Evaluative judgments about musical innovations occur from the late fifth century BC in Greece and Rome and are reflected in similar discussions of Christian authors in the first centuries of the Empire. This article explores how pedagogical, theological, moral, and spiritual considerations motivate judgments on contemporary pagan musical culture and conclusions about the Christian attitude towards music. Biblical references to music inspire both allegorical interpretations and the defense of actual musical practice. The perhaps most intriguing Christian transformation of the ancient musical worldview is presented in Clement of Alexandria’s Protrepticus. Well-known classical music-myths serve here to introduce a superior ‘New Song’. Harmony, represented in the person of Christ who unites a human and a divine nature, becomes the ultimate principle of both cosmos and human nature. This conception allows music to become a prominent expression of the Christian faith and even inform the moral life of believers.
Currently, there are only 64 extant fragments of ancient Greek music, of which the bulk belongs to imperial times. Thus, the musical evidence for ‘New Music’, which had its climax in the second half of the 5th century, is limited. Nevertheless, one important observation is possible: fragments from classical times, which belong to antistrophic compositions, use melodies which do not mirror the prosody of the texts and simply repeat the melody of the strophe in the antistrophe. But all fragments in astrophic form have melodies which follow the prosody of the respective texts closely. This overturn is connected with Melanippides, who in the dithyramb replaced the strophic form with the free astrophic form, to the advantage of musical mimesis. Moreover, the polemics of Old Comedy provide evidence for melodic extravagances which depict highlights of the text. The Delphic Paeans are the heirs to these novelties.
The present paper investigates ‘rhythmic irrationality’ in the medium of recited ‘word’, as this is defined by Aristoxenos and Dionysios Halikarnasseus in three rhythmic contexts: that of the anapaest, of the dactyl, and of the trochee (choreios). For this purpose, computer experiments have been devised, one for each of the aforementioned irrationalities: against the background of a monitored metronome, a line in each rhythm is initially recited in the rational mode. The line is subsequently recited another seven times, with the podic duration which is to suffer diminution or augmentation, in steps of eighths of the time unit. The eight vocal renderings of each line are then assessed psychoacoustically, in order to locate: (a) the point at which our hearing detects the onset of irrationality, and (b) the point at which a shift from the original rhythm to another is sensed.
The imagery of Dionysiac performance is characteristic of Euripides’ later choral odes and returns particularly in the Helen’s second stasimon, which foregrounds its own connections with the mimetic program of the New Music and its emphasis on the emancipation of feelings. This paper aims to show that Euripides’ deep interest in contemporary musical innovations is connected to his interest in the irrational, which made him the most tragic of the poets. Focusing on the musical aspect of the Helen’s second stasimon, the paper will examine how Euripides conveys a sense of the irrational through a new type of song, which liberates music’s power to excite and disorient through its colors, ornament and dizzying wildness. Just as the New Musicians present themselves as the preservers of cultic tradition, Euripides, far from suppressing Dionysus as Nietzsche claimed, deserves to rank as the most Dionysiac and the most religious of the three tragedians.
Old Comedy often brings prostitute-like dancers on stage while parodying the New Music. This paper argues that such dances were reminiscent of sex practices, and supports this view with dance-historical and semantic evidence. For the history of Greek dance, I survey the literary evidence for the existence of a dance tradition that represents lovers and their acts, and which would easily provide Comedy with dance vocabulary to distort. The semantic analysis of three comic passages, all criticising the New Music in sexual terms, shows a consistent overlapping between the semantic fields of eroticism and of bodily movement, with several terms indicating both figures of lovemaking and figures of dance. By performing comically revisited erotic dances or by verbally alluding to them, prostitutes would powerfully embody the conservative criticism of Old Comedy against the new trends in dance promoted by the New Music.
In this paper, I offer a close discussion of the musical innovations attributed to Phrynis, Timotheus and other ‘New Musicians’ mentioned in a famous fragment of Pherecrates’ Chiron, interpreting this fascinating passage in the light of the extant evidence about ancient harmonic theory and practice, as well as the latest research findings. More specifically, I shall advance a new hypothesis concerning the nature of Phrynis’ innovative ‘twister’ (strobilos): producing a special bending (kampē) of a semitone, this gadget allowed Phrynis to combine five different harmoniai (Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Iastian and ‘Loose Lydian’) in one and the same twelve-string tuning. Making a subtle modification to this device, Timotheus further expanded the harmonic palette of his twelve-string kithara, introducing the lamenting aulos-mode par excellence, the Mixolydian, into the realm of lyre music. Philoxenus increased this system by adding an extra string, reaching the 13-step arrangement that is at the heart of Aristoxenian harmonic theory.