Music in Classical Greece

  1. Greek Musical Thought
    1. We know about Greek musical thought through two kinds of writings:
      1. Philosophical doctrines that describe music’s place in the cosmos, its effects, and its proper uses in society
      2. Systematic descriptions of the materials of music (music theory)
    2. Music in Greek mythology
      1. Gods and demigods were musical practitioners.
      2. The word music (from mousiké) comes from the Muses.
    3. Performance of music
      1. Music as a performing art was called melos (the root of the word melody).
      2. Music was monophonic, consisting of one melodic line.
      3. There was no concept of harmony or counterpoint.
      4. Instruments embellished the melody while a soloist or chorus sang the original version, creating heterophony.
      5. Music and poetry were nearly synonymous.
        1. There was no word for artful speech without music.
        2. Many Greek words for poetic types are musical terms-e.g., hymn.
    4. Music and number
      1. Pythagoras and his followers recognized the numerical relationships that underlay musical intervals-e.g., 2:1 results in an octave, 3:2 a fifth, and 4:3 a fourth.
      2. Harmonia was the concept of an orderly whole divisible by parts.
        1. The term applied to the order of the universe.
        2. Music was allied to astronomy through the notion of harmonia.
        3. Mathematical laws were the underpinnings of musical intervals and the movements of heavenly bodies alike.
        4. From Plato’s time until the beginning of modern astronomy, philosophers believed in a “harmony of the spheres,” unheard music created by the movement of planets and other heavenly bodies.
    5. Music and ethos
      1. Greek writers believed that music could affect ethos, one’s ethical character.
        1. Music’s mathematical laws permeated the visible and invisible world, including the human soul.
        2. The parts of the human soul could be restored to a healthy balance (harmony) by the correct type of music.
      2. Aristotle’s Politics sets out a theory of how music affects behavior (see HWM Source Reading, page 16).
        1. The Mixolydian, Dorian, and Phrygian melodies (combinations of mode, melodic turns, and general style) each had specific effects on the listener.
        2. Aristotle argued that music should be part of education because of its power to influence a person’s soul.
        3. The theory of imitation holds that a person will imitate the ethos of the music they hear.
        4. Aristotle admits that music is enjoyable (see last sentence of HWM Source Reading, page 16) and enjoyment is acceptable when part of education and ethos.
        5. He discourages high-born citizens from training to become professionals or entering in competitions because performing for pleasure alone is menial and vulgar.
      3. Plato’s Republic urges balance between gymnastics and music, and only certain types of music, in education.
        1. The Dorian and Phrygian harmoniai fostered the virtues of temperance and courage.
        2. Music should not have complex scales or mixed genres, rhythms or instruments.
        3. Changes in musical conventions could lead to lawlessness in art and anarchy in society.
        4. Plato’s uses for music are more restrictive than Aristotle’s.
  2. Greek Music Theory
    1. Aristoxenus, Harmonic Elements and Rhythmic Elements (ca. 330 B.C.E.)
      1. Distinguishes between continuous movement of voice and diastematic (intervallic) movement
      2. Defines note, interval, and scale
      3. Intervals defined abstractly (versus Babylonian definition based on specific strings of the lyre or harp)
    2. Tetrachord theory
      1. Tetrachord: four notes bounded by a perfect fourth
      2. Three genera (classes) of tetrachord, defined by the second and third pitches, descending (see HWM Example 1.1)
        1. Diatonic: tone – semitone – tone
        2. Chromatic: minor third – semitone – semitone
        3. Enharmonic: major third – quartertone – semitone
        4. Intervals varied in size, creating “shades” within each genus.
      3. The genera were an attempt to explain actual musical practices.
      4. Aristoxenus said the diatonic was the oldest genera; the enharmonic, the most difficult to hear.
    3. Greater Perfect System (see HWM Example 1.2)
      1. Tetrachords put together to form a two-octave range
        1. Tetrachords with common outer notes are conjunct
        2. Tetrachords with a tone between them are disjunct
      2. One added note at the bottom (Proslambanomenos)
      3. The middle note was called mese.
      4. Each of the four tetrachords was named.
        1. Meson: the tetrachord beginning with mese and descending
        2. Diezeugmenon (disjunct): beginning a tone above mese and ascending
        3. Hypaton (conjunct): the tetrachord below Meson
        4. Hyperbolaion (conjunct): the tetrachord above Diezeugmenon
      5. Although the pitches had names, there was no absolute fixed pitch.
    4. Species (the ways that perfect consonances could be divided)
      1. Cleonides noted that the perfect fourth, fifth, and octave could be subdivided in a limited number of ways in the diatonic genus.
      2. The perfect fourth could be divided three ways (see HWM Example 1.3a).
        1. S – T – T (semitone – tone – tone)
        2. T – T – S
        3. T – S – T
      3. The perfect fifth has four species (see HWM Example 1.3b).
      4. The octave has seven species (see HWM Example 1.3c).
        1. Octave species result from combinations of species of fourth and fifth.
        2. Cleonides used names the “ancients” supposedly used:
          1. B-b: Mixolydian
          2. c-c’: Lydian
          3. d-d’: Phrygian
          4. e-e’: Dorian
          5. f-f’: Hypolydian
          6. g-g’: Hypophrygian
          7. a-a’: Hypodorian
        3. The Babylonians recognized the same diatonic tunings.
        4. Medieval theorists used the same names for their modes but they do not match Cleonides’ species.
    5. Other meanings for the names used by Cleonides
      1. Styles of music practiced in different regions of the Greek world (see map, HWM Figure 1.6)
      2. Harmoniai
        1. Scale types or melodic styles
        2. Plato and Aristotle used the ethnic names with and without prefixes
      3. Tonoi (singular: tonos)
        1. Scale or set of pitches within a specific range
        2. Associated with character and mood, the higher tonoi being more energetic.
  3. Ancient Greek Music
    1. Surviving pieces and fragments
      1. About forty-five survive.
      2. Most are from relatively late periods, i.e., from the fifth century B.C.E. to the fourth.
      3. All employ a notation that places letters above the text to indicate notes and durations.
      4. The earliest fragments are choruses from plays by Euripides (ca. 485-406 B.C.E.).
      5. Later works include hymns and an epitaph on a tombstone.
      6. The musical style is consistent with music theory of the time.
    2. NAWM 1 Epitaph of Seikilos (see HWM Figure 1.10 and Example 1.4)
      1. HWM Example 1.4 shows the Greek notation above the transcription.
        1. Alphabetical signs indicate the notes.
        2. Marks indicating doubling or tripling of the basic rhythmic unit are above the alphabetical signs.
      2. Melody
        1. Diatonic
        2. The range is an octave.
        3. The octave species is Phrygian.
        4. The tonos is Iastian, a transposed version of HWM Example 1.2.
        5. The melody balances rising and falling gestures with each line.
      3. Text
        1. In keeping with the Iastian tonos, the text suggests moderation.
        2. The epitaph urges readers to be light hearted while also acknowledging death.
    3. NAWM 2 Fragment from Euripides’ Orestes
      1. Survives on a scrap of papyrus from ca. 200 B.C.E. (see HWM Figure 1.11)
      2. Only the middle portion of its seven lines of text survives.
      3. The style is consistent with descriptions of Euripides’ music.
        1. Combines diatonic with either chromatic or enharmonic genus
        2. Instrumental notes are interspersed with vocal.
      4. The text is a chorus for women.
      5. The meter of the text uses dochmaic foot, used for passages of intense agitation and grief.
      6. Chromatic or enharmonic notes reinforce the ethos of the poetry.