We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Essay on the Origin of Languages and Writings Related to Music

Jean Jacques Rousseau

Publication Year: 2000

"J.J. was born for music," Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote of himself, "not to be consumed in its execution, but to speed its progress and make discoveries about it. His ideas on the art and about the art are fertile, inexhaustible." Rousseau was a practicing musician and theorist for years before publication of his first Discourse, but until now scholars have neglected these ideas.

This graceful translation remedies both those failings by bringing together the Essay, which John T. Scott says "most clearly displays the juncture between Rousseau's musical theory and his major philosophical works," with a comprehensive selection of the musical writings. Many of the latter are responses to authors like Rameau, Grimm, and Raynal, and a unique feature of this edition is the inclusion of writings by these authors to help establish the historical and ideological contexts of Rousseau's writings and the intellectual exchanges of which they are a part.

With an introduction that provides historical background, traces the development of Rousseau's musical theory, and shows that these writings are not an isolated part of his oeuvre but instead are animated by the same "system," this volume fashions a much-needed portal through which literary scholars, musicologists, historians, and political theorists can enter into an important but hitherto overlooked chamber of Rousseau's vast intellectual palace.

Published by: Dartmouth College Press

Series: Collected Writings of Rousseau


pdf iconDownload PDF (5.7 MB)
p. 1-1


pdf iconDownload PDF (84.3 KB)
pp. 2-3


pdf iconDownload PDF (35.9 KB)
p. 4-4


pdf iconDownload PDF (38.5 KB)
p. 5-5


pdf iconDownload PDF (51.4 KB)
pp. v-vi

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (43.9 KB)
pp. vii-viii

Although Jean-Jacques Rousseau is a significant figure in the Western tradition, there is no standard edition of his major writings available in English. Unlike those of other thinkers of comparable stature, moreover, many of Rousseau’s important works either have never been translated or have become unavailable. ...

Chronology of Works in Volume 7

pdf iconDownload PDF (47.7 KB)
pp. ix-xii

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (139.1 KB)
pp. xiii-xlii

Rousseau is best known as the author of philosophic and literary works, but he was a practicing musician and musical theorist for over a decade before he burst onto the European stage with his Discourse on the Sciences and Arts. It was with a new system for musical notation that he set off for Paris seeking fame and fortune, ...

Note on the Text

pdf iconDownload PDF (48.3 KB)
pp. xliii-xliv

read more

Plan Regarding New Signs for Music

pdf iconDownload PDF (436.2 KB)
pp. 1-20

Given the taste today for constantly publishing new methods and new Systems, it is quite advantageous for the public to remain on guard against everything presented to it with a certain air of novelty. Without this precaution, one would soon be inundated with the most extravagant plans, ...

read more

Letter to the Mercure on a New System of Musical Notation

pdf iconDownload PDF (56.7 KB)
pp. 21-26

When I devised new characters to maintain our exchanges in Music more conveniently, I hardly thought that the knowledge of this system would go further than between ourselves. Nevertheless, I soon saw myself in the position of expanding its use when, having come to Paris, I was solicited by my friends in the Provinces ...

read more

Dissertation on Modern Music

pdf iconDownload PDF (923.3 KB)
pp. 27-98

If it is true that circumstances and prejudices often decide the fate of a Work, never has an Author had more to fear than I do. The Public is today so ill-disposed to everything that is called a novelty, so put off by systems and plans, especially with respect to Music, that it is hardly possible any longer to offer it anything of this sort ...

read more

Letter on Italian and French Opera

pdf iconDownload PDF (63.9 KB)
pp. 99-105

Finally, Sir,1 obedience prevails over vanity. If you complain about my bad taste you will at least praise my kindness and I am sure that you will agree that faced with the alternative the heart does itself honor at the expense of the mind. At least this is the way I should act following the laws of prudence, ...

read more

Letter on “Omphale” (Grimm)

pdf iconDownload PDF (70.8 KB)
pp. 106-114

I dared to condemn Omphale, Madame,3 before knowing that you protect it. You order me to justify my judgment publicly, and you are doubtless right: I need a justification for having judged French Music, and still more so for not having been of your opinion. ...

