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Music and Musicians in Ancient Greece.

Warren Anderson has become deservedly well known for his Ethos and Education in Greek Music (1966). He has now turned to a similar topic in a book that will doubtless exert a similar influence. Because it necessarily touches on questions of performance, there is much that is debatable; but there are nettles to be grasped. It is refreshing that Anderson does not shy away from confrontation of the problems; nor does he waste time throwing up the sands of Greek music theory, Pythagorean doctrine and the like. Indeed, he rightly reminds us that many of the sources on which we rely for our knowledge of Greek musical practice, most of which date from the Hellenistic period and later, are unreliable, if not downright wrong.

An otherwise healthy scepticism in regard to the sources also leads Anderson, more perilously, to question the reliability of the testimony of Plato or Aristotle. If it turns out that Plato's reference to the lost city of Atlantis is not pure fantasy, but subject merely to a transfer of locations, then this would be a timely reminder to inspect carefully the contents of the bath before discharging its contents. It is important to ask why a statement should have been made and, even if contradictory or indefensible in itself, whether or not it might nevertheless reflect some distorted image of the truth. Anderson's mistrust of some types of ancient evidence (and his contrary trust in some modern authors) occasionally leads him into dubious or untenable positions, as will be seen below.

Plato and Aristotle figure in the sixth and last chapter. The first, 'From the Beginnings to the Dark Age', is extensive, and treats the period a good deal more thoroughly than is usual; the second, 'From Orpheus to the Homeric Hymns', does the same. With the three subsequent chapters ('Early Lyric Poets', 'Fifth-Century Lyric Poets' and 'Fifth-Century Music') we are on more familiar ground. There is much fascinating and unfamiliar material in the first chapter. We are required to swallow a good dose of ethnomusicology, but there is not much on the relations with other Mediterranean cultures to dilute it.

In the second chapter, the manner of the performance of the Homeric epic is aired. Anderson rounds on Bowra for saying that it was delivered in a style that was 'really no more than recitative', but then goes on to point out that the virtuosity of the Iliad or the Odyssey is not matched by comparable developments in regard to musical resources such as the phorminx, with its three or four strings. It all depends, as that phrase has it, what you mean by 'recitative'. It seems likely that the more complex the text the simpler its musical counterpart would be. And having this in mind, it is probable that the relation of accent to tune in the epic would have been quite different from that found in other styles of delivery, as a recitative is different from an aria. The comparison between Chinese tones and the Greek accents is valid, but not properly pursued. It is true that the relationship of tone to tune 'is not absolute even in Cantonese opera'; but more to the point is the fact that in some Chinese styles the tones are (or were) matched exactly, whereas in some others there is no correlation greater than chance. So Greek epic might have been chanted in a kind of psalmodic delivery responding to a different set of 'rules' from that of the other, more 'arioso' styles. Indeed, one could go further and say that the rhapsodes' practices probably diverged markedly from the choral and other styles; the terminology of ano and kato, mentioned by Plato, seems to have been quite different from the dancer's thesis and arsis. This being so, it is small wonder that subsequent metrical terminology got itself into a hopeless jumble when it confounded the two vocabularies. So, too, the term basis was misunderstood by later writers: as Anderson correctly points out, it has various meanings, including the steps of the dance, the choreography or, by Pindar's transferred epithet, the dancers themselves.

In the chapter dealing with Pindar, Anderson tries to disentangle the meaning of 'Dorian' in relation to dactylo-epitrite rhythm. In dealing with the latter, although he acknowledges in a footnote that Lionel Pearson's edition of Aristoxenus contains 'much that seems challenging', this follows the statement that 'it has been criticized as fundamentally flawed'. Now this, whether at first or second hand, is cliche, not commentary. Aristoxenus may not have been right (the text as we have it was demonstrably worked over, in at least two places), and Pearson may not have been fight (there are several points on which I would strongly disagree with him), but the 'dactylo-epitrite' is clearly ruled out by the Rhythmics as 'unrhythmical'; and if the doctrine be true after all, then much more than the 'dactylo-epitrite' must be abandoned. This is a powerful motive to be dismissive of Aristoxenus and his editor, but not necessarily a good reason.

