25. The Truth about Baroque Music

Many early histories of Baroque music had a focus which left out a great deal of music, in particular the music representing Humanism, By Humanism in music we mean the return of the emphasis of communicating emotions as the primary purpose of music. Humanism begins during the late Renaissance, when it finishes off for good the old Church dogma of music based on mathematics and opened the door for a dramatic period of focus on the emotions in music — this is the true new style of the Baroque. Music history texts, based on some comments attributed to Monteverdi on the “first practice” and “second practice,” have told readers that both styles continued during the Baroque. This is true, but it is very misleading to suggest that half the composers were doing one and half the other. The truth is that very few composers continued to write in the old polyphonic Renaissance style and contemporary commentators said over and over again that this old scholastic style wss dead.

Because national preferences now also become more evident with respect to the role of the emotions in music, we will present these new views of the Baroque in the four major geographical areas.


Perhaps nothing epitomizes the new importance of emotions in performance so well as an eye-witness description of the famous Corelli playing his violin. Stop and think — have you ever seen anyone play Baroque music who looked like this?

“I never met with any man that suffered his passions to hurry him away so much whilst he was playing on the violin as the famous Arcangelo Corelli, whose eyes will sometimes turn as red as fire; his face will be distorted, his eyeballs roll as in an agony, and he gives in so much to what he is doing that he doth not look like the same man.1

This extraordinary return to music based on emotions and not on mathematics is also clearly seen at the very beginning of the Baroque with the ‘invention’ of the new form, Opera. The whole point of opera, as envisioned by the committee which founded it, the Camerata, was to create a form more emotionally powerful than mere spoken stage drama. And it is all the more amazing when one remembers that Italy was still otherwise dominated by a very powerful Church.

Already by 1581 Galilei was clearly expressing the goals of the new style. True music, he writes, has a primary purpose to express the passions and, secondarily, to communicate these with equal force to the minds of mortals for their benefit and advantage. The older polyphonic composers, with their “inviolable laws,” he says, are “directly opposed to the perfection of the true and best harmonies and melodies.”2

Soon composers of the new opera were making similar statements of purpose. Cavalieri, in the preface to his La rappresentatione di Anima (1600) says his goal is to move listeners to different emotions, such as pity and joy, tears and laughter.3

Caccini, in his The New Music, writes that the goal of his solo songs was “to move the emotions of the soul.” Later, he adds that the singer’s duty is to understand the poet’s conception and “imitating them through emotional music and expressing them through emotional singing.”4

The goal of this new style seems to have included the accompaniment, as we can see mentioned in 1600, by Emilio de’ Cavalieri in the preface to his Rappresentazione di Anima, et di Corpo,5 where he recommends the orchestra members changing instruments, according to the emotions, a practice which would explain the very large list of instruments associated with Monteverdi’s opera, Orfeo.

Before leaving the topic of the theater we might add that perhaps the new emphasis on projecting the emotions, together, no doubt, with the emerging dependence on improvisation, would account for the long rehearsal periods mentioned in the literature. A letter of Monteverdi to Alessandro Striggio in 1620 on the subject of the rehearsals for Arianna, tells us that after the singers had learned their parts by memory, then the “five months of strenuous rehearsals took place!” Even a horse ballet given in Vienna in January 1667 required six months of rehearsal!

Monteverdi, in 1638, in making a general comment about the communication of emotions in music, makes a subtle comment on the old scholastic, mathematical polyphonic music of the past.

I consider the principal passions or emotions of the soul to be three, namely, anger, serenity, and humility. The best philosophers affirm this; the very nature of our voice, with its high, low and middle ranges, shows it; and the art of music clearly manifests it in these three terms: agitated, soft and moderate. I have not been able to find an example of the agitated style in the works of past composers, but I have discovered many of the soft and moderate types.6

Marcello, in a letter of 1711, makes a similar comment about older music. He writes that he has tried in his music to lend more expression to the words and refers to the earlier polyphonic style as having a “natural sterility.”7 Many similar comments about the new goals of the theater could be quoted, but perhaps they are best summarized by Angelo Berardi, who observed in 1681, “Music is the ruler of the passions of the soul.”8

Galilei’s reference, above, to the emotions one feels in oneself is echoed in the contemporary advice to performers. The great violinist, Geminiani, stresses that the performer must be emotionally inspired and gives wonderful advice on how to begin to achieve this.

