Pronunciatio in the Music of Purcell and Handel


  • Michael Purves-Smith Wilfrid Laurier University


Classical rhetoric is of importance to singers. The Romans divided the subject into five parts. Pronunciatio, the last of these, covers all aspects of delivery. It is the territory of the voice teacher, and master of elocution, and, as actio, the home of the stage director and actor. Elocutio, the third part, is concerned with style and diction. It is the canon that contemporary rhetoricians are most interested in, and musicians should be as well. Of the early writers on rhetoric, Quintilianl wrote most on the subject of delivery. He invented rules to cover every conceivable aspect of performance, including gesture and attitude, proxemics, and the modulation and care of the voice. Mter him, the subject was frequently neglected by writers on rhetoric, presumably because it is better taught in the doing than in theory. Nonetheless, rhetorical delivery continued to be enthusiastically practised until very recently.