Author: Kovaciny, Stephen M.
Title: Chabanon, Rameau, and the Listening Body in Early Modern France
Institution: University of Wisconsin–Madison
Begun: February 2017
Completed: November 2019
This dissertation investigates early modern auditory culture in France from 1618–1785. Broadly, it takes a synoptic view of how emotional experience becomes theorized through listening practices. More specifically, my project focuses on two authors, Michel-Paul Guy de Chabanon (1730–1792) and Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683–1764), and their exploration of musical hearing and listening to bridge the gap between exterior sensation and interior bodily response. Their writings—which blur the lines between music theory, history, criticism, and aesthetics—illuminate early modernity’s often eccentric (but nonetheless captivating) understanding of how the ear and body functioned within aural experience and emotional representation.
The project draws from a number of disciplines; at perhaps its broadest level, it relies on intellectual history. Chabanon and Rameau’s encoded rhetoric relates to a large network of ideas concerned with the ear and the body. I contextualize their musical thought within and against contemporaneous cultural practices, from the origins of language and foundations of etymology to Enlightenment anatomy and pathology; from anthropologies, ethnographies, and cartographies of French colonialism and Egyptomania to studies on dance, pantomime, and movement; from theories of emotion and affect to early modern automata and experiments with artificial life; from the rise of sensibility and vitalism to acoustics, resonance, and vibration. In taking a wide-angled view, my dissertation re/conceptualizes music theory itself as a powerful determinant for musical meaning. I ultimately argue that Chabanon’s and Rameau’s musical thought reflects the early modern era’s desire to recognize music theory as intimately tied to lived emotional experience.
Keywords: Jean-Philippe Rameau, Michel-Paul Guy de Chabanon, history of music theory, historical approaches to sound studies, emotional response, the passions, affective attunement, the ear, the body, aesthetics
Part One: The Sympathetic Ear 
Act I: Hearing the Corps sonore 
Act II: Rameau’s Resonant Ear 
Act III: Chabanon and the Autonomous Sound 
Part Two: Expressing the Body 
Act IV: The Interior Body 
Act V: Listening through the Corps humain