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Volume 1, redone Dec. 2014


Volume 1


Orest's Pages

Patricia's Musings



Musical Rhetoric

Transcribed Sources


Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Jesuit rhetoric, the Journal de Trévoux,

and the rhetorical exercise known as "les Tons" (the Tones)

For decades I paid little attention to two comments about Charpentier's rhetorical skills that appeared in the Jesuit-edited Journal (or Mémoire) de Trévoux in the years following the composer's death, the first in 1704, the other in 1709.

The two texts from the Journal de Trévoux

Scholars and admirers of Charpentier will recognize the two quotations that follow. (I will explain shortly why I have bold-faced several words.)

The first quotation comes from a sixteen-page anonymous review of Le Cerf de la Viéville's Comparaison de la musique italienne et de la musique françoise (1702). The two sentences about Charpentier appear, almost parenthetically, on the final page of the review, amid allusions to composers who worked with vernacular texts: Lalouette, Desmarest, Lambert, and Campra. (Throughout this Musing I have respected the accent marks and spelling of the original texts, but I have changed the "&" to "et.")

"Charpentier, aussi sçavant que les Italiens, a possédé au suprême degré, l'Art de joindre aux paroles les tons les plus convenables: nous parlons de sa Musique Latine. On en a vû des effets (1) qui rendent vrai semblable ce qu'on dit de la Musique ancienne."

(Charpentier, as savant as the Italians, possessed to the supreme degree the art of joining to the words the tones that were most appropriate: we are referring to his Latin music. One has seen some of its effects that make plausible what is said about the music of the ancients. Journal de Trévoux, November 1704, p. 1896)

The second quotation takes the form of a brief article about the little book of Charpentier's motets published in 1709 by the late composer's nephews:

"Charpentier] étoit l'Elève du Carissimi. C'est sous ce grand maître qu'il avoit acquis le talent si rare d'exprimer par les tons de la Musique le sens des paroles, et de toucher. Mille gens se souviennent encore à Paris du grand effet que produisoit sa Musique, bien différente de celle qui ne se fait admirer que par la beauté d'une Harmonie qui n'a aucun rapport aux paroles, plus differente de celle dont la bizarrerie fait tout le prix. Il est vrai que Mr. Charpentier qui n'a cedé à personne dans la Musique Latine n'a pas réüssi (2) également dans la Musique Françoise."

(Charpentier was the pupil of Carissimi. It was under this great master that he had acquired the very rare talent of expressing by the tones of the music the meaning of the words and of moving [his listeners]. A thousand people in Paris still recall the great effect that his music produced, very different from [music] whose bizarreness is its entire worth. It is true that Monsieur Charpentier, who yielded to no one in Latin music, was not equally successful in French music. Journal de Trévoux, August 1709, p. 1488. This is the complete article.)

Two decades later, I am taking the time to ponder over this source to which I gave short shrift. The quotations turn out to be far more informative than I thought. Hence this Musing on the Jesuits and rhetoric. (3)

 A closer look at the vocabulary in the statements about Charpentier

 Les Tons, "the Tones"

Circa 2010, I became involved in editing and translating the Instructions for the Paris Novitiate of the Society of Jesus, a manuscript drafted in the mid-1680s by an unidentified Jesuit superior. (4)

The late 1680s and most of the 1690s are the very years when Charpentier was composing for two of the three Parisian houses of the Society of Jesus: the Collège of Louis-le-Grand in the Latin Quarter, and the Church of Saint-Louis in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine. I greatly enjoyed becoming steeped in Charpentier's world; but since the manuscript did not mention music, I did not expect it to provide insights into the pieces that Charpentier composed during that decade.

My mind kept returning to that handbook. These "Instructions" running through my mind may explain why — when I opened at random a French book about Charpentier during the summer of 2013, and my eyes fell on the earlier of the above quotes from the Journal de Trévoux — two words jumped out at me, as if printed in bold type: "les tons."

"Les Tons" was a Jesuit training exercise in oratory. (In my edition of the "Instructions for the Novitiate," I capitalized the name of the exercise; thus I will capitalize it here whenever I refer to the exercise in rhetoric.)

By the 1620s, doing les Tons was established practice at the Novitiate. With the briefest warning, a novice would be selected to give a little oration based on a text from the Scriptures or from a Church Father. Not only was the novice expected to organize his speech according to the principles of the art of rhetoric, but he was also expected to vary his tone of voice (hence, doubtlessly, the name les Tons), his posture and his gestures, from phrase to phrase, according to what he was saying. The exercise concluded with criticisms and suggestions proffered by the superiors and the novices. (Instructions for doing les Tons are reproduced at the end of this Musing.)

Les grands effets ("the great effects") of la musique ancienne ("the music of the Ancients")

Two other terms caught my attention: "les effets," "les grands effets," ("the effects," "the great effects") and "la musique ancienne," ("the music of the Ancients"). These words occur quite frequently in Des représentations en musique anciennes et modernes, written in 1681 by another Jesuit, Claude-François Ménestrier. Ménestrier used these words when drawing a comparison between the music of the Ancients and the music of seventeenth-century France.
Here are several examples, among many, of how Ménestrier used these terms:

... il faut douter si leur [les Grecs] Musique avoit été aussi parfaite que la nôtre, ... et si leur Musique avoit pû faire tous ces grands effets, dont leur Histoire parle avec tant d'admiration — ("... one must have doubts whether the Greeks' music was as perfect as ours, ... and whether their music could prompt all the great effects that their history talks of so admiringly.")

... des témoignages irréprochables pour etablir la verité de ces grands effets qu'a produits la Musique des anciens ... — ("... some irreproachable statements to establish the truth about those great effects produced by the music of the Ancients.")

