THE first name of significance in Greek music is that of Homer. The hexameters of “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” were quite probably chanted, but the four-stringed lyre which we associate with the ancient Greek singers was only used for a few preluding notes possibly to pitch the voice of the bard and not during the chant itself. For whatever melody this chant possessed, it depended entirely upon the raising and lowering of the voice according to the accent of the words and the dramatic feeling of the narrative. For its rhythm it depended upon that of the hexameter, which consists of a line of six dactyls and spondees, the line always ending with a spondee. Really the line should end with a dactyl ( ) and a spondee (- -). If a line ends with two spondees it is a spondaic hexameter.
From this it would seem that while the pitch of the chant would be very difficult to gauge, owing to the diversity of opinion as to how to measure in actual sounds the effect of emotions upon the human voice, at least the rhythm of the chants would be well defined, owing to the hexameter in which the latter were written. Here again, however, we are cast adrift by theory, for in practice nothing could be more misleading than such a deduction. For instance, the following lines from Longfellow’s “Evangeline” are both in this metre, although the rhythm of one differs greatly from that of the other.
Wearing her Norman cap, and her kirtle of blue, and the earrings and
Shielding the house from storms, on the north were the barns and the farm-yard.
Now if we think that these lines can be sung to the same musical rhythm we are very far from the truth, although both are hexameters, namely, dactyls, ending with spondee.
Thus we see that metre in verse and rhythm in music are two different things, although of course they both had the same origin.
After all has been said, it is perhaps best to admit that, so far as Greek music is concerned, its better part certainly lay in poetry. In ancient times all poetry was sung or chanted; it was what I have called impassioned speech. The declamation of “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” constituted what was really the “vocal” music of the poems. With the Greeks the word “music” (mousiké) included all the msthetic culture that formed part of the education of youth; in the same general way a poet was called a singer, and even in Roman times we find Terence, in his “Phormio,” alluding to poets as musicians. That Æschylus and Sophocles were not musicians, as we understand the term, is very evident in spite of the controversies on the subject.
Impassioned speech, then, was all that existed of vocal music, and as such was in every way merely the audible expression of poetry. I have no doubt that this is the explanation of the statement that Æschylus and Sophocles wrote what has been termed the music to their tragedies. What they really did was to teach the chorus the proper declamation and stage action. It is well known that at the Dionysian Festival it was to the poet as “chorus master” that the prize was awarded, so entirely were the arts identified one with the other. That declamation may often reach the power of music, it is hardly necessary to say. Among modern poets, let any one, for instance, look at Tennyson’s “Passing of Arthur” for an example of this kind of music; the mere sound of the words completes the picture. For instance, when Arthur is dying and gives his sword, Excalibur, to Sir Bedivere with the command to throw it into the mere, the latter twice fails to do so, and returns to Arthur telling him that all he saw was
“The water lapping on the crag And the long ripple washing in the reeds.”
But when at last he throws it, the magic sword
” Made lightnings in the splendour of the moon And flashing round and round, and whirl’d in an arch Shot like a streamer of the northern morn. So flashed and fell the brand Excalibur.”
Again, when Sir Bedivere, carrying the dying king, stumbles up over the icy rocks to the shore, his armour clashing and clanking, the verse uses all the clangour of cr — ck, the slipping s’s too, and the vowel a is used in all its changes; when the shore is finally reached, the verse suddenly turns into smoothness, the long o’s giving the same feeling of breadth and calm that modem music would attempt if it treated the same subject.
Here are the lines:
Dry clash’d his harness in the icy caves And barren chasms, and all to left and right The bare, black cliff clang’d round him as he based His feet on juts of slippery crag that rang Sharp-smitten with the dint of arméd heels. And on a sudden, lo! the level lake And the long glories of the winter moon.
When we think of the earlier Greek plays, we must imagine the music of the words themselves, the cadenced voices of the protagonist or solitary performer, and the chorus, the latter keeping up a rhythmic motion with the words. This, I am convinced, was the extent of Greek music, so far as that which was ascribed to the older poets is concerned.
Instrumental music was another thing, and although we possess no authentic examples of it, we know what its scales consisted of and what instruments were in use. It would be interesting to pass in review the tragedies of . schylus and Sophocles, the odes of Sappho and Pindar, those of the latter having a novel periodicity of form which gives force to the suggestion that these choric dances were the forerunners of our modern instrumental forms.
Such matters, however, take us from our actual subject, and we will therefore turn to Pythagoras, at Crotona, in Italy (about 50o B. C.), whom we find already laying down the rules forming a mathematical and scientific basis for the Greek musical scale.
