2

I've read a lot about Greek and ancient music. The history books say this music was only monophonic and we know only from iconical research (studying pictures from ancient times) of the practice of the ancient period.

My assumption is that the music was rarely notated and if it was, then only monophonically, but when it was played it must have been polyphonic.

Is there any evidence in historical literature or are there other theories of other researchers that support my hypothesis?

Edit:

I assume that there were more different instruments playing at once and not unisono. e.g. Nebukadnezar or the battle of Jericho. Maybe I have to overthink my understanding of polyphony. I thought monophonic implies all instrument or voicing are playing the same tune ... what in my imagination was almost impossible. I would imagine that one or more singer have been accompanied by a harp or a lyra in chords (eventually fourths and not triads and also there could have been happenings with improvisation in a poly rhythmic and hetero-phonic art and kind.

  • 3
    Why would you assume that it was performed polyphonically? Do you suppose that there were ensembles performing but for some reason nobody ever depicted that? – phoog Sep 20 at 13:45
  • @phoog: I‘ll modify my question as the comment will get too long – Albrecht Hügli Sep 20 at 14:55
  • I infer from your "when it was played it must have been polyphonic" statement that you think it's likely that more than one person took part in the performance (singing together, say). Maybe you're right. But even though "polyphonic" means "multiple voices" (or something like that), I don't think it strictly refers to whether (say) there are multiple human voices performing. An ensemble of people singing a unison melody is monophonic, because the music itself has a single "voice". Adding a counter-melody would make it polyphonic. See music.stackexchange.com/a/22284/24580 – mlibby Sep 20 at 17:34
  • 2
    Are you asking specifically whether polyphony was used in Ancient Greek music? Because the standard answer to the title question is that true polyphony (as opposed to simple bourdon and organum) arose in Europe at the end of 10th century. – Caleb Hines Sep 20 at 17:57
  • 1
    I (like the others here) don't know anything much about details of polyphony-history. But speaking in terms of archetypes, I feel polyphony is deeply, essentially Christian (just as the tanpura is fundamentally Hindu) So I'd search more along christian lines than musical lines. – Rusi Sep 22 at 14:01
3

The oldest treatise describing polyphonic music in the European tradition is Musica Enchiriadis from the ninth century. It describes the practice of singing organum in a way that is surprisingly easy to grasp for us, modern musicians:

enter image description here

How ancient the practice was at that point is difficult to say. Iconography in itself cannot establish whether a certain musical practice is polyphonic or not: in two photos of an (Arab) Andalusian orchestra and a gamelan ensemble respectively one sees many musicians playing together. Only one of them shows music being played that we would call "polyphonic"

  • @ Hans:his picture I know well too. My question means: if we don't have found notation of more than one voices as there was no notation possible or usual ... is it logical to deduce that there didn't exist any polyphony or more than one voices in the "common practice" of ancient music? – Albrecht Hügli Sep 21 at 10:45
  • 2
    Deducing "there was no polyphonic music" from "we don't have any polyphonic notation" is, of course, plainly wrong. But concluding that there was polyphonic music from e.g. depictions of people playing in groups, of even using instruments like the double aulos is problematic as well, in my opinion. I would say: we just don't know. – Hans Lub Sep 21 at 11:04
  • "concluding that there was polyphonic music from depictions of people playing in groups, of even using instruments like the double aulos is problematic as well that's what I've done. As I thought it would have been rather more difficult to play in unisono than each player in his own way e.g. imitating or responding. But as I've written in my answer this art of music is not counted as polyphonic but it is called heterophony. – Albrecht Hügli Sep 24 at 8:19
3

I've found today this youtube video:

May be this would give an answer. Maybe this all is only speculation.

The history books say this music was only monophonic

Edit:

What I’ve meant in my question obviously is called heterophony (I have to admit I’ve never heard this term before. But this is a good concept to differentiate between the music of ancient cultures and what is called polyphony in music in the ars nova aera.

heterophony: two or more instruments or singers playing/singing the same melody, but with each performer slightly varying the rhythm or speed of the melody or adding different ornaments to the melody. Two bluegrass fiddlers playing the same traditional fiddle tune together will typically each vary the melody a bit and each add different ornaments.: two or more instruments or singers playing/singing the same melody, but with each performer slightly varying the rhythm or speed of the melody or adding different ornaments to the melody. Two bluegrass fiddlers playing the same traditional fiddle tune together will typically each vary the melody a bit and each add different ornaments

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music

So it seems to me that begin of polyphony might presuppose a system of notation for different voices and this is the period we’ve already known.