Par combien de faux raisonnemens prétend Monsieur Vossius (5) que nôtre Musique est incapable de produire les grands effets que produisoit l'ancienne Musique des Grecs, parce que nous n'avons pas dans nôtre Versification les mémes nombres, les mémes mesures, et les mémes cadences, comme s'il n'y avoit qu'une seule sorte de mesure qui pût produire ces effets, et qu'une seule langue fût capable de toucher et de persuader. — ("By how many fallacious reasonings does Monsieur Vossius's claim that our music is not capable of producing the great effects that the ancient music of the Greeks produced, because in our versification we do not have the same number of syllables, the same meter, and the same cadences, as if there were only one sort of meter that could produce these effects, and one single language capable of touching and persuading.")

L'Eloquence et la Poësie de cette Nation ingenieuse [la Grèce ancienne] produisirent de grands effets, pour la persuasion, et pour les mouvemens (6) de l'ame, aussi bien que pour le plaisir, parce que l'un et l'autre avoient été comme formées sur les regles de Musique, qui est capable de produire tous ces effets prodigieux. — ("The eloquence and poetry of that ingenious nation [Ancient Greece] produced some great effects, for persuasion, and for the movements of the soul as well as for pleasure, because the one and the other were in a sense formed according to the rules of music, which is capable of producing all these prodigious effects.")

And so forth. (7)

Since it was almost certainly a Jesuit who penned the Journal's remarks about "les tons" and "les grands effets" of Charpentier's music, the statements of 1704 and 1709 began to take on a whole new meaning.

These few sentences clearly expressed unqualified approval of Charpentier's rhetorical skills in Latin. In fact, both articles portray him as an orator whose music equaled, or perhaps surpassed that of the Ancients. Through its rhythms his music could, like the music of the Ancients, do more than simply "please"; it was capable of touching and stirring the "movements" of the listener's soul. But it was not by rhythms alone that Charpentier excelled at the Art of Rhetoric: his skillful use of the appropriate "tones" added the requisite color to these "great effects."

 The Jesuit "journalists" who worked on the Journal de Trévoux

The better to weigh these statements about Charpentier in the context in which the Jesuits intended them to be read, I dug up the complete article in the November 1702 edition of the Journal. My goal was to see the whole picture as the anonymous Jesuit journalist saw it.

Who might that (or those, that is, one reverend father in 1704 and different one in 1709?) anonymous Jesuit journalist be? Was he speaking from experience, or from hearsay?

Indeed, what do we know about the Jesuits who wrote articles and reviews for the Journal de Trévoux between 1704 and 1709? The answer to the last question is: "Not enough!" (8)

The entry "Trévoux" in Louis Moreri's Grand Dictionnaire (edition of 1759) lists the first two directors and their three assistants, most of whom are given biographical articles of their own. This information is complemented by the online Dictionnaire des journalistes (9) of Trévoux, which updates Jean Sgard's pioneering dictionary.

When the Journal began publication in January 1701, the team was being directed by Father Michel Le Tellier (not related to the Chancellor), who later succeeded Père La Chaize as confessor to the king. Le Tellier taught at Louis-le-Grand during the 1680s and 1690s. By 1705 he was deeply involved in administrating the school and the province. One of his assistants was Father Barthélémy Germon, who was at Louis-le-Grand 1689-1693, the very years when Charpentier was music master there. Germon was extremely learned and wrote a very pure Latin. Another assistant was François Souciet. Little is known about his contributions to the Journal. The third assistant was Claude Buffier, who taught at Louis-le-Grand from 1687 to 1693. He journeyed to Rome in 1698. Buffier is known to have written many of the articles on music that appeared in the Journal de Trévoux (10); but, as the online catalog of the Bibliothèque nationale de France reveals, Buffier wrote on a multitude of subjects: French prosody, poetics and grammar; geography and history; logic; mnemonic techniques; spheres ... (of the 140-odd entries, I found none about music).

In short, three members of this team of four journalists are known to have resided in one of the three Jesuit houses of Paris during the years when Marc-Antoine Charpentier was composing for the Collège and then began working for Saint-Louis.

A new team of journalists assumed responsibilities for publication at some point in 1704. (11) The director was René-Joseph Tournemine, who had been teaching in Rouen throughout the 1690s but had been brought to the college in Paris in 1701 to help get the new Journal going. In other words, Father Tournemine probably never heard a performance of Charpentier's music. The same can be said for another of Tournemine's colleagues: from circa 1680 to 1703 Louis Marquer does not appear to have been attached to one of the Parisian houses of the Society.

On the other hand, Father François Catrou became a novice in Paris in 1677 and taught at Louis-le-Grand (and also in Rouen) during the 1680s and early 1690s. He may therefore have been familiar with the sound of Charpentier's music. Catrou had showed great promise as a preacher; but despite his powerful rhetorical skills, in 1700 he was diverted from the pulpit to the Journal, owing to his inability to memorize his sermons.

The fourth journalist, witty Father Jean-Antoine de Cerceau, a Latin poet, had been a novice in Paris in 1688 and appears to have been in Paris, writing poetry, from 1690 on — just when Charpentier was composing for the Collège.

In short, Fathers de Cerceau and Catrou presumably had not only heard Charpentier's church music but — orators and poets that they were — they may have recalled his exceptional ability to transfer spoken oratory to song.

Being assigned to other duties did not mean that a journalist abruptly stopped working on the Journal. For example, although the second team theoretically had assumed its duties by early 1704, Claude Buffier's name is attached to at least one article published in 1704. In short, a journalist who had worked on the Journal from 1701 to 1704 and who was residing in Paris remained in close touch with the group that replaced him and might well contribute an article on a subject over which he had acquired a mastery.

One is therefore forced to hypothesize about which of these Jesuit fathers wrote the notice published in November 1704. For the notice of 1709, even hypotheses are problematic: Moréri does not name the staff for the period 1707-1719, and no clear answers are provided by the online Dictionnaire des journalistes and the Dictionnaire des journaux (the other facet of the same online project).
One thing is noteworthy about both articles. The appraisals of Charpentier's skills to music clearly were limited to what the author had actually heard — that is, Latin pieces performed at either the Collège or the church of Saint-Louis between 1688 and 1698.

