees are explained.”

Every day we experience that choler is expressed by an accent different from that of admiration or sorrow. If we follow the division which philosophers make of the passions of the soul, we shall establish eleven kinds of accents. For they admit eleven passions, namely, six in the concupiscible appetite, which resides on the right side of the heart, or in the liver, as the Platonists wish, and five in the irascible appetite, which is on the left side of the heart, or in the gall, or in other places according to this Latin distich,

“The heart savors and the lung speaks, the gall awakens wrath,
The spleen causes laughter, the liver urges love.”

“The first passion of the concupiscible appetite, or of concupiscence, is love, which is the root of all the passions. For we do not hate anything except when we believe that it is opposed and is contrary to that which we love. Thus all the disorder of the passions arises from love, which is divided into desire and joy, according to the different movements which it gives to the soul.

Hatred is opposed to love, and has its advancement in flight and in sorrow. Thus the six passions can be reduced to these two capital ones, since they are an advancement of love and of hatred, and since we do not desire anything, or rejoice in anything other than those we love, just as we shun nothing and grieve at no things other than those we hate.

Hope, boldness or daring, choler, fear, and despair belong to the irascible appetite …

We can conclude from this that the ancients established these four passions, namely, joy, pain, fear, and hope, as the four elements, or the four humors, of the appetite which we have in common with the animals. We can, however, admit love and hatred instead of joy and pain. We must see in what the movement of these passions consists before establishing certain accents for them.

In the first place, the heart enlarges, blossoms out, and opens in joy and hope, just as heliotrope, roses, and lilies do in the presence of the sun. It is from this that the complexion of the face is rosy, because of the vital spirits which the heart sends above. Thus if joy is so great that the heart remains without a great enough quantity of these spirits, we faint, and sometimes die laughing.

On the contrary, when sorrow is excessive, the same spirits withdraw to the heart in too great a multitude, and smother it, since it can no longer move nor open. Thus these two passions are like the ebb and flow of the sea. For joy is like the flow which brings a great quantity of stones, shells, and fish to the shore of the sea, and joy brings a quantity of blood and spirits to the face and the other parts of the body. Fear and pain, however, are like the ebb, which withdraws that which was gathered. For fear and terror render the face pale and the countenance bleak and hideous by withdrawing the blood and the spirits, and cause melancholy to corrupt the little blood which remains in the veins, and fills the imagination with frightful dreams. It is necessary, therefore, that the accents with which we express the different affections and passions of the soul be different, and that some of them imitate and represent the flow of spirits and blood, and others the ebb, that the former be quick, lively, cheerful, and similar to the flowers and odors of spring, and the latter be similar to rain, snow, winter, and all that is disagreeable, that the former be similar to consonances and ensemble pieces, and the latter to dissonances and disturbing noises, and finally, that the former have as many perfections as the latter have imperfections.

We must see whether it is possible to establish four principal accents according to these four different passions. For the accents of which we speak here can be called the word or discourse of the passions, just as words and ordinary discourse are called the discourse of the mind, which partakes more of artificial means than of nature, just as that of the passions partakes more of nature than of artificial means. Consequently, the latter is less subject to concealment than the former. With regard to the accent of joy, it is certain that it is different from that of sorrow. That of joy, however, includes that of desire and love, just as the triangle includes two right angles, and just as the rational soul includes the sensitive and the vegetative. This accent is cheerful, pleasant, and quite agreeable, and can be divided into as many other accents as there are different degrees of joy and love.

The accent of sorrow is slow, gloomy, and troublesome. That of hatred is more violent, and approaches that of indignation, which is contained in that of choler. With regard to the accent of flight, it is related to that of fear, and that of desire is like that of hope. The accent of despair follows that of sorrow, just as that of boldness follows that of hope and desire. It is difficult, however, to express all these accents.” [IV, vi, 13]

The final sentence, above, reflects the fact that Mersenne realized that his ideas were far too complex to be notated in either speech or music. He therefore urges that the time has come to invent new symbols for the passions. To be sufficient to express the necessary range of emotions, Mersenne finds the need for nine new symbols. He expresses this in the proposition, All the accents which we use to express the three passions to which we have related the others have need of nine different characters to be explained and understood, namely, three for the three degrees of choler, and just as many for the degrees of love and of sorrow.

