Moving body and soul: the aesthetic theory of music of Johann Mattheson

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One frequently hears that baroque musicians conceived of music as a “rhetorical art” and sought to move the “passions of the soul.” However, the implications of these concepts are rarely fully appreciated. This presentation will reveal the richness of these ideas from an eighteenth-century perspective by discussing the aesthetic theory of music of Johann Mattheson (1681-1764), one of the most important music theorists of the time.

Mattheson lived at a time when instrumental music was becoming increasingly important. He seems to have constructed his theory in part to support the then-controversial conclusion that instrumental music deserves to be valued as highly as vocal music and other representational arts. The theory has three bases: rhetoric, science and morality—for Mattheson and his contemporaries these were inextricably linked—and it sweepingly encompasses the purpose, perception, cognition, and effects of music. Examination of his aesthetic theory of music reveals Mattheson to have been a man struggling to reconcile deeply ingrained traditional ideas with progressive trends in musical practice while staying true to the philosophy of the Enlightenment.

This presentation will not involve technical aspects of music theory. It draws on philosophy, poetics, and classical rhetorical theory, among other things. It is addressed to anyone with an interest in the history of ideas.


The slides for this presentation are not available.