Some of these Jesuit journalists could conceivably have witnessed a performance of Charpentier's David et Jonathas at the Collège back in 1688; but since musical interludes in the spoken theater had all but died out by the mid-1680s, it is highly unlikely that any of the journalists had heard Charpentier's incidental music first hand. And it makes me chuckle to imagine a gaggle of Jesuits walking sedately to the opera house to attend a performance of the ill-fated Médée (1690).
This doubtlessly is why the journalist(s) preferred to remain silent about Charpentier's vernacular compositions: the Journal de Trévoux did not print hearsay! Indeed, as Le Cerf observed, the Jesuits were des gens prudens, qui ne se commettent point, "prudent folk who don't commit themselves." (12) (As such, they stood in marked contrast with Le Cerf himself, who lambasted Charpentier even though he had never heard his music.) In other words, the fact that the Society of Jesus praised Charpentier's devotional music should not be taken to mean that the reverend fathers believed the composer's worldly music to be inferior, that it did not exemplify the principles of rhetoric. In fact, the opposite is true: both issues of the Journal placed him on the lofty pedestal often reserved for the Ancients.

Le Cerf de la Viéville was not altogether happy with the review of 1704. Indeed, he inserted the journal's remark about Charpentier into the 1705 (Brussels) edition of his Comparaison, discussing it at some length. Intermingled with his predictable vitriol is a clue that seems to point to Claude Buffier as the author of at least one of the statements about Charpentier:

D'ailleurs, il y a entre les Journalistes de Trevoux un Jesuite, qui avant que de l'être, aimoit et suivoit les spectacles, comme font tous les jeunes gens d'une grande naissance et de la Cour. Il n'a point perdu dans sa retraite et dans ses études, l'amour et le goût de la bonne Musique, et il mérite mieux qu'un autre qu'on défére à ce qu'il en pense. --- "Among the journalists of Trévoux there is a Jesuit who, before being a Jesuit, loved and attended theatrical spectacles, as do all young persons of high birth and associated with the court. He did not lose, in his retreat and his studies, the love and the taste for good music, and he merits more than anyone else that we defer to what he thinks." (13)

Father Buffier had grown up in Rouen. And it so happens that Le Cerf de la Viéville lived in Rouen! Indeed, it would seem that Buffier and Le Cerf were acquainted. How else to explain Le Cerf's familiarity with what the Jesuit music critic had done before he became a Jesuit, and with what he had continued to do after he had completed his novitiate and had returned to Rouen to teach? (I have been unable to trace Buffier's ancestry and to explain why he was born in Poland in 1661. A plausible working hypothesis is that his parents were at "the court" of Marie-Louise de Gonzaga-Nevers, the French-born queen of Poland.)

On the basis of the evidence provided by Le Cerf, I am proposing that Claude Buffier wrote the review of Le Cerf's Comparaison that was published in November 1704. My urge to identify the author of that review, even tentatively, is not prompted by idle curiosity. If I am curious, it is because roughly half that article is devoted to a discussion of ... yes, les tons! And what a masterful discussion of the art of rhetoric it is! (An extract from this presentation of les tons is provided in section V-A of this Musing,)

A closer look at the term "Les Tons"

For the informed reader of the day, the expressions "les effets ... de la musique ancienne" and "les tons" denoted rhetorical "expression," (14) and more specifically the "colors" created by the different "tones of voice" employed by a skillful rhetorician. In other words, taken together, this handful of words alludes to the art of stirring up the listeners' emotions, of "moving their souls."

In these two notices, the Jesuits of Trévoux were, of course, referring to musical tones, not to the specific Jesuit exercise known as les Tons. Readers may therefore wonder whether I am reading into the excerpts from the Journal de Trévoux something that is not really there. Were the journalists simply referring to the tonal "keys" that Charpentier chose for his different pieces? (Charpentier called them modes.) After all, "key" is how ton is translated in modern French-English dictionaries. And theoretical writings of the mid-eighteenth century employ the word ton for "key."

Granted. But that is not the sense in which ton was employed circa 1700, when the journalist(s) of Trévoux extolled Charpentier's mastery of "les tons." The following excerpt from Antoine Furetière's Dictionnaire (1690) demonstrates that ton meant primarily "tone of voice," and that the term applied to both speech and music.

Ton, Terme de Musique. Inflexion de voix qui marque diverses passions de l'âme. Un ton doux et agreable, est le ton dont on parle en conversation. Un ton aigre et menaçant, est celuy qui marque un homme en colère. Un ton fier et imperieux, est celuy qui commande, lors qu'on parle d'un ton de maistre. Un ton mocqueur et ironique, est le ton d'une personne qui a de la haine, ou de l'envie. Un ton plaintif et dolent, est celuy qui témoigne de l'affliction, de la douleur. Un ton de Declamateur, de Comedien, est celuy dont on use dans les harangues et sur les theatres. Ce mot de ton exprime sa principale cause, qui est la tension du corps qui le produit. Le ton est grave, ou aigu, selon que le corps sonnant a une differente tension, comme on voit arriver aux cordes des instruments. Ton, se dit particulierement en Musique, de l'elevation de la voix par certains degrez ou intervalles égaux ou mesurez, qui servent à former des accords.--- "Ton, as a musical term, is the inflection of the voice that marks various passions of the soul. A gentle and agreeable tone is the tone used in conversation. A shrill and menacing tone is the one that marks an angry man. A proud and imperious tone is the one that commands when one speaks in a masterful way. A mocking and ironic tone is the tone of a person who feels hate or envy. A plaintive and doleful tone is the one that shows affliction or pain. A declamatory or theatrical tone is the one that is used in speeches or on the state. This word ton expresses its principal cause, which is the tension [Latin: tonus] of the body that produces it. The tone is low or high, according to the tension on the resonating body, as can be observed with string instruments. Ton, in music, refers specifically to the elevation of the voice by certain equal and measured degrees or intervals, which serve to form chords." (15)

In short, in the two articles from the Journal de Trévoux, "les tons" denotes the upward or downward movement of a voice or an instrument, as it expresses one or another passion. By extension, "les tons" also denotes the individual notes of the musical scale through which voices or instruments pass, to eventually come to an "accord," a chord.

