Dr. Diane Touliatos-Miles
The contributions of Greece to Western civilization have been acknowledged in the disciplines of history, literature, the visual arts, architecture, the sciences, the field of medicine, philosophy, and, of course, the Olympics. However, music is hardly ever mentioned as a contribution from Hellenism. Hence, the purpose of this article is twofold: 1) to bring forth the contributions of Hellenism in Music, a lost art and culture that I have attempted to recover in my research and publications as a musicologist and 2) to acknowledge some of the contributions of the Greek diaspora to Greek musicological studies.
It is not well known that Ancient Greece and the continuation of Greek culture into Byzantium were instrumental in the formation and evolution of Western music. Most music history books do not acknowledge the contributions of Ancient Greek and Byzantine music to the development of Western art music--even if a few pages of the text might be devoted to Ancient Greek music and even less pages written about Byzantine music.
Although it is not generally acknowledged, the history of Western art music owes much of its heritage to Hellenism.
Here, we see a scene of Greek classical drama performed by school children in today's Athens!
Even though the Middle Ages did not have a single surviving example of ancient Greek music, ancient Greek musical practice and theory were very important in forming the basis of the secular and sacred music of Byzantium and also the basis of Western medieval music, theory, philosophy, science, and even performance practice. Afterall, it should be acknowledged that the word, music, itself is Greek. It is the adjectival form of the word Muse, in Classical mythology any one of the nine sister goddesses who presided over certain arts and sciences. And from Antiquity music was a daily part of every Greek's life from musical performances at the Olympics to Greek drama which was always performed with vocal and instrumental music.
This mosaic picture depicts a scene from an ancient Greek comedy play; a work by Dioskourides
But music to the ancient Greeks was more than a performing art form; it was a mathematical science closely linked with astronomy. In fact some of the earliest musical theorists and practitioners were mathematicians such as Pythagoras and Aristoxenos. The organization of the theoretical musical system and the intervals of the musical scale were mathematically determined through the measurement of vibrating strings by Pythagoras and his disciples about the end of the sixth century B.C. These mathematical measurements established by Pythagoras from antiquity are still now the basis of the measurement of musical intervals for out Western tuning system and the basis of our modern acoustic theory. Ancient Greek music also gave us much of the musical terminology which is universally used today, i.e., enharmonic, chromatic, monophony, polyphony, heterophony, symphony, and countless others.
The Ancient Greeks gave Western music an important concept which has been transmitted through the present day. This is the doctrine of ethos, which was based on the moral qualities of music and the effects of music on the conduct and character of man.
Disc of Faistos. This Minoan clay disc is a hieroglyphic writing of early typography. It has yet to be interpreted. In it there is a text representing a pagan religious hymn intended to be sung.
Aristotle and Plato have written extensively about the doctrine of ethos, a.k.a. as the doctrine of imitation. Aristotle explained this concept through his doctrine of imitation in which he viewed music as the states of the soul (rage, gentleness, temperance, etc.). He believed that music affected man's character and that the right kind of music affected man in a positive fashion while the wrong kind of music would have negative effects.
Many of the writings of the Byzantine Church Fathers voiced these same beliefs on the effects of music. Much has been written about the Dionysian frenzy of music performed at the Byzantine symposia, known for their musical performances with dance, which brought deterioration to the character of man, while the sacred Byzantine chant uplifted one's soul to God. This belief in ethos has continued in Western music in later periods such as 1) in the Baroque period (1600-1750) where the composers of Western music practiced the doctrine of affections or expression through musical means of the "affections" or states of the soul, 2) in the preclassic period when CPE and JC Bach (sons of JS) composed music in the sturm und drang influence (that is storm and stress) by selecting certain minor tonalities, 3) in the Romantic era or nineteenth century where the composers' purpose was to evoke the emotions of the listener, and 4) in the twentieth century when music was often used by dictators for the purpose of propaganda. Even today's purported new theory in music known as the "Mozart effect" is a transmission of the Greek concept of the doctrine of ethos. Hence, the discipline of music therapy owes its roots to the Greek concept of ethos and the belief that music can affect all living organisms with either positive or negative forces.
The Ancient Greeks are also the inventors of many musical instruments which have erroneously been presented as Western European inventions. Take, for instance, the lute. The lute has been presented historically as a Western Renaissance instrument but can be documented in sculptures and reliefs from Greek Antiquity. Also, the hydraulic organ was an Ancient Greek invention. Indeed, it was only in 1996 that a reconstruction of the hydraulic organ, derived from a discovery of an archaeological excavation at the basis of Mt. Olympus, Dion, was presented to the world at an international musicological conference at Delphi.
Depicted to the right, there is a 1996 reconstruction of the hydraulic organ.
This organ in its reconstruction was comprised of reed pipes of varying lengths (the same type of reed pipes from which the aulos was made), and it had a basin of water by which a foot pedal would force the water upward to produce a sound by playing a note from the keyboard. But the legacy of the organ goes beyond antiquity into Byzantium where the pneumatic organ was developed and used in all imperial court ceremonies. It was this same pneumatic organ which was presented to Charlemagne in the ninth century as a gift from the Byzantines and which became the organ established and used in Western Medieval music but never acknowledged as a Greek invention.
