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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

The Beeb poses an interesting question:  How did ancient Greek musick sound?

Evidently, some clever Johnnies are on the case:

 [I]sn’t the music lost beyond recovery? The answer is no. The rhythms – perhaps the most important aspect of music – are preserved in the words themselves, in the patterns of long and short syllables.

Well, hell.  I could have told you that myself.  I include in my morning prayers from the 1962 Missal a “Jam Lucis” attributed to St. Ambrose.  When I first started this practice, I stuck to the English translation in order to get the substance.  More recently, I have switched over to the original Latin and pay particular attention to the cadences .

Anyhoo, it seems Science! is going further than mere thump-thumpa:

The instruments are known from descriptions, paintings and archaeological remains, which allow us to establish the timbres and range of pitches they produced.

And now, new revelations about ancient Greek music have emerged from a few dozen ancient documents inscribed with a vocal notation devised around 450 BC, consisting of alphabetic letters and signs placed above the vowels of the Greek words.

The Greeks had worked out the mathematical ratios of musical intervals – an octave is 2:1, a fifth 3:2, a fourth 4:3, and so on.

The notation gives an accurate indication of relative pitch: letter A at the top of the scale, for instance, represents a musical note a fifth higher than N halfway down the alphabet. Absolute pitch can be worked out from the vocal ranges required to sing the surviving tunes.

While the documents, found on stone in Greece and papyrus in Egypt, have long been known to classicists – some were published as early as 1581 – in recent decades they have been augmented by new finds. Dating from around 300 BC to 300 AD, these fragments offer us a clearer view than ever before of the music of ancient Greece.

 Go read the rest.  Teh article suggests that the Ancients had a musick that is more recognizable in modern Middle Eastern practices than elsewhere.

Eh, I’ve no particular reason to doubt this, nor have I any particular reason to endorse it.  To ol’ Robbo’s mind, there is simply too long a gap of silence to make any of this  more than intelligent guesswork.

I need hardly point out that the foundations of the late 18th Century Classickal movement were based on the same idea, a deliberate imitation of what was thought to be the Ancient way.   They thought they were being scientific, too.

*  Enjoy the riff.

A glass of wine with Arts N’ Letters Daily.


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November 2013