Two decades later, Jean-Baptiste Dubos, historian of art and literature, made a similar statement about tones of voice (he too used the expression "les tons"). He was, however, writing from the perspective of operatic recitative, not the oratory of the pulpit or the music of motets. For an opera recitative to be "true," says Dubos, the appropriate "tones" — and the other signs of the passions — must be imitated:

Il est donc une vérité dans les récits des Opéra: et cette vérité consiste dans l'imitation des tons, des accents, des soupirs, et des sons qui sont propres naturellement aux sentiments contenus dans les paroles. (16) "There is therefore a truth in operatic recitatives : and this truth consists of imitating the tones, the accents, the sighs, and the sounds that are naturally proper to the sentiments contained in the words."

In his definition, Furetière had laid out an assortment of tons by which the different passions could be expressed in music. In addition, as Dubos indicates, these tons must be reinforced by sighs, pathetic accents, melismas, and other expressive sounds such as tremblements or ports de voix.
If one of the reverend fathers at the Novitiate had been asked to describe the tones of voice a novice could be expected to employ while performing les Tons for his classmates and superiors, the list would doubtlessly have differed from Furetière's. The excerpt about les Tons reproduced in section V-B, below, suggests some of these tons: employer une voix modérée, changer la voix, pousser la voix, élever la voix, reposer la voix, faire une petite exclamation, parler dévotement, parler avec véhemence. (Surely the reverend father in charge of doing les Tons hoped that these future preachers would, to borrow Furetière's expression, avoid the "declamatory or theatrical tone … used in speeches or on the stage," and would instead give the impression that their words were spontaneous and passionate.)

Of course, the novices did not sing their text, they recited it to the speech melodies and the pitch levels deemed "appropriate" for the different states of mind being expressed. For example, when alluding to Heaven or to brightness, the voice would move to its highest level, but evoking Hell or darkness meant letting one's voice drop to its deepest register. To express duration of time, the voice would remain on a static pitch, and the vowels of the key words would be lengthened. Joyfulness would be expressed by leaping pitches, and surprise by erratic leaps on normally unstressed syllables. And so forth.

Some lessons in rhetoric, courtesy of the Jesuits of Paris, circa 1688-1698

In place of a conclusion, this Musing will end with excerpts from some Jesuit texts about the Art of Rhetoric. They will be complemented by a suggestion about how Charpentier's Latin motets can serve as guides to recreating spoken recitations of Latin texts of the period.

The journalist of Trévoux's comments about the role that les tons plays in musical rhetoric

These excerpts from the journalist's discussion of musical rhetoric come from pp. 1888 to 1894 of the November 1704 issue of the Journal de Trévoux. This apparently overlooked discussion of rhetoric, and of how poetry and music make it possible to "paint" a colorful picture that speaks to the heart, is in many ways a forerunner of Du Bos's vast canvas entitled Réflexions critiques sur la poésie et la peinture, first published in 1719. In other words, if Father Claude Buffier was the author of this discussion, he was a pioneer in the art of explaining the art of musical rhetoric!

The quotation that follows serves as a long prologue to the two parenthetical sentences about Charpentier. This prologue permits us better to understand just what the "effets" were that permitted Charpentier's music to be weighed against the "grands effets" of the music of the Ancients — and not be found wanting: On en a vû des effets qui rendent vraisemblable ce qu'on dit de la musique ancienne, wrote the anonymous Jesuit in November 1704.

Please keep these "effects" in mind when you read this prologue:

Quelle est la beauté de la Poësie? C'est de faire avec des paroles ce que le Peintre fait avec des coleurs. Ut pictura Poësis erit. Aristote dans sa Poëtique ne nous parle que d'imiter, cela veut dire de peindre. Tous les genres de Poësie ne sont, selon lui, que differentes imitations, differentes peintures. La perfection de la Poësie est de décrire les choses dont elle parle, avec des termes si propres et si justes, que le Lecteur s'imagine qu'il les voit. ... C'est de peindre si vivement les mouvemens du cœur humain, que le Lecteur frappé dans autrui de ce qu'il a senti ou qu'il connoît qu'il peut sentir lui-même, partage toutes les passions que le Poëte donne au Heros. Quelle est la beauté de la Musique? C'est d'achever de rendre la Poësie, ou les paroles qu'on chante, une peinture vraïment parlante. C'est, pour ainsi dire, de la retoucher, de lui donner les dernieres couleurs. ... Le seul secret est d'appliquer aux paroles des tons si proportionnez, que la Poësie étant confonduë et revivant dans la Musique, celle-ci porte jusqu'au fond du cœur de l'Auditeur, le sentiment de tout ce que le Chanteur dit. Voilà ce qui s'appelle exprimer. Exprimer est le but commun de la Peinture, et de la Poësie retouchée par la Musique. Sur ce pied-là, que le Musicien applique à un vers, à une pensée, des tons qui ne leur conviennent point: Il ne m'importent que ces tons soient nouveaux et sçavans, et que la basse-continuë en sauve les dissonances d'une maniere raffinée. La Poësie et la Musique mal liées se separent l'une de l'autre: mon attention languit en se divisant, et le plaisir que peuvent avoir mes oreilles par les accords, est étranger à mon cœur et dès-là très-froid. Cela ne peint plus, parce que cela peint differemment: donc cela est mauvais. Que le Musicien joüe et badine sur des paroles indifferentes ou graves, qu'il y mêle des passages, des roulemens: mon esprit reconnoît d'abord que le sens ne demandoit point ces gentillesses. Cela ne peint point de concert; donc cela ne vaut rien. Au contraire, si le Musicien proportionne vivement, exactement, les tons aux paroles: la chose m'est doublement representée par la Poësie et la Musique. Lors qu'elle n'est qu'indifferente, mon esprit est toûjours content de cette convenance: Cela peint, donc cela est bon. Lors que ce sont des sentimens, des passions ardentes, et que le Musicien conserve, ou plûtôt rechauffe encore leur feu par des tons d'une justesse animée; mon cœur les sent malgré qu'il en ait: cela peint à merveille: dont cela est excellent. ... Mais aussi, dès que ma pensée par elle-même plaît, frappe, émût, je n'ai pas besoin d'aller chercher une phrase élegante: il me suffit que les mots rendent bien le sens. Il s'ensuit que l'expression, qui doit être le but du Musicien, est par consequent le principal en Musique. ... La vraye beauté est dans le juste milieu. ... Il faut donc s'arrêter à ce milieu: il ne faut donc être jamais excessif. ...