More than three centuries had passed since Homer had chanted his “Iliad” and “Odyssey,” and in the course of the succeeding fifty years some of the master spirits of the world were to appear. When we think of Pythagoras, Gautama, Buddha, Confucius, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Sappho, Pindar, Phidias, and Herodotus as contemporaries and this list might be vastly extended it seems as if some strange wave of ideality had poured over mankind. In Greece, however, Pythagoras’s theory of metempsychosis (doctrine of the supposed transmigration of the soul from one body to another) was not strong enough to make permanent headway, and his scientific theories unhappily turned music from its natural course into the workshop of science, from which Aristoxenus in vain attempted to rescue it.
At that time Homer’s hexameter had begun to experience many changes, and from the art of rhythm developed that of rhyme and form. The old lyre, from having four strings, was developed by Terpander, victor in the first musical contest at the feast of Apollo Carneius, into an instrument of seven strings, to which Pythagoras added an eighth, Theophrastus a ninth, and so on until the number of eighteen was reached.
Flute and lyre playing had attained a high state of excellence, for we hear that Lasus, the teacher of the poet Pindar (himself the son of a Theban flute player), introduced into lyre playing the runs and light passages which, until that time, it had been thought possible to produce only on the flute.
The dance also had undergone a wonderful development rhythmically; for even in Homer’s time we read in “The Odyssey” of the court of Alcinous at Phocæa, how two princes danced before Ulysses and played with a scarlet ball, one throwing it high in the air, the other always catching it with his feet off the ground; and then changing, they flung the ball from one to the other with such rapidity that it made the onlookers dizzy. During the play, Demidocus chanted a song, and accompanied the dance with his lyre, the players never losing a step. As Aristides (died 468 B. C.), speaking of Greek music many centuries later said: “Metre is not a thing which concerns the ear alone, for in the dance it is to be seen.” Even a statue was said to have silent rhythm, and pictures were spoken of as being musical or unmusical.
The first was known as the Cretic foot, being in a way the model or type from which the others were made; but the others were called paeons. The “Hymn to Apollo” was called a paeon or paean, for the singers danced in Cretic rhythms as they chanted it.
The advent of the Dionysian festivals in Greece threatened to destroy art, for those wild Bacchic dances, which are to be traced back to that frenzied worship of Bel and Astarte in Babylon, wild dances amenable only to the impulse of the moment, seemed to carry everything before them. Instead of that, however, the hymns to Bacchus, who was called in Phoenicia the flute god, from which the characteristics of his worship are indicated, were the germs from which tragedy and comedy developed, and the mad bacchanalian dances were tamed into dithyrambs. For the Corybantes, priests of the goddess Cybele, brought from Phrygia, in Asia Minor, the darker form of this worship; they mourned for the death of Bacchus, who was supposed to die in winter and to come to life again in the spring. When these mournful hymns were sung, a goat was sacrificed on the altar; thus the origin of the word “tragedy” or “goat song” (tragos, goat, and odos, singer). As the rite developed, the leader of the chorus would chant the praises of Dionysus, and sing of his adventures, to which the chorus would make response. In time it became the custom for the leader, or coryphæus, to be answered by one single member of the chorus, the latter being thus used merely for the chanting of commentaries on the narrative. The answerer was called “hypocrite,” afterward the term for actor.
This was the material from which Aeschylus created the first tragedy, as we understand the term. Sophocles (495-406 B. C.) followed, increasing the number of actors, as did also Euripides (480-406 B. C.).
Comedy (komos, revel, and odos, singer) arose from the spring and summer worship of Bacchus, when everything was a jest and Nature smiled again.
The dithyramb (dithyrambos or Bacchic step,) brought a new step to the dance and therefore a new element into poetry, for all dances were choric, that is to say they were sung as well as danced.
Arion was the first to attempt to bring the dithyramb into poetry, by teaching the dancers to use a slower movement and to observe greater regularity in their various steps. The Lydian flute, as may be supposed, was the instrument which accompanied the dithyramb, associated with all kinds of harsh, clashing instruments, such as cymbals, tambourines, castanets. These Arion tried to replace by the more dignified Grecian lyre; but it was long before this mad dance sobered down to regular rhythm and form. From Corinth, where Arion first laboured, we pass to Sicyon, where the taming of the dithyramb into an art form was accomplished by Praxilla, a poetess who added a new charm to the lilt of this Bacchic metre, namely, rhyme.