read more

Remarks on the Subject of the Letter by M. Grimm on “Omphale” (Raynal)

pdf iconDownload PDF (65.0 KB)
pp. 115-120

What pleasure you have given the Public, Sir, by showing it the weakness of its ideas on Music! You approach the most astute and boldest truths, but ones which still leave a cloud behind them. I would not have noticed it at all if I had not followed the advice of the Author in the Mercure this month, ...

read more

Letter to M. Grimm on the Subject of the Remarks Added to His Letter on “Omphale”

pdf iconDownload PDF (80.0 KB)
pp. 121-132

I congratulate you, Sir, on your new fame. You are now in possession of an honor which Homer and Plato had only long after their deaths, and which Boileau alone enjoyed among us during his lifetime: You have a Commentator.2 The remarks on your letter do not, it is true, bear the title of Commentaries; ...

read more

“Notice” to Rinaldo da Capua’s La Zingara

pdf iconDownload PDF (45.5 KB)
pp. 133-180

We offer to the public an Intermezzo by the famous Rinaldo to which many great changes had to be made in order for it to conform as well as possible to the nation’s taste. It would be impossible to say that the subject is drawn from an incident that happened in an Italian city, for we are not ignorant of the fact ...

read more

Letter from a Symphonist of the Royal Academy of Music to His Comrades in the Orchestra

pdf iconDownload PDF (61.8 KB)
pp. 134-140

Finally, my dear Comrades, we are triumphant: the bouffonists have been sent away.2 We are going to shine anew with M. de Lully’s instrumental parts, we will no longer be so heated in the Opera nor so fatigued in the Orchestra. Admit, Sirs, that it was a hard job playing that bitch of a Music in which the Meter went on mercilessly ...

read more

Letter on French Music

pdf iconDownload PDF (143.7 KB)
pp. 141-174

As the quarrel that arose last year at the Opera resulted only in abuse, delivered on the one side with much wit and on the other with much animosity, I did not want to take any part in it, for this type of war did not in any sense suit me and I was well aware that it was not the time to give only reasons. ...

read more

Observations on Our Instinct for Music and on Its Principle (Rameau)

pdf iconDownload PDF (119.2 KB)
pp. 175-197

In order to enjoy the effect of Music fully, one must be in a state of pure self-abandonment, and in order to judge it, it is to the Principle by which one is affected that one must resort. This principle is Nature itself; it is from it that we derive that feeling which moves us in all our musical Operations, it has given us a gift which may be called Instinct. ...

read more

Articles from the Encyclopedia

pdf iconDownload PDF (210.2 KB)
pp. 198-221

Accompaniment [Accompagnement] is the execution of a complete and regular harmony1 on some instrument, such as the organ, the harpsichord, the theorbo, the guitar, etc. We shall here take the Harpsichord as an example. ...

read more

Errors on Music in the Encyclopedia (Rameau)

pdf iconDownload PDF (135.9 KB)
pp. 222-250

It seems, in fact, that the Musician may have been thinking of the Accompaniment of the Organ or of the Harpsichord, in order continually to present to the ear that fundamental complete and regular harmony, which Nature offers us in every Sounding Body. ...

read more

Continuation of the Errors on Music in the Encyclopedia (Rameau)

pdf iconDownload PDF (80.9 KB)
pp. 251-259

Here shine M. Rousseau’s erudition and the understanding he has derived from it so as to enlighten us concerning the Enharmonic Genre. Some Greek words on the subject of this genre are offered up to his eyes as so many torches with which he has allowed himself to be dazzled and with which he apparently believed he might likewise dazzle us. ...

read more

On the Principle of Melody, or Response to the “Errors on Music”

pdf iconDownload PDF (71.6 KB)
pp. 260-270

It seems to me, then, that Melody or song, a pure work of nature, does not owe, either among the learned or among the ignorant, its origin to harmony, a work and production of art, which serves as the evidence for a beautiful song and not its source and whose most noble function is that of setting it off to advantage. ...