"What is the beauty of poetry? It is doing with the words what the painter does with colors. Ut pictura Poesis erit. Aristotle in his Poetics tells us solely about imitating, which means "painting." All types of poetry are, according to him, nothing other than different imitations, different paintings. The perfection of poetry is to describe the things it talks about in terms so appropriate and accurate that the reader imagines he sees them. ... It is to paint in such a lively manner the movements of the human heart, that the reader, struck in another by what he has felt or what he knows he himself can feel, shares all the passions that the poet gives to the hero. What is the beauty of music? It is to succeed in making the poetry, or the words one sings, a painting that truly speaks. It is, so to speak, retouching [the painting], giving it its final colors. ... The only secret is to apply to the words tones that are so proportioned that the poetry is merged with [the music] and comes back to life in the music, with the latter carrying to the depths of the listener's heart the feeling of everything the singer says. That is what it means "to express." Expressing is the common goal of painting and of poetry that has been retouched by music. That being so, let the musician apply to a poetic line [or] a thought, tones that are not suitable: it doesn't matter to me that those tones are new and savant, and that the bass resolves the dissonances in a refined manner. Poorly-linked poetry and music separate from one another: when it is divided, my attention languishes, and the pleasure that my ears may be experiencing at hearing the chords is foreign to my heart, and therefore very cold. Nothing is being painted any more, because things are being painted differently: thus it is bad. If the musician is playing and chooses some irrelevant words, and tosses in some quick passages and melismas, my spirit realizes right away that the meaning [of the words] did not call for these niceties. The things being painted don't agree: thus it is worth nothing. By contrast, if with exactitude and in a lifelike way, the musician proportions the tones to the words, the thing [being painted] is doubly represented to me by the poetry and the music. When [the thing being painted] is merely indifferent, my spirit is always content with that seemliness: it paints , therefore it is good. When [the things being painted] are feelings [or] ardent passions, and the musician preserves, or rather stokes their fire by tones whose animation is accurate, then my heart feels [these emotions], no matter what: it is painting marvelously, thus it is excellent. ... But also, as soon as my thoughts, on their own, please me, strike me, move me, I need not search for an elegant phrase: it suffices that the words express the meaning well. ... True beauty lies in the happy medium. ... One must therefore stop at the mid-point: one must never be excessive. ..."

 Instructions on how to do "les Tons"

The following excerpt from the Instructions for the Paris novitiate, circa 1685, was written for novices. The text does not inform us whether les Tons was done in French or in Latin. At the end of these instructions I have appended some pages from a manuscript dated 1623. It contains a model speech in French, plus some practical suggestions about the appropriate tones of voice and gestures.

Pour les Tons

Les Tons sont un exercice aussi ancien que la Compagnie même. Dans les commencements, ce n'étoit pas une chose extraordinaire qu'étant à table, on avertit quelqu'un de quitter son repas et d'entretenir l'assemblée à la place du lecteur sur quelque matière de piété qu'on lui assignoit.

Les Tons se font au Noviciat tous les vendredys à 2 ou 3 [heures], les jours ouvriers qui ne sont point de Confession. On en avertit deux, au sortir des Litanies, de préparer un petit discours sur le texte qu'on leur donne par écrit. Ils vont faire leur visite du Saint Sacrement, ensuite ils viennent à leurs chambres travailler et apprendre jusqu'à 2 heures. Ce jour-là ils sont dispensés de l'Examen particulier et de venir réciter avec les autres.

Aux Tons on se range comme on se trouve, sur les bancs des tables vis-à-vis la chaire. L'ouverture se fait par deux qu'on avertit de réciter la formule commune; suivent les deux petits discours; on finit par avertir de ses fautes celui qui lit actuellement en première. On doit s'étudier à bien dire la formule ordinaire, parce qu'il y a lieu de prendre en la disant tous les différents ports de voix qui sont d'usage dans la chaire; et c'est ce qui fait nommer cet exercice-cy 'les Tons.'

Le petit discours ne doit pas être plus long que la formule, et il peut l'être beaucoup moins. Il vaut mieux qu'il soit plus court et que la mémoire ne travaille pas; pour être bien fait, il devroit contenir tous les divers mouvements qui sont contenus dans la formule: l'exposition, l'application aux mœurs, les apostrophes diverses, et la conclusion. Il n'est pas question de faire là une division marquée, ni d'apporter des preuves en forme, ni d'entrer dans un grand détail de morale. C'est plutôt comme la péroraison d'un grand discours: après avoir supposé, on ramasse les preuves en peu de mots, et l'on doit parler comme devant une assemblée de séculiers.

Ceux qui écoutent doivent être fort sérieux, ne point rire, ni dire leurs sentimens les uns aux autres. En la place de celui qui parle, ils seroient peut-être bien neufs et plus embarassés que luy.
Ceux qu'on interroge, après que chacun a parlé, doivent dire ce qu'ils croient avoir remarqué de défectueux d'une manière courte et précise, et avec beaucoup de simplicité et de charité; mais il faut en croire au sentiment du Père qui y préside.

"For the Tones

The Tones are an exercise as old as the Society itself. In the early days, it was not an unusual thing, while at table, for someone to be notified to leave his meal and, in the reader's stead, talk to the assembly about some pious subject he was assigned.

