Reconstructed music of ancient Greece

Reader Gravelinspector sent this 15-minute video and the comments below; I found that listening to what the ancient Greeks may have heard as their music was fascinating. How did they get the melodies? Watch the video!  Now a lot of the music is improvised, but we do have a starting point.

From Gravelinspector:

This is probably going to mean more to you in terms of the technical terms like “rhythm” and “melody”, and what the actual sounds are, but in the wider cultural sense, I would be surprised if you didn’t sense an attraction to seeing a performance of a 2000+ (sometimes nearer 2500) year-old play in a theatre where it was performed 2000+ years ago. (We went to see Oedipus Tyrannos at the Herodion in Athens – not quite hitting the 2000 year mark.)
 
Anyway, a combination of archaeology (preserved wooden instruments), epigraphy (interpretation of inscriptions) and the language of Greek itself has been used to try to re-create the actual music and choral singing as would have been enjoyed by the audience when the playwright was also the director.
The explanation, by Armand D’Angour, is in the video, and the piece is “aulos of ancient scores of Athenaeus Paean (127 BC) and Euripides Orestes chorus (408 BC)”.

32 Comments

  1. Posted December 13, 2017 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Fascinating stuff!

  2. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted December 13, 2017 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    [Self does impersonation of “culture vulture”]
    “Screech. Pieces of liver!”

    • rickflick
      Posted December 14, 2017 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      Thanks for supplying this fascinating bit of history gravelinspector. That Aulos player was breathtaking (if you don’t mind a pun).

  3. Posted December 13, 2017 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    This taught me a lot that I didn’t know. Glad they are doing this kind of research over in the UK. I don’t count on the US to do any, we’ll be cutting budgets for that kind of stuff.

  4. Posted December 13, 2017 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  5. ToddP
    Posted December 13, 2017 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    That was great, thanks for sharing. First time I’ve heard polyphonic piping. Their sound comes across as the antecedent of the pipe organ, which I believe was also developed in ancient Greece. The lyre and those other stringed instruments create such a serene and contemplative mood. Good stuff!

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 15, 2017 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      Their sound comes across as the antecedent of the pipe organ, which I believe was also developed in ancient Greece.

      Wasn’t that one of the things that Herody-something-tus mackled up in between doing horrible things to the teapot to make the first steam-powered machines 2000-odd years before Newcomban, Watt and fellows. “Hero(n) of Alexandria“, that’s the Johnny!

  6. Liz
    Posted December 13, 2017 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Nice. Love dactylic hexameter.

  7. Don Mackay
    Posted December 13, 2017 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    Great music, but I think I will stick with my bagpipes. One chanter is quite enough!

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 15, 2017 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      Great music, but I think I will stick with my bagpipes.

      ‘Tis the season for carrying a sneaky bottle of Superglue on the High Street.

  8. Frank Bath
    Posted December 13, 2017 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    It’s wonderful and I hope it’s accurate but for me it is rather too easy on the ear. I would expect something more foreign, less euphonious. All the same, congratulations and well done everybody involved.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted December 14, 2017 at 2:25 am | Permalink

      Why would it be less euphonious? I assume we all have roughly the same auditory apparatus, so what sounds ‘pleasant’ to us should have at least some resemblance. Agreed, a lot of variation seems to arise from cultural (i.e. ‘learned’) influences.

      I suppose some musicologist will have done some research at some time on what determines ‘tuneful’ or ‘harmonious’ music and how much of that is shared across cultures.

      cr

      • Anselm
        Posted December 14, 2017 at 3:26 am | Permalink

        That’s the problem with any kind of “early music” – i.e. before the recorded era, so up to and including Wagner and Brahms: we can’t ever truly know exactly how it sounded. We can get a fair idea for later music, from treatises on performance like those of Couperin, C.P.E. Bach and Leopold Mozart (Mozart’s father), but the earlier we go the harder it gets to determine even basic musical parameters. When I took my degree, it wasn’t known whether plainchant (or “Gregorian chant”) was sung freely or rhythmically. For the earliest polyphonic music, we didn’t know whether some bits of it were sung or played on instruments. I’m not sure that anything’s got any clearer since then, although I haven’t kept up with musicological developments.

