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Saturday morning quotes 7.26: Rhetorical question

July 5, 2019


“Well, Art is Art, isn’t it? Still, on the other hand, water is water. And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now you tell me what you know.”

– Groucho Marx

Our leading quotation is from a Rhetorical master who deftly used a host of rhetorical devices during a long career in the professional pursuit of bathos.  Among a long list of devices one may discern couched in the quote above, Marx employed antithesis (juxtaposition of contrasting ideas), enumeratio (listing detailed causes or effects), amplificatio (expansion and enhancement), auxesis (words or phrases ordered for climactic effect), circumlocution (more words than necessary), simile (comparison of unlike things with implication of a resemblance between them), dissoi logoi (contradictory argument), and of course he closes with an ignoratio elenchi (irrelevant conclusion) just prior to a rhetorical challenge to the reader.  Marx was a master of paronomasia (pun) and kairos (timing), and he employed noema (deliberately obscure language) with the ultimate goal of delectare (delight).

It’s no accident that Groucho Marx was a master of the use of rhetorical figures since he and his famous brothers were musicians, and music has always been fertile ground for the cultivation of rhetorical devices employed to “move the passions” of the listener.

We have dipped a toe into these symbolic waters in the past, but this week our quotes are drawn from the well of Warren Kirkendale from his article, “Ciceronians versus Aristotelians on the Ricercar as Exordium, from Bembo to Bach”, Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 32, No. 1 (Spring, 1979), pp. 1-44.

“Most instrumental music of the sixteenth century falls into one of three categories: “abstract” pieces, dances, and instrumental adaptations of vocal music (intabulations). The so-called “abstract” pieces largely fulfilled a preludial function, and went by a variety of originally more or less interchangeable names, such as ricercar and fantasia.  As secular music, especially for lute, they were followed by songs, madrigals, instrumental intabulations, or dances; as liturgical organ music they served as preludes to mass sections, motets, or psalms.”

– Kirkendale, p. 2

Exordium, as mentioned in Kirkendale’s title, is defined as the introductory part of an oration, and is the Rhetorical equivalent of a musical prelude.

“Evidence that musicians followed Cicero, directly or indirectly, is provided by northern music theorists who derive their precepts from the practice of Franco-Flemish and Italian composers.  Most of them, as cantors, taught Cicero to schoolboys.”

– Kirkendale, p. 28

“The style of the earliest notated ricercars, those in Spinacino, Dalza, and Bossinensis published by Petrucci between 1507 and 1511, might be described as that of written improvisation…Their very modest length speaks against their use for anything but a preludial function.”

– Kirkendale, p. 5

We offer an example of a Recercar by Francesco Spinacino from the very first published music for the lute (1507), which we recorded as a prelude to “O passi sparsi“, a musical setting of the poetry of Francesco Petrarca by composer Sebastiano Festa (c. 1490 – 1524).  Our arrangement is an historical reconstruction, creating a solo song by melding a rather dull strophic setting for voices with a rather active intabulation for lute set by Alberto da Ripa (c.1500 – 1551). “Recercar XV” by Spinacino has an improvisatory character but is more refined than many of the abstract pieces in the first published lute book as it actually introduces thematic material and use of imitation, and the piece generally looks ahead to the more developed contrapuntal forms of music for the lute.

As an individual track, “Recercar XV” ends a bit abruptly because we intentionally used it as a prelude to “O passi sparsi”, with a rather shortened pause between the pieces.  But programmatic intent is a casualty of the current times, and if you want the intended effect, you’ll have to buy the CD—or better yet invite us to perform live.

Now for the sake of brevitas we leave you with another short quotation from Groucho that explains how we have managed to gain a bit of knowledge about our music and its context, and why we are here to tell you what we know.

“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”

– Groucho Marx

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