The influence of Hellenism in music continues through the millennium of the Byzantine empire. It is highly disturbing that the contributions of medieval Byzantine music have been ignored by the scholars of Western music history. The terminology and modal system, the octoechos, of the Byzantines was taken over in Western medieval music without acknowledgment. The 4 Authentic and 4 Plagal modes, also known individually as Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, etc. are all Greek names which were taken into the West. Even polyphony which was present from antiquity has been presented as a ca. 10th century Western invention by the name of organum. It has been ignored that the double-reed Greek aulos had performed a type of polyphony: a melody in one reed and a drone accompaniment in the other reed. This tradition was transmitted into Byzantium, where even though the music was notated monophonically, it had always been performed with the improvised drone accompaniment, the so-called isokratema. One only has to look at Western musical treatises describing early polyphony to understand that their description which they call melismatic or Aquitanian organum is none other than that of medieval Byzantine music. In fact, I have found an early 13th century Western musical treatise that documents the origins of Greek polyphony in Greek terminology as diaphonia basilica and triphonia basilica--information which was probably brought back from the Crusaders who had come through Byzantium. As an aural documentation, one has only to listen to France's leading medieval performance group, Marcel Peres' Ensemble Organum which sounds like Byzantine chant and which uses as the group's soloist, Lycourgos Angelopoulos one of the leading Byzantine chanters of Greece and the Director of The Byzantine Choir.
But why has this influence of Hellenism in music been hidden? The truth of the matter is that most of our preserved examples and/or fragments of Ancient Greek music were not uncovered until the twentieth century and most of these by accident by archaeologists who did not know what they were looking at. Furthermore, in looking at examples of either Ancient Greek music or medieval Byzantine music, it is not evident that either is music. In Ancient Greek, the musical notation is an alphabetic notation written over a run-on Greek script. Never has the saying been more true, "It is all Greek to me," than in these examples which have been an enigma. In medieval Byzantine music, the cryptic code for deciphering this neumatic notation into Western staff notation was not regained until the 1930s. And even today the issue of the methodology of transcription (that is deciphering the music) between the Greek and Western camps is the most often debated topic.
The picture to the right is a 1502 AD painting. It is a part of the threesome: Aristotle's logic, Cicero's Rhetoric, and Tubal's Music.The notational problems compounded with the difficulty of language, either Ancient Greek or Byzantine Greek, have been insurmountable problems for musicologists trained in Western art music and languages. The result is that the discipline of musicology which documents and teaches the history of music has been dominated by Western Europeans who have chosen to write history with little knowledge of Ancient Greece and even less knowledge of Byzantium. However, I would like to report that this lost art form is slowly being recovered, largely through the efforts of the Greek diaspora, and that music history is being rewritten. An example of this Western dominance is that all Western music history books have presented Hildegard of Bingen, an early twelfth century composer, as the oldest woman composer for whom there is preserved music. But there has been a long legacy of woman composers from Antiquity and through Byzantium. Although we may not have preserved music from Sappho and her sisterhood of composers, I have found preserved music from Byzantine women composers. More specifically, I have discovered over fifty musical compositions by Kassia, born in 810 A.D.- between 843 and 867, making her the earliest woman composer for whom there is preserved music. How did I find her music? By sifting through musical manuscripts: particularly in my Catalogue of the Byzantine Musical Manuscripts in the Vatican and my forthcoming book -- Catalogue of the Musical Manuscripts of the Athens National Library, which is a catalogue of the over 300 musical manuscripts in the National Library of Greece.
It should be noted that Kassia is not important because of her gender, but because of her innovative contributions; otherwise, her music would not have been preserved in manuscripts which were copied predominantly by male monks.
Kassia in the early 9th century was using the sequence form in her composition "Augustus the Monarch." The sequence is a repeated melody form which has been purported to have been a Western invention by the monks of St. Gaul in the middle to late 9th century, but Kassia was using this form before the mid-9th century. However, Kassia's genius is that she not only uses parallelism in the music, but parallelism of the themes (comparing Augustus to Christ) and a parallel metrical rhyming scheme. So could it be that the sequence was brought to the West from Byzantium? Although this is difficult to prove, it can be safely stated that because of Kassia's composition, the sequence form was used in both the medieval East as well as the medieval West. In other compositions, Kassia uses a theme and variation form which is normally associated again with Western art music composers such as Mozart and Beethoven. Kassia is also known for tone painting (where the text reflects the melodic outline) and motivic construction in her compositions. Tone painting in the West was usually not used until the Renaissance with composers such as Josquin des Pres. As for the motive, its use has long been associated with Beethoven, but can be traced as far back as Machaut, a 14th century French composer. But before there was Machaut, there was Kassia; and Kassia was composing using motivic construction. She has many examples of motivic construction, but one that I will mention is her composition "The Five-stringed Lute and Five-fold Lamp" which commemorates five martyrs, Saints Eustratios, Auxentios, Eugenios, Orestes, and Mardarios and which is composed with a unifying motive of the 5th (C-G) and its variants, symbolizing the pentachordon or five-stringed lute and the five martyrs.