I would besides advise the performer, who is ambitions to inspire his audience to be first inspired himself, which he cannot fail to be if he chooses a work of genius, if he makes himself thoroughly acquainted with all its beauties; and if while his imagination is warm and glowing he pours the same exalted spirit into his own performance.9


The new focus on the emotions is also found in seventeenth-century German opera, as one can see in the extraordinary advice given to a singer by Christoph Bernhard (1627–1692):

One should take care that the voice is raised in moments of anger, and to the contrary dropped in moments of grief. Pain makes it pause; impatience hastens it. Happiness enlivens it. Desire emboldens it. Love renders it alert. Bashfulness holds it back. Hope strengthens it. Despair diminishes it. Fear keeps it down. Danger is filled with screams. If, however, a person faces up to danger, then his voice must reflect his daring and bravery.10

Johann Mattheson gives a similar catalog of emotions in opera,

Opera is the best medium of all for expressing] each and every emotion [“Affectus”] since there the composer has the grand opportunity to give free rein to his invention. With many surprises and with as much grace he there can, most naturally and diversely, portray love, jealousy, hatred, gentleness, impatience, lust, indifference, fear, vengeance, fortitude, timidity, magnanimity, horror, dignity, baseness, splendor, indigence, pride, humility, joy, laughter, weeping, mirth, pain, happiness, despair, storm, tranquility, even heaven and earth, sea and hell, together with all the actions in which men participate.11

F. W. Marpurg also wrote of the great range of emotions which a musician must be prepared to deal with and implies that more is needed for good interpretation than the notes on paper, which reminds us of Mahler’s famous statement, “The best things in music are not found in the notes.” For the interpreter to find the composer’s emotional intent, if it is not on the page (we have no notational symbols for emotions), Marpurg states that the musician needs powers of intuition.

All musical expression has an affect or emotion for its foundation The musician has therefore a thousand parts to play, a thousand characters to assume at the composer’s bidding. To what extraordinary undertakings our passions carry us! He who has the good fortune at all to experience the inspiration which lends greatness to poets, orators, artists, will be aware how vehemently and diversely our soul responds when it is given over to the emotions. Thus to interpret rightly every composition which is put in front of him a musician needs the utmost sensibility and the most felicitous powers of intuition.12

Johann David Heinichen (1683–1729) makes the very same point:

It is impossible to find the tenderness of the soul of music with mere numeric changes of dead notes.13

The greatest authority on German performance practice in the Baroque, Johann Mattheson, wrote of the emotions in music:

Love is an emotion frequently represented by music and in these cases the composer should “consult his own experience.” Sadness is second only to love in its use by composers, no doubt, he observes, “because almost everybody is unhappy.” It is for this reason that sacred music employs this emotion so effectively because it represents the penance and remorse, sorrow, contrition, lamentation and the recognition of our misery.14

Here, Mattheson, in acknowledging the difficulty of his subject, makes a comment which reflects on the characteristics of the rational and non-rational hemispheres of the brain. He observes that “although the emotions are like a bottomless sea, one can write very little about them,” an observation confirmed by modern brain research where we discover the emotions are experienced in the right hemisphere of the brain but their description in language of the left hemisphere fails as the left hemisphere knows nothing about emotions.

Today music students are told nothing about the peoples for which the ancient Greek modes were named. Mattheson suggests that this knowledge was still recalled by the Baroque Period.

It is probable that the Dorians had a coarser, more manly, and deeper speaking voice than the Phrygians; and that on the other hand the Lydians sang finer and more effeminately than the others. For the Dorians were a modest, virtuous and peaceful people; the Phrygians however used more noise than foresight; whereas the Lydians, forefathers of the Tuscans, were everywhere described as sensual people.

Mattheson was one of few Baroque writers who reflected some thought on the relationship of emotion and form:

If I hear the first part of a good overture, then I feel a special elevation of soul; the second expands the spirits with all joy; and if a serious ending follows, then everything is brought together to a normal restful conclusion.15

Mattheson was remarkably negative in reference to the motet style of the sixteenth century.

