The Sound of Music

The Semantics of Noise in Early Greek Hexameter

in Greek and Roman Musical Studies
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This paper examines the vocabulary of sound in the Theogony, the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, and the Homeric Hymn to Hermes and focuses in particular on the words employed therein to describe superlative forms of music, terms that in different contexts denote clamorous or unpleasant sounds. By drawing attention to the sonic texture of musical performance in this way, each portrayal suggests that music is not ontologically distinct from noise, but emerges from the coalescence of discrete sounds that are not musical in and of themselves. Music and noise thus exist not in a hierarchical relation, but on the same spectrum. And this dynamic is reflected in the very language used to depict these performances, which combines re-workings of Homeric formulae with new or unusual acoustic terminology. Thus music, including lyrical language itself, may become perceptible as such from the skillful organization of sounds into intelligible and distinctive patterns.

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1

Varèse and Wen-chung 1966, 18.

3

Cf. Bettini (2008) who is similarly interested in the interaction between language and sound but concentrates primarily on animal voices. See also Cook (1990, 4) on the symbiosis between language and imagery on the one hand and music on the other, “a musical culture is, in essence, a repertoire of means for imagining music; it is the specific pattern of divergences between the experience of music on the one hand, and the images by means of which it is represented on the other, that gives a musical culture its identity”.

33

Cf. Richardson 2010, ad 488.

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