Music in History

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music periods

ancient Greece

Periods of  ancient Greek music

According to Willi Apel the Greek music is  divided into four periods.

a) Archaic period (8th century BC, about mid-6th century. BC)

During Homer's time (8th century BC) music  in Greece was already an art. It was not  confined to religious worship (as happened in other cultures), but it was present in every social activity; everybody  could practice music regardless of the social  group  they belonged . There were  instruments like  Lyra, forminx, syrinx. Later on, (7th-6th century  BC),  lyric poets wrote love songs, paeans, elegies, epithalamia, odes.
"Lyric" was a poem appropriate to be sung to the accompaniment of lyre. Sappho, Alcaeus, Tyrtaeus, Solon and Pindar were some of the most important Representatives of lyric poetry. In ancient times an instrument appeared named "piktis" (Ionic dialect). Maybe this term refers to the harp. As Aristoxenus mentions, Sappho was the first to use the mixolydian mode and she first invented  the piktis. In the dictionary "Suidas" it is said that she also invented the first key (plektron)  ever.

b) Classical period (about 550-404 p X)

A new  spesific mode of fiction was based on dithyramb; it was called "drama". The three  forms of drama: Tragedy, comedy, satyr play. People in Athens were  very involved with music. They  used to learn by ear and play  at home, or at banquets. Aristophanes'  audience  could recognize musical references to an older  or contemporary music , comparing to their times. Typical is the case of  "The Frogs" (405 BC). The story refers  to a  drama contest between Aeschylus and Euripides. The Contest takes place  in Hades; Dionysus is the  judge.  In  this comedy there is a use of different poetic structures as a reference  to different musical idioms and scales (harmoniae). These differences  were understood by the audience of that time.
The great poets: Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes


c) Around 404 BC-2nd century BC

By the middle of the 5th century BC, parallel to the pick of the drama and  art, another musical perception  was  taking  place. This new perception  dominated after the fall of Athens in 404 BC, which marked the end of the Peloponnesian war. The teaching of music was to be  declined, particularly among the upper social groups. Taste changed between  the audience, as it had been strongly influenced  by  the  bloody war. Now,  people  were interested in choral singing and had no interest about  the moral content of the tragedy. Philoxenus and Timothy of Miletus (447-357 BC) are two important representatives of this period who rejected all traditions  of their times and  broke the relationship between  poetic and musical form. Their work had been reproduced for the next  two centuries  but  later composers  did not refer to it. The two surviving fragments of the Delphic Hymns (2nd century BC) might  represent a sample of the music of that period.
In the 3rd century BC, during  the racecourse shows, there was  music which  sounded  from  an instrument called  hydraulis. This Keyboard instrument  is considered to be  the ancestor of the pipe organ and its construction is attributed to Ctesibius from Alexandria. (The same man was the inventor of fire pumps and hydraulic watches. He  also did many experiments with steam and compressed air). An hydraulis  of 1st century BC has been found , thought not in good condition.  It is  exhibited in the archaeological museum of Dion (Pieria, Greece)

                                               Epidaurus theater

d) 2nd century BC onwards

The music was not practiced anymore as an art, but it existed  as an additional element in various ceremonies, theater festivals etc. Only Mesomedes from Crete (2nd century) worked as a composer at the court of Hadrian. in 1581, in Florence, Vincenzo Galilei, father of the astronomer Galileo Galilei, was the first to print three hymns which are attributed to Mesomedes. "Hymn to the Nemesis", which survives with musical signs , was among them.


                                         water organ (hidraulis)

1. Albin Lesky, Ιστορία της αρχαίας ελληνικής λογοτεχνίας, μετάφραση Αγαπητού Τσοπανάκη, β' έκδοση, Θεσσαλονίκη 1990
2. Μ.L West, Αρχαία ελληνική μουσική, μετάφραση Στάθης Κομνηνός, εκδόσεις Παπαδήμα 1999
3. Willi Apel, Ηarvard dictionary of music, second edition, eighth printing 1974

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