15 Aug 2018

Music from Ancient Greece

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Armand D’Angour, an associate professor in classics and a fellow of Jesus College at the University of Oxford, in Aeon, claims to be able to reconstruct the music of Ancient Greece.

    They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead;
    They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed;
    I wept as I remembered how often you and I
    Had tired the sun with talking, and sent him down the sky.
    And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest,
    A handful of grey ashes, long, long ago at rest,
    Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake;
    For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take.

This epigram by Callimachus, in a moving translation by the Victorian poet William Johnson Cory, speaks of the timeless survival of Heraclitus’ songs. Ironically, the poem is the only evidence of their existence: the poet’s ‘pleasant voices’ must remain unsung. Most classical poetry, spanning around four centuries from the songs of Homer in the 8th century BCE to those ­of Aristophanes in the 4th century BCE, was in fact composed to be sung to the accompaniment of musical instruments such as the lyre and aulos (double-pipe). It was, in other words, music; but what did that music sound like?

Despite a wealth of ancient writings, archaeological remains of instruments, and even inscriptions with musical notation, the question has long been thought intractable. ‘Research into Ancient Greek music is pointless,’ pronounced Giuseppe Verdi in the 1880s. By the 1980s little had changed. Recently, however, the subject has experienced exciting developments, with credible realisations of musical scores and the remains of auloi being accurately reconstructed and beautifully played.

RTWT

HT: The Passive Voice via Karen L. Myers.

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One Feedback on "Music from Ancient Greece"

gwbnyc

I don’t trust the guy.



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