The discussion of the Orestes fragment in the appendix of music examples contains another instance where the testimony of Aristoxenus must needs be ignored. According to received opinion, ?? could be substituted for ?? or -, which might have been troublesome to the dancers, but apparently gives metricians no qualms. Yet Aristoxenus categorically rules out the eight-time rhythm arrogated to the dochmiac as 'unrhythmical'. Furthermore, the Orestes papyrus shows an instrumental note regularly appearing as a ninth element in a supposed eight-time metron. The papyrus (c.200 BC) may be dubious, and Aristoxenus may have been deluded, but it is curious that they do not conflict.

In line with his customary scepticism, Anderson denies the Euripidean genuineness of the Orestes papyrus, or indeed of the Leiden fragment of Iphegenia in Aulis. But even if they do not go back to Euripides, they still tell us much that is of interest. The Oresres fragment confirms a scholiast's comment about the instrumental accompaniment sometimes farsing out the metre; it corroborates Dionysius of Halicarnassus' statement about the non-correspondence of tone and tune in another part of the same play; and it demonstrates a particular characteristic that Aristophanes lampoons. These, and other features (including the lectio difficilior of the line order), do not prove that the fragment is Euripidean, but, added together, they surely alter the balance of probabilities. Incidentally, it is always presumed that it was simply the use of more than one note to a syllable that was the subject of Aristophanes' gibe. It is at least dubious that all syllabic conflicts of responsion were resolved by repeated notes and that the reverse process, slurred notes, should not have been called into play. Accordingly, Aristophanes possibly intended to pillory as much the performance of such passages as the idiom itself. Some readers may recall what became known as The Case of the Hintrusive Haitches, the cause of much mirth in comparatively recent times.

Anderson's case for denying the lineage of these fragments is at least fourfold in principle: as a counter to those who simply want to believe that they are genuine, as sheer romanticism; that Greek notation was a later invention and that the transmission must therefore have been oral; that ethnomusicology teaches us that oral tradition would not preserve such a thing intact over two hundred years; and that the guild aspect of a musician's art would keep such secreta secretorum from circulation. This last argument is one that can be used against the supposedly late invention of notation: it might indeed have been an arcane system that only later came into the public realm. This would help to explain the antique symbols of the 'instrumental' notation as opposed to the 'vocal', and that there are instances of the vocal use of the 'instrumental' notation, and many other oddities of the system(s). As to the unreliability of oral preservation, the evidence is that some things change comparatively rapidly and out of all recognition; others are preserved, remarkably unscathed, for centuries. Examples of the latter are various types of carols transmitted by oral tradition spanning between four and six centuries at least. It is curious, also, that this argument runs counter to the assertion that the tonoi set forth by Aristides Quintilianus stem from Plato himself, over a decidedly longer span of time. The anti-romantic argument applies here too.

The Leiden fragment contains at least one piece of important evidence. It reads [Greek text omitted] of the standard text, and extra notes are given to the syllables in question. Not only would this appear to give a prosody ?? instead of ??, which is portentous enough, but it also throws open the whole question of elision. There can be no doubt that elision did take place, at least in speech; but at least some instances of supposed elision were clearly apocopation, and this was reflected in singing. In a similar manner, Horace's miserarum est neque amori is scanned as octosyllabic, and it was doubtless in Ionic rhythm; but the -um ending, for example, was not truly elided; nor was it elided in speech, for otherwise how could a corresponding desinential have arisen in Italian? As with the medieval French and Middle English final -e, the Spanish and Galician paragoges, and with the so-called 'elisions' in the Italian laude, the metre might, or might not, ignore such syllables in regard to the prosody; yet the furtive syllables were nonetheless sung, be it ever so rapidly. This Anderson correctly assumes of the Leiden fragment, though his use of the word 'portamento' is unfortunate, since one of the examples of non-elision involves the repetition of the same note. This shows that in practice there were shorter note-values than the theoretical unitary time, the protos chronos: in common with the note-values discussed in the Oxyrhynchus Papyrus fragment of (?)Aristoxenus, and others that may be inferred from metrical evidence, these probably belonged to the class strongyloi mentioned by Aristides. The other instance of non-elision given in the Leiden fragment involves two separate pitches which would require slurring in responsion: Euripidean quirk or the norm?

