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Music and Musicians in Ancient Greece.

The music of ancient Greece has fascinated and baffled generations of scholars. The fascination, of course, is inherent in the tradition that ancient Greece is the cradle of Western civilization; the bafflement comes mainly from the fragmentary and enigmatic nature of the actual musical evidence from this remote time and place, the extant scraps of written-down music having been thought so seemingly unattractive to the ear, so uncharacteristic of what we think we know of the Hellenic arts.

Within the past several decades, however, a revolution of method and understanding has taken place in this field, embodied particularly in four books: Andrew Barker's two volumes of translations with extensive commentary, Greek Musical Writings I: The Musician and His Art (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984) and Greek Musical Writings II: Harmonic and Acoustic Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989); Martin L. West's Ancient Greek Music (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992); and now, Warren Anderson's Music and Musicians in Ancient Greece. It is impossible to mention these books together without recalling the name of the late R. P. Winnington-Ingram, who laid the foundation for them with his impeccable and calmly revelatory writings, spanning six decades, on virtually every aspect of ancient Greek music; his synopsis of the subject in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (London: Macmillan, 1980! 7:659-72) is surely the best in the English language.

Our new understanding has been gained largely through the radical application of the methods of comparative musicology, which have required the disconnection (put forward, albeit prematurely, by Curt Sachs) of ancient Greek music from European history: "[A] kind of music flourished ... in ancient Greece," writes Anderson, "that had, and still has, its affinities primarily with the music of non-Western peoples.... It is dangerous, and stultifying as well, to think of Hellenic music as an annex of Altertumswissenschaft, somehow exempt from the influences and tendencies that ethnomusicologists have made increasingly clear for music the world over" (pp. 220-21).

No less significant has been the apparently independent decision of both West and Anderson to put aside the obsession with the theoretical systems of Greek music, an obsession that has unduly constricted our reading of the available evidence. Ironically, the preoccupation with the systems of Aristoxenus and others, which were constructed considerably later than the great Hellenic creative ages, has been a distraction from more revealing practical musical information that is scattered here and there in the writings of the theorists, and that combines with the considerable literary and iconographic evidence to give us today the means, as Anderson writes in stating the purpose of his book, "to write about music and musicians" (p. xi).

Anderson, one of the most distinguished presences in this field, is probably best known for his contribution to The New Grove of more than seventy entries on music in classical antiquity. The present volume ranges far beyond those essays, and although he approaches his subject here principally through the forms and uses of musical instruments, there is also much about that most important of instruments to the Greeks, the human voice, as well as about music in the life of the Greeks from the earliest times for which we have pictorial evidence.

It is regrettable to have to note that so outstanding a publication has been compromised in its reliability by carelessness in production, particularly of its supplementary material. The footnotes are not always in the right place, and their source citations are at times garbled (in n. 28 on p. 70, e.g., numerous references are incorrect or transposed). Readers also need to be on guard against errors and misprints in appendixes B and C: one serious lapse is the incorrect representation, on page 206, of the duration signs in the ancient musical notation. A newcomer to the subject (and this may include otherwise well-educated musicians) could find the present study something less than friendly; Anderson not infrequently assumes arguments and sources that would likely be familiar only to classics scholars. (With respect to abbreviations: some searching is required to find full citations of those he uses most often; for one of the most prominent of these, OCD, The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 2d ed. [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977! none is to be found at all.)

These relatively minor matters need not, however, diminish our appreciation for the scope of Anderson's presentation. Perhaps most impressive is the sweep of his first chapter, which takes us from the harpists of the Cycladic civilization (as early as 3000 B.C.E., and only conjecturally Greek), through Minoan and Mycenean representations of music, to Homer. (The Greeks seemed almost too eager to credit foreign influences for much in their musical life, as elsewhere. Anderson, though he welcomes parallels, is firmly resistant to thoughts of such influence, particularly from the most often credited source, Egypt, which fails to gain a place in the book's index despite appearing often on its pages.)

Especially valuable are the chapters on the lyric poets and what we can glean of their music, including such lesser-known but musically significant figures as Stesichorus, Pratinas, and Corinna. Anderson's detailed, vivid interpretation of the verse of Pindar brings us to the heart of the musical imagination of this extraordinary poet-composer, who becomes virtually the book's centerpiece. Following Pindar is a further account of the musically remarkable fifth century, with particular attention to the composers for the theater. It may seem a bit of an anticlimax, then, to find ourselves, in the final chapter, standing upon the well-trodden ground of Plato and Aristotle, in a world of much ethical and scientific theorizing, and in which music-making - apparently not to its benefit seems to have been turned over to professional virtuosos and entertainers.

Anderson evokes, perhaps somewhat plaintively, an ideal of "what was once the heard, sounding reality" of ancient Greek music (p. xi), the muteness of which remains a conspicuous void compared with the other Hellenic arts. The genuinely new and liberating readings that Anderson and his fellow scholars have given us tantalize us with the seeming nearness of the missing music itself, making the unspoken question increasingly insistent: Can we recover in a meaningful sense any of the sounding reality of that music?

DOUGLAS LEEDY Oceanside, Oregon
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Author:Leedy, Douglas
Publication:Notes
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1996
Words:1034
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