[In the motet] there were no passions or affections to be seen for miles; no breaks to be found in the musical rhetoric, indeed rather caesuras in the middle of a word with an adjacent pause; no true melody; no true charm, indeed no meaning: all based on a few words which often meant little or nothing, such as Salve, Regina Misericordiae, and the like.16

Mattheson adds, in case anyone should think he has been too severe, that he can show contemporary examples of famous composers who are still writing works “with all the above defects.” How, he wonders, can intelligent composers create such works and call them good?

He makes this point in another place, now calling the failed composers of the old polyphonic style, Mathematici. This passage is especially remarkable for his intuition that this idea might return in the future. It did, of course, with serial music, but Mattheson can rest in peace for that idea also failed.

I have occupied myself with music, practical as well as theoretical, with great earnestness and ardor for over half a century already: I have also met many very learned Mathematici in this not insubstantial time who thought they made new musical wonders out of their old, logical writings; but they have, God knows! always failed miserably. On the other hand, I have quite certainly and very often experienced that not a single famous actor, musician, nor composer, not only in my time but as far as I can remember having read or heard about, has been able to construct even a simple melody which was of any value on the feeble foundations of mathematics or geometry. What will happen in the future is yet to be seen.

The nature of the aria is to express a great emotion, whereas the cavata (madrigals, sonnets and poems) aim rather for a “penetrating observation”. Mattheson’s discussion of the recitative reflects his concern that it must have as much emotion, with as clearly defined accents, as the principal song. He recognizes its greater rhythmic freedom, but adds “the recitative has a beat; but it does not use it.”

He also discusses the emotions relative to the style of music used in the church, theater and Mattheson also gives us a wonderful observation which suggests the presence of contemplative listeners at this time in Germany:

Whoever pays attention can see in the features of an attentive listener what he perceives in his heart.

He also discusses the emotions relative to the style of music used in the church, theater and in the chamber. For example, regarding the use of the instrumental style in the church, Mattheson cautions that such music must have “a special solemnity and a serious quality … lest it smack of a loosely-united overture.” But he does not mean by this that instrumental church music must be dark in mood, on the contrary, joyful instrumental music can contribute to the atmosphere for devotion,

Joy does not contradict seriousness; for then all mirth would have to consist of jesting. A cheerful disposition is best disposed for devotion; where such is not to be done mechanically or simply in a trance.

Mattheson decided it more important to think of the distinctions high, middle and low styles, or noble, moderate or trifling, than mere classifications of church, theater or chamber. Thus, one can speak of “high” as meaning something different in different mediums, as for example, “what is elevated in the theater is very different from what is elevated in dinner music.” Or, one can speak of high, medium and low within a single medium. In the case of church music, for example, Mattheson suggests that,

Divine majesty, heavenly splendor, rapture and magnificence are naturally required for the elevated style; Devotion, contemplation, etc., belong to the middle style; while Repentance, suppliant entreaties, etc., stand under the banner of the low style.17

This led him to write at more length on the relationship of various emotions and his categories of high, medium and low styles of music. This passage reflects how serious the entire question of the emotions in music had become.

Among those emotions which one commonly attributes to the high style are many which do not deserve to be called high at all, in the good sense. For, what can be lower than anger, fear, vengeance, despair, etc. Beating, boasting, snoring is indeed not true nobility. Arrogance is itself only an inflating of the soul, and actually requires more bombast than nobility for expression: now the most haughty are again unfailingly the most angry, in their feelings one debility after another takes the helm. For, though anger will have the appearance of being action of a great spirit, still it springs in fact from an effeminate heart: one would have to consider it then a special, holy, and just bureaucratic wrath, which nevertheless should punish and discipline, without any indignation.

Great and valiant spirits are forbearing; but small and timid souls can endure nothing. Frivolous people are easily provoked and are as quickly moved to anger, as is the turning around of weathercocks or weather vanes on the roofs. In short, anger is a ridiculous emotion. It sounds quite base and does not entail an elevated presentation.

Fear and fright are indeed probably the most foolish emotions in the world, and really deserve nothing so little as something of the elevated in their expression. Alas! One finds these unfortunate impulses in all creatures, even in those which seem to have no other emotion and are scorned. Nothing can however be lower than miserable human vengeance, which has so little noble in it that it finds a place only in the most depraved hearts.

If we come to despair, then that is the extreme to which fear can lead: hence one would have to set it on the highest peak of sadness if it really is to have something of nobility. The Italians therefore rightly call all malicious and dangerous people, whose spirit is dejected and lost, “Huomini tristi.”

