Theory of music

The first chapter here is about something which is a nightmare for a lot of us: notes and staves. I will limit myself to the basic rules of the theory so that the non-musical reader can follow. Because, it must be said, our Western system is hard to understand, and that of the Greeks is even more harder to play with it. The reason: during the centuries, there has never been a general accepted theory. Off course, you've had the basic rules and it is this that I will talk about.

Theorists: There are a lot of them in Antiquity. The far most important one is undoubtedly Aristoxenos (375, Tarente). He studied at the Lyceum of Aristotle en was hoping to succeed him as the leader of the Peripathetici. The result of this background is that his writings were read more by philosophers dan musicians. His authority lies here: he tried to bring the excisting theorys together in a whole. Regretfully, we do not have a lot of original texts from him, but we're lucky. Aristides Quintilianus (3th century) was also a musical theorist and Aristoxenos had a strong hold over him. Other - less important writers - were Ptolemaios (180 A.D., Pelousion) and Nikomachos (60 A.D, Gerasa)

Tetrachord: This is the most important element in the system of notes of the Greeks. It is a series of 4 succeeding tones with the range of a quarter note. They can appear in 3 different forms: diatonic, chromatic and enharmonic. Interesting: in the enharmonic form, you can see quarter tones. In this example, the symbol 'f-' stands for the tone between 'f' and 'e'. Het second interesting thing to see is the descending notation of the notes. This is because modern science assumes that the Greek 'thought' - and sang - their music in a descending way.

Picture: Van Aristoxenos tot Stockhausen

Succession of notes: If we combine two tetrachords, than you get a succession of tones. De two most important systems are the 'Full system' and the 'Bound system'. (I translated the words literally from the Dutch, so this can be wrong!)

Picture: Van Aristoxenos tot Stockhausen

This pictures shows the Full System. It has a range of two octaves. The tetrachords can be combined on two different ways: with a conjunction, where the last note of the tetrachord coincides with the first note of the following tetrachord; or with a disjunction, where there is a whole tone between two tetrachords.

Picture: Van Aristoxenos tot Stockhausen

In the 'Bound system', the tetrachords are combined with eachother only with conjunctions.

Nomenclature: The centrale tone is de 'a'(mesę). This is the most important tone in the theory ! The names of the tetrachords depend on the place where they lie. At the left, you see a picture of the tetrachords in the Bound and the Full systeem. At the right, you see a picture with the names of the tones. It is in de diatonic form. In other forms, the names of these tones does not change, the pitch however does change !

Pictures: Van Aristoxenos tot Stockhausen

Notation: In the Antiquity, they did not use the system of sharps or flats. And there were also no lines like we use them nowadays. They used a system of loose signs. What's more, they used two different systems: for the notation of vocale or instrumental music. the vocale notation uses the letters of the Alphabet. Every tone has a different sign. The instrumental notation is a bit easier. Every tone and it's derivation have the same letter, but the slope of the letter depends on the pitch.

Picture: Van Aristoxenos tot Stockhausen

Bellerman: How do we know that a certain sign, as in the picture, corresponds with a certain tone ? One uses for that the 'Convention of Bellerman'. This implies that we regard the sign 'C', which indicates the same note in the vocale and instrumental notation, equally with our tone 'a'. Still, when we transcribe the scores, we assume that the real height of the tones would have been a tierce lower.

Scores: Scientists have searched long for scores to see how the Ancient people noted their music. We had musicological writings, but that wasn't enought. The first publication of a score wasin 1581 by Vincenzo Galilei. But the most interesting and exciting discovery took place in 1882. One discovered an inscription on a pillar in Aydin (Turkey), the so called 'Seikilos-pillar'. In Egypt, a papyrus was found with the notation of Euripides' Orestes. Also from Euripides, a fragment of his 'Iphigeneia in Aulis' was found in Hermopolis Magna. In 1892-93, the French School found in Athens two hymns dedicated to Apollo. These are the two best conserved scores we posses - until now. We do not have a lot of scores, in fact we have only two hours of Ancient music, which is not much indeed. And it are only Greek scores. We do not have at this moment any Latin vocale or instrumental music. The reason is obvious: the Romans wrote their music also in Greek AND the musicians were in fact mostly from Greece. The importance of the Romans lies in the fact that they improved the musical instruments.

Click on one of these 4 pictures to see a larger and more clear image !!!
Click to see a larger image Click
to see a larger image
Picture Seikilos: Nationaal Museum Copenhagen (left)

Click to see a
larger image Click to see a
larger image
Picture Tekmessa: Aegyptisches Museum und Papyrussamlung Berlin (left)
Picture Iphigeneia: Papyrologisch Instituut Universiteit Leiden (right)

Music: Science, philosophy and cosmos: Music was science. This is obvious when we read the different Theories. We find many rules to compose the 'right' song. Aristides for example, distinguishes three different compositions: the 'hypatoďde' for the lowest register of the voice, the mesoďde for the middle one and the netoďde for the highest register. When you've made a choice, Aristides gives you the three steps that you should follow: the choice of the range of notes(lępsis), the combining of sounds (mixis) and the ornamentation of the melody (chręsis).

The philosophers also talked about music. Socrates started to make a poem when he - in a dream - got the order to make 'mousikčn'. This is typical, because in the fith century, music was not yet an independent art. When Plato lived, this was already much better. But Plato did not like music. He complained about the pernicious tones. These should be banned to not corrupt the young children. Although he had great philosophical power, he could not prevent this. Aristotle lived in the times when music was really an independent art. He identified the octave with the power of thinking, the quint with the powers of observation and the quarter with vitality.

After an amount of time, music was a part of the education of children. The learned the mythes in which the origin of the musical instruments is explained. After a while they had to play also on these instruments. A girl that could play an instrument had a big value on the matrimonial market.

Picture: Van Aristoxenos tot Stockhausen

Picture: Van Aristoxenos tot Stockhausen