The Eloquent Science of Music: Marin Mersenne's Uses of Rhetoric in the Harmonie Universelle (1636)


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




Traditional narratives of the history of music theory recognize that seventeenth-century musicians routinely drew from rhetoric to help conceptualize musical structures. However, studies have been limited by narrow geographic interest (strongly favoring German theorists) coupled with an implicit belief that music had nothing to offer rhetoric in return. This dissertation examines the relationship between music and rhetoric in the Harmonie Universelle (1636), the music-theoretical magnum opus by the French polymath Marin Mersenne. In so doing, it demonstrates that Mersenne viewed the exchange between the two disciplines to be mutually beneficial. Ultimately, Mersenne’s writings compel music scholars to revise their fundamental assumptions about music’s status in relation to rhetoric.