I will meanwhile not deny that something of strength, turbulence, passion and ecstasy is required if one desires to express properly these and similar passions in music; just as the emotions of impetuosity, vengeance, etc., are so constituted that they, according to the difference in station, have the appearance of a high proud quality, although they deny its strength. Here one must also admit that this presumptuous arrogance occasionally requires something of the stately in oratory and music (yet greatly different from the true type); but which is not at all of the mighty, majestic, etc.

Shrieking and grumbling is suitable in anger and quarreling; an uneven, broken, shocking, trembling style in fright; something of daring with vengeance; something frantic with despair; something turgid with arrogance; as long as it did not come out too naturally and arouse disgust: but all of this has nothing to do with the elevated style.

But whoever would want to relegate devotion, patience, diligence, desire, etc., to the middle style might be considered only as moderately devout, moral, patient, diligent and desirous. Indeed, desire corresponds in very many ways with the highest and most emphatic emotion in and outside of the world, namely love, how then can it be relegated to the middle of the road? It is true that desire is according to the nature of the desired object also small or large, high or low, and so on; yet it is the same with almost all emotions.

On the one hand diligence can have much of nobleness, on the other it can have something trifling as the goal. In the last case it would be a work in the dark so to speak (obscura diligentia) and would not even deserve to stand in the middle, but rather at the low end. There is nothing at all high-flown about patience, though always something noble: and everyone knows that devotion serves to lift the spirit.

Finally, common dance songs either all, or at least most of them, would indeed have to embody something of the beggarly, slavish, cowardly, disconsolate, base, boorish, stupid, and clumsy, if these qualities of the low style were to be found in them. Low and base are again very different, and if we indeed should exclude from this the most nonsensical peasant dances, though not the clever Land Tanze, Country Dances, then for all of that there probably would be no one who would expect beggars in a spirited minuet, slaves in a happy rigaudon, cowards in an heroic entré, despair in a lusty gavotte, or base spirits in a magnificent chaconne.

Drinking songs and lullabies, amorous little pieces, etc., must not always be indiscriminately called trifling: if they are done quite naturally they are often more pleasing and have greater impact than high and mighty concerti and stately overtures. The former no less require their master in their own way than the latter. Yet, what am I to say? Our composers are all kings; or of royal descent… They do not fret over trivialities.18

Finally, a contemporary observation regarding ideas of Bach on the emotions. A student of Bach reports,

As concerns the playing of chorales, I was instructed by my teacher Kapellmeister Bach, who is still living, not to play the songs merely offhand but according to the emotions of the words.19 [Johann Ziegler (1746), quoted in David, “The Bach Reader, 237]


During the Baroque in France we find some similar accounts of individual performances by performers filled with emotion. A manuscript by Diderot recounts a performance of opera arias in a café by a singer, the nephew of Rameau. When the young man finished singing one aria, he stood,

worn out, exhausted, like a man emerging from a deep sleep or a prolonged reverie, he stood motionless, dumb, petrified. He kept looking around him like a man who has lost his way and wants to know where he is.20

A French critic in 1702, similarly described a violinist as one,

who was so carried away with the piece that he was playing that he not only martyred his instrument but also himself. No longer master of his own being, he became so transported that he gyrated and hopped around like someone overcome by a demon.21

This last account touches on the most widely discussed topic in contemporary French music criticism. There was a debate at the time over French vs Italian opera, as many Frenchmen heard as excessive emotions in Italian singing. However, there were a number of writers, such as Mersenne,22 who seem to suggest the native singers should be more like the Italians.

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 emotions 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 emotions which they represent when singing, whereas we French are content with charming the ear, and use a constant mildness in our songs, which hinders their vigor.

Another philosopher, François Raguenet, writing in 1702, recommends the Italian’s sincere use of emotions and at the same time gives us an excellent glimpse into the nature of the impact he felt the emotions in music should have on the listener.

As the Italians are much more brisk than the French, so are they more sensible of the passions and consequently express them more lively in all their productions. If a storm or rage is to be described in a symphony, their notes give us so natural an idea of it that our souls can hardly receive a stronger impression from the reality than they do from the description; everything is so brisk and piercing, so impetuous and affecting, that the imagination, the senses, the soul, and the body itself are all betrayed into a general transport; it is impossible not to be borne down with the rapidity of these movements. A symphony of furies shakes the soul; it undermines and overthrows it in spite of all its care; the artist himself, whilst he is performing it, is seized with an unavoidable agony; he tortures his violin; he racks his body; he is no longer master of himself, but is agitated like one possessed with an irresistible motion.