read more

Examination of Two Principles Advanced by M. Rameau in His Brochure Entitled: “Errors on Music in the Encyclopedia”

pdf iconDownload PDF (93.4 KB)
pp. 271-288

I dashed this Writing onto paper in 1755 when M. Rameau’s Brochure appeared, and after having publicly declared that I would no longer respond to my adversaries concerning the great dispute I had to sustain.1 Content merely with having noted down my observations on M. Rameau’s Writing, I did not publish them; ...

read more

Essay on the Origin of Languages

pdf iconDownload PDF (175.6 KB)
pp. 289-332

The second piece2 was also at first merely a fragment of the discourse on inequality which I omitted from it as too long and out of place.3 I took it up again on the occasion of the Errors by M. Rameau on music, a title which—after the two words I’ve omitted—is perfectly fulfilled by the work that bears it.4 ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (51.4 KB)
pp. 333-336

Let one make oneself heard distinctly while speaking lowly and producing the fewest inflections possible. Now, in order to make oneself heard distinctly in this manner only prosody and accent can substitute for the strength of the voice and the variety of inflections. ...

read more

On Theatrical Imitation

pdf iconDownload PDF (81.6 KB)
pp. 337-350

This short Writing is merely a kind of extract of various places where Plato treats theatrical Imitation. I hardly had any other part in it other than that of having assembled and connected them into the form of a continuous discourse instead of that of the Dialogue which they had in the original. ...

read more

The Levite of Ephraïm

pdf iconDownload PDF (82.7 KB)
pp. 351-365

As for the third [piece],1 which is merely a kind of short poem in prose, a paraphrase of the last three chapters of Judges,2 I admit that it will always be precious to me and that I never reread with without an inner satisfaction, not from some stupid vanity of an author, whose ineptness on this point would be inexcusable, ...

read more

Dictionary of Music

pdf iconDownload PDF (805.7 KB)
pp. 366-485

Music is, of all the fine Arts, the one whose Vocabulary is the most extensive, and for which a Dictionary is, consequently, the most useful.Thus, this one should not be classed among those ridiculous compilations multiplied each day by the fashion or rather the mania for Dictionaries. If it is bad, this is neither for the choice of subject nor for the form of the...

read more

Letter to Mr. Burney and Fragments of Observations on Gluck’s “Alceste”

pdf iconDownload PDF (130.4 KB)
pp. 486-505

You have given me several precious gifts of your writings in succession, Sir, each of which well deserved express thanks. The almost absolute impossibility of writing has until now prevented me from fulfilling this duty; but, by reanimating in me a remnant of zeal for an Art upon which your own zeal ...

read more

Extract from a Response by the Underlaborer to His Frontman Concerning a Piece from Gluck’s “Orfeo”

pdf iconDownload PDF (53.9 KB)
pp. 506-510

As for the enharmonic passage in Gluck’s Orfeo which you tell me you have so much difficulty sounding out and even listening to, I know very well the reason for this: it is that you can do nothing without me and that, when deprived of my assistance you will never be anything but an ignoramus in any genre whatsoever. ...

Appendix: “Enfin, il est en ma puissance,” from Lully’s Armide

pdf iconDownload PDF (201.9 KB)
pp. 511-514


pdf iconDownload PDF (379.1 KB)
pp. 515-604


pdf iconDownload PDF (551.4 KB)
pp. 605-610

E-ISBN-13: 9781611681277
E-ISBN-10: 1611681278
Print-ISBN-13: 9780874518399

Page Count: 658
Publication Year: 2000

Edition: Trans. from the French
Series Title: Collected Writings of Rousseau

Research Areas


UPCC logo

Subject Headings

  • Music and language.
  • Querelle des Bouffons.
  • Language and languages -- Origin.
  • Music -- 18th century -- Philosophy and aesthetics.
  • Music -- France -- 18th century -- History and criticism.
  • Rameau, Jean-Philippe, 1683-1764.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access