Among the “wonderful things” that Howard Carter saw when he entered the newly discovered tomb of Tut’ankhamūn in 1922 were two trumpets—one made of silver, and one made of bronze.
Seeing the potential for an extraordinary recording, in 1939 the BBC persuaded the Matḥaf al-Miṣrī (Museum of Egyptian Antiquities) to schedule a world broadcast. The bandsman James Tappern was engaged to perform on the historic instruments.
In what some people saw as the notorious “curse of King Tut”, five minutes before the live broadcast was to begin the watchmen’s lanterns failed and the museum was plunged into darkness; but candlelight saved the day, and enthralled listeners heard what were presumably sounds last heard over 3,000 years earlier.
This according to “Recreating the sound of Tutankhamun’s trumpets” by Christine Finn (BBC news: Middle East 17 April 2001). Above, a photograph of Tappern at the museum. Below, a narrative fleshes out the story; the recordings of Tappern playing the trumpets begin around 10:45.
In early 2013 Brill launched Greek and Roman musical studies, the first specialist periodical in the fields of ancient Greek and Roman music.
The journal will publish papers offering cultural, historical, theoretical, archaeological, iconographical, and other perspectives on music in Classical antiquity, and on its reception in later times (especially the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, but also more recent periods).
The Editorial Board will also consider contributions on music elsewhere in the Mediterranean region, including Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and Mesopotamia. Cross-disciplinary approaches are particularly appreciated.
Ēkhō Verlag issued the first volume of the series Flower world: Music archaeology of the Americas/Mundo florido: Arqueomusicología de las Américas in 2012.
This bilingual series aims to raise the study of the music-related activities of the pre-Columbian Americas to a new level, with peer-reviewed studies of both past and living traditions, providing a platform for the most up-to-date information on the music archaeology of the New World.
Below, a brief film about the pre-Columbian instruments of Mexico.
Dating from the 5th century B.C.E., the tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng in Suizhou, Hubei, furnished some of China’s oldest musical instruments and earliest reliable musicological writings.
The instruments, found in two separate rooms, appear to represent two separate musical genres. Those in the large central chamber—65 bronze bells in graduated sizes ranging over more than five octaves, a large pole-drum and two smaller drums, seven large 25-string se (zithers), four sheng (mouth organs), two paixiao (panpipes), and two chi (transverse flutes)—match the description of a courtly ensemble described in the Shijing (551–479 B.C.);
The instruments in the smaller chamber containing the Marquis’s coffin—two mouth organs, one small frame drum, three se, and one five-stringed and one ten-stringed instrument—suggest a more intimate chamber genre such as that depicted in a 5th-century tomb in Shaoxing, Zhejiang. These two genres may correspond to the “old” music of the Zhou court (ca. 1050–256 B.C.) that Confucius preferred, and the “new” music of the surrounding states that he felt had a corrupting influence.
This according to “Different tunes, different strings: Court and chamber music in ancient China” by Jenny F. So (Orientations XXI/5 [May 2000] pp. 26–34). Above, replicas of the bells; below, a performance on the bell replicas and those of other instruments from the tomb.
Earlier treatises placed śṛngāra (love/the erotic) among the aesthetic qualities known as rasas, but the 11th-century Śṛngāraprakāśa, attributed to Bhojarāja, King of Malwa (inset), was the first to assert its supreme importance.
The treatise includes highly detailed typologies of love—for example, chapter 22 alone discusses 64 stages of love, each subdivided into 8 categories, each of which is then subdivided into 8 more categories, with hundreds of illustrations from poetic works in Prakrit and Sanskrit.
This according to “Bhoja’s Sringara prakasa: A landmark in the evolution of rasa theory” by V. Subramaniam (Sruti 190 [July 2000] pp. 37–41). Above, a classic image of Krishna and Radha in the moonlight; below, the legendary T. Balasaraswati’s depiction of Krishna’s childhood provides an embodiment of śṛngāra in bharata nāṭyam (filmed by Satyajit Ray).
Filed under Antiquity, Asia
Styles of singing in which pitch is fixed, categorical, and independent of loudness originated in prehistoric times as a by-product of the development of musical instruments capable of this loudness-pitch independence.
The physical and consequent acoustic properties of the voice suit it to producing a range of timbres and vocalizations in which pitch and loudness are correlated and not controlled independently. To sing a fixed pitch while varying loudness, singers must make compensations in the vocal mechanism.