If, on the other side, the symphony is to express a calm and tranquility, which requires a quite different style, they however execute it with an equal success. Here the notes descend so low that the soul is swallowed with them in the profound abyss. Every string of the bow is of an infinite length, lingering on a dying sound which decays gradually until at last it absolutely expires. Their symphonies of sleep insensibly steal the soul from the body and so suspend its faculties and operations that, being bound up, as it were, in the harmony that entirely possesses and enchants it, it is as dead to everything else as if all its powers were captivated by a real sleep.23

There can be found indications that some felt the emotions in music were genetically implanted. Batteux wrote that while ordinary speech is invented by institutions, gesture and music “contain a language that we all know upon being born.”24

Du Bos (1670– 1742) agreed:

All these sounds, as we have already shown, have a wonderful power to move us because they are the signs of the passions that are the work of nature herself, from whence they have derived their energy. Spoken words, on the other hand are only arbitrary symbols of the passions. The spoken word only derives its meaning and value from man-made conventions and it has only limited geographical currency.25

Perhaps it was another facet of the same suspicion, that there was something natural or genetic about music, that we begin to see even among the French, who loved to analyze and create rules for all the arts, a tendency now by some to suggest that in the end it might be OK to forget the rules in favor of the stronger claims of nature and emotional communication. We see this in Brossard’s advice to singers,

This is a manner of singing which holds as much of declamation as of song, as if one declaimed in singing, or as if one sang in declaiming, hence where one has more attention to expressing the passion than to following exactly a timed measure.26

Something of this nature was no doubt intended by Couperin when he observed, “The fact is we write a thing differently from the way in which we execute it.”27

Rameau makes this point with regard to composing,

While composing music is not the time to recall the rules which might hold our genius in bondage. We must have recourse to the rules only when our genius and our ear seem to deny what we are seeking.28

Rameau was absolutely correct that the listener as well must not hear the rules, not listen to music with the left hemisphere, so to speak.

We must not think but let ourselves be carried away by the feeling which the music inspires; without our thinking at all, this feeling will become the basis of our judgment.

To enjoy the effects of music fully, we must completely lose ourselves in it; to judge it, we must relate it to the source through which we are affected by it. This source is nature. Nature `endows us with the feeling that moves us in all our musical experiences; we might call her gift instinct. Let us allow instinct to inform our judgments, let us see what mysteries it unfolds to us before we pronounce our verdicts.29


In England during the Baroque we do not find the same degree of enthusiasm in the discussion of music and emotion as we do on the continent. Some have suggested that this isolation had its roots in the fact that England is an island. We will let an anonymous poem of 1600 represent many contemporary references to the general problem.

A Painter lately with his pencil drew
The picture of a Frenchman and Italian,
With whom he placed the Spaniard, Turk, and Jew;
But by himself he sat the Englishman.30

This lack of enthusiasm for the emotions in England can also be seen in Samuel Butler’s character sketch of a typical musician, made identity with the emotions a form of treason.

Is his own Siren, that turns himself into a beast with musick of his own making. His perpetual study to raise passion has utterly debased his reason; and as music is wont to set false values upon things, the constant use of it has rendered him a stranger to all true ones … This puts him into the condition of a traitor … And therefore a musician, that makes it his constant employment, is like one that does nothing but make love, that is half mad, fantastic and ridiculous to those that are unconcerned. Cupid strings his bow with the strings of an instrument, and wounds hearts through the ear.31

We are surprised to find the great philosopher, Hobbes, in his The Leviathan, in which he attempts to organize all subjects of knowledge, separate music and emotion entirely. Music, he says, is the study of sounds, but the study of the emotions is Ethics! 32

Some English writers, however, follow the new Humanism recognition. William Congreve (1670–1729) held no question about the power of the emotions in music. “Musick,” he concluded, “is as dangerous as Gun Powder.”33

James Harris (1709– 1780) also made a simple acknowledgement to the power of music to excite the emotions,

There are various affections which may be raised by the power of music. These are sounds to make us cheerful, or sad; martial or tender; and so of almost every other affection which we feel.34