And this newly acquired poetic wealth was in keeping with the increasing luxury and magnificence of the cities, for we read in Athenæus and Diodorus that Agrigentum sent to the Olympic games three hundred chariots, drawn by white horses. The citizens wore garments of cloth of gold, and even their household ornaments were of gold and silver; in their houses they had wine cellars which contained three hundred vats, each holding a hundred hogsheads of wine. In Sybaris this luxury reached its height, for the Sybarites would not allow any trade which caused a disagreeable sound, such as that of the blacksmith, carpenter, or mason, to be carried on in their city limits. They dressed in garments of deep purple, tied their hair in gold threads, and the city was famed for its incessant banqueting and merrymaking. It was such luxury as this that Pindar found at the court of Hiero, at Syracuse, whither Aeschylus had retired after his defeat by Sophocles at the Dionysian Festival at Athens.
The worship of Bacchus being at its height at that time, it may be imagined that wine formed the principal element of their feasts. And even as the dithyramb had been pressed into the service of poetry, so was drinking made rhythmic by music. For even the wine was mixed with water according to musical ratios; for instance, the paeonic or 3 the iambic dactylic or 2 to 2, The master of the feast decided the ratio, and a flute girl played a prescribed melody while the toast to good fortune, which commenced every banquet, was being drunk. By the time the last note had sounded, the great cup should have gone round the table and been returned to the master. And then they had the game of the cottabos, which consisted of throwing the contents of a wine cup high in the air in such a manner that the wine would fall in a solid mass into a metal basin. The winner was the one who produced the clearest musical sound from the basin.
We see from all this that music was considered rather a beautiful plaything or a mere colour. By itself it was considered effeminate; therefore the early Greeks always had the flute player accompanied by a singer, and the voice was always used with the lyre to prevent the latter appealing directly to the senses. The dance was corrected in the same manner; for when we speak of Greek dances, we always mean choric dances. Perhaps the nearest approach to the effect of what we call music was made by Aeschylus, in the last scene of his “Persians,” when Xerxes and the chorus end the play with one continued wail of sorrow. In this instance the words take second place, and the actual sound is depended upon for the dramatic effect.
The rise and fall of actual instrumental music in Greece may be placed between 500 and 400 B. C. After the close of the Peloponnesian War (404 B. C.), when Sparta supplanted Athens as the leader of Greece, art declined rapidly, and at the time of Philip of Macedon (328 B. C.) may be said to have been practically extinct. Then, in place of the dead ashes of art, the cold fire of science arose; for we have such men as Euclid (300 B. C.) and his school applying mathematics to musical sounds, and a system of cold calculation to an art that had needed all the warmth of emotional enthusiasm to keep it alive. Thus music became a science. Had it not been for the little weeds of folk song which managed with difficulty to survive at the foot of this arid dust heap, and which were destined to be transformed and finally to bloom into such lovely flowers in our times, we might yet have been using the art to illustrate mathematical calculations.
The teaching of Pythagoras was the first step in this classification of sounds; and he went further than this, for he also classified the emotions affected by music. It was therefore a natural consequence that in his teaching he should forbid music of an emotional character as injurious. When he came to Crotona, it was to a city that vied with Agrigentum, Sybaris, and Tarentum in luxury; its chief magistrate wore purple garments, a golden crown upon his head, and white shoes on his feet. It was said of Pythagoras that he had studied twelve years with the Magi in the temples of Babylon; had lived among the Druids of Gaul and the Indian Brahmins; had gone among the priests of Egypt and witnessed their most secret temple rites. So free from care or passion was his face that he was thought by the people to be Apollo; he was of majestic presence, and the most beautiful man they had ever seen. So the people accepted him as a superior being, and his influence became supreme over science and art, as well as manners.
He gave the Greeks their first scientific analysis of sound. The legend runs that, passing a blacksmith’s shop and hearing the different sounds of the hammering, he conceived the idea that sounds could be measured by some such means as weight is measured by scales, or distance by the foot rule. By weighing the different hammers, so the story goes, he obtained the knowledge of harmonics or overtones, namely, the fundamental, octave, fifth, third, etc. This legend, which is stated seriously in many histories of music, is absurd, for, as we know, the hammers would not have vibrated. The anvils would have given the sound, but in order to produce the octave, fifth, etc., they would have had to be of enormous proportions. On the other hand, the monochord, with which students in physics are familiar, was his invention; and the first mathematical demonstrations of the effect on musical pitch of length of cord and tension, as well as the length of pipes and force of breath, were his.
