October 28, 2014
Musical Innovations in Ancient Greece A musical paradigm shift occurred during the Renaissance era. During this time contemporaries of the era developed a strong influence from the Ancient Greek civilization, specifically the ideal of humanism. Humanism gave a higher interest in people as valued individuals, signifying humans as creators rather than creations. Humanism is expressed in music by creating musical elements that promote expression and themes. During the Middle Ages, music was rather bland and was not relative to human emotion and interaction, this was due to the fact that music was composed for the worship of divine beings, not as an organized form of art. This piece will outline a number of Hellenic thoughts that led to the musical advancements in the Renaissance period going against the sacred outline of Medieval musical practice, as well as why there was a regression in music throughout the Dark Ages.
Previous civilizations had associated music with the gods. The Ancient Mesopotamians had utilized flutes and harps/lyres in the relation to religious rituals regarding Ea (the God of Wisdom and Freshwater), who was the patron god of all music. The god of love and war, Ishtar, was the patron god of singing and pipe playing. Alongside Ishtar, her husband Tammuz and Ramman – the storm god were regarded as patrons of singing and pipe playing (Green). Ancient Egypt and Asian cultures really tie into the Middle Eastern ideal of music being a spiritual entity to represent gods. The Ancient Egyptians credits the invention of music to their god, Thoth, who was the God of Knowledge, Hieroglyphs, and Wisdom. Whereas the music at this time was sacred in the sense of honoring specific deities, these did have a much different theoretical structure than the sacred pieces developed by the monks in the times of the upheaval in Christianity.
Jumping ahead a few years, the Ancient Greek culture really took music to be less of a divine entity and assimilated it into the culture of the citizens. This was when music took on a higher standard as it was combined with art, dance, literature, and poetry, which will be seen later. What makes it hard to identify how much music was utilized in this age is the lack of a true form of documentation. The printing press was the cornerstone of giving historical dating and significance, which the Ancient Greeks greatly predate. It is known that many of the musical practices were handed down orally and taught by ear, which creates a nightmare for musicologists to study the pattern of musical development. The Antiquity Era was the first time that music had developed into a true art form recognized by society – not a utilitarian medium to approach the supernatural. Music was an art that could be appreciated and equally studied. As seen previously, it has been discovered that previous civilizations had used music for various purposes, but the Ancient Greeks were the first people to adopt music as a true art form (Abrams). This was the first time that music was not only a form of art, but also a science. There were two main facets of science in this time – Trivium and Quadrivium. The Trivium was a systematic method of critical thinking, defined by grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Music was adopted as a part of the Quadrivium alongside arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy (Willmann). Both the Trivium and Quadrivium collectively made up the seven points of a liberal arts study. The Trivium was considered the lower tier and was taught first. After a mastering of the Trivium, The Quadrivium was introduced. The Quadrivium outlined the general curriculum that Pythagoras had established. Far before his deep research in mathematics, Pythagoras had a strong background in music and the contextual theory of harmonics that which explains how music works.
Aristotle had expanded upon the Pythagorean model, exposing music to be something much more than a medium…