Music and Rhetoric Research Proposal

Type of paper: Research proposal

Topic: MusicRhetoric, History

Pages: 3

Words: 825

Published: 2019/10/01


Over the course of history there has been a close relationship between rhetoric and music; this is especially evident in the Baroque period (rhetoric).

Until relatively recently in Western society, music was an form primarily focused on vocals, and consequently words were of extremely high importance. Due to this trend, composers were usually inspired by rhetorical principles when coalescing text and music (rhetoric). Likewise, even after instrumental-centered music became popular, rhetoric principles continued to be relied on in creating both vocal and instrumental music.

What is still largely unclear is how the interrelationships influenced the craft of composition. This is partly due to the lack of education in rhetorical disciplines among modern musicians and scholars as since the start of the nineteenth century the disciplines have mostly vanished from most educational and philosophical systems (rhetoric).

Only in the early twentieth century did music historians find again the significance of rhetoric as the foundation of musical concepts in the previous centuries. Therefore there are still wide gaps in knowledge about the hiatus where rhetoric disappeared from musical research history.

Rhetoric has played a major role in the creation and composition of music over the centuries, and this importance is only recognized in part. In order to gain a full understanding of the relationship between rhetoric and music, these gaps need to be filled. Furthermore, learning a true extent of the relationship between the two elements will vastly help modern day, and indeed future, musical scholars to develop the practice.

The relationship between music and the rhetoric in the medieval period is, in particular, lacking knowledge. This is the period I wish to explore.


I plan to briefly study the relationship between music and the rhetoric over the past centuries, for as far back as I can find information. This is in order to gain an overall knowledge and grounding in the subject.

I also wish to conduct research into music at beginning the beginning of the nineteenth century. At this time, the use of rhetoric in music was at its most popular. I plan to ascertain exactly how the disciplines were taught with relation to music.

Once these initial stages of research are complete I plan to study a wide range of sources with information on the relationship between rhetopric and music through the Renaissance and Baroque periods, as this is largely where the gaps in research are across history. I wish to cross reference different sources and draw comparisons between the oratory and performance of music from the start of the sixteenth century through to the late eighteenth century.

I am primarily focusing my research on the baroque period, but an overall understanding of the periods surrounding it will provide my research with more substance and clarity.

In conducting my research, I plan to analyze the key German Baroque musical figures as this will place the subject into a deeper context.

Entering the Conversation

McCreless, P. P. McCresless’ article Cambridge History of Western Music Theory is within the book Cambridge Histories. The book is probably the first in depth history of Western music theory that is available in the English language. It explores a wide range of theory in music.

Mortimer Wilson’s book, The Rhetoric of Music: harmony, counterpoint, musical form, is available online as it is an old book. It was originally published pre-1923 and has more recently been reproduced digitally. Wilson gives an excellent insight into how the rhetoric of music was taught around the time of original publication.

These are just two important sources of discussion around my chosen subject area. I plan to use the first-hand information provided by Wilson and cross reference with McCresless’ overall history and, of course, many other important subject. I then hope to bring the knowledge of the relationship between the rhetoric and music of the baroque period, primarily, uptodate and report on it in an accessible and modern fashion.


In conducting my research I plan on spending time in the library searching out relevant literature and, in particular, books dating back to the early nineteenth century. In addition to this I will spend considerable time on the web, locating useful scholarly journals. Another advantage to the web is that it provides access to some books that have long gone out of print.


So far I have identified between five and seven sources that I believe will be valuable in conducting this research project. Of these I have also listed the particularly relevent chapters/sections within each one. As I work through the information I am beginning to see where the gaps are in my general knowledge of the subject as well as in the research topic itself, and I am currently searching for additional sources through which to cover this.

My next stage in completing the research paper is to begin to cross reference the various sources, and also to construct a time line; in other words, I need to sort the information into a more user friendly order.


McCreless, P. “Cambridge History of Western Music Theory”. Cambridge Histories. 26 Feb. 2011.

Wilson, Mortimer. The Rhetoric of Music: harmony, counterpoint, musical form. South Carolina: BiblioBazzar, 2009. Print.

Tarling, Judy. The Weapons of Rhetoric: a Guide for Musicians and Audiences. Herts, UK: Corda Music, 2004. Print.

Bailey, Alex. “The Rhetoric of Music: A Theoretical Synthesis”. Google Books. 1 March. 2011.,%E2%80%9D+by+Alex+Bailey+…&source=bl&ots=TkXiX55axo&sig=csVmAw6DcwJsIG8kvoQnj4sGDHE&hl=en&ei=p61xTby8PIaphAf10rk9&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&sqi=2&ved=0CBYQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

Bartel, Dietrich. “Music poetica: musica-rherorical figures in German Baroque music”. Google Books. 1 March. 2011.