These mathematical divisions of the monochord, how-ever, eventually did more to stifle music for a full thousand years than can easily be imagined. This division of the string made what we call harmony impossible; for by it the major third became a larger interval than our modem one, and the minor third smaller. Thus thirds did not sound well together, in fact were dissonances, the only intervals which did harmonize being the fourth, fifth, and octave. This system of mathematically dividing tones into equal parts held good up to the middle of the sixteenth century, when Zarlino, who died in 1590, invented the system in use at the present time, called the tempered scale, which, however, did not come into general use until one hundred years later.
Aristoxenus, a pupil of Aristotle, who lived more than a century after Pythagoras, rejected the monochord as a means for gauging musical sounds, believing that the ear, not mathematical calculation, should be the judge as to which interval sounds “perfect.” But he was unable to formulate a system that would bring the third (and naturally its inversion the sixth) among the harmonizing intervals or consonants. Didymus (about 30 B. C.) first discovered that two different-sized whole tones were necessary in order to make the third consonant; and Ptolemy (120 A. D.) improved on this system somewhat. But the new theory remained without any practical effect until nearly the seventeenth century, when the long respected theory of the perfection of mathematical calculation on the basis of natural phenomena was over-thrown in favour of actual effect. If Aristoxenus had had followers able to combat the crushing influence of Euclid and his school, music might have grown up with the other arts. As it is, music is still in its infancy, and has hardly left its experimental stage.
Thus Pythagoras brought order into the music as well as into the lives of people. But whereas it ennobled the people, it killed the music, the one vent in life through which unbounded utterance is possible; its essence is so interwoven with spirituality that to tear it away and fetter it with human mathematics is to lower it to the level of mere utilitarianism, And so it was with Greek music, which was held subordinate to metre, to poetry, to acting, and finally became a term of contempt. Pythagoras wished to banish the flute, as Plato also did later, and the name of flute player was used as a reproach. I fancy this was because the flute, on account of its construction, could ignore the mathematical divisions prescribed for the stringed instruments, and therefore could indulge in purely emotional music. Besides, the flute was the chosen instrument of the orgiastic Bacchic cult, and its associations were those of unbridled license. To be sure, the voice was held by no mathematical restrictions as to pitch; but its music was held in check by the words, and its metre by dancing feet.
Having measured the musical intervals, there still remained the task of classifying the different manners of singing which existed in Greece, and using all their different notes to form a general system. For just as in different parts of Greece there existed different dances, the steps of which were known as Lydian, Ionian, Locrian, and Dorian feet, and so on, so the melodies to which they were danced were known as being in the Lydian, Ionian, Locrian, or Dorian scale or mode. In speaking of Hindu music, I explained that what we call a mode consists of a scale, and that one mode differs from another only in the position of the semitones in this scale. Now in ancient Greece there were in use over fifteen different modes, each one common to the part of the country in which it originated. At the time of Pythagoras there were seven in general use: the Dorian, Lydian, Aeolian or Locrian, Hypo- (or low) Lydian, Phrygian, Hypo- (or low) Phrygian, and Mixolydian or mixed Lydian. The invention of the latter is attributed to Sappho by Plutarch, quoting Aristoxenus.
These modes were all invested with individual characters by the Greeks, just as in the present day we say our major mode is happy, the minor sad. The Dorian mode was considered the greatest, and, according to Plato, the only one worthy of men. It was supposed to have a dignified, martial character. The Lydian, on the other hand, was all softness, and love songs were written in it. The Phrygian was of a violent, ecstatic nature, and was considered as being especially appropriate for dithyrambs, the metre for the wild bacchanalian dances. For instance, Aristotle tells how Philoxenus attempted to set dithyrambic verse to the Dorian mode, and, failing, had to return to the Phrygian. The Mixolydian, which was Sappho’s mode, was the mode for sentiment and passion. The Dorian, Phrygian, and Lydian were the oldest modes.
Each mode or scale was composed of two sets of four notes, called tetrachords, probably derived from the ancient form of the lyre, which in Homer’s time is known to have had four strings.
Leaving the matter of actual pitch out of the question (for these modes might be pitched high or low, just as our major or minor scale may be pitched in different keys), these three modes were constructed.
