Epitaph of Siekilos

Going back to my roots, in a manner of speaking.  So many university trained music students detest introductory music history courses.  And especially not well liked are the sections regarding early music–no, not Baroque or Renaissance or even Medieval music.

I’m talking about the music of the Ancient Greeks.

I remember how much fun some students had mocking versions of reconstructed recordings of some of the roughly 30 or so musical fragments dating back to Greek and Roman times.  One of those tunes is the Epitaph of Seikilos – which is probably the oldest surviving complete song, though short, in the world (ca. 200BC).   The oldest surviving (nearly complete) musical piece would have to go to the Hurrian Hymn (ca. 1800BC).

I’m currently reading M.L. West’s Ancient Greek Music (not to be confused with Stefan Hagel’s Ancient Greek Music: A New Technical History which I reeeaaaaalllllyyyy want to read soon!!).  Well, maybe not reading it so much as picking it apart with a fine toothed conceptual comb.  The organization of the material leaves a little to be desired, but it’s a fine intro to the subject (heck, a two semester college course could be used to focus just on this book’s content).

But why do I bother?  Well, little did we really learn at the University, but Ancient Greek Music theory (and some of the practice) is one of the main foundations of the music theory of the Arabic Empire and through it (as well as the Byzantine Empire) to the Ottoman Empire.

Some of the fundamental concepts and even much of the terminology is still being used in countries that were within the borders of those Empires.  So, probably nothing more need be said.

We made a jump from Ancient Greek Music to the Medieval (Western) Church Music Theory and praxis.  Completely by-passing this rich tradition of music that was being practiced in ostensibly European regions.  Those regions just didn’t happen to count as European while under Arabic, Byzantine, or Ottoman rule. 

Such is how the academic university music history curriculum selective.

I’d have to go into “Ethnomusicology” to formally study this other history…

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