Homophony? Heterophony or Polyphony?

You’ll find more information in this link ... http://theconversation.com/ancient-greek-music-now-we-finally-know-what-it-sounded-like-99895

  • What I’ve meant in my question obviously is called heterophony : please edit your question then, because now your answer, however interesting, is not an answer to the original question! – Hans Lub Sep 24 at 12:17
  • No, I didn't mean at that point "heterophony" as I didn't know the term. How could other users with a similar question find an answer when they are wondering whether polyphony existed in the Greek era? – Albrecht Hügli Sep 24 at 13:09
2

Well, it's controversial, but some scholars have claimed that the Hurrian notation from about 1400 BCE represents polyphony. See Anne Kilmer's article. While some scholars have agreed and viewed this as possibly the first notated polyphony (notably including Richard Taruskin in his Oxford History of Western Music), many other possible interpretations of the Hurrian notation exist. Martin West critiques many of these interpretations, including Kilmer's, but nobody really knows the proper way to decipher this notation (they're just speculating, often based on the assumption that polyphony simply didn't exist in ancient times, with no evidence, so the notation supposedly couldn't possibly mean that?), so it could very well be a polyphonic work.

0

Gerhard Nestler writes inhis HISTORY OF MUSIC (1962, 4. ed. 1990)

Two appearances determine the sound of the music of England, the third and the Durtonalität. Probably people in England used to sing more vocally before than elsewhere. The earliest news of polyphonic singing comes from a bishop Aldheim, who lived 640-709. Giraldus Cambrensis describes a popular polyphonic singing in northern England in his "Descriptio Cambriae" around 1200. The first written example is a two-part hymn to St. Magnus from the end of the 13th century. But the deciding factor is that the main interval of this English two-part singing is the third. We ask in astonishment how the third is? We know that in the scale formation according to the fifth-principle of Pythagoras the third had to be regarded as an imperfect consonance, since the Pythagorean third has a difference of 81/80 to the mathematically pure third.

(translated by Google)

It is to say that polyphonic is the translation of mehrstimmig. I don‘t know whether this also includes organum and fauxbourdon. But right now I have found another information - the reason for this 2. answer:

The earliest known practical example of polyphonic music - a piece of choral music written for more than one part - has been found in a British Library manuscript in London.

link

Dec. 2014

enter image description here

Varelli’s research suggests that the author of the newly-found piece – a short “antiphon” with a second voice providing a vocal accompaniment – was writing around the year 900.

  • "We know that in the scale formation according to the fifth-principle of Pythagoras the third had to be regarded as an imperfect consonance, since the Pythagorean third has a difference of 81/80 to the mathematically pure third": that's only true for fixed pitch instruments. It's entirely likely that two people singing thirds would adjust the tuning so the thirds would be pure. – phoog Oct 21 at 21:29
  • @phoog - The third was considered too dissonant for the ending a piece until much later than one would expect, and according to various text-books this changed only with the arrival of the' consonance Angloise'. – PeterJ Oct 24 at 11:51
  • @PeterJ My suspicion is that the third was considered dissonant because it was dissonant on the keyboard. I find it hard to believe that singers would not very quickly discover the narrower acoustically pure interval naturally when singing without other instruments. Out of curiosity, what do you mean by "one would expect" or by "much later" than that? Josquin's famous Ave Maria has been cited as a piece that implies Pythagorean tuning, and it indeed ends with an open fifth. But his Missa Hercules dux Ferrariae has final chords with thirds in them. – phoog Nov 1 at 19:43
  • @phoog - I suspect that the thrid was considered unstable rather than dissonant, and this would apply regardless of tuning. . . – PeterJ Nov 2 at 9:00
  • @PeterJ I only used the term "dissonant" because you did. You haven't answered my question about "much later than one would expect." When would you expect thirds to have been considered appropriate for ending a piece, and when did they actually start being used in that context? – phoog Nov 2 at 13:26

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.