15. March 2021

Dr. O'Rourke Guest Lecture

Dr. Russell O'Rourke (Columbia University) will give a talk on "A Two-Stage Model for Emotional Arousal in Cinquecento Musical Thought" 


What do Torquato Tasso’s epic poem Gerusalemme liberata (1581), Lorenzo Giacomini’s lecture De la purgazione de la tragedia (1586), Bartolomeo Cavalcanti’s rhetorical manual La retorica (1559), and Gioseffo Zarlino’s music treatise Le istitutioni harmoniche (1558) have in common? All of them distinguish between the actions of “disposing” and “moving” the souls of listeners through music. In this talk, I’ll argue for the salience of what I call a “two-stage model for emotional arousal” to sixteenth-century theorizing about music and the passions, and demonstrate its foundation in two disciplines: physics and rhetoric. On the one hand, by insisting that listeners must be inclined (disposti) toward emotions before they can fully experience them, this model participates in the Aristotelian tradition according to which matter must stand in potentiality to form in order to undergo change. On the other, by linking the onset of disposizione and affetto within listening subjects to distinct kinds of musical stimuli (in short, music with and without words), the model suggests a more immediate basis in Aristotle’s Rhetoric, a text whose influence in Italy was ascendent during the sixteenth century. In particular, the philosopher’s analogy between speech prologues and instrumental music on the basis of their mutual power to “prepare” audiences to listen attentively finds surprising expression in Zarlino’s theory of music’s power over the emotions. After reviewing my evidence for these claims in the first part of my talk, I’ll conclude by testing the two-stage model against an example taken from musical practice.


This talk will take place on zoom on Monday, March 15, 2021 at 17:00 CET; please contact Ms. Diana Gleiss if you wish to attend.