Laszlo Rozsa

Research title

The Art of Musical Conversation: Behavioural Attitudes in the Performance Practice of Italian Music from c. 1580-1640.

Research summary

My research examines how far behavioural attitudes that originate from Italian courtesy books can be seen as a necessary condition of contemporary musical performance practice, and in what form they appear within the compositions and writings of Italian composers from c. 1580-1640.

In Italy, from the sixteenth century onwards, the concept of conversatio was a central influence on human dialogue and social interaction. It created a unique means of communication by codifying the norms of words, gestures and behaviours, which were driven by a mixture of particular ethical attitudes and rhetorical elements. Musicians of this period were often active participants within courtly discourse, therefore the hypothesis arises that behavioural patterns of conversatio featured as a significant influence upon their performances. I am focusing on the reception history of treatises on social skills in musical circles – in particular the writings of Castiglione, Guazzo and Tasso. I intend to expand the evidence which implies that musicians associated with the dawn of stile moderno – Caccini and da Gagliano amongst others – were exposed to this literary culture, and together represent behavioural patterns as tools of expression in the prefaces of their musical publications.

Furthermore, I am particularly interested in how human self-perception changes by setting up such codes of behaviour, and subsequently results in a new, self-observing consciousness. I aim to trace this modern form of consciousness in the discussions of the Florentine Camerata and the Alterati, and understand how their new art of discourse about music can be seen as an attempted artificial conception of the supernatural. Through this, I intend to highlight how interpersonal ethical codes can mirror aesthetical attitudes, and are palpable during musical interaction as a phenomenological experience in the performance practice of late sixteenth and early seventeenth century Italian music.
Besides theoretical investigations, I aim to translate these conceptual norms into a practical approach and develop a typology for musical conversatio. The elements of this typology will appear on three levels: as a (self-)reflective state of mind; embodiment; and ‘decoding’ specific musical patterns. By exploring these conversational paradigms within musical cultures, I hope to present a new form of analysis which will offer an alternative language of discourse for the music of this era.


  • 2012-2013. AHRC Postgraduate Award, Royal Academy of Music
  • AHRC DTP Scotland Studentship Award from 2015-2018