Exploring Ancient Greek Music

We were excited to welcome Professor Armand D’Angour virtually to the Classics Centre this morning to run workshops for students from Year Eight to Thirteen introducing what we know about ancient Greek music.

Armand explained that we have evidence of Greek music from texts such as the fragment from the chorus of the ancient Greek play Orestes by Aeschylus, where notes are written above the words. We have ancient Greek vases which depict musicians playing instruments such as the “aulos” (double pipe) and the lyre.

He explained how the way in which the Greeks pronounced syllables as short or long was reflected in the music. Also, the music went up or down depending on whether the lyrics were happy or sad, just as our music often does. Armand told us how the word “lyric” itself derives from the ancient Greek practice of singing words along to the playing of a lyre!

He showed us an image of the Seikilos epitaph, the oldest surviving complete musical composition, which contains notes above the script for the music.

He explained how we have been able to create very accurate replicas of lyres and of aulos pipes due to depictions on vases and also a few very well-preserved auloi. He then showed us a video about the process of recreating and performing ancient Greek music at a concert recorded by BBC Radio Three at the Ashmolean. You can watch this again below.

After that, there was an opportunity for questions, which ranged from what the content of ancient Greek songs was and whether the ancient Greeks had something like our octave.

We are very grateful to Armand for all his time and energy in delivering such interesting workshops! 

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