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Music and Musical Instruments of Roman Times

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Sue Rutter

on 11 December 2017

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Transcript of Music and Musical Instruments of Roman Times

Music and Musical Instruments of Roman Times
Sue Rutter
The ancient Romans used music mainly for
four reasons:
1. Military use and ceremony
2. Entertainment
3. Religious ceremony
4. Civic occasions
Roman military music
Musical instruments were used for military communications. Instrumentalists accompanied marches, sounded alarms, signaled attacks, retreats, battle formations, and the changing of the guards.The musicians were senior centurions, high ranking non-commissioned officers.
A senior centurion with a cornucine sounding an alarm
These instruments were made of copper alloy and bronze and only played three or four notes of the overtone series by buzzing the lips just as brass instruments are played today.
Here's an example of how they might have sounded.
Music was used in the processions leading to the arenas of the gladiatorial games and whenever the emperor appeared.
Civic occasions and daily life
Public performances by Greek musicians were common.
Orchestral music accompanied pantomime artists and performers in the theater. This was known as pantomimus, an early form of which included story ballet, a sung libretto, and instrumental music.
Dancers and musicians traveled together giving performances throughout the Roman Empire.
Cicero and Quintilian wrote about large festivals that used instruments and choruses.
The Romans did not have their own musical tradition; they relied heavily on the music of conquered nations. Etruscan, Egyptian, Persian, Arab, and especially Greek cultures were the most influential in Rome's musical development.
After the Romans conquered the Greek empire in the second century B.C., educated Greeks, who were mainly musicians, artists, and teachers, became slaves . Music was very important to these educated Greeks, but was not held in high esteem by the Romans. Eventually, through Greek influence, music became more important to the Romans.
an odeon
A theater made especially for musical performances is called an odeon.
Music was originally thought to be a sign of decadence and many Roman writers recalled the glory days when music was used to "call off the army, call in the harvest or lend dignity to the numerous rituals" on the Roman calendar. (1)
Performers of comedies and romances danced and sang to brass instruments, woodwinds, and percussion.
Religious Ceremony
Virgil wrote about a fat Etruscan blowing into an ivory instrument at the time of a ritual sacrifice.2
Not much is known about music during Roman religious ceremonies, but early on there was a strong Etruscan influence that was later supplanted by the Greeks.
Music often accompanied funeral rites.
Pictured is the Emperor Marcus Aurelius offering a sacrifice. On the far right is the
, the one who will actually kill the bull. Next to him is a flute player, then a priest or
. The emperor is to the left of the small altar which is outside in front of the temple. This relief sculpture is from around 176 A.D.
Religious Ceremony
Performers joined themselves into groups similar to guilds or unions by the second century B.C. and toured the known world.
This is a lituus, a horn used in religious practice. According to tradition, this horn was used by Romulus when he proclaimed the name of his new city.
Since many Romans were not literate, they relied on music performances to transmit history, stories, myths, and even the news of the day from traveling musicians.
When the wealthy held a lavish banquet, they employed instrumentalists, singers, and dancers. Poetry reciting and dancing often followed.
During wedding ceremonies, the groom would sing while waiting for the bride. At the supper feast, there was much music and dancing. Guests sang to the happy couple.
Taverns often had live music for their guests.
Roman musical instruments consisted of brass, woodwinds, strings, and percussion just like today's instruments.
Brass instruments, as mentioned earlier, were used primarily for the military .
Brass instruments
Tubae, cornu, buccina, lituus, salpinx: these were some of the names of the brass instruments. They were all key-less tubes of varying lengths.
This recording starts with some brass instruments.
The aulos is a
double or single pipe reed instrument.
The oblique tibia came from Greece and is the ancestor of today's flute.
The fistula, or what we call the pan-pipes, was associated with Pan. They were used in religious ceremonies, banquets and private parties.
Here is an example of some music with woodwind instruments. Brass and voices are added later.
String instruments
The lyre was the most popular string instrument, used since the earliest days. It was often strummed with a plectrum (pick). It was mostly used to accompany recitations and singing.
The kithara was similar to the lyre, but larger and used only by professionals. It had seven strings and was played in banquet halls, dances, recitations and private parties.
The barbiton is the bass instrument of the string family.
The epigonion is named after its inventor, Epigonus of Ambracia. This instrument had forty strings which were plucked with the fingers. There are some discrepancies about what it looked like, but some recent scientists have reconstructed its sound.
The lute was used in the ancient world, though it really became more popular in medieval times.
An example of lute music
Here you'll be able to hear and see a lyre being played.
People have been beating things (for rhythmic purposes) since the beginning of time. The Romans were no different and their percussion instruments included the drums, tambourines, castanets, clappers, rattles, and cymbals.
Percussion instruments were used in the military, for the gladiatorial games, theater, and for daily use.
many percussion
hand drum
percussion variety in a museum
This excerpt has some prominent percussion
along with some vocals and winds. Don't be alarmed by the vocals!
Here is another one with percussion along with winds.
Very little written music (only about 50 songs) has been found from the Roman times. What they do have is written on papyrus and uses the Greek notation system.
Roman notation and music theory
If you go to this web site, you can hear this music:
Children were taught music and women were
expected to be able to play the lyre or a woodwind
instrument. The men generally considered music to be effeminate.
The well educated Romans would have rather written about music than have played it or composed any. They preferred the Greek musical tradition rather than starting over with their own, so they left the business of music to the Greek slaves and travelers from other countries in the empire.
Much of the music that has been found is written for vocals.
Here is a rare piece written for the aulos.
The letters between the Greek words are notes. Go to
http://classics.uc.edu/music/yale/index/html to hear this music.
Papyri from Egypt on Greek and Roman music provide us with music notation examples, information on music festivals and competitions, and even rules for hiring musicians.
Roman written music followed the Greek tradition of enchiriatic notation. Music was built on a tetrachord (four tones), joined with another tetrachord. Rhythm signs were written above the letters of the tones.
There are no known drawings showing any Roman musician reading any music.
The Beginning of the History of Western Music
Emperor Constantine (ruled 306-337 A.D.) became a Christian and legalized Christianity in the Roman empire. The Roman empire was disintegrating and finally separated in 395 A.D. Christianity was the only unifying force between the two empires. By the time that the last emperor was deposed in 476, the Catholic church was established in Rome and was exerting force over the whole Christian church. In order to purge the area of other religions, instruments were discouraged and only vocal music encouraged. This led to monophonic chant influenced by Jewish traditions. Choirs and priests led the way to the traditional beginning of western music history.
This is Caritas Pater Est. Notice the primitive notation in the beginning that is more advanced than the Greek notation.
1. http://www.aug.edu/~cshotwel/2001.Rome.htm
The Hydraulis
This was an instrument in its own category. It is the forerunner to the modern organ and was the most sophisticated instrument of its time.
It is water and air powered and was invented by Ctesibius of Alexandria (285- 222 B.C.). The mechanics and water were held in a large base with the pipes held vertically above.
It put forth a powerful sound as the fourth century A.D. poet Claudian records, “let him thunder a great rumble with a light touch”. 3
3. Panegyricus de Consulatu Flavii Manlii Theodori, 331-22
2. Georgics II line 173
It was used in the gladiatorial games along with the brass instruments.
Though this doesn't sound like a thunder, this video shows how it sounds and is played.
Here is another one that explains how water makes the pipes play. It's even better if you understand German. There is the bonus of solo brass instruments.
Ctesibius Of Alexandria, c. 270 B.C., Greek physicist and inventor
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