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The Harmonic Orator

A Guide to the Phrasing and Rhetoric of the Melody in French Baroque Airs

Patricia Ranum

524 pp.

9 illustrations

ISBN: 978-1576470220

hardback $98.00

Out-of-Print. This book is no longer available from Pendragon Press.


The first systematic study of French baroque music to analyze melody and lyrics rather than notational rhythms, counterpoint, and harmony, this guide presents the phrasing, rhetoric, and expression that is woven into the melodies of sung dances. Its close reading of rhetorical and poetic writings of the period, combined with its presentation of basic French linguistic patterns and speech rhythms, opens the way to a deeper historical understanding of French baroque music. Proudly standing apart from its European neighbors, the music of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France represented a conscious synthesis of French speech rhythms, French rhetorical practices,and French theatrical recitation. As such, it demands its own performance style. Speech and its melodies constituted what the French prior to Rameau thought of as harmony. Twentieth-century performers and listeners who read this book will take increased pleasure in French baroque music when they can view the airs as miniature orations in which speech and music fuse to form a poetic whole. Indispensable for musicians and critics who wish to deepen their knowledge of French music of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, this guide will also prove useful to persons interested in French poetry and theatrical performance.


Patricia Ranum:

Began studying seventeenth-century French rhetoric in the early 1980s. In 1984 her work with the singers of the Arts Florissants during rehearsals for Marc-Antoine Charpentier�s M�d�e made her concentrate her research on the relationships that exist between poetry, musical notation and the music itself. Her experiences while rhetorician for the European Baroque Academy of Ambronay of 1998 (Jean-Baptiste Lully�s Th�s�e, directed by William Christie) shaped the approach she uses in her Harmonic Orator (2001). In 2002 she served as rhetorician during the preparation of Pancrace Royer�s Le Pouvoir de l�Amour (directed by Lisa Goode Crawford) at Oberlin College. She continues to coach singers in French sung rhetoric. Musicologists know her primarily for her scholarship on Marc-Antoine Charpentier, his patrons, the Guise princesses, and his musician colleagues. Among historians she is better known for her editions of historical sources and her translations of several leading French historians, among them Fernand Braudel and Philippe Ari�s. She and her husband, Orest Ranum, a historian of early-modern France, spend their winters in Baltimore, Maryland, and their summers in a tiny village in northern Languedoc, France.