This unnatural, albeit ubiquitous, singing was influenced by instruments. One of the advantages of pitch-loudness independence is in teaching infants to analyze vocalizations in a reductionist manner.
This according to “Did non-vocal instrument characteristics influence modern singing?” by Joe Wolfe and Emery Schubert (Musica humana II/2 [fall 2010] pp. 121–138).
Above, The singing maidens of Pottery Mound, a reproduction by Thomas Baker of an 800-year-old Anasazi image.Below, Ella Fitzgerald demonstrates how instrumental music can influence singing.
Although the notion of pitches being relatively high or low was well-established by the first century C.E., when Pliny used the terms summus, medius, and imus, there is no evidence that earlier Greek theorists espoused this metaphor. The terms νήτη (nētē, “down-located”) and ὑπάτη (hypatē, “up-located”) were used, but they referred to the physical placement of kithara strings, not to a spatial concept of pitch; in fact, the higher the pitch in our terms, the further down-located it was on the instrument.
The commonest adjectives for pitch in ancient Greek writings are ὀξύς (oxys, “sharp, piercing”) and βαρύς (barys, “heavy”). Ptolemy wrote that the former quality was a result of λεπτότης (leptotēs, “fineness”) and πυκνότης (pyknotēs, “close spacing [of notes]”, and that the latter was caused by μανότης (manotēs, “thickness”) and παχύτης ( pachytēs, “loose spacing”) . The idea of higher and lower sounds, and their eventual depiction as such in notation, was a later development.
This according to “The development of vertical direction in the spatial representation of sound” by Eleonora Rocconi, an essay included in Archäologie früher Klangerzeugung und Tonordnung: Musikarchäologie in der Ägäis und Anatolien (Rahden: Leidorf, 2002), pp. 389–392.
Many thanks to David Bloom for help with this post!
Related article: The perfect-pitch puzzle
The magrepha of ancient Hebrew ritual has been variously described as a percussion machine, signal gong, bell, tympanum, kettle drum, or hand drum—but also as a pneumatic organ, water organ, steam organ, composite woodwind instrument, pipework, or controllable siren. For centuries, scholars were unable to reach a solution that squared with ancient texts.
In “The magrepha of the Herodian temple: A five-fold hypothesis”, Joseph Yasser settled the matter by showing that the earliest sources mention the magrepha as a shovel for removing ashes and describe the thunderous sound caused when it was thrown to the floor at a particular point in the service; this sound apparently symbolized the vengeful actions of an angry God, aligning the ritual act with passages in Ezekiel. Later sources unmistakably characterize the magrepha as a type of wind instrument with multiple openings, each producing multiple sounds; Yasser’s proposed reconstruction is shown above.
The article appeared in A musicological offering to Otto Kinkeldey upon the occasion of his 80th anniversary, a special issue of the Journal of the American Musicological Society (vol. 13, no. 1–3 , pp. 24–42; the issue is covered in our recently-published Liber amicorum: Festschriften for music scholars and nonmusicians, 1840–1966.
A fragment of Pherecrates’s comedy Chiron, as quoted in Plutarch’s Peri mousikēs, provides insights into aesthetic controversies in ancient Greece.
The scene depicts Dame Music as she recounts to Dame Justice the torments she has undergone at the hands of certain musicians of the time: Melanippides seized, debased, and weakened her with 12 tones; Cinesias ruined her with badly composed modulations; Phrynis bent, twisted, and completely destroyed her by sounding all 12 tones on the kithara; and, most egregiously of all, Timotheus, with his shrill dissonances and sinfully high-pitched and piercing notes and whistles, crammed her with modulations just as a cabbage-head is crammed with caterpillars, depriving her of all decency with his 12 tones.
This according to “Studies in musical terminology in 5th-century literature” by Ingemar Düring, an essay included in Eranos Löfstedtianus: Opuscula philologica Einaro Löfstedt A.D. XVII kal. iul. anno MCMXLV dedicata (Uppsala : Eranos Förlag, 1945); this Festschrift for the Swedish philologist Einaro Löfstedt (1880–1955) is documented in RILM’s Liber Amicorum: Festschriften for music scholars and nonmusicians, 1840–1966.
Related article: Astérix and instruments