But Kassia is only one from thousands of Byzantine and Ancient Greek composers whose names need to become commonplace in the history of Western music. Did you know that such musical techniques as vocalise and scat singing are not new inventions but were commonly used by the Hellenes and were especially prominent in Byzantium as a means of having instrumental vocalizations in the church which would otherwise prohibit instruments. Also, the so-called Venetian technique of cori spezzati (divided choirs) attributed to Giovanni Gabrieli and St. Mark's Cathedral of Venice should be acknowledged as a Byzantine technique, for in Byzantium there were always two choirs present (the right and the left) either in the sacred music or in the secular music performed in the Imperial palace.
In the recovery of the lost art of Greek music, the Greek diaspora has made significant contributions. A quick survey of the contributions of the Greek diaspora is based not on the thousands who are practicioners of Greek music but on the very few who are published scholars in the field of musicology and who reside outside of Greece.
In Germany there is Constantin Floros, who in 1970 published a three-volume work that examined the Paleo-Byzantine notation and the older Slavic notation in relation to the modal system of the Byzantine church music. Floros has also published a controversial study on the interpretation of rhythm in Byzantine music. In England Constantine Trypanis has published works on Byzantine hymnography.
From Australia there have been a few Greek-Australians who have made contributions. Dimitri Conomos has been very prolific and has published books on the Byzantine trisagia of the 14th and 15th centuries; Byzantine and Slavonic communion chants; and the medieval musical treatise of Manuel Chrysaphes, the Lampadarios. Conomos has also examined the penetration of Byzantine music into Moldavia; the Iviron folk-songs; and experimental polyphony in late Byzantine chant. Margaret Patrikeos Cominos has analyzed the textual musical implications of Romanos, the kontakion, and the Akathistos hymn. Another Australian is Panagiotes Panagiotides whose dissertation from the Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki examines the musical use of the psalter in the tradition of Hellenism.
The United States has produced the most interest in Greek music from the Greek diaspora but even these scholars are few in number. Frank Desby, who was well-known for his choral preservations of Byzantine music as well as his own compositions, worked extensively on the comparative modal systems of the medieval Byzantine and Neo-Byzantine chants. Sam Chianis was active in publishing studies on Greek demotic music, especially the folk music notated in the staffless Byzantine notational system. Eva Topping was a collaborator in completing several volumes entitled, A Guide to Byzantine Hymnography. Although the project is peripherally related to music, it provides a bibliography of studies and text editions that deal with the forms of the kanon and sticheron. Alexander Lingas is a budding young American musicologist pursuing post-doctorate studies in England. His completed dissertation was on an unpublished treatise of Symeon Archbishop of Thessaloniki that elaborates on the asmatic musical liturgical akolouthia that took place at the Hagia Sophia of Thessaloniki.
Professor Diane Touliatos, the only musicologist teaching medieval Byzantine music in a university of the U.S.A., has explored a variety of areas in Byzantine chant. From her initial publications on the Byzantine monastic Orthros, the cathedral Asmatic Orthros and Asmatic Vespers, Touliatos has provided over the last decades bibliographic studies on the status of research on Byzantine music. Since her comprehensive research on the Amomos chant, Psalm 118 (the longest psalm in the Psalter), Touliatos has moved on to catalogue the Byzantine musical manuscripts in the Vatican Library and then to catalogue the over 300 musical manuscripts in the Athens National Library. She has published on the use of nonsense syllables in Ancient Greek and Byzantine music; medieval Balkan music; the secular music of Byzantium, which is the direct ethnomusicological predecessor to Greece's present day demotic music; the role of Greek women in music from Antiquity to the end of the Byzantine Empire; and the musical treatise of Ioannes Plousiadenos.
Throughout all of Touliatos' publications, there has been an attempt to restore Hellenism in the history of music.
But these contributions are not enough. It is the purpose of this article to inform and to awaken the Greeks abroad and the public-at-large that much more must be done.
If I can make a suggestion to the readers, it is that the glory of Greek music should not be ignored. The visual arts of Greece and Byzantium have been better preserved and taught in art history classes. Ancient and Medieval Greek music was an art that was lost but it has been recovered and the effort should now be made to ensure that Ancient Greek music and medieval Byzantine music be included in all survey courses in the history of Western music. It is presently not. Although there are a few musicologists who teach Ancient Greek music throughout the U.S., medieval Byzantine music has fared far worse. And yet, the medieval Byzantine musical legacy is the most valuable of Hellenistic music, for it has incorporated elements from the Ancient Greek music theory and it provides the link to our modern Greek demotic music. As Hellenes or Philhellenes, it is our duty to preserve, teach and promulgate this beautiful music, which influenced Western music and which needs to be so sorely acknowledged.