The two Euripides fragments, together with the Seikilos song which Anderson also discusses; are important evidence as to rhythmic organization, for they all contain arsis signs. Not only does this dispose of the notion that arsis and thesis were 'late and contradictory concepts' (unless the second century BC is late; and contradictory interpretations can be held to corrupt retrospectively), but these materials also show clearly that arsis applied to metra, not to feet (this latter assumption was part of the way in which the terms came to be used in a 'contradictory' fashion). They also show, especially the Euripides fragments, that tone and tune did not necessarily coincide (incidentally, on the question of accent correspondence, it is surprising that neither the important work by Wahlstrom (1970) nor, on more general questions of this nature, the writings of Sidney Allen, are mentioned).

Anderson concentrates far more on the pitch aspect of the music than upon the question of rhythm. Both are, of course, full of difficulties. Nonetheless, though the Harmonics of Aristoxenus is cited more than once, it is notable that the Rhythmics is not mentioned outside the footnote alluded to earlier. This is a pity, for, controversial or not, it would have been good to have Anderson's own analysis of the evidence rather than views taken over from other authors.

The curious idea, propounded by West, that the Orestes stasimon had a chordal aulos accompaniment is dismissed by Anderson; yet there are problems with this passage, and they are more easily solved by assuming the participation of the kithara rather than the aulos. This would be contrary to presumption, but Aristophanes' tophlattothrat was presumably parodying a genuine practice. Incidentally, trying to check Anderson's views on this point, I had recourse to the index. On this, and many other occasions, it failed me. In consulting the irritating and inadequate index, a good deal of kampe-like twisting and turning from one cross-reference to another was rewarded merely by a return to the point of departure. Speaking of kampai, why 'cabbage worms'? Are they caterpillars without a college education?

On the question of the tonality of the music, Anderson allows himself to be badly misled. It is difficult to steer a course between the Scylla of the familiar and the Charybdis of the exotic, but his choice of pilots does not serve him well. He talks about a 'Phrygian modality' of the Seikilos song and says of the Orestes fragment that 'the tonic of this melody must be sought elsewhere). A tonic does not need to be sought: it is inevitable. If we have to look for it, it is not there. This does not mean that music without an ineluctable tonic is strange, 'atonal': it means only that it is 'atonical'. Much medieval music has a pronounced sense of tonic, which may or may not be coincidental; and much has no such sense, but is perfectly intelligible. To wave the flag of 'modality' in our faces is to blind us to the fact that there were (and are) many differing tonal systems that were not defined by an inerrant tonic; to think that this characteristic unifies them is false, for it merely cuts them off from the rest. It is about as useful as classifying animals as humans and non-humans. That the word 'Schenker' is nearly the last in the book underlines this point, for at bottom the Schenkerian view is not dissimilar.

I have mentioned several issues about which I disagree with Anderson. There are many more, and other readers will disagree with one or other or both of us. But I began this review by saying that the book has much that is debatable, and this is one of its strengths: Anderson is not content merely to follow well-trodden paths. It would be a mistake, therefore, to regard these remarks as anything other than an entry into the debate. If I have failed to mention more than a couple of points of agreement, it is because it would take too much space; and the omission of any discussion of the many ingenious theories and insights with which the book richly abounds is easily mended by reading it, a fulfilling task that I heartily recommend.

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Author:Wulstan, David
Publication:Music & Letters
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 1996
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