Book Review: The Weapons of Rhetoric: A Guide for Musicians and Audiences

If it ain’t Baroque, then …… well, yes, in striving to become a Baroque specialist, much of my current vocal and instrumental repertoire is Baroque, yet its interpretation is a true art in itself.  When I first started teaching myself to play the recorder, I never suspected that there were “tricks and traps” with regards to the nuances of the music.  Baroque music was Baroque music, and I played what little pieces I knew just as I had been taught to play Baroque music:  Very stale and staccato with consistent Romantic vibrato and literally no ornamentation.  Hence, when I went to my first recorder lesson, I was totally blown away when my teacher began lecturing me about such topics as harmonic rhythm, good/bad notes, national styles, and the Doctrine of the Affections.  By the time the lesson was over, my little head was swimming to the point that I had to seek out credible primary and secondary sources on HIPP.  In the process, I discovered a real gem:  The Weapons of Rhetoric:  A Guide for Musicians and Audiences by professional Baroque violinist Judy Tarling.

In this fascinatingly complicated yet easy-to-read book, Tarling introduces musicians to the intriguing world of musical rhetoric in the 17th and 18th centuries.  Unbeknown to many experienced musicians but known to every expert in historically informed performance world, the masters of the Baroque period were fully familiar with the principles of classical rhetoric and incorporated them into their music.  Beginning with a well-paced overview of rhetoric and its history, Tarling proceeds to explains every aspect of this fascinating art in great detail, separating her book into five distinct chapters:  Foundation, Audience and Affect, Delivery, Structure, and Repetition.  Each chapter’s content is frequently re-inforced with primary sources excerpts (e.g. Quintillian)and often embellished with relevant, helpful graphics ranging from musical examples to historical engravings and even humorous cartoons.  A bibliography of sources is included at the conclusion of the book, giving those who wish to learn more much reading for literally a lifetime.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Tarling’s book and still continue to use it as a reference today.  Although I first found it a bit “heavy” in the beginning, subsequent re-readings of the chapters cleared up any mental roadblocks to the point I was able to grasp the concepts at had and apply them to my own playing with stellar results.  In fact, when I applied the concepts featured in Tarling’s book to my singing and playing in front of my voice teacher, a musicologist specializing in Baroque music, he was so impressed that he soon purchased a copy for himself.  I would definitely urge all neophyte and experienced HIPP artists to do the same, regardless of familiarity with the concepts presented in the book.  In that way, all of the HIPP community will be fully certified to effectively brandish the “Weapons of Rhetoric”, swaying their audiences hopefully for the better!

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