2,500 years ago the Greeks composed songs where the voice was accompanied by the lyre, reed-pipes, and various percussion instruments. Much was already known about these instruments thanks to the descriptions, paintings from archaeological remains, which Greek scholars then used to establish the timbres and range of pitches the instruments produced. The songs however were lost to time until a few dozen ancient documents from 450BC inscribed with a vocal notation were found. These consisted of alphabetic letters and signs placed above the vowels of the Greek words, which scholars made out as an ancient form of sheet music. So what did this ancient Greek music sound like?
You can now hear David Creese from the University of Newcastle playing “an ancient Greek song taken from stone inscriptions and played on an eight-string ‘canon’ (a zither-like instrument) with movable bridges.” The tune is credited to Seikilos and is supposedly 100% accurate.
Believe it or not, the most difficult part of transcribing the ancient tunes wasn’t in the melody, it was in the rhythm. The secret was in the pattern of the words and phrases (which makes sense). There’s more about how they dissected the tuning and melody in the this article from the BBC World News.
I don’t see this or any other ancient Greek music hitting the charts any time soon, but it’s interesting to get a glimpse into the music of ancient history.