[Smt-talk] Gender Terminology in Music Theory

Nicolas Meeùs nicolas.meeus at scarlet.be
Wed Apr 30 07:17:52 PDT 2014


Several remarks:

> In French versification theory ca. 1500, the end of a line is either 
> feminine or masculine depending on whether the second last syllable or 
> the last syllable is accented.
French syllables are not really accented. I think that the real point is 
whether the line ends with an «e muet» (mute E), which is certainly 
unaccented, hardly pronounced and always short (it cannot be lengthened 
in singing, for instance). The reason of the term probably is that, in 
French, the grammatical feminine often is obtained by adding a mute E at 
the end of the word.
> In French, a grammatically masculine word might or might not refer to 
> something that is semantically gendered masculine and a grammatically 
> feminine word might or might not refer to something that is 
> semantically gendered as feminine.
Isn't it so that 'semantical gender' is linked to the language? Things 
may be semantically gendered masculine in one language, feminine in 
another. I think that, in French semantics, anything that is gendered 
feminine is grammatically feminine; grammatically masculine words may 
also denote something that is semantically ungendered ("neutral")... I 
suppose that there are exceptions, but they must be exceptional and I 
can think of none just now.
> Does anyone know whether, and if so, how and when, the 
> phonological/prosodic terms were adopted to deal with musical metre 
> and phrase structure?
Browsing through my files, I am surprised that this adoption indeed is 
rarely documented in French, even although the terminology itself seems 
to me common in French. I found the following:
-- Rameau, Traité, 1722, deals with the treatment of words with a 
feminine ending, and the example he gives (p. 161) also is one of 
musical feminine ending; but he does not formally use the term in the 
case of the music. He says on p. 339 that if a cadence is not on the 
first beat, it usually is a consequence of a feminine rhyme.
-- Momigny, La seule vraie théorie de la musique, 1821, often speaks of 
feminine endings: see for instance the second example on p. 21, and passim.

This does not mean that there are no other cases, but I didn't find them.

Nicolas Meeùs
Professeur émérite
Université Paris-Sorbonne
nicolas.meeus at scarlet.be

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