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Ancient Greek Music (Clarendon Paperbacks) Paperback – 3 Mar 1994

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Product details

  • Paperback: 424 pages
  • Publisher: Clarendon Press; New Ed edition (3 Mar. 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198149751
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198149750
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 2.7 x 14 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 157,110 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


`In this book you will find delightful transcriptions of weddings, festivals, dances at drunken orgies, and the many details of everyday life that seem at once familiar and somehow is in these that we sense a link between the Greeks and Mozart and may yet discover a continuous history for music after all.' Anthony Pryer, BC Music Magazine

'West plunges in headfirst, as is only to be expected of a Fellow of All Souls, and gives it his scholarly all ... beautifully ... produced and written.'Paul Janes, Literary Review

'a remarkable book and not its least remarkable feature is the way in which Martin West takes the reader, gently but systematically, from the easy ... to the increasingly more difficult ... My respect for the author knows no bounds.'Greece and Rome, October 1993 enlightening study which will be of interest both to students of medical history and of social anthropology in its ancient Greek context. (The Greek Gazette)

It;s no exaggeration to say that Martin West's Ancient Greek Music is a book we have been desiring for centuries: a clear, complete, unprejudiced, thorough, rigorous and deep account of the evidence for the basic realities of ancient music...Anything sane is welcome, and a really good big book like West's is a prodigy...He has collected all the most important ancient passages, and made it easy to see all the evidence in one place. He discusses music in all its aspects, technical, social, esthetic, organological, theoretical, and historical, and liberally illustrates his arguments. (Arion)

About the Author

Senior Research Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford, M. L. West is formerly Professor of Greek at the Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, London.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Mike Taylor on 10 Mar. 2012
Format: Paperback
My interest in the subject comes from its relationship to Greek poetry and I don't know much about music, but I found this book fascinating in its scope and attention to detail. It is very scholarly but well written, with vast numbers of footnotes - unfortunately, the references to the plates are often put in the footnotes as well, which means you need to check them all in case you miss being referred to a helpful picture.

Which brings me to the main weaknesses - one of content, the other of reproduction. West seems to have a mysterious aversion to using simple, labelled diagrams to explain the form of the instruments, preferring to use lengthy descriptions which can be hard to follow.

The plates do help, but that leads to the second problem - Oxford University Press seem to think it acceptable to charge nearly fifty quid for a book, then supply something with very cheap binding (how long before the page start to fall out?) and print quality resembling a dodgy photocopy. The only other book I've seen of such low reproduction quality - and even more expensive than this - was also from OUP (the otherwise excellent Poetic Edda Vol II by Ursula Dronke). In particular, the well-chosen plates are essential to understanding what the instruments were, but you'd stuggle to find poorer reproductions of photographs anywhere - the quality is scandalously poor. Of course some of the original vase paintings etc are not in perfect condition, but that's not the issue here. The images are covered in visible lines and dots as if printed on an old, cheap inkjet printer. Of course the excuse is "this book has been printed digitally". I presume the earlier printings of this book would have been non-digital - if so, buy a secondhand copy of an early printing at all costs rather than a new copy - you will at least have a chance of seeing the plates clearly, and perhaps you can enjoy the excellent content without feeling you've been cheated out of your money by OUP.
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Format: Paperback
I wrote an MA Dissertation on ancient music, and this book was my Bible. A must for anyone with an interest in one of the least-covered areas of classical scholarship.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
An introduction both friendly and vast 1 Dec. 2007
By Christopher Culver - Published on
Format: Paperback
Considering that classical literature tells us that music was part of every facet of Greek society, from religious ritual to dramatic productions, athletic events to epic storytelling, it is odd that there was no substantial introduction to Ancient Greek music until M.L. West released this monograph in 1992. But we are fortunate to live in a time when ANCIENT GREEK MUSIC is available, as it is an introduction both vast and friendly, and it uses the recent advances in ethnomusicology to more accurately reconstruct Greek music and compare it to other indigenous musical traditions around the world.

If you have little experience with theory, though, don't be afraid. West's discussion of the melodic and rhythmic nuts and bolts of Ancient Greek music assumes no prior training beyond knowing vaguely what an octave is. Indeed, for someone without knowledge of theory this wouldn't be a bad place to start. The Greeks described very well the basis of physical sound on which they built their music.

I see the book as divided into four main parts. In the first, West discusses the role of music in Greek life, namely listing what genres were associating with what social or cultic functions. He then describes the instruments that the Greeks used, including their development and expansion, and their equivalents in nearby regions. While I was most interested in more abstract portions of the book, even this proved informative. I had never known before, for example, that brass instruments were never used to play music, but only to provide fanfares or direct troops on the battlefield.

The second part of the book is the theory behind Greek music, consisting of the chapters "Rhythm and Tempo", "Scales and Modes", "Melody and Form", and "Theory". I thought it fascinating to read how the rhythm of Greek music corresponded to the longs and shorts of Greek poetry, and how Greek scales developed from the pentatonic scale still used in e.g. China and the Volga-Kama basin.

The third part of the book deals with the surviving records of Greek music. West explains notation schemes and what papyruses and inscriptions have survived, and then gives us fifty pages of transcriptions. Of course, these are all fragmentary, but plenty have enough material to keep one entertained.

While for the most part West treats all eras of Greek music together, it is obvious that the no musical tradition would stay static for a thousand years. Accordingly, the final part of the book is a historical synthesis tracking the development of Greek music from the archaic period to the earliest surviving Christian hymn.

I'd strongly suggest this book to a number of audiences, from classicists, to ethnomusicologists or laymen interested in indigenous musical traditions, to (again) people who want to learn music theory from the ground up. Too bad OUP has priced even the paperback beyond what the average reader would be prepared to spend, though.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
West's book is complemented by CDs 27 Nov. 2009
By J. E. S. Leake - Published on
Format: Paperback
If you find West's book interesting - it is excellent, though it is naturally very academic in its approach, being an academic monograph - I can suggest a couple of CDs that take the ancient music in West's book and put it back onto ancient instruments (well, reconstructions of ancient instruments). The two I know are Music of the Ancient Greeks and Melpomen: Ancient Greek Music. While I was more convinced by the first, there are merits to each. Naturally they often have to expand on the sparse evidence that survives. Unfortunately the cover notes to the first do not directly refer to the numbers in West's book (I have, however, given a list of references on my review of the CD). I have not seen the cover notes to the second CD though I have listened to it, so I am unable to say whether there are any references to the book's numbers in them.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
M L West - Ancient Greek Music 7 Dec. 2011
By Joseph B. Ennis - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Very informative book. Martin West (teaches at Oxford College) book is more about the proper naming of ancient Greek Musical instruments. For Music history and theory I have found Curt Sachs' - The Rise of Music in the Ancient World, East and West, to