This research presents the first in-depth exploration of the relationship between music, rhetoric and Christian Hebraism in early modern Europe, by reappraising the significance of Johannes Reuchlin (1455–1522)’s study of Kabbalah and Hebrew cantillation, in relation to the humanist tradition of rhetoric as philosophy and of music as rhetoric.

Few studies have investigated how Renaissance humanists learned Hebrew language and the delivery (pronuntiatio) of the Hebrew Bible as an aural-oral tradition. By combining historical musicology with intellectual history, the present research demonstrates the hitherto neglected Hebraic aspect of Renaissance rhetoric and “rhetorical music” (musica rhetorica) and its mystical and philosophical implications that played an integral part in developing a new theoretical framework for the art of accented singing which marked a crucial turning point in the history of European music. More specifically, it illustrates the way in which Reuchlin reconstructed the modulata recitatio of the Hebrew Bible and its underlying intellectual foundation, thereby elucidating why the nexus of music, rhetoric and Christian Hebraism is essential for understanding the relationship between music, language and philosophy in early modern Europe.