“The first degree of choler is noted in the voice when it rises a little higher and when we speak with more vehemence. If we touch the pulse, we shall quickly judge that the heart beats more swiftly or more strongly. We must observe, however, whether this pulsation is sesquialtera that of the natural pulsation, or whether it observes some other proportion, in order to establish the first degree of choler and to have its internal character by the movements of the pulse or by that of the respiration, and its external character by the height or force and speed of the voice.

Since this accent originates from the bile, we could represent this first degree of choler by one dot of flame or of fire, or by some other symbol which designates how many degrees it must raise or strengthen and hasten the word to the first degree of choler. This could perhaps be done with flagged notes and the fredons of music.

The second degree of choler gives a stronger blow to the reason, which begins to yield to passion. It can be explained by two dots of flame. If the pulse of the first degree of choler is sesquialtera that of the natural, the pulse of the second degree will be double in swiftness the natural, and consequently, sesquiteria that of the pulsation which the second degree makes, for the double ratio is composed of the sesquialtera and the sesquitertia. We must, nevertheless, note that the natural pulsation does not pass at once to the second degree, nor does that of the second degree to that of the third. It is enough, however, to have established the final point of these degrees, which we can reach either all at once, or by several intervals, just as we can go from the lower sound to the fifth without using degrees, or with the ordinary degrees.

The third degree of choler which ascends to wrath, can be represented by a flame with three dots. The pulsation of the heart will be triple that of the natural, either in speed or force, or in both. We can relate to this the range of the voice which in pain rises more than a twelfth from the tone of the ordinary word which is used without passion, to the cry of wrath and despair. For if the voice ascends higher, it becomes raucous and disagreeable and should be called a squeal rather than a human voice. Thus those who have arrived at this degree no longer say a word, or if they talk or cry out, they lower the tone. Moreover, it is difficult, and perhaps naturally impossible, for the pulse to beat more than three times more swiftly in choler than outside of it. Since, however, we must avoid as much as possible the innovation of symbols, an acute accent can designate the first degree of choler, two the second, and three the third. If we wished to use specific letters, they can carry with them any point or sign we wish, by which those who read the discourse will be warned that it is necessary to pronounce the end or some other part of the sentence with the first, the second, or the third accent of choler.

The same thing must be said of the accents of the passion, of joy, and of sorrow, which have their beginnings, advancements and endings, as do choler, illnesses, and the other things of this world, although the pulse and the voice of these two passions are not as easy to explain as those of choler. We can, nevertheless, establish accents and symbols for them in proportion of those of choler.

Some have believed that the passions change the weight of the body, and that the man in choler is lighter by eight pounds per hundred than when he is sorrowful, by a thirteenth when he is in the final degree of choler, and by a twenty-fifth when he is extremely joyous. These remarks, or rather these imaginations, however, are quite false, for inflammation and death bring a greater alternation to beasts and the human body than do all the passions of the soul of the body. Nevertheless, the living body is not lighter than the dead one, nor the warm and inflamed breast than the cold one, as we have experimented quite exactly.”

IV, vi, 15

Next he considers to what degree the various passions he has been discussing can be expressed in musical notation and he finds the problem much more difficult than in the case of speech.

