Online Review: Book

Studien zur Musikarchäologie 4. Papers from the Third Symposium of the International Study Group on Music Archaeology at Monastery Michaelstein, 9–16 June, 2002, and Other Contributions

Timothy J. Moore


Edited by Ellen Hickmann and Ricardo Eichmann (Orient-Archäologie 15). Pp. xxvi + 583, b&w figs. 432, color figs. 9. Marie Leidorf, Rahden 2004. €95. ISSN 1434-162X; ISBN 3-89646-645-3 (cloth).

Created to provide a much-needed venue for findings in the growing field of music archaeology, Studien zur Musikarchäologie consists primarily of papers originally delivered at meetings of the International Study Group on Music Archaeology. The first two volumes in the series, both published in 2000, concentrate respectively on stringed instruments and on music of the Bronze and Iron Ages. The third volume, published in 2002, was more ambitious. It included nearly 60 essays on various aspects of prehistoric, pre-Columbian, early European, Graeco-Roman, Near Eastern, and East Asian music. The present volume is even more diverse, with essays on topics ranging from the origin of song to contemporary performance and pedagogy. Because it serves also as a Festschrift for Hickmann on her 70th birthday, it includes, besides 38 essays delivered at the study group’s third symposium, six additional papers written in her honor and a list of Hickmann’s publications. All the essays are in English or German with abstracts in the other language. Many of the essays are exceptionally well illustrated.

The essays drawn from the symposium are organized into five fields: “Universals in Music,” “Basics and Methods in Archaeology/Music Archaeology,” “Traditions and the Cultural Memory,” “Musical Instruments in Traditional Contexts and Constructions,” and “Written Evidence.” Because of my special interests, I concentrate on the studies that have most significance for the music of ancient Greece and Rome.

Early in the volume, Kopiez, drawing on neurobiological and psychological studies, refutes the theory that all humans are biologically predetermined to prefer “natural musical intervals” (11). Kopiez’s conclusions become particularly interesting when one compares a later essay in which Byrne observes that long, narrow cylindrical pipes, including the earliest known wind instruments from Sumeria and Egypt, easily produce notes a fourth apart without any finger holes. Byrne proposes that this natural characteristic of the pipes might explain why the interval of the fourth is so highly regarded in many cultures, from northwest Europe and North Africa through the Far East, as well as classical Greece. How much, one might ask, are what a people considers “natural intervals” determined by the physical features of their ancestors’ instruments?

As Byrne points out, most Greek auloi (and, I might add, Roman tibiae) have pipes too wide to play fourths with such ease. This leads us to the essay by Hagel on the scales of auloi. Previous attempts to identify these scales have assumed that the distance between at least two of the finger holes on any single pipe should play an interval valued by the Greeks, such as a fourth. Hagel makes a strong case that the two pipes of the aulos would play not in unison but in intervals, so that we should look for favored intervals not between the finger holes of one pipe but between finger holes on two pipes played together.

The major obstacle to identifying scales on auloi has been the absence of their reed mouthpieces, the length of which determines an instrument’s total length and therefore the pitches produced by each finger hole. Hagel has developed computer software that allows him to calculate what pitches two pipes now in the Louvre would produce with reeds of various lengths. His experiments led him to propose a pair of pipes that play scales in keeping with the precepts of Greek musical theory, assuming they are both played together. Hagel’s procedure makes good sense, and he also adds persuasive arguments about heterophony in classical Greek music in general and about the near universality of the double aulos, as opposed to single pipes played alone. His essay will be essential reading for all who study auloi in the future.

At the same time, some of Hagel’s assumptions should be viewed with caution. He is certainly right to argue against Landels (Music in Ancient Greece and Rome [London 1999]), who states that similar pipe lengths and hand positions on vase paintings showing aulos players mean that pipes were always played in unison. He is too sanguine, however, in assuming that the inadequacies of our written sources “will annoy, not deceive us” (375), and that Aristoxenus and his followers wrote without theoretical bias. Hagel believes that the two Louvre pipes were meant to be played as a pair in spite of the fact that both have too many holes to be covered by one hand and they show no traces of the metal rings that served on other extant auloi to cover unneeded holes. His proposal that the pipes may be unfinished seems a desperate remedy. More promising is his suggestion that the unused holes might have been covered with wax or pegs, which could be changed between performances or during pauses. The pipes would then represent an intermediate stage between the earliest pipes, which played in only one mode, and later pipes, on which metal rings allowed the change from one mode to another to be accomplished more efficiently.

Two essays deal with other Graeco-Roman instruments. Gutmann argues that the nai, a Romanian panpipe, is a descendant not of the Greek syrinx but of its Near Eastern relatives. Much of Gutmann’s theorizing about the mystical significance of the panpipe is confused and unpersuasive, but his distinction between different types of panpipes might help explain why in Graeco-Roman antiquity the syrinx, usually associated with rustics, sometimes shows up in theatrical contexts. Fischer shows how music archaeology can help us answer questions of broader archaeological context when he argues that a terracotta figurine of a woman playing a harp is evidence of sophisticated Hellenistic culture in a second-century B.C.E. city on the coast of Israel. It is unfortunate, however, that Fischer calls the aulos a flute (439).

