Sunday, April 21, 2013

Synaulia - Music from Ancient Rome

Today is the 2766th anniversary of the founding of Rome on April 21, 753 B.C.  The Romans were great synthesizers, learning from many cultures and taking what seemed useful, turning it to their own purposes.

Music is a bit of a mystery because there are no musical scores from those times.  While the Greeks had a way of representing tone and duration, the Romans do not seem to have adopted it.

Because of this, the sound of reconstructed Roman music is somewhat conjectural.  We know that the earliest Roman music was adopted from their neighbors the Etruscans.  Later Greek influences would play a major role, and then others from provinces of their far flung empire.

The best evidence for sound is from the musical instruments of the day, many of which survived either in form or in historical description.  The Lute/harp, the horn (cornu), drums and other forms of percussion - these have been recreated by scholars who are essentially musical anthropologists.  Synaulia is perhaps the oldest of these groups, from the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities at Leiden.  Their music has been included in films like Gladiator, and so has branched out from its original founding mission of education to include a certain amount of commercial success.

The sounds are authentic, what a composer like Emperor Nero would have known.  The score - melody and rhythm - are modern creations.  Conjecture.  It is, alas, the best that can be done, at least until such time as an actual score from the period is discovered.  If indeed any even exist.


libertyman said...

Yes, but don't Romans speak with English accents? Don't they have triumphal music that we all recognize? Oh wait, that's the movies.

Never thought of Roman music before. No written form of music? It is interesting for a literate culture that this would be missing.

Contemplative and relaxing sounds, I think I will suggest this disk to our massage therapy program.

Eclectic and educational as always, thanks for doing this.

Chickenmom said...

We always saw drawings of the harp being played, but it's interesting to know what it might have sounded like. Good post.

Phyllis (N/W Jersey)

Anonymous said...

I picture that guy bopping through the Forum with a boom box on his shoulder (Mel Brooks' History of the World, Part I - probably why there was no Part II released!)