        We can be reasonably confident that the 17th century D’Anglebert wouldn’t find anything odd about a performance of one of his suites by a modern harpsichordist. I doubt if we could say the same for just about anything written before, say, 1600. As for ancient Greek music – I’m impressed with the scholarship that’s gone into this. It’s hugely exciting, based as it is on more evidence that I ever thought existed. But I doubt if anything’s actually been settled on this subject. Are there other scholars who are saying “rubbish” to this, making a case that far too much is being made of far too skimpy material? I’m sure that the question remains: what would a Greek aulos or kithyra player or actor (ie. singer) of 500BC make of all this?

        • Posted December 14, 2017 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

          What role (for the historian) would you say plays the transitionary treatises, like those written by Galileo’s father?

  9. Posted December 13, 2017 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    Man, that improvised double pipe number totally rocked! I would like to see this instrument resurrected into modern music. That was a mesmorizing performance.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 15, 2017 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      I would be pretty surprised if there were no aulos music on the CD market. Buy it, and they’ll stamp more discs and make more recordings.

  10. Diana MacPherson
    Posted December 13, 2017 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    I used to always laugh at depictions of people playing the aulos on vases because they looked like they were playing the pipes out of their noses. For a while I puzzled over how someone could play pipes with their nose. Here is an example

    I would love to hear how this would sound sung in an ancient theatre with the singers wearing masks, which were quite bulky.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 13, 2017 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

      Weird. The link squawks about privacy. Here is an example from a google search instead.

      https://goo.gl/images/r77JHd

    • Monika
      Posted December 14, 2017 at 8:58 am | Permalink

      It really looks like they were using circular breathing too!

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted December 15, 2017 at 11:41 am | Permalink

        I think that was mentioned in the second video of the set.
        Another great invention stolen from our theropod dinosaur non-ancestors. Actually, “saurischian”, not “theropod”, IIRC.

  11. Posted December 13, 2017 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    Absolutely fantastic. I have some reconstructed pieces on CD from about 30 years ago. Similar, but the stuff I have is more dissonant. If I recall it had more Macedonian elements.

  12. Posted December 13, 2017 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always wondered if we knew anything about ancient music, because so much poetry was sung. The Iliad to the beat of ‘Baby Got Back’ would have been quite a hit in 700 BC.

  13. JoanL
    Posted December 14, 2017 at 1:29 am | Permalink

    Thank you, this is fascinating.

  14. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted December 14, 2017 at 2:27 am | Permalink

    Surely this is the ultimate in cultural appropriation?

    😦 😦 8-(

    cr

  15. Posted December 14, 2017 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    The guy with specs back left is NOT watching the conductor!

  16. rickflick
    Posted December 14, 2017 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    I’m recently back from a trip across southern France where I saw ancient cave art at Lascaux, Font-de-Gaume, etc. So to see this material produced by the Greeks put me in mind of the earliest instruments from over 40,000 years ago.

    http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-18196349

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 15, 2017 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      People have tried playing such instruments in “painted” caves. TBH, most of the people making such breathless pronouncements have struck be as classical “New Age Woolly Thinkers” and half-suspect them of wearing “crystal healing” pendants. Then going dowsing.
      But I grant that there may be some firm science to do there (just not by these people).

      • rickflick
        Posted December 15, 2017 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

        Here’s a clip from Werner Herzog’s documentary “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” which shows a replica of a paleolithic flute being played.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YqcZ4XCeuU

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted December 15, 2017 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

          I’ve definitely seen that film – Weirdo Werner Worth Watching. Probably in a proper cinema, not on the telly. Don’t recall that scene though.
          That was the film which ended with WWWW mumbling on about mutant alligators from the local nuclear power plant, which convinced me that he’s losing the plot.

          • rickflick
            Posted December 15, 2017 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

            It’s a wonderful film. But, as you suggest Herzog can get a bit tedious –

            Herzog has long been interested in what he calls ” the ecstatic truth,” which, he explains, “is the enemy of the merely factual.”

            That certainly doesn’t damage the film enough to worry about.

          • rickflick
            Posted December 15, 2017 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

            httpshttp://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2011/05/13/fact_checking_herzog_s_ecstatic_truth_are_those_alligators_really_radioactive_mutants.html

  17. Michael Waterhouse
    Posted December 16, 2017 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    Very cool.
    Although it is hard to get a good cover of many songs, even contemporary songs, it still must be in the ball park and such a connection to back then, to those people, is fascinating.


Post a Comment

Required fields are marked *
*
*

%d bloggers like this: