Music and the Language of Love

9780253354617: Hardback
Release Date: 7th April 2011

11 b&w illus., 99 music exx.

Dimensions: 152 x 229

Number of Pages: 408

Series Music and the Early Modern Imagination

Indiana University Press

Music and the Language of Love

Seventeenth-Century French Airs

Hardback / £39.00

Simple songs or airs, in which a male poetic voice either seduces or excoriates a female object, were an influential vocal genre of the French Baroque era. In this comprehensive and interdisciplinary study, Catherine Gordon-Seifert analyzes the style of airs, which was based on rhetorical devices of lyric poetry, and explores the function and meaning of airs in French society, particularly the salons. She shows how airs deployed in both text and music an encoded language that was in sensuous contrast to polite society’s cultivation of chaste love, strict gender roles, and restrained discourse.

Note on Quotations, Translations, and Musical Examples


1. Music and Texts: An Overview of the Sources
A General Description of the Air
The Publications
The Composers
Publications by Lambert, Bacilly, La Barre, and Le Camus: A Description
The Song Texts
Poetic Structure
Style or Elocution: Figurative Language and Poetic Syntax
Poetry and Rhetoric
2. Rhetoric and Meaning in the Seventeenth-Century French Air
Seventeenth-Century French Sources on Rhetoric and Music
Persuading the Passions
3. Musical Representations of the Primary Passions
The Primary Passions
The Agitated Passions
The Modest Passions
The Neutral Passion
4. Setting the Texts
Painful Love
Bittersweet Love
Enticing Love
Joyous Love
5. Form and Style: The Organization and Function of Expressions, Syntax, and Rhetorical Figures
Form (Disposition)
The Organization of Expressions in Short Airs
The Organization of Expressions in Long Airs
Form in Single-Strophe Airs
The Rhetorical Sections of a Piece: Their Function and Expression
Style (Elocution): Poetic Structure, Punctuation, and Rhetorical Figures
6. L'Art du Chant: Performing French Airs
À Haute Voix
The Art of Proper Singing
The Pronunciation of Seventeenth-Century French
Syllabic Quantity
Le Mouvement
Basso Continuo Accompaniment
7. Salon Culture and the Mid-Seventeenth-Century French Air
The French Air and Conversation
Musical Seductions
Galanterie and the Air: Undercurrents of Eroticism and Lessons of Morality
Women Singing Airs as Men
8. The Late-Seventeenth-Century Air and the Rhetoric of Distraction
The Air after 1670
Songs and the Rhetoric of Distraction
Pleasure, Airs, and the New Rhetoric
The Legacy of Lambert, Bacilly, Le Camus, and La Barre


Catherine Gordon-Seifert is Professor of Music and Chair of the Music Department at Providence College.

"This book will be a model for how to tease the expressive implications out of every contour, rhythm, and ornament.... Gordon-Seifert's approach to musical expressive meaning will prove very valuable for students of other Baroque repertories."

Robert Hatten
Indiana University

"A hard but rewarding read, and a must for would-be performers of 'airs.'... Highly recommended."


"This book should, I feel, be on the shelves of everyone with a serious interest in the music of the French baroque. It is an extremely well-researched and thorough study of that most seminal of 17th-century French musical genres, the air sérieux."

The Consort

"Catherine Gordon-Seifert does a masterful job at conveying how rhetoric, text, and music interplay in French serious airs from the 1640s–1660s. Her analyses of text and music dig deep into the fabric of the repertoire.... By and large, Music and the Language of Love is a worthy contribution to the field that should find its way to any academic library with a serious music collection."

Music Reference Services Quarterly

"[T]his book is a major contribution to our understanding of the rhetorical elements of the song texts and the way in which composers expressed them in their musical settings."


"[Gordon-Seifert] has presented readers with an elegant, insightful study on a critical turning point in French baroque composition just before the premiere of Lully's groundbreaking Cadmus et Hermione in 1673. Scholars of seventeenth-century music, as well as singers interested in integrating these airs into their repertory, will find in it an approachable, valuable resource, as well as an engaging account of the social and cultural mores of the time."


"[Gordon-Seifert] has provided an insightful and long overdue study of an important repertory that for many years has suffered from relative neglect. 2012"

Early Music

In this exceptionally fine, pioneering book, Gordon-Seiffert (Providence College) examines 'serious airs' (love songs) by Lambert, Bacilly, La Barre, and Le Camus written in the two decades before Jean-Baptiste Lully's first opera (1673), which marked the beginning of a paradigm shift in French baroque song. Serious interest in studying/performing this repertoire has prospered only since the 1990s, thanks in part to Gordon-Seiffert. Salon airs were considered weak musically, set to 'banal' poetry, unrewarding to sing. Their apparent artificiality and simplicity, which this book reveals to be the result of complex relationships between French literary and rhetorical theory and musical devices matched to those exemplars, made it easy for musicians to ignore them. The author argues that detailed study of these relationships, of the erotic code meanings of the 'banal' texts, of continuo matters, of the rhetorical significance of ornaments and the style of declaiming the words ('forcefully, but not too forcefully'), of the meaning 'behind' the simple notation can open a rich aesthetic world for modern singers. A hard but rewarding read, and a must for would-be performers of 'airs.' Stephan Van Dyck and Stephen Stubbs' CD of La Barre (Airs ą deux parties, 2000) will prove a valuable companion resource. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Graduate students, faculty, professionals. —Choice

W. Metcalfe, emeritus, University of Vermont