This is quite difficult to explain, so much so because it appears that music desires a certain delicacy and agreeableness which cannot be compatible with the vehemence and severity of the passions, particularly with choler. For with regard to the accents of sorrow and pain, it is easy to make them by means of the semitone which the voice forms when yearning. This is almost the only accent in French songs, in which we sometimes mix also the accents of joy, love, and hope, appropriately enough. The Italians, however, have more vehemence than we do for expressing the strongest passions of choler with their accents, particularly when they sing their verses for the theater to imitate the scenic music of the ancients. The accent of choler is made by rushing the final syllables, and by strengthening the last sounds. If we reflect upon the elevation of the voice, we shall note that it is often raised an entire tone, a third, and a fourth, when pronouncing the final syllable of words which are used in choler and sometimes by the same intervals or by the diapente when sustaining the voice on the antepenultimate syllable. The manners in which choler is expressed, however, are so diverse that there is almost no interval at all which it does not use, according to its different degrees and the other passions which accompany it. Thus the musician should consider the time, the place, the characters, and the subject for which the accent should be made, in order that he indicate it on the syllable which the voice should sustain, and which it should raise and strengthen.

I have noted that the tone of voice of choler often ascends an entire octave or more all at once. This is difficult to perceive, unless we try to place these intervals into music by forming the same intervals slowly, and little by little, so that the imagination might have the time to understand the interval of choler. The same thing must be said of the accent of spite, displeasure, and the other passions, which will often be found on a tone of voice much higher than we believe, although it is also made sometimes on the same pitch by striking it more strongly and more quickly.

I leave the investigation of symbols necessary to indicate this passion and the others, to composers who desire to write songs in which nothing is lacking, and particularly, who have the intent to accent them in all kinds of ways. This will give such a charm and such an air to the songs and the solos, that all who hear them will acknowledge that they are animated and full of vigor and spirit, of which they are devoid without these accents. Composers can be instructed in this by considering the striking of chamades, charges on the drum, and those of trumpets, whose last sounds of each beat represent choler by the promptness and the force of the blow of the stick or the tongue. With regard to the promptness, we have flagged or double-flagged and triple-flagged notes, which are quick enough to indicate the speed of all the degrees of the most rapid passions, just as we have those of sixteen, twelve, eight, six, four, three, and two beats, which are slow enough to indicate the listlessness of the greatest sorrows. Thus we are only lacking symbols which designate the impetuosity, the vigor, and the force of these passions. For example, we can designate the first degree with the same mark by which we indicate the first minutes, namely, by this small straight line, /, by the second by the sign of the seconds, //, the third by the sign of the thirds, ///, etc. Those who teach singing, however, should show all these different degrees of the passions to children, just as they teach them cadences and various passages and trills, so that they might be lacking in nothing to accent all the syllables and the notes indicated by the composer, who should strive for a knowledge of the movements and degrees of each passion, in order to represent them as simply as possible.

If the composer of songs judges that he cannot form the accents of the passions with the ordinary intervals of the diatonic and chromatic, that is, with the music which we ordinarily use, it is easy for him to use the enharmonic dieses which I have explained in Book Three, and in those on lutes and the organ. For example, if he finds that the major third is too small to express some passion and its accent, he can increase it by any diesis he wishes, that is, by the one which makes only a quarter tone, or by that which makes a third of a tone, or by any other interval he judges suitable for his intent. I have wished to add to this so that we might not think that the Greeks have had, or were able to have, any other degrees or intervals than those which we can use just as well as they did in all kinds of situations, without there remaining any reason for us to doubt that they were able to write better songs than ours, particularly if we accommodate to them all which we have said.

IV, vi, 16

Mersenne now turns to the role of rhythm in the communication of emotions in music. In the following proposition, the word ‘movement’ is used to refer to emotional character, not speed or as a term to distinguish part of a larger form as we use the term today.

Rhythmics is an art which considers movements and which regulates their succession and their mixture to excite the passions and to maintain them, and to increase, decrease, or calm them.

IV, vi, 18

He begins here a discussion of the application of the Greek rhythmic modes to composition, but he admits it is difficult to prescribe what the succession of these movements should be to excite the listeners to the given passion. It is equally difficult to persuade composers to observe these, not only because they find the application of these modes result in tedious rhythms, but because they would prefer to write what comes to them solely from their imagination.