Hicham Chami AffectionsSome would remember him as the brilliant musician he was: one who gave public recitals at age nine. Some others would remember him as the gentleman who came a metallic-shirt-button away from piercing Handel’s heart with his sword in a duel. Some might also remember him as the vivid and sharp musician/diplomat turned reclusive and ascetic theorist/writer because of an untimely deafness. History books, however, would remember him as the pioneer of the German musicology school. His writings were an inexhaustible source of biographical informations on musicians of the Baroque period along with scholarly exploration of various concepts and ideas ruling Baroque music. Among these concepts, the “Doctrine of Affections”.

Born on September 28th, 1681 in the northern Germany city of Hamburg to a wealthy family, Johann Mattheson was a German composer, writer, lexicographer, diplomat, and music theorist. His prosperous upbringing allowed for a comprehensive education: including foreign languages, music theory, and various music mediums (keyboards, violin, composition, singing…). In 1703, he became acquainted with George Frideric Handel, his junior of four years. The two became very good friends, although Mattheson nearly ended Handel’s life in a duel over who should be playing klavecin in Mattheson’s opera Cleopatra.

Secretary of the English ambassador in Hamburg (1706), music director of the Cathedral (1718-1725), Kapellmeister of the Duke of Holstein (1719), he was a prolific composer whose works included many genres: operas, oratorios, cantatas, sonatas….

In 1728, a total deafness, the first signs of which had emerged as early as 1705, forced him to withdraw from public musical life and devote himself to writing and documenting the musical life of the Baroque period.

It was in one of his treatises, “Der Volkommene Kapellmeister”, written in 1739, that he coined the term Affektenlehre (tr. “Doctrine of Ethos”) to refer to the argument that music is capable of arousing a wide array of set emotions within audience members. The “Doctrine of Affections” emerged at the close of the Renaissance period and ushered in an aesthetic of music that emphasized the expression of intense feelings.  This “doctrine” was based on ancient rhetorical techniques that were intended to elicit emotional responses from listeners.

Mattheson methodically developed the Doctrine of Affections (incorporating the influence of Descartes, Hobbes, and Locke) and detailed the concept, describing twenty “affections” along with their appropriate musical expressions:

“Sorrow, for example, should be portrayed with a slow-moving, listless melody frequently broken with musical ‘sighs’.”1

In contrast, a sense of euphoria could be conveyed by “a rapidly rising sequence of thirds.”2

Buelow reiterates Mattheson’s correlation of keys to various “affections” as outlined in Mattheson’s 1713 publication, “Das Neu-Eröffnete Orchestre”; among them:

C = rude, bold
D = sharp, headstrong, for warlike and merry things
E = despair, fatal sadness…piercing, painful
F = most beautiful sentiments, generosity, constancy, love
B = offensive, harsh, unpleasant, desperate character 3

While having pioneered the idea, Mattheson was not the only proponent of the Doctrine.  Others, including Johann David Heinichen (1683-1729), Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg (1718-1795), and Johann Joachim Quantz (1697-1773) also believed that “the ‘affection’ of a text should be reflected in its musical setting through an appropriate choice of key and judiciously crafted qualities of melody, thus arousing the appropriate affection in the listener.”4

Lyman notes Mattheson’s prescription that each composition, or movement, “should embody only one affection.” Bukofzer also observes that:

“…the maintenance of a single affection throughout a composition began tentatively in the middle baroque and became increasingly more rigid toward the end of the period.” 5

Buelow summarizes Mattheson’s contribution to the Doctrine of Affections:

“He was…a rationalist, a true participant in the Age of Enlightenment, looking for new ways by which a listener could be led to understand his feelings–his emotions–as they were stimulated by musical sounds.” 6

Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643), a monumental figure in Baroque Music, championed the “Doctrine of Affections” by creating music of emotional intensity. To convey this intensity, he relied on various compositional techniques, such as dissonances, with a boldness that was “unprecedented for his time”7.

Let’s consider the following example, Cruda Amarilli, a Madrigal for five voices from Monteverdi’s Book 5 (SV94).

In order to express the text being sung, Monteverdi did not hesitate in breaking the rules of harmony being used during his time. In measure 2 and 6 for instance, he introduces a few dissonant notes in the canto, quinto, and basso voices (the dissonant notes are marked). Similarly,in using the music to provide a depiction of the lyrics, Monteverdi uses adescending phrase in the canto voice (measure 13) in order to match the “Alas” being sung… The rendition of the two notes resembles a frustrated, sad sigh…

Monteverdi’s genius resides not merely in “breaking the rules”, but doing so in a manner that remained pleasing to the ear, all the while facing harsh criticism by purists of the “old school”.8

“To be sure, the church traditions from which Monteverdi was deviating were a powerful mould to be breaking, but penetrating popular taste while remaining true to avant-garde ideals will surely be seen in a similar light four hundred years from now”9

Hicham Chami Affections1

Mattheson’s scholarly/theoretical writings supported the concept that music is both an “expressive art” and a “rational art”, engaging both the emotions and the mind.10 Monteverdi’s compositions brought that concept to fruition. It is in large part due to this complementary dynamic that Baroque music has retained its compelling hold on many listeners for the past 200+ years.


1 Lyman, Darryl. “Doctrine of the Affections: The Key to a Major Era in Music.” 3 October 2010 <www.associatedcontent.com/article/2141491/doctrine_of_the_affections_the_key.htm2l>.

2 Smith, Timothy A.  Sojurn: The Baroque Ideal. 3 October 2010. <http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~tas3/baroqueideal.html>.

3 Buelow, George J. “Johann Mattheson and the Invention of the Affektenlehre”. In New Mattheson Studies, edited by George J. Buelow and Hans Joachim Marx. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007. 401-2.

4 “Affections, Doctrine of.”  Oxford Music Online. 3 October 2010

5 Bukofzer, Manfred F. Music in the Baroque Era, From Monteverdi to Bach. New York: W. W. Norton, 1947. 389.

6 Buelow, George J. “Johann Mattheson and the Invention of the Affektenlehre”. In New Mattheson Studies, edited by George J. Buelow and Hans Joachim Marx. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007. 493.

7 Kamien, Roger. “Claudio Monteverdi.” Music: An Appreciation. Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2008. 149.

8 Including Giovanni Maria Artusi in his L’Artusi overo delle Imperfettioni della Moderna Musica (tr. Artusi on the Imperfections of Modern Music)

9 Longhinin, Marco. Il Quinto Libro De’ Madrigali. Delitiæ Musicæ. Rec. Apr. 2003. NAXOS, 2003. Classical Music CD and Concert Reviews – MusicWeb International. Web. 13 Oct. 2010.

10 Buelow, George J. “Johann Mattheson and the Invention of the Affektenlehre”. In New Mattheson Studies, edited by George J. Buelow and Hans Joachim Marx. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007. 493.