Two contributions consider the production and performance of Homeric verse. Will notes that in Australian Aboriginal song, a combination of stabilizing rhythmic accompaniment and textual formulas allows singers to recall and hand down songs with astounding accuracy, and he uses his findings to support Kirk’s theories on the role of formulas in the Homeric tradition (Homer and the Oral Tradition [Cambridge 1976]). Will’s observations add valuable new perspectives on the workings of oral poetry, but we must also remember that the Homeric poems are considerably longer than the Aboriginal songs, and that unlike the Australian songs, which provided life-saving guides to water holes, the songs of Dark Age Greece need not have relied on exact repetition to accomplish their aims. Franklin reviews similarities between Vedic, Serbo-Croatian, and Homeric verse and proposes that since the three traditions appear to have inherited features of meter and diction from Proto-Indo-European, there may have also been a common Indo-European response to melody in which accent patterns played an essential role. As important as Franklin’s conclusions are his methods, which provide ways of thinking meaningfully about the general features of lost melodic traditions, even if we cannot recover specific melodies.

Moving from the oral to the written, Psaroudakēs’ reviews the history of scholarship on four mysterious signs in a musical papyrus fragment of Euripides’ Orestes (Vienna G 2315). He proposes that the symbols in question represent vocal interjections sung between the words of the text. If Psaroudakēs is correct, we have lost one of our major pieces of evidence for ancient heterophony, for West (Ancient Greek Music [Oxford 1992]) and others have proposed that the symbols represent instrumental notes played simultaneously with different vocal notes. Psaroudakēs’ rebuttal of West deserves serious attention, but it should be noted that much of it relies on argumenta ex silentio in an area where silence is the norm rather than the exception. It is surprising that Psaroudakēs’ thorough review of previous interpretations does not include Barker’s essay on Greek heterophony (in B. Gentili and F. Perusino, eds., Mousike: Metrica ritmica e musica greca in memoria di Giovanni Comotti [Pisa 1995] 41–60).

Jäger considers the demise of the ancient system of musical notation and the rise of neumes, its medieval successor. Neumes, Jäger argues, were created not because the earlier system had been forgotten, but because the new notation with its emphasis on the expression of texts was considered more appropriate for Christian hymnody, while the older notation was associated with pagan performers. While Jäger’s proposal is intriguing, we should consider both the centrality of the text in almost all ancient music, pagan or Christian, and the degree to which most ancient singers and instrumentalists probably worked independently of any written notation.

Rocconi examines the use of color terminology in ancient Greek musical theory. Her hypothesis that the Greeks saw sight and hearing as closely related leads to some interesting insights into how the ancients understood their own musical categories.

Boshnakova’s attempt to connect a vase painting of a winged figure holding musical instruments with Pythagorean musical theory is less successful.

In conclusion, I offer a few words about how this series might be made still more useful in the future. Some of the essays are plagued by a large number of typographical mistakes. The editors apologize for the errors in their preface, noting the size and complexity of the publication and the different languages of the participants. The heroic labors of the editors in bringing so much material to publication should not be undervalued, but one wonders if some sacrifice of quantity for the sake of quality might not be in order. While most of the essays are strong, some are little more than unrevised conference papers, and a few should have received a great deal more thought before publication. The editors may wish to employ a more rigid refereeing process in the future, accepting fewer essays and taking advantage of the smaller mass of material to edit more precisely. It would also be useful if the essays were revised with more attention to other contributions in the volume. It is distressing, for example, to see that May, in an otherwise excellent essay on a Hallstatt figurine showing an instrumentalist, was evidently unaware of the arguments of Hagel regarding the use of visual evidence in understanding playing technique. Finally, while the third volume in the series included a compact disc with musical excerpts to accompany the essays, the disc accompanying this volume contains only PDF files of each of the essays. I hope that future volumes will again include CDs of relevant musical excerpts, or if a CD proves too expensive, that such excerpts can be included on a Web site.

These concerns aside, this volume shows that many exciting things are happening in the field of music archaeology. It and its three predecessors will prove to be valuable additions to the library of any university with a program in archaeology, music history, or ethnomusicology.

Timothy J. Moore
Department of Classics
The University of Texas at Austin
1 University Station, C3400
Austin, Texas 78712–0308

Book Review of Studien zur Musikarchäologie 4. Papers from the Third Symposium of the International Study Group on Music Archaeology at Monastery Michaelstein, edited by Ellen Hickmann and Ricardo Eichmann

Reviewed by Timothy J. Moore

American Journal of Archaeology Volume 110, Number 4 (October 2006)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1104.Moore

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