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J Mattheson discusses expression in Baroque music (1713)

October 10, 2008

In this extract from Neu-Eröffnete Orchester (The New Orchestra) written in 1713 Johann Mattheson (1681-1764) discusses musical expression and argues that opera is the most expressive genre. His ideas are a good statement of the baroque “doctrine of affections” or Affekt theory.

There the composer has the grand opportunity to give free rein to his invention. With many surprises and with as much grace he there can, most naturally and diversely, portray love, jealousy, hatred, gentleness, impatience, lust, indifference, fear, vengeance, fortitude, timidity, magnanimity, horror, dignity, baseness, splendour, indigence, pride, humility, joy, laughter, weeping, mirth, pain, happiness, despair, storm, tranquillity, even heaven and earth, sea and hell, together with all the actions in which men participate…..Through the skill of composer and singer each and every Affectus can be expressed beautifully and naturally better than in an Oratorio, better than in painting or sculpture, for not only are Operas expressed in words, but they are helped along by appropriate actions and above all interpreted by heart-moving music.

J. Mattheson, Neu-Eröffnete Orchester, 1713, pp.161 & 167, trans. BC Cannon, Johann Mattheson, 1947, Yale University Press, p.129.

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