For generations, music history enthusiasts have pondered the age-old question about how Greece’s ancient music actually sounded — although they often disregard it as a lost cause in the end.
But a professor from Oxford University may have solved part of the puzzle.
Classics professor Armand D’Angour is researching the subject and leading a musical group to perform ancient Greek songs that listeners have not heard in more than two thousand years.
D’Angour not only conducted research to replicate the old performances, but also helped to design a replica of an “aulos” — an ancient Greek wind instrument with a sound roughly akin to that of bagpipes.
The academic then organized a group of musicians to sing and play the lyre — another commonly-used instrument of the era.
Music was integral in ancient Greek culture, and artists such as Homer and Sappho wrote many literary texts to be performed as songs. But even though written instructions offer plenty of detail about the notes, scales, effects and instruments used, modern-day musicians can rarely recognize them because of their unfamiliarity and complexity.
In his article published by the academic media outlet The Conversation, D’Angour described the importance of rhythm in ancient Greek music.
“Central to ancient song was its rhythms, and the rhythms of ancient Greek music can be derived from the meters of the poetry,” he said. “[The meters] were based strictly on the durations of syllables of words, which create patterns of long and short elements.”
The professor said that reproducing ancient Greek tunes ought to be enough proof for music scholars to reconsider the origins of Western classical music.
“The Western tradition of classical music is often said to begin with the Gregorian plainsong of the ninth century AD,” D’Angour said. “But the reconstruction and performance of Greek music has demonstrated that ancient Greek music should be recognized as the root of the European musical tradition.”
For his next undertaking, the Oxford professor will focus on Greek theater, where he hopes to recreate a drama performance in an authentic ancient theater with historically accurate music from the era.
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