Between 750 BC and 400 BC, the Ancient Greeks composed songs meant to be accompanied by the lyre, reed-pipes, and various percussion instruments. More than 2,000 years later, modern scholars have figured out–at long last–how to reconstruct and perform these songs with (it’s claimed) 100% accuracy.
Writing on the BBC web site, Armand D’Angour, a musician and tutor in classics at Oxford University, notes:
[Ancient Greek] 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.
So what did Greek music sound like? Below you can hear David Creese, a classicist from the University of Newcastle, play “an ancient Greek song taken from stone inscriptions constructed on an eight-string ‘canon’ (a zither-like instrument) with movable bridges. “The tune is credited to Seikilos,” says Archaeology Magazine.
For more information on all of this, read D’Angour’s article over at the BBC.
Note: This post first appeared on our site in 2013.
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