Finally, there is an humorous study of the emotional characteristics of the various instruments. Addison concludes,

Percussion are like Blusterers in Conversation.
The lute corresponds to men of fine genius, uncommon reflection…and good taste.
The trumpet is pleasing enough, but is like gentleman of fashionable education and breeding, yet who is shallow, with weak judgment and little understanding.
Violins are lively, importune wits that distinguish themselves by flourishes of imagination, etc., However, when a man is not disposed to hear Musick, there is not a more disagreeable sound that that of a violin.
Horns, rural wits, like dull, heavy, tedious story-tellers.
The flute is like the conversation of a mild and amiable woman, that has nothing in it very elevated, or at the same time any thing mean or trivial.
The flageolet is like a young woman entertaining the company with tart il-natured observations.
The oboe (Hautboy) is the most perfect of the flute species, with sweetness of sound with a greater strength and variety of tones. I must observe that the hautboy in one sex is as scarce as the harpsichord is in the other.
The Virginal, the Prude.
The Dulcimer, a pleasant rural instrument, as is the hornpipe.
The Welsh harp, a female historian.
The timpani, a she-drum accompanied with motions of the body, tosses of the head. Every thump she gave alarmed the company, and very often set somebody or other in it a blushing.35

In closing, the obsession of the Baroque musicians and philosophers on the subject of music communicating emotions in a stroke cleared away a thousand years’ efforts by the Church to make music instead a branch of mathematics. Now the stage was set for the most emotion filled masterpieces ever composed, the music of the Classical Period and the nineteenth century. By the nineteenth century hardly anyone could question the powerful association between the emotions and music. The greatest minds now offer testimony to the fact that emotion is the central purpose of music. Let them speak for themselves:


The prevailing characteristics of my music are passionate expression, intense ardor, rhythmical animation, and unexpected turns.


Music embodies feeling.


A long time ago I decided that my universe will be the soul and heart of man.


I should compose with utter confidence a subject that set my blood going, even though it were condemned by all other artists as anti-musical.

Paul Dukas:

Be it laughter or tears, feverish passion or religious ecstasy, nothing, in the category of human feelings, is a stranger to music.

Max Reger:

Music, in and by itself, should generate a flow of pure emotion without the least tinge of extraneous rationalization.


Music, I feel, must be emotional first and intellectual second.


Music is the speech of Passion.

Leo Tolstoy:

Music is the shorthand of emotion.

Clara Schumann, on Brahms:

It is really moving to see him sitting at the piano, with his interesting young face which becomes transfigured when he plays.

Arthur Rubinstein:

When I play, I make love—it is the same thing.


Here are things which can bring tears to our eyes. I will only mention the adagio of the D minor string quintet. No one else has ever known as well how to interpret so exquisitely in music the sense of resigned and inconsolable sorrow. Every time Laub played the adagio I had to hide in the farthest corner of the concert-room, so that others might not see how deeply this music affected me.


I am in love with Mozart like a young girl. Immortal Mozart! I owe you everything; it is thanks to you that I lost my reason, that my soul was awestruck in the very depths of my being … I have you to thank that I did not die without having loved.

What this means in music and how the performer accomplishes this is a topic addressed by Bruno Walter.

If a pianist, in Beethoven’s E-flat major Concerto, wishes to put himself fully at the service of Beethoven’s genius … this does not imply an act of servile self-negation. On the contrary, he will only be successful in his endeavor if he freely unfolds his own self, to the limits of its capacity. In bringing to life the fire, the grace, the melancholy, the passion of the composer’s work, what can he call upon but his own fire, his own grace, melancholy and passions?36

The French composer, Charles Gounod, suggests the performer becomes one with the ideas of the composer,

The conductor is the ambassador of the master’s thought; he … ought to be the living expression, the faithful mirror, the incorruptible depositary of it.37

Von Karajan advised that the conductor must be able to see himself in a “great work of art.”38 Carlo Maria Giulini agreed,

An interpreter, in the moment he is involved in a great expression of art, becomes himself the composer.

But, one might ask, are there limits to the emotions an interpreter can find in a score? The answer appears to be only the limits of the interpreter’s own insight and experience. As an illustration of what a great artist can find in the score, consider the following thoughts by Wagner upon reflecting on a single fermata symbol in the fifth Symphony of Beethoven.

