The Book of Musical Knowledge: The History, Technique, and Appreciation of Music, Together with Lives of the Great Composers, for Music-Lovers, Students and Teachers

By Arthur Elson | Go to book overview

II
GREECE AND ROME

WHEN the poet Collins called upon some party or parties unknown to "revive the just designs of Greece," at the expense of "Cecilia's mingled world of sound," it is doubtful if he knew just what those designs were. Certainly it was disloyal to the memory of Purcell and the great Elizabethan composers who had gone before him. But subsequent discoveries have given us a better insight into the subject of ancient Greek music, and we now have several actual specimens of that music to supplement the many historical treatises.

In Greece, poetry and music were at first treated as one art. In the Mythical or Heroic Age, the wandering minstrel flourished. He would travel about from place to place reciting his epic fragments or shorter poems with a certain style of chanting, or cantillation, for each kind of poetry. The music, therefore, was not definite, the vocal chanting and lyre accompaniment varying on repetition even though the style remained constant. The poets were received with sufficient honor in their peripatetic vocation. We read that

Seven cities claimed the birth of Homer dead,
Through which the living Homer begged his bread."

But this was written some twenty-seven centuries after the event; and it is probable that geniuses of the Homer or Hesiod type would not often go hungry.

Shorter lyrics began to appear in the seventh and sixth centuries B.C. Ionic iambics and elegiacs were composed by Archilochus and Tyrtmus, to be succeeded by the lyrics and odes of Sappho, Alcæus, and Anacreon, to say nothing of Pindar, and the later poetesses Myrtis and Corinna. These were still sung with improvisational accompaniment. They must have had a strong effect, for Solon, on hearing a work of Sappho, expressed the hope that he might not die before he had learned such a beautiful song.

Music was given a scientific basis by Pythagoras. Born in Samos

-13-

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