In view of the diverse approaches to musical scholarship current today, the position that music's function is communication is not an obvious one to take. For many, a musical piece is an object to be contemplated, an organism to be examined, a mechanism to be deconstructed or a product to be consumed. None of these metaphors allows one to speak sensibly of musical communication. Yet none of them was in use in the late eighteenth century. At that time theoretical and aesthetic discourses about music were based upon the metaphor of music as language. Within this metaphor, a composer or performer was compared to an orator, and a musical piece to an oration subdivided into parts, periods and sentences. Just as the art of rhetoric had its raison d'être in persuading the listener, so the art of composition consisted in arousing his sentiments. The musical repertory labelled by later generations as the ‘Classical style’ was thus an expression of the aesthetic stance which conceived of music as communication between composer and listener. And yet, the comparison with rhetoric, dating back to the beginning of the sixteenth century, does not fully explain the characteristics of musical communication in the late eighteenth century. Rather, these characteristics are related to transformations of musical life bearing fruit in this period. Little by little, from the early decades of the eighteenth century on, music becomes the favourite kind of entertainment for the middle classes.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Arts and Humanities(all)