Treatise on Melody

Treatise on Melody

Treatise on Melody

Treatise on Melody


"Anton Reicha's Treatise on Melody (1814) was one of the most widely read and influential treatises of the early to mid-19th century. Reicha systematically lays out a theory of melodic phraseology, examines factors of cadential closure and prolongation, and provides an early classification of musical forms (including the first description of his grande coupe binaire). Reicha's progressive theories of rhythm, motivic development, harmony, musical perception, and "idea" in music influenced compositional practice for much of the 19th century. Many leading composers came into his orbit, including Hector Berlioz, Franz Liszt, Adolphe Adam, Charles Gounod, and Cesar Franck. Reicha was one of the first theorists to base his ideas empirically on musical practice. The treatise contains a full 77 pages of musical examples and analyses, many of which are overlaid with analytical symbols and technical apparatus. Remarkable for its time, this collection of musical analyses provides the reader with a rare glimpse into how musical processes were formulated by one of the most informed musical minds of the age." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


Few works in music theory were so widely read in the early to mid nineteenth century, or so influenced opinion, as the major theoretical treatises of Anton Reicha (1770–1836). He was one of the first to set forth the notion of a “musical idea,” procedures of thematic elaboration, and a functional theory of melodic phraseology. Many subsequent theoretical works bear the stamp of his thought, or of reaction against it. Hugo Riemann (1849–1919) contended: “[Reicha’s] theoretical works are of practical value, and still stand in high repute.” François-Joseph Fétis (1784–1871), on the other hand, was highly critical of the Treatise on Melody, and bitterly opposed Reicha’s theory of harmony and the importance he placed on melodic phraseology.


A highly cosmopolitan musician, Reicha was well positioned to grasp the profound changes that were taking place in music theory at the turn of the century. Personal circumstances and the unstable political situation in Europe obliged him to move between several important cultural centers, including his native Bonn, Hamburg, Paris, and Vienna. During his formative years he immersed himself in the study of literature, rhetoric, ethics, mathematics, aesthetics, and Kantian philosophy. With this background he fashioned an informed yet individual integration of music theory and learning, already evident in his first treatise, the unpublished Practische Beispiele (1803). Here he presents ideas on the relationship between music, society, the

Musik-Lexikon (Leipzig, 1882). Eng. trans. 1893–7, reprinted (London, 1908) and (New York: Da Capo Press, 1970).

Traité de mélodie (Paris 1814, 1832), ed. C. Czerny as Vollstandiges Lehrbuch der musikalischen Composition, ii, (Vienna, 1832) Fr. and Ger. text. Reicha made only slight changes of wording in the 1832 edition. Of the Treatise on Melody, Fétis writes: “The author has considered his topic in only one respect, that of rhythm and melodic phraseology, and has not even touched upon the laws of melody in connection with tonality, modulation, harmony and aesthetics. Much inferior to the works of Mattheson, Riepel, and Koch in this regard, a good treatise on melody is yet to be written.” Biographie universelle (Paris, 1863), vol. 7: 203. Given Fétis’s obsession with his own theory of tonalité, his criticism clearly reflects a degree of ideological posturing. Moreover, in his Traité élementaire de musique (Brussels, 1831–32) Fétis devotes a chapter exclusively to melodic phraseology in which he fails to address the deep issues of the subject, and completely ignores the sources he cites in his criticism of Reicha. Fétis appears to miss Reicha’s opinion altogether, namely, that musical ideas are sustained primarily through melody.

Practische Beispiele: ein Beitrag zur Geisteskultur des Tonsetzersmil Philosphisch-praktischen Anmerkungen zu denpraktischen Beispielen (Vienna, 1803). (Paris: Bibliothèque nationale, Mss. 2496, 2510.)

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