The music of Egypt has been an integral part of Egyptian culture since ancient times. The ancient Egyptians credited one of their gods Hathor with the invention of music, which Osiris in turn used as part of his effort to civilize the world. The earliest material and representational evidence of Egyptian musical instruments dates to the Predynastic period, but the evidence is more securely attested in the Old Kingdom when harps, flutes and double clarinets were played. Percussion instruments, lyres and lutes were added to orchestras by the Middle Kingdom. Percussion instruments included hand-held drums, rattles, castanets, bells, and the sistrum—a highly important rattle used in religious worship. Hand clapping too was used as a rhythmic accompaniment. Wind instruments included flutes (double and single, with reeds and without) and trumpets. Stringed instruments included harps, lyres, and lutes—plucked rather than bowed. Instruments were frequently inscribed with the name of the owner and decorated with representations of the goddess (Hathor) or god (Bes) of music. Both male and female voices were also frequently used in Egyptian music. Professional musicians existed on a number of social levels in ancient Egypt. Perhaps the highest status belonged to temple musicians; the office of “musician” (shemayet) to a particular god or goddess was a position of high status frequently held by women. Musicians connected with the royal household were held in high esteem, as were certain gifted singers and harp players. Somewhat lower on the social scale were musicians who acted as entertainers for parties and festivals, frequently accompanied by dancers. Informal singing is suggested by scenes of workers in action; captions to many of these pictures have been interpreted as words of songs. Otherwise there is little evidence for the amateur musician in pharaonic Egypt, and it is unlikely that musical achievement was seen as a desirable goal for individuals who were not professionals. Egyptian folk music, including the traditional Sufi dhikr rituals, are the closest contemporary music genre to ancient Egyptian music, having preserved many of its features, rhythms and instruments.
The music of ancient Greece was almost universally present in society, from marriages and funerals to religious ceremonies, theatre, folk music and the ballad-like reciting of epic poetry. It thus played an integral role in the lives of ancient Greeks. There are significant fragments of actual Greek musical notation as well as many literary references to ancient Greek music, such that some things can be known—or reasonably surmised—about what the music sounded like, the general role of music in society, the economics of music, the importance of a professional caste of musicians, etc. Even archaeological remains reveal an abundance of depictions on ceramics, for example, of music being performed. The word music comes from the Muses, the daughters of Zeus and patron goddesses of creative and intellectual endeavours. The function of music in ancient Greek society was bound up in their mythology: Amphion learned music from Hermes and then with a golden lyre built Thebes by moving the stones into place with the sound of his playing; Orpheus, the master-musician and lyre-player, played so magically that he could soothe wild beasts; the Orphic creation myths have Rhea “playing on a brazen drum, and compelling man’s attention to the oracles of the goddess”; or Hermes [showing to Apollo] “…his newly-invented tortoise-shell lyre and [playing] such a ravishing tune on it with the plectrum he had also invented, at the same time singing to praise Apollo’s nobility that he was forgiven at once…”; or Apollo’s musical victories over Marsyas and Pan. Instruments in all music can be divided into three categories, based on how sound is produced: string, wind, and percussion. (For purposes of this description, we exclude electronic instruments. For alternate systems of classification, see Musical instruments and Hornbostel-Sachs.) Within this system, strings may be struck (ex: piano), bowed (violin) or plucked (guitar). Wind instruments may be single mechanical reed (clarinet) or double mechanical reed (oboe); also, wind instruments may be lip reed (trumpet), air reed (flute), vocal-cord reed (voice) and tuned, free reed (accordion). Percussion instruments may produce either a definite pitch (bell) or an indefinite pitch (bass drum). The following were among the instruments used in the music of ancient Greece:
The lyre: a strummed and occasionally plucked string instrument, essentially a hand-held zither built on a tortoise-shell frame, generally with seven or more strings tuned to the notes of one of the modes. The lyre was used to accompany others or even oneself for recitation and song.
The kithara, also a strummed string instrument, more complicated than the lyre. It had a box-type frame with strings stretched from the cross-bar at the top to the sounding box at the bottom; it was held upright and played with a plectrum. The strings were tuneable by adjusting wooden wedges along the cross-bar.
The aulos, usually double, consisting of two double-reed (like an oboe) pipes, not joined but generally played with a mouth-band to hold both pipes steadily between the player’s lips. Modern reconstructions indicate that they produced a low, clarinet-like sound. There is some confusion about the exact nature of the instrument; alternate descriptions indicate single-reeds instead of double reeds.
The Pan pipes, also known as panflute and syrinx (Greek συριγξ), (so-called for the nymph who was changed into a reed in order to hide from Pan) is an ancient musical instrument based on the principle of the stopped pipe, consisting of a series of such pipes of gradually increasing length, tuned (by cutting) to a desired scale. Sound is produced by blowing across the top of the open pipe (like blowing across a bottle top).
The hydraulis, a keyboard instrument, the forerunner of the modern organ. As the name indicates, the instrument used water to supply a constant flow of pressure to the pipes. Two detailed descriptions have survived: that of Vitruvius and Heron of Alexandria. These descriptions deal primarily with the keyboard mechanism and with the device by which the instrument was supplied with air. A well-preserved model in pottery was found at Carthage in 1885. Essentially, the air to the pipes that produce the sound comes from a wind-chest connected by a pipe to a dome; air is pumped in to compress water, and the water rises in the dome, compressing the air, and causing a steady supply of air to the pipes.