The Tones are conducted at the Novitiate every Friday at two or three o'clock, on workdays when there is no Confession. As they leave the Litanies, two novices are notified to prepare a little speech on the written text they are given. They go pay their visit to the Blessed Sacrament, then they go to their bedchambers to work and learn until two o'clock. That day they are dispensed from the particular Examen and from coming to recite with the others.

For the Tones, one takes the closest place on the benches of the tables opposite the pulpit. The opening is done by two novices who are notified to recite the customary formula; the two little speeches follow. One finishes by notifying the person who is reading first about his mistakes. One should pay attention to say the ordinary formula well, because while saying it, there are opportunities to assume all the different tones of voice that are used in the pulpit; and that is why this exercise is called 'the Tones.'

The little speech should not be longer than the formula, and it can be much shorter. It is better for it to be shorter, and for memorization to play no part. To be done well, it should contain all the different parts of a discourse contained in the formula: the exposition, the application to ordinary conduct, various apostrophes, and the conclusion. It is not a question here of making a clear division of the whole into its [rhetorical] parts, or of bringing forth formal proofs, or of going into great detail on moral theology. Rather, it is like the peroration of a long speech: after having stated one's assumptions, one assembles one's proofs in a few words; and one should speak as one would before an assembly of lay people.

Those who are listening should be very serious, should not laugh or tell the others what they think. In the place of the person who is speaking, they would perhaps be very inexperienced and more embarrassed than he.

After each novice has spoken, those who are questioned should state in a brief and precise manner, and with great simplicity and charity, the defects they think they have noticed; but the opinion of the Father who is presiding must be accepted.


[Instruction dated 1623:] "Les Tons

Vous debvés sçavoir qu'estant homme par sa faute tombé en la disgrace du Créateur, et en la tyrannie de Satan, il s'est trouvé en grande misère et confusion; et que par le Sang de l'Agneau immaculé, il a esté affranchi de ce pesant joug et remis en l'amitié de son Dieu.

Et par tant il nous faut bien (mes très chers Frères) considérer attentifvement l'infinie bonté et démesurée bénignité de nostre Sauveur et Rédempteur, qui estant Dieu s'est fait homme, anéanissant [read: anéantissant] sa grandeur par notre petitesse, qui a voulu, pour toy, O ingratte créature, descendre des cieux et sortir du sein de son Père éternel, où comblé de joye, et d'honneur, il estoit assisté, servi et adoré des espri[t]s bienheureux, des Anges, des Archanges, des Principautés, et générallement de toute la cour céleste. O Chrestien, regarde ton Seigneur, comme pour toy il s'est fait serviteur! O bonté infinie, O très doux Agneau, qui vous a contraint à porter nos iniquités et endurer la mort pour donner la vie à nous, chétifs, ingrats et misérables pécheurs?

O endormis, et ensevelis au sommeil du péché, jusques à quant [read: quand] serés-vous insensés, jusques à quant [read: quand] aurés-vous les yeux et les oreilles fermés, et les sens assoupis? Oyés la voix du prophète Joël, Canite tuba in Sion, sanctificate jejunum, congregate cœtum, vocate populem, sanctificate ecclesiam, coadunate senes, congregate parvulos et sugentes ubera. 'Chantés,' dit ce divin trompette, 'Chantés en Sion, sanctifiés le jeusne, assemblés le peuple, sanctifiés l'Eglise, assemblés les vieux, assemblés les petits, et suçans la mamelle.'

Ne voyés-vous point, ne voyés-vous point combien il y en a qui périssent? Pleurés donc, pleurés vos péchés, et ceux du peuple; et ce faisant, Dieu vous donnera sa grâce en se [read: ce] monde, et sa gloire en l'austre, à laquelle nous conduise, etc.

Observation sur les Tons

En premier lieu, il faut faire le signe de la croix et se couvrir, et puis poser les mains sur la chaire; et aiant un peu demeuré, faut commencer avec une voix modérée, la conduisant jusqu'en ce lieu: "Et par tant . . ."

Estant icy parvenu, faut s'arrester, puis commenser [read: commencer] et changer la voix, la poussant un peu, disant, "Pour toy, O ingratte créature." Il faut, avec dextérité, tourner la main droitte, la fléchissant un peu bas.

". . . Sortir du sein," il faut eslever les mains en haut, regardant avec modestie les auditeurs.
"Des Anges," il faut eslever la main droite et la bais[s]er. "Des Archanges," faire la maime [read: même] de la main gauche.

"Et générallement," des deux mains.

"O Chrestien," faut un peu eslever la voix, regardant les auditeurs, addressant vers eux la main droicte. "Regarde ton Seigneur," se tourner d'un costé, comme s'il y avoit quelque crucifix, le monstrant aux assistans: puis, se reposant un peu, avec une petite exclamation.

"O bonté infinie," etc., faut séparer les deux mains, les fléchissant un peu, et croiser les deux bras en baissant un peu la teste et prononçant dévotement les paroles. "Pour donner la vie à nous," faut mettre la main à la poitrine, et commencer avec plus de véhémence. "O endormis," etc., frapper de la main sur la chaire avec discretion.

"Oyés la voix," faut fléchir la main droicte. Le reste, la plupart avec la dextre, quelquefois avec la gauche, et quelquefois toutes deux.

"Ne voyés-vous point," faut monstrer avec la main droicte aux auditeurs, fléchissant deux fois, et la conduisant toujours plus bas, jusques à la fin.

The Tones

"You should know that, man having fallen, by his fault, into disgrace with the Creator, and into Satan's tyranny, he found himself in great misery and confusion; and that, by the blood of the immaculate Lamb, he was freed from this heavy yoke and restored to friendship with his God.

And consequently it is very necessary (my very dear Brethren) for us to consider attentively the infinite goodness and unmeasured benignity of our Savior and Redeemer, who, being God, made himself man, annihilating his grandeur by our pettiness, who was willing for thee, Oh ungrateful creature, to descend from heaven and leave the bosom of his eternal Father, where, overwhelmed with joy and honor, he was assisted, served, and adored by the blessed spirits, the Angels, the Archangels, the Principalities and generally by all the celestial court. Oh Christian, look at thy Lord and how he became a servant for thee! Oh infinite good, Oh very gentle Lamb, who forced you to bear our iniquities and endure death in order to give life to us, scrawny, ungrateful, and wretched sinners?

