music dictionary

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By JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU*

Preface of the newly translated book

Music is, of all the fine arts, the one with the most extensive vocabulary, and for which a dictionary is consequently the most useful. Thus, it should not be included in the list of ridiculous compilations that fashion, or rather, the mania for dictionaries, multiplies every day. If this book is well done, it is useful to artists. If it is bad, it is not because of the choice of subject or the form of the work. Thus, it would be a mistake to reject it already by title. You have to read it to judge it.

The usefulness of the subject does not justify, I must agree, that of the book; it only justifies your undertaking, and that is all I can claim. I feel, moreover, what is lacking in its execution. It is less a dictionary in form than a compilation of dictionary materials, which only await skilled hands for their use. Fifteen years ago the foundations of this work were laid so hastily, in the Encyclopedia, which, when I tried to correct it, I could not give it the solidity it would have had if I had had more time to better assimilate its plan and to execute it.

I didn't conceive this company for myself, it was proposed to me; added the fact that the entire manuscript of the Encyclopedia it had to be complete before a single line was printed; I was only given three months to fulfill my task, and three years would be enough only to read, extract, compare and compile the authors I needed: but the zeal of friendship blinded me to the impossibility of success. True to my word, at the expense of my reputation, I executed it quickly and badly, not being able to do well in so short a time; at the end of three months, my entire manuscript was written, polished, and turned in; since then, I haven't seen it again. If I had worked volume by volume like the others, this essay, better prepared, might have remained in the state in which it was made. I don't regret being correct; but I regret having been rash and having promised more than I could perform.

Hurt by the imperfection of my articles, as the volumes of the Encyclopedia appeared, I decided to reformulate the whole in my draft and make, at my pleasure, a separate work, treated with more care. I was, upon resuming this work, within reach of all the necessary resources. Living among artists and men of letters, he was able to consult both of them. Mr. Abbot Sallier supplied me with the books and manuscripts I needed from the King's library, and from our meetings he often drew more certain clarifications than those from my researches. I believe I owe to the memory of that honest and wise man a tribute of recognition that, surely, all the men of letters he was able to serve will share with me.

My country retreat exhausted all my resources just as I began to enjoy it. This is not the place to explain the reasons for my retreat: it is understood that, in my way of thinking, the hope of writing a good book on music was not a reason for retiring. Cut off from the amusements of the city, I soon lost the pleasures connected with them; deprived of communications that could enlighten me about my old object, I also lost all perspective on this one; and, admitting that in that time art or its theory had made progress, not even being within reach of knowing any of this, I was no longer in a position to keep up with them.

Convinced, however, of the usefulness of the work I had undertaken, I worked on it from time to time, but always with less success and always feeling that the difficulties of a book of this kind required, in order to overcome them, clarifications that I was no longer able to understand. afford to acquire, and an ardor of interest which I had ceased to bestow on him. Finally, despairing of ever being in a position to do better and wanting to abandon forever the ideas from which my mind is increasingly moving away, I busied myself, in these mountains, to gather what I had done in Paris and Montmorenci; and from this indigestible heap resulted the kind of dictionary you see here.

This background seemed to me necessary to explain how circumstances forced me to deliver, in such poor condition, a book that I could have done better, with the resources I am deprived of. For I have always believed that the respect due to the public is not to say insipid things to them, but only what is true and useful, or at least what we judge to be such; You're welcome to present it to him without having taken all the care you're capable of and believing that, by doing your best, you can never do enough for him.

I did not believe, however, that the state of imperfection in which I was forced to leave this work should prevent me from publishing it; for, being useful to art, it is infinitely easier to make a good book of this kind from the one I offer than to have to start creating everything yourself. The knowledge necessary for this is perhaps not very extensive, but it is very varied and is rarely found gathered in the same head. Thus, my compilations can save a lot of work to those who are in a position to put them in the necessary order; and someone, pointing out my mistakes, might make an excellent book, but they would never have done anything good without mine.

I advise, then, those who only want to tolerate well-made books, not to undertake to read this one; soon they will feel nauseous. But those whom evil does not deviate from good; those who are not so occupied with wrongs, that they require nothing to redeem them; those, finally, who will be willing to look here for something to compensate for mine, will perhaps find here enough good entries to tolerate the bad ones, and even in the bad ones, enough new and true observations, to make it worth their while to be sorted and chosen in middle of the rest. Musicians read little, and yet I know of few Arts in connection with which reading and reflection are so necessary. I thought that a work in this form would be precisely what would suit them, and that, to make it as profitable as possible for them, less should be said about what they know than what they would need to learn.

If inexperienced performers and musicians often point out errors here, I hope that true artists and men of genius will find useful points of view which they will be able to capitalize on. The best books are those that the common people despise and that talented people use without saying anything about them.