Thus we see that a tetrachord commencing with a half-tone and followed by two whole tones was called a Dorian tetrachord; one commencing with a tone, followed by a half-tone, and again a tone, constituted a Phrygian tetra-chord. The other modes were as follows: In the Æolian or Locrian the semitones occur between the second and third notes, and the fifth and sixth:
Theraclides Ponticus identifies the Hypodorian with the AEolian, but says that the name “hypo-” merely denoted a likeness to Doric, not to pitch. Aristoxenus denies the identity, and says that the Hypodorian was a semitone below the Dorian or Hypolydian. In the Hypophrygian, the semitones occur between the third and fourth, and sixth and seventh degrees.
The Dorian (E), Phrygian (commencing on F# with the fourth sharped), and the Lydian (Ab major scale) modes we have already explained. In the Mixolydian, the semi-tones occur between the first and second, and fourth and fifth degrees.
According to the best evidence (in the works of Ptolemy, “Harmonics,” second book, and Aristides), these were approximately the actual pitch of the modes as compared one to another.
And now the difficulty was to weld all these modes together into one scale, so that all should be represented and yet not be complicated by what we should call accidentals. This was accomplished in the following manner, by simple mathematical means:
We remember that the Dorian, which was the most greatly favoured mode in Greece, was divided into two tetrachords of exactly the same proportions, namely, semitone, tone, tone. By taking the lowest note of the Mixolydian, B, and forming a Dorian tetrachord on it, B C D E were acquired. Adding to this another Dorian tetrachord, E F G A (commencing on the last note of the first), and repeating the same series of tetrachords an octave higher, we have in all four Dorian tetrachords, two of which overlap the others. The two middle tetra-chords, constituting the original Dorian mode, were called disjunct, the two outer ones which overlap the middle ones were called conjunct or synemmenon tetrachords.
If we consider this new scale from octave to octave, commencing with the lowest note, that is to say from B to B, we find that it coincides exactly with the Mixes lydian mode; therefore this was called the Mixolydian octave. The octave in this scale from the second note, C to C, coincides exactly with the Lydian mode, and was called the Lydian octave; from the third note, D, up to its octave gives the Phrygian; from the fourth note, E, the Dorian; from the fifth, F, the Hypolydian; from the sixth, G, the Hypophrygian; and from the seventh, A, the Aeolian or Hypodorian octave. Add one note to the lower end of this universal Greek scale, as it was called, and we see that the whole tonal system was included within two octaves. To each of the notes comprising it was given a name partly derived from its position in the tetrachords, and partly from the fingering employed in lyre playing, as shown in the diagram on page 87.
The fifteen strings of the kithara were tuned according to this scale, and the A, recurring three times in it, acquired something of the importance of a tonic or key note. As yet, however, this scale allowed of no transposition of a mode to another pitch; in order to accomplish this the second tetrachord was used as the first of another similar system. Thus, considering the second tetrachord, E F G A, as first of the new scale, it would be followed by A Bb C D, and the two disjunct tetrachords would be formed. Followed by the two upper conjunct tetra-chords, and the Proslambanomenos added, our system on a new pitch would be complete. This procedure has come down almost unchanged to our times; for we have but two modes, major and minor, which are used on every pitch, constituting various keys. These Greek modes are the basis on which all our modem ideas of tonality rest; for our major mode is simply the Greek Lydian, and our minor mode the AEolian.
To go into detailed explanation of the Greek enharmonic and chromatic pitch will scarcely be worth while, and I will therefore merely add that the instruments were sometimes tuned differently, either to relieve the inevitable monotony of this purely diatonic scale or for purposes of modulation. A Dorian tetrachord is composed of semi-tone, tone, tone; to make it chromatic, it was changed.
The enharmonic pitch consisted of tuning the lichanos down still further, almost a quarter-tone below the second string, or Parhypate, thus making the tetrachord run quarter-tone, quarter-tone, two tones. Besides this, even in the diatonic, the Greeks used what they called soft intervals; for example, when the tetrachord, instead of proceeding by semitone, tone, tone (which system was called the hard diatonic), was tuned to semitone, three-quarter-tone, and tone and a quarter. The chromatic pitch also had several forms, necessitating the use of small fractional tones as well as semitones.
Our knowledge of the musical notation of the Greeks rests entirely on the authority of Alypius, and dates from about the fourth century A. D. That we could not be absolutely sure of the readings of ancient Greek melodies, even if we possessed any, is evident from the fact that these note characters, which at first were derived from the signs of the zodiac, and later from the letters of the alphabet, indicate only the relative pitch of the sounds; the rhythm is left entirely to the metrical value of the words in the lines to be sung. Two sets of signs were used for musical notation, the vocal system consisting of writing the letters of the alphabet in different positions, upside down, sideways, etc.
Of the instrumental system but little is known, and that not trustworthy.