Oh sleepers, Oh persons buried in the sleep of sin, how long will you be senseless? How long will you keep your eyes and ears shut, and your senses deadened? Hear the voice of the prophet Joel: Canite tuba in Sion, sanctificate jejunium, congregate cœtum, vocate populem, sanctificate ecclesiam, coadunate senes, congregate parvulos et sugentes ubera. 'Sing,' says this divine trumpet, 'Sing in Zion, sanctify fasting, assemble the people, sanctify the Church, assemble the old, assemble the little ones, and those who suck at the breast.'

Do you not see, do you not see how many are perishing? Weep, then. Weep for your sins and for those of the people; and by doing this, God will give you his grace in this world and his glory in the other, to which we are led, etc.

Observation about the Tones

First of all, it is necessary to make the sign of the cross and cover one's head, and then put one's hands on the pulpit; and, having remained in that posture for a bit, it is necessary to begin with a moderated voice, continuing it until one reaches "And consequently . . ."

Having reached this point, it is necessary to pause, then resume speaking and change one's tone of voice, pushing it a bit when one says, "For thee, Oh ungrateful creature." It is necessary to turn the right hand with dexterity, and bend it a bit downwards.

". . . Leave the bosom," it is necessary to raise one's hands, looking modestly at those who are listening.

"The Angels," it is necessary to raise the right hand and lower it. "The Archangels," make the same gesture with the left hand.

"And generally," use both hands.

"Oh Christian," it is necessary to raise one's voice a bit, looking at the listeners and stretching one's right hand toward them. "Look at thy Lord," turn to one side, as if there were a crucifix and you were showing it to the listeners: then, pausing a bit, with a little exclamation.

"Oh infinite good," etc., it is necessary to separate both hands, flexing them a little, and to cross both arms while lowering the head a bit and saying the words devoutly. "To give life to us," it is necessary to put one's hand on one's breast, and with more vehemence, begin: "Oh sleepers," etc., discreetly strike the pulpit with one's hand.

"Hear the voice," it is necessary to flex the right hand; and for the rest, usually use the right hand and sometimes the left one, and occasionally both.

"Do you not see," it is necessary to extend one's right hand toward the listeners, flexing it twice and carrying it progressively lower, until the end."

(Reproduced from Beginning to be a Jesuit: Instructions for the Paris Novitiate circa 1685 (St. Louis MO: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 2011), ed. Patricia M. Ranum, pp. 164-166, and 206-209.)


Charpentier's Latin music: an application of Jesuit spoken rhetoric

Charpentier's compositions from the Jesuit decade, 1688-1698, (they are mainly found in notebooks 54-63 and LIV-LXVI of his Mélanges) should be viewed as mirrors of Jesuit spoken oratory. The "tones of voice" (les tons) selected by Charpentier — and the sighs, pathetic accents, and expressive sounds that go hand in hand with those tones of voice — can be presumed to be the ones that the Jesuit fathers deemed so "appropriate" to the message being conveyed by the text.

Charpentier's oratorical skills did not stop, however, at inserting a few ornaments or dissonances, or at moving through higher or lower pitches to suggest changed emotions. By the rhythms of his musical meter, Charpentier carefully noted the length accents so characteristic of French vulgar Latin. (17)

Students of late-seventeenth century Latin oratory — and why not students at Jesuit institutions? — can use Charpentier's compositions from the Jesuit decade to re-create the spoken recitations of the fathers of the Society of Jesus. That is to say, they can conduct an experiment that is tantamount to learning to do les Tons.

First, they should follow as closely as possible the notational values and rhythms of the music, as they read the Latin text aloud —preferably using the French "vulgar" pronunciation that has become accepted performance practice for Baroque musical ensembles in France. (See my handbook on pronunciation. (18))

Once the long and short rhythms have been mastered, they should make their spoken voice rise and drop, according to the leaps and curves of Charpentier's melody. Finally, they should make their tone of voice harden, soften, or tremble with each dissonance, each ornament, and each accidental, along the lines of what I say in my Harmonic Orator, pp. 348-353, 125-132, and 342-345.

Voilà, the novice orator will have "begun" to master les Tons!

One need not restrict this reconstruction of late-seventeenth-century oratorical practices to Latin texts. Although the Jesuit journalists of Trévoux reserved their praise for Charpentier's masterful Latin declamation, it is difficult to believe that the reverend fathers viewed as inadequate the rhetoric that Charpentier had woven into his French-language David et Jonathas, performed at Louis-le-Grand in February 1688. Do we not owe Charpentier the benefit of a doubt? Should we not assume, for the sake of argument, that he could do les Tons as well in French as in Latin? Using the simple procedure that I have proposed for Charpentier's Latin settings, but applying it to the recitative of Médée, or to one of Charpentier's chamber operas (for example, Actéon), it would be possible to reconstruct spoken theatrical declamation for the 1680s and 1690s. (Please avoid those oddly pronounced oi's that are far less historical than some people believe!)


1. Here are two contemporary definitions of effet: "Effet: Ce qui est produit par quelque chose. Bon effet, mauvais effet. Ces couleurs bien meslées font un bel effet," Dictionnaire de l'Académie Française, 1694. "Effet: ... Les couleurs de l'arc-en-ciel font un bel effet. L'art produit de beaux effets, aussi bien que la nature," Furetière, Dictionnaire, 1690. In other words, the anonymous author(s) is not to surprising stage effects created by machines or dancers; he is referring to the skillful blending of musical colors and rhythms so that they seem almost "natural." However, by linking "effet" to "Musique ancienne," as he does in the statement of 1704, the anonymous author is employing this word as it was used by another Jesuit, Father Ménestrier. (For Ménestrier, whom the author of the two statements almost certainly knew personally, see section II-B of this Musing (Les Tons, "The Tones").

