THE AULOS (AULOI, TIBIAE)
The Greek Aulos and his Roman equivalent Tibia consisted out of two wind instruments.
The musician held one in both hands. The instrument has a lot in common with the clarinet
because in the evolution of this instruments it also gets lids. It was made out of
reed, bone, ivor or (for the pro) metal. The main problem was the the weight could not be
high, because one had to use two of it. The tuning was strict. If the player wanted to
play in another tune, he had to take another aulos or use an extension. Pronomos from Thebe
invented another system. He graved more holes into the tube which he could close with
strips. Later on these became lids like on the clarinet.
Picture: private collection
Picture: private collection
Picture: Museum Valkhof Nijmegen
Why in the world did they play on two flutes at the same time ? Because, assuming that
the Greek did not know unison music, two melodies at the same were not interesting.
One assumes now that on the one flute, the basictone was played, on the other one
the melody. But this conflicts with the images: the position of the hands are always the
same. The explanation then can be found if we compare both flutes. The holes of both flutes
were not at the same hight. The differences were so little that you could not make a hole
on 1 tube. Conclusion: the player could chose, while playing his melodie, which note
to take. This is because the Greek used quarter tones, and so on.. which lie very close
to eachother and not so audible for a not-trained ear, but for a musicians, it DOES make
a difference !
Picture: Private collection
You had five different auloi. One made a difference on the size and the register:
parthenioi (girlstype), paidikoi (boystype), kitharistoerioi (kitharaplayer type),
teleioi (grown-up type) and huperteleioi (more than grown-up type). You can compare
this with our modern arrangment of soprana-, alt-, tenor- and basflutes. The latter register
was introduced by the Romans, where it had a massive status. Ovidius tells us that
at every occasion, an aulos was used: temples, plays, ritus, marriages, diners and so on.
The players had a big status and were united in a guild: 'collegium tibicinum romanorum'.
Once, when they lost their privilege of eatin in temples, they striked. The senate was afraid
that the next day, they wouldn't play at the cermonys. They filled the players with booze and
transported them unconscious to Rome. Sinds then, Rome gave them permission to have a
procession each year in the city. This was the origin of the mid-june-festival Quinquatros
An important accessory for blowing on the auloi is the 'phorbeia'. This is a band around
the head with two holes in it in which the flutes could be attached. They used this band
because when the had to blow hard on it, they couldn't afford to loose their instruments.
This is not so aesthetic, but the consequence was very important. Especially during plays
or in battle, where they had to blow very hard, this was very handy.
Picture: Allard Pierson Museum Amsterdam
A variant of the Greek Aulos is the Phrygian Aulos (elymos). In the Roman period, it
appeared also a lot. The tubes didn't have the same length and the left tube also
looked like a horn. The Romans perfected this instrument by fixing rings and lids on it.
It is associated a lot with Dionysios, Rhea and escecially Kybele.
Underneath, you can see a bronze statue of a centaur holding a Phrygian
aulos. The centaur dates from 3-1st century BC. The tale and the
instrument are add-ons by the artist Raoul Allaman.
Photo: Private collection