Now let us suppose the voice of Beethoven to have cried from the grave to a conductor: ‘Hold thou my fermata long and terribly! I wrote no fermata for jest or from bepuzzlement, haply to think out my further move; but the same full tone I mean to be squeezed dry in my Adagio for utterance of sweltering emotion, I cast among the rushing figures of my passionate Allegro, if need be, a paroxysm of joy and horror. Thus shall its life be drained to the last blood-drop; then do I part the waters of my ocean, and bare the depths of its abyss; or curb the flocking herd of clouds, dispel the whirling web of mist, and open up a glimpse into the pure blue firmament, the sun’s irradiate eye. For this I set fermate in my Allegros, notes entering of a sudden, and long held out. And mark thou what a definite thematic aim I had with this sustained E-flat, after a storm of three short notes, and what I mean to say by all the like held notes that follow.39

Extensive additional material on this subject can be found in my eight books on Aesthetics in Music.


  1. Raguenet, “Comparison between French and Italian Music,” in The Musical Quarterly, 32, Nr. 3, 1946, 419ff ↩︎
  2. Quoted in Strunk, Source Readings in Music History, 306ff ↩︎
  3. Quoted in Pirrotta, Music and Theater from Poliziano to Monteverdi, 241 ↩︎
  4. Le Nuove Musiche, ed. Hitchcock, 45, 47 ↩︎
  5. Quoted in MacClintock, Readings in the History of Music in Performance, 190 ↩︎
  6. Madrigali guerrieri ed amorosi, 1638, Preface ↩︎
  7. Letter of 1711, in Weiss, Letters of Composers, 62 ↩︎
  8. Ragionamenti Musicali, 1681, 87 ↩︎
  9. A Treatise of Good Taste in the Art of Musick, 1749 ↩︎
  10. Quoted in Harris, Performance Practice: Music after 1600, 110 ↩︎
  11. Das Neu-Eröffnete Orchestre, 1713, 167ff ↩︎
  12. Der critische Musicus an der Spree. (Berlin), September 2, 1749. ↩︎
  13. Quoted in Buelow, Thorough-Bass Accompaniment in Heinschen, 330 ↩︎
  14. Der vollkommene Capellmeister, 1739, trans, Harriss, II, xii, 34ff ↩︎
  15. Ibid., II, xii, 34ff ↩︎
  16. Ibid., II, xiii, 72 ↩︎
  17. Ibid., I, x, 10 ↩︎
  18. Ibid., I, x, 22ff ↩︎
  19. Johann Ziegler (1746), quoted in David, The Bach Reader, 237 ↩︎
  20. Quoted in Rameau’s Nephew and Other Works, trans. Jacques Barzun, 69 ↩︎
  21. Quoted in Hans-Peter Schmitz, Die Kunst der Verzierung im 18. Jahrhundert, 12 ↩︎
  22. Harmonie Universelle, IV, vi, 6 ↩︎
  23. Quoted in Strunk, 478ff ↩︎
  24. Les beaux-arts reduits a un meme principe. ↩︎
  25. Jean-Baptiste Du Bos, Reflexions critiques sur la posie et sur la peinture, in Peter le Huray, Music and Aesthetics in the Eighteenth and Early-Nineteenth Centuries, 1981 ↩︎
  26. Dictionaire de Musique, 1703 ↩︎
  27. L’Art de toucher, 23 ↩︎
  28. Quoted in Morgenstern, Composers on Music, 41 ↩︎
  29. Le Nouveau Systeme de musique theorique, 43 ↩︎
  30. Anonymous, Tom Tel-Troths Message, (1600) in F. Furnivall, ed., Miscellaneous, Series VI, Shakespeare’s England, Nr. 2 (Vaduz: Kraus Reprint, 1965), 122. ↩︎
  31. Characters, A Musitian. ↩︎
  32. I, ix ↩︎
  33. Complete Works, (1964), III, 206 ↩︎
  34. Three Treatises, 1744, VI, iff ↩︎
  35. Addison, Tatler, 1 April 1710 ↩︎
  36. Of Music and Music-Making, 23 ↩︎
  37. Memories ↩︎
  38. Conversations with Karajan, 126 ↩︎
  39. Ellis, Wagner’s Prose Works, IV, 312 ↩︎