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Hi All,

There's no way to know what the music of the ancients really sounded like. But there are some clues. No written scores survive from Egypt. It's not certain that they even had written notation. Plato wrote that Egyptian music had two primary forms Dorian, slow and tranquil and Phrygian, a more energetic mode. Today both of these are minor scales, though they would have sounded much different in non-tempered tuning. Sound experiments in recreating instruments found in tombs (second link) suggest flutes related to the present day North African Ney in petatonic and diatonic scales, one flute turned out to have a quarter tone third and seventh (third link). Other Egyptian instruments included Lyres, harps, pipes, clarinet like single reeds and oboe like double reeds, primitive horns, lutes and percussion. On the one hand it is thought that Egyptian music was not strictly instrumental nor unaccompanied choral, on the other hand some scholars believe the music of Ancient Egypt survives today in the liturgical music of Coptic Christians.

Papyri fragments of notation do survive from classical Greek times, giving the pitches, but no time values or rhythms. Speculation is that the nearest modern equivalent of Ancient Greek music is found in Persian Classical forms, presumably a by product of Alexander's invasions.

There are recordings by composers and ensembles combining research with poetic license attempting to approximate the musics of Egypt and Greece. The Greek music I've heard is starkly dramatic and ritualistic, with irregular non-pulse based rhythms. Some of the extant fragments include music from Euripides' Orestes, Aristophanes' Clouds, Delphic hymns, etc. I haven't heard the recreations of Egyptian music but they're said to be gentler and meditative. Though if they're based on the otherworldy choral themes of the Coptic church, no less surprising than the Greek. If anyone has heard any of the recreations by Ali Jihad Racy, Muata Ashby or others and has recommendations, let me know.

From the second link:

"The main objective of the project was to find out whether the ancient Egyptians knew the diatonic scale.

The answer is more fascinating than the objective in the following sense:

The ancient Egyptians had a pentatonic scale in the old time that developed at the beginning of the new kingdom to seven note scale of A-minor.

The ancient Egyptian has in addition to the diatonic scale an arabic seven note scale that was thought to have originated in Persia.

There is a fascinating correlation between the frequencies produced from different flutes which suggests the presence of a means for calibration of these instruments.

All these conclusions are sterned from experimentation with only four flutes. The team thinks that extending the research work to a wider number of flutes (from different museums) would reveal more and more information."

Thoughts or comments concerning the sound or usages of ancient Music. The suggestion is that Egyptian music was centred on text, so would the rhythms and phrase lengths be directly correlative to the vocal parts as we find in such far flung forms as German Lieder and delta blues?

Some links Egyptian links:




Greek links:


Among the numerous recordings available this impressionistic rendering is wonderful and cheap and contains versions of many of the pieces on the above page:


This is a modern composition by the Greek composer (Eleni Karaindrou) best known for her soundtracks to the films of Theo Angelopoulos. Here she uses traditional instruments to create an atmospheric score for Euripides Trojan Women; performed in the old amphitheatres of Greece:



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Subject Views Written By Posted
Music of the Ancient World 705 Briffits 30-May-04 11:35
Re: Music of the Ancient World 226 Bent 30-May-04 17:49
Re: Music of the Ancient World 201 Briffits 30-May-04 21:55
Re: Music of the Ancient World 239 Mark Staab 30-May-04 19:07
Re: Music of the Ancient World 203 Briffits 30-May-04 22:23
Re: Music of the Ancient World 226 Lee McGiffen 31-May-04 06:04
Re: Music of the Ancient World 228 Bent 31-May-04 06:57
Re: Music of the Ancient World 203 Briffits 31-May-04 08:37
Re: Music of the Ancient World 185 fiascohoho 02-Jun-04 10:27
Re: Music of the Ancient World 190 Bent 30-May-04 19:18
Re: Music of the Ancient World 264 Briffits 30-May-04 22:43
Modes 244 Jergat 30-May-04 21:26
Re: Modes 218 Briffits 30-May-04 23:11
Re: Modes 226 Jergat 30-May-04 23:49
Re: Music of the Ancient World 248 Trojan 30-May-04 22:39
Re: Music of the Ancient World 241 Briffits 30-May-04 23:13
Re: Music of the Ancient World 230 Bent 01-Jun-04 19:04
Re: Music of the Ancient World 250 Briffits 01-Jun-04 23:40
Re: Music of the Ancient World 228 Milo 02-Jun-04 01:35
PS 226 Milo 02-Jun-04 02:02
Re: PS 242 Briffits 02-Jun-04 10:20
Re: PS 236 Milo 02-Jun-04 15:06
Re: Music of the Ancient World 219 Bent 02-Jun-04 18:27
Re: Music of the Ancient World 229 Briffits 02-Jun-04 22:12
Re: Music of the Ancient World 222 Milo 02-Jun-04 15:04
Re: Music of the Ancient World 222 Milo 02-Jun-04 15:07
Re: Music of the Ancient World 223 Briffits 02-Jun-04 23:01
Re: Music of the Ancient World 266 Milo 02-Jun-04 23:08
Re: Music of the Ancient World 212 Briffits 03-Jun-04 07:59
Re: Music of the Ancient World 303 Milo 04-Jun-04 16:19

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