What did ancient music sound like?

What did ancient music sound like?

It’s normal to be nostalgic for the music of bygone eras; “back when music was music” people often say. “I remember when music used to be good!” However, it’s hard to be nostalgic for the music of ancient times, because we rarely have an idea of what it sounds like–until now!

A couple weeks ago on the MUST blog, we explored the history of instruments in antiquity. But how were these instruments played, and what kinds of music was played? What did it sound like?

Recent projects by musicologists have reconstructed what Ancient Greek music may have sounded like. By analyzing ancient instruments, rhythms, rhymes, and meter from Ancient Greek poetry, some researchers think they have an estimation of how this music sounded. So what does a 3000-year-old song sound like?

Researchers in the above video used fragments of an ancient text carved into stone as the basis for their reconstruction of a piece of Ancient Greek music. The fragments contain 80-90 bars of music. Using reconstructions and replicas of instruments from the time this music was written, scholars and musicians were able to create an approximation of what this music sounded like. 

A reproduction of a double pipe in the Louvre exhibit (seen in our previous post) was used to make the tone and timbre as close to the original instrument’s as possible. The lyre replicas were created from depictions of the instruments found on recovered vases and pottery.

Musicians inferred the mode of playing these instruments from their own experiences with modern-day instruments. Due to the simplistic designs of these ancient instruments, musicians are able to closely replicate the historical sounds of this pipes, lyres, and percussion instruments.

The words of the text that was sung to accompany the instrumental music were carved on the aforementioned stone tablet as well. Above these words are symbols describing the vocal notation, or how the text should be sung.

Given all these clues, the musicians are able to give a beautiful and historically accurate performance. One can only imagine the new worlds of ancient music that will be open to us soon through this research!

To learn more about this particular reconstruction, you can visit this article.

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