2. By choosing the word "réussir," the anonymous Jesuit reviewer meant: "Avoir un bon succez. ... Il a reussi dans son dessein. Cette pièce de Théatre a fort réussi," Dictionnaire de l'Académie Française, 1694. In other words, the reviewer is saying that — owing to Molière's death, Lully's subsequent opposition to music on the stage, and the "cabale" around Médée (1690) — Charpentier's vernacular music was short-lived. The reviewer is not referring to the quality of his work.

3. Although most of the sources about the Art of Rhetoric that I present in this Musing were written by (and for) Jesuits, most orators of the day would have agreed with their content. My own observations have been shaped by Marc Fumaroli's pioneering L'Age de l'éloquence, first published in 1980.

4. The manuscript was published in a bi-lingual edition in 2012 by the Institute for Jesuit Sources, Saint Louis, MO, as Beginning to be a Jesuit: the Instructions for the Paris Novitiate.

5. Isaac Vossius, author of De poematum cantu et viribus rhythmi (1673). In it Vossius retraced the age-old alliance between poetry and music and condemned all versification that was not based on prosody.

6. For some ideas on the role that "movement" plays in French vernacular music, see my Harmonic Orator, (Pendragon: 2001), pp. 237-306, 308-316. Ménestrier argued that all languages express the same passions; but each language uses its unique set of rhythms and poetics to express those passions. In Charpentier's case, the difference between expressing love in Latin and in French was a matter of being bi-lingual, so to speak. It sufficed to set the rhythms correctly according to the language (for example, place the long accentuated syllables on the strong beat: DO-mi-nus in Latin, but Seig-NEUR in French), and then give the word or phrase a suitable color by applying the appropriate "tones" (a majestic chord, for example).

7. Claude-François Ménestrier, Des représentations en musique anciennes et modernes (Paris, 1681), pp 77-78, 113, 138-139, 101. From 1671 to 1705 Father Ménestrier resided in Paris.

8. "Bien qu'on sache que la plupart des rédacteurs du journal appartiennent à la Société de Jésus et, plus particulièrement au groupe de ceux qui résident à Louis-le-Grand, il reste malaisé de connaître avec exactitude la composition des équipes de rédaction successives, les extraits n'étant à peu près jamais signés,"


10. In the article on Buffier ( the Dictionnaire des journalistes notes that: "dans l'état actuel de nos connaissances, on sait qu'il [Buffier] était surtout responsable des articles sur la grammaire et la musique. Articles identifiés par Sommervogel comme étant de la main de B[uffier] dans les Mémoires de Trévoux : «Dictionnaire de musique. [.. ], par S. de Brossard» et «Dissertation touchant le rapport de la musique spéculative et de la musique pratique» (1703, p. 1761-1785 et 2054-2065) ...." about research being conducted at the Academy
In March 1704, Buffier explained a few points in this "Dissertation." His article reveals a deep knowledge of both theoretical and practical music — plus considerable wit! He seems to be speaking from experience when he writes: "... il ne s'agit pas seulement d'avoir du discernement dans l'esprit; il faut en avoir encore dans l'oreille et même avec quelque usage de la composition et de l'execution de la Musique Pratique. Sans quoy les Speculations deviennent comme celles que l'on feroit sur le different goût du vin de Bourgogne et du vin de Champagne dont on n'auroit jamais goûté. Que sert-il par exemple de demander aux plus habiles, en quoy consiste l'agrément ou le desagrément; la difference réelle ou imaginaire d'un même chant transposé sur un Clavecin, ou sur un autre instrument semblable? Question d'ailleurs si digne d'une curiosité delicate et qui embarasse tous les gens d'esprit, pour peu qu'ils se mêlent de Musique. Car il paroît dans cette pratique une varieté qui ne peut être l'effet d'une pure bizarrerie. Mettez sur ce point les plus experimentez Praticiens, ils sentent assez ce que vous voulez dire, mais ils tombent en contradiction à la 3e question que vous leur faites. Cherchez à vous éclaircir avec un Physicien ou un Mathematicien; il n'a jamais senti l'effet de ce qu'on appelle transposition, il n'en a pas seulement l'idée." (March 1704, pp. 469-71). Note his use of the word "effet" to suggest tonal coloring; the word appears in both texts about Charpentier.

11. Jesuits were typically reassigned every three years, but the precise month when this change in personnel took place is difficult to determine. Logically, it took place during the summer academic break.

12. Le Cerf de la Viéville, Comparaison, p. 137.

13. Le Cerf de la Viéville, Comparaison, p. 137.

14. "Expression, signifie aussi, Les termes & la maniere dont on se sert pour exprimer ce qu'on veut dire. Belle, noble, elegante, forte expression. expression vive, hardie, energique. il a l'expression populaire. la pensée est belle, mais il y a quelque chose à dire à l'expression. je trouve cette expression mauvaise, trop foible. je ne condamnerois pas cette expression là. cette expression fait une belle, une vilaine idée." On appelle aussi en termes de Peinture & de Sculpture, Expression, La representation vive et naturelle des passions. Ce Peintre excelle particulierement dans l'expression. Dictionnaire de l'Académie Française, 1694.

15. For more on tons, see my Harmonic Orator, especially pp. 316-318 (where the citation from Furetière and its translation appear) and p. 472; and for "keys" (first called modes, and later, tons), see pp. 319-327, 327-342 (Charpentier's modes), and p. 470.

16. Jean-Baptiste Dubos, Réflexions critiques sur la Poësie et sur la Peinture, fourth edition (Paris: 1740), I, p. 470.

17. See Patricia M. Ranum, " 'Le chant doit perfectionner la prononciation, & non pas la corrompre,' L'accentuation du chant grégorien d'après les traités de Dom Jacques Le Clerc et dans le chant de Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers," in Plain-chant et liturgie en France au XVIIe siècle, ed. Jean Duron (Paris: Klincksieck, 1997), pp. 59-83.

18. Patricia M. Ranum, Méthode de la prononciation latine dite "vulgaire" ou "à la française" (Arles: Actes Sud, 1991).


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