The music of ancient Rome was a part of Roman culture from earliest times.Music was customary at funerals, and the tibia (Greekaulos), a woodwind instrument, was played at sacrifices to ward off ill influences.Song (carmen) was an integral part of almost every social occasion.The Secular Ode of Horace, for instance, was commissioned by Augustus was performed by a mixed children’s choir at the Secular Games in 17 BC. Under the influence of ancient Greek theory, music was thought to reflect the orderliness of the cosmos, and was associated particularly with mathematics and knowledge.
Etruscan music had an early influence on that of the Romans, and during the Imperial period, Romans carried their music to the provinces. Traditions of Asia Minor, North Africa and Gaul became a part of Roman culture.
Roman art depicts various woodwinds, “brass”, percussion and stringed instruments. Roman-style instruments are found in parts of the Empire where they did not originate, and indicate that music was among the aspects of Roman culture that spread throughout the provinces.
The Roman tuba was a long, straight bronze trumpet with a detachable, conical mouthpiece like that of the modern French horn. Extant examples are about 1.3 metres long, and have a cylindrical bore from the mouthpiece to the point where the bell flares abruptly, similar to the modern straight trumpet seen in presentations of ‘period music’. Since there were no valves, the tuba was capable only of a single overtone series that would probably sound familiar to the modern ear, given the limitations of musical acoustics for instruments of this construction. In the military, it was used for “bugle calls”. The tuba is also depicted in art such as mosaics accompanying games (ludi) and spectacle events.
The cornu (Latin “horn”) was a long tubular metal wind instrument that curved around the musician’s body, shaped rather like an uppercase G. It had a conical bore (again like a French horn) and a conical mouthpiece. It may be hard to distinguish from the buccina. The cornu was used for military signals and on parade. The cornicen was a military signal officer who translated orders into calls. Like the tuba, the cornu also appears as accompaniment for public events and spectacle entertainments.
The tibia (Greek aulos), usually double, had two double-reed (as in a modern oboe) pipes, not joined but generally played with a mouth-band to hold both pipes steadily between the player’s lips. ]Modern changes indicate that they produced a low, clarinet-like sound. There is some confusion about the exact nature of the instrument; alternate descriptions indicate each pipe having a single reed (like a modern clarinet) instead of a double reed.
The askaules — a bagpipe.
Versions of the modern flute and panpipes.
The lyre, borrowed from the Greeks, was essentially an early harp, with a frame of wood or tortoise shell and various numbers of strings stretched from a cross bar to the sounding body. The lyre was held or cradled in one arm and hand and plucked with the other hand. The Romans gradually abandoned this instrument in favour of the more sophisticated cithara, a larger instrument with a box-type frame with strings stretched from the cross-bar at the top to the sounding box at the bottom; it was held upright and played with a plectrum. The strings were tuneable by adjusting wooden wedges along the cross-bar.
The lute, the true forerunner of the guitar (cithara), is considered a medieval instrument but was played by the ancient Romans. The Roman lute had three strings and was not as popular as the lyre or the cithara, but was easier to play.
The cithara was the premier musical instrument of ancient Rome and was played both in popular music and in serious forms of music. Larger and heavier than a lyre, the cithara was a loud, sweet and piercing instrument with precision tuning ability. It was said some players could make it cry. From cithara comes our word guitar and though the guitar more directly evolved from the lute, the same mystique surrounds the guitar idols of today as it did for the virtuoso cithara players, the citharista, and popular singers of ancient Rome. Like other instruments, it came originally from Greece and Greek images portray the most elaborately constructed citharas.
It was considered that the gods of music, the Muses and Apollo, gave cithara players their gift to mesmerise listeners.
Mosaics depict instruments that look like a cross between the bagpipe and the organ. The pipes were sized so as to produce many of the modes (scales) known from the Greeks. It is unclear whether they were blown by the lungs or by some mechanical bellows.
The hydraulic pipe organ (hydraulis) was “one of the most significant technical and musical achievements of antiquity”, which worked by water pressure. Essentially, the air to the pipes that produce the sound comes from a mechanism of a wind-chest connected by a pipe to a dome; air is pumped in to compress water, and the water rises in the dome, compressing the air and causing a steady supply to reach the pipes (also see Pipe organ#History). The instrument goes back to the ancient Greeksand a well-preserved model in pottery was found at Carthage in 1885.
The hydraulis accompanied gladiator games and events in the arena, as well as stage performances. It might also be found in homes, and was among the instruments that the emperor Nero played.
Variations of a hinged wooden or metal device (called a scabellum) — a ‘clapper’ — used to beat time. Also, there were various rattles, bells and tambourines.
Drum and percussion instruments like timpani and castanets, the Egyptian sistrum, and brazen pans, served various musical and other purposes in ancient Rome, including backgrounds for rhythmic dance, celebratory rites like those of the Bacchantes, military uses, hunting (to drive out prey) and even for the control of bees in apiaries. Some Roman music was distinguished for its having a steady beat, no doubt through the use of drums and the percussive effects of clapping and stamping. Egyptian musicians often kept time by snapping the fingers.
The sistrum was a rattle consisting of rings strung across the cross-bars of a metal frame, which was often used for ritual purposes.
Cymbala (Lat. plural of cymbalum, from the Greek kymbalon) were small cymbals: metal discs with concave centres and turned rims, used in pairs which were clashed together.
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