A History of Byzantine Music and Hymnography

By Egon Wellesz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
THE SURVIVAL OF GREEK MUSICAL THEORY

I. THE PRINCIPLES OF GREEK MUSICAL THEORY

THE starting-point of Greek musical theory is the Pythagorean assertion that the soul is a kind of harmony (ἁρμονίαν γάρ τινα αὐτὴν λέγουσι), since harmony is 'a blending and combining of opposites' (κρα + ̑σις καὶ σύνθεσις ἐναντίων).1 This blending is identical with harmonia, the fundamental principle in Greek musical theory. Here the term stands for the proper building up and arranging of the intervals constituting one of the musical modes. Since all the intervals of a mode had to be put together in an appropriate order, the term harmonia is also used for the mode itself. It is by the properly organized succession of intervals that the ethos (ἠ + ̑θος) or character of a mode is defined. According to the Pseudo-Aristotelian Problems, an important source of our knowledge of Greek musical theory, ethos can be found only in an organized progression of intervals, not in the sounding together of two tones of different pitch, since the simultaneous sound of tones does not produce ethos (ἠ συμϕωνία οὐκ ἄχει ἠ + ̑θος).2 Each mode has its own character and moral significance.3 This ethical conception of music is already to be found in Pythagorean philosophy, where the faculty of improving character (ἐπανόρθωσις τω + ̑ν ἠθω + ̑ν) is associated with this art.4

The ethical conception of the modes is not confined to Ancient Greek music. It can also be found in Chinese, Indian, and Arabic musical treatises. Each Indian mode (rāga), for example, is con-

____________________
1
Aristotle, de Anima407b-408a. J. Burnet, referring to this view in Early Greek Philosophy4, pp. 295-6, writes that it cannot have belonged to the earliest form of Pythagoreanism; for, 'as shown in Plato Phaedo (86C-92B), it is quite inconsistent with the idea that the soul can exist independently of the body'. The earliest reference to the use of ἁρμονία and ἠ + ̑θος (see n. 4, p. 38) as musical terms is to be found in a fragment of Damon quoted by Aristides Quintilianus in de Musica, ii. 14 (Meib., p. 95), ed. A. Jahn, p. 58: ἐν γου + ̑ν ται + ̑ς ὑτ̓ αὐτου + ̑ [i.e.-Damon Cf. H. Diels, Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker6, 1. 384.
2
Probl. 27, ed. Jan, p. 93.
3
Cf. Plato, Rep. iii. 398 C-9 D and Aristotle, Pol. viii. 7. 1342 a, b.
4
Strabo Geographus, x. 3. 10, ed. A. Meineke, Bibl. Teubn., vol. ii, p. 658, ll. 8 sqq.

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