Rhetoric and Music: Up to 1750: Middle Ages and Renaissance

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Encyclopedia Entry

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Grove Music Online


All rhetorically related musical concepts originated in the extensive literature on oratory and rhetoric by ancient Greek and Roman writers, principally Aristotle, Cicero and Quintilian. Among the enduring and influential legacies of this tradition is a fivefold division of the art of verbal discourse into inventio (finding the argument), dispositio (ordering the argument), elocutio (style), memoria and pronuntiatio(delivery), with the aim of moving (movere), delighting (delectare) and instructing (docere). Quintilian’s requirements for the well-trained orator included ‘knowledge of the principles of music, which have power to excite or assuage the emotions of mankind’. The emphasis of ancient orators on the significant role of music in oratory supported a continuous tradition of musical-rhetorical relations throughout these early periods, but the manner in which music and rhetoric interacted varied according to a number of shifting conditions, among them the accessibility of the ancient rhetorical treatises, the nature of the material conveyed in those treatises, the prevailing goals and functions of music and rhetoric within a given culture, and the various arenas of theory, compositon, performance and notation where one looks for signs of this interaction.


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