After having explained the reasons for the mediocrity of the work and the usefulness that I believe it could have, I should now go into detail about the work itself, presenting a summary of the plan that I drew up for myself and the way in which I tried to follow it. . But as the ideas connected with it faded from my mind, the plan on which I arranged them likewise faded from my memory.

My first project was to treat the entries in such a comparative way, to link the sequences so well by means of cross-references that, with the convenience of a dictionary, the whole would have the advantage of a fluent treatise. But, to carry out this project, it would have been necessary for all parts of the Art to be constantly made present to me, not neglecting to treat any one without reminding myself of the others; what lack of resources and my weakened taste soon made impossible, and which it would also have cost me a lot to accomplish in the midst of my first notes, and still full of my first fervor.

Left to myself, having no more scholars or books to consult; consequently forced to treat each entry by itself and without regard to those which pertained to it, I had to make many repetitions to avoid gaps. But I believed that, in a book of this kind, it was even a lesser evil to make mistakes than to risk omissions.

Above all, I endeavored to make the vocabulary very complete, and not only without omitting some technical term, but preferring, at times, to go beyond the limits of the Art rather than to reach my objectives: many times, this fact forced me to sprinkle words Italian and Greek words in this dictionary; some so consecrated by use that it is really necessary to understand them in practice; others equally adopted by scholars and to which, considering the disuse of what they express, synonyms in French were not provided. However, I tried to limit myself to my rule and avoid the excess of Brossard, who, when presenting a French dictionary, conceives its vocabulary as entirely Italian and fills it with words absolutely foreign to the Art with which it deals. Well, who would ever imagine that the virgin, the apostles, the mass, the dead, are terms of music, because there are songs related to what they express; that these other words: page, leaflet, four, five, throat, reason, are also technical terms, why do we sometimes use them when talking about art?

As for the parts that concern art without being essential to it, and which are not absolutely necessary for understanding the rest, I avoided them as much as I could. Like that of musical instruments, a large part that alone would fill a dictionary, especially in relation to the instruments of the ancients. Mr. Diderot had taken care of that part in the Encyclopedia, and since it was not part of my first project, I didn't bother to add it afterwards, after having intensely felt the difficulty of executing this project as it was.

I have treated the harmonic part in the system of the fundamental bass, although this system, in so many aspects imperfect and defective, is absolutely not, in my opinion, that of nature and truth, and from which a dull and confused stuff results, rather than a good one. harmony. But it is a system, after all; it is the first and it was the only one until mr. Tartini, in which those multitudes of isolated rules had united, through principles, which all seemed arbitrary and which made the art of harmonics more a study of memory than of reasoning. Although, in my opinion, Mr. Tartini is the best, although not yet so widely known and without, at least in France, the same authority as Mr. Rameau, it did not fall to him to replace him in a book intended primarily for the French nation.

I contented myself, then, with expounding the principles of this system as best I could in an entry in my dictionary; and, moreover, I thought I owed this deference to the nation for which I wrote, in preferring their sentiment to mine in regard to the foundation of the harmonic doctrine. However, on that occasion I did not have to refrain from making the necessary objections to understanding the entries I needed to deal with; that would have been sacrificing the usefulness of the book to the detriment of the readers; it would have been flattering without instructing and exchanging deference for cowardice.

I urge artists and amateurs alike to read this book without distrust and to judge it as impartially as I did when I wrote it. I beg you to consider that, as I do not exercise your profession, I have no other interest here than that of art, and, even if I did, I should naturally favor French music, in which I can have a place, against Italian, in the which I can be nothing. But, sincerely aiming to advance an art I passionately loved, my pleasure quieted my vanity. First habits linked me to French music for a long time and I was openly enthusiastic about it. Attentive and impartial comparisons led me to Italian music and I gave myself to it with the same good faith.

If I ever joked, it was to answer others in kind; but I did not offer witticisms as all proof, as they did, and only joked after I had reasoned. Now that misfortunes and evils have finally freed me from a taste that had gained too much power over me, only for the love of truth do I persist in the judgments that only the love of Art made me sustain. But, in a work like this, devoted to music in general, I know of only one that, not being from any country, is everyone's; I never got into a fight between two songs, except when it came to clarifying some important aspect of the progress of both. I made many mistakes, no doubt; but I am sure that partiality did not make me commit any of them. If it causes me to be mistakenly imputed to me by readers, what can I do? It is they, then, who do not want my book to be good for them.

If in other works we have seen some unimportant entries that are also part of this one, those who can make this observation will be willing to remember that, in 1750, the manuscript left my hands without my knowing what happened to it since then. I don't accuse anyone of having taken my entries, but it's not fair that others accuse me of having taken theirs.

*Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1788) was a philosopher and writer. Author, among other books, of Of the Social Contract.

Reference


Jean-Jacques Rousseau. music dictionary. Translation: Fabio Stieltjes Yasoshima. São Paulo, Unesp, 2021, 196 pages.

 

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