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FW Marpurg discusses emotions in music (1749)

January 6, 2008

Extract from: Marpurg’s Der Critischer Musicus an der Spree, Sept. 2, 1749

Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg (1718-1795) was a German music critic, theorist and composer. He was the leading German music theorist of the late eighteenth century and a member of the Berlin School that included Quantz, Sulzer and CPE Bach.

The rapidity with which the emotions change is common knowledge, for they are nothing but motion and restlessness. All musical expression has as its basis an affect or feeling. A philosopher who explains or demonstrates seeks to bring light to our understanding, to bring clarity and order to it. But the orator, poet, musician seek more to inflame than enlighten. With the philosopher there are combustible materials which merely glow or give off a modest restrained warmth. Here, however, there is but the distilled essence of this material, the finest of it, which gives off thousands of the most beautiful flames, but always with great speed, often with violence. The musician must therefore play a thousand different roles; he must assume a thousand characters as dictated by the composer. To what unusual undertakings the passions lead us! He who is fortunate, in any respect, to capture the enthusiasm that makes great people of poets, orators, artists will know how precipitately and variously our soul reacts when it is abandoned to the emotions. A musician must therefore possess the greatest sensitivity and the happiest powers of divination to execute correctly every piece that is placed before him.

Quoted as a footnote in: Mitchell, William J., Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, trans. & ed. WJ Mitchell, Cassell And Company, Ltd., London, 1951, p.81.

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