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Affekt theory – 5 short texts from the 18th century

November 2, 2007

1 A symphony which expresses different passions in different sections is a musical monster; in a symphony there must be only one dominant passion, and each individual phrase must allow this same passion to emerge clearly, simply modifying it in various ways , either in its degree of strength and vigour, or by mingling with it various other related passions; it must be the composer`s aim to arouse this same passion in us.
G.E. Lessing (1729-81). Critic and dramatist.

2 Besides, I cannot but add that this fantasia by Bach provides a fairly conclusive refutation of Herr Lessing`s contention in the 27th section of his Dramaturgie that the musician cannot pass from one passion to its opposite within a single piece, from restfulness to rage, for example, or from tenderness to ferocity . Herr Lessing appears not to have considered the possibilities offered by the skilful use of transitions, of which there are such remarkable examples in this fantasia, and also, it seems to me, in many other sonatas by Bach.
H.W. von Gerstenberg (1727-1823), poet and dramatist., writing about Bach`s C minor Fantasia Wq.63.

3 Were we to give each of our instrumental compositions one single character, or, in the case of those made up of several movements, to seek to portray in them the true refinements of one single Affekt, or the nuanced transitions from one to another, and were also to abandon those empty, constricting rules about how to handle nearly-related keys, and how to pass from major to minor and vice-versa in supposedly well-written pieces, were we instead to give free rein to joyous élan and a more sedate, troubled pace to sorrowful music, much would be gained thereby.
J.F. Reichardt (1752-1814). Composer and theorist. This extract was written in 1784.

4 The player should change in every bar to a different mood, and should be able to appear alternately sad, joyous, serious, etc., such moods being of great importance in music.
J.J.Quantz (1697-1773). Flautist, composer and theorist. Treatise on Playing the Flute, 1752.

5 A musician cannot move others unless he too is moved. He must of necessity feel all the `affects` he hopes to arouse in his audience, for the revealing of his own humour will stimulate a like humour in the listener. Similarly in lively, joyous passages the executant must again put himself in the appropriate mood and so, constantly varying the passions, he will barely quit one before he rouses another.
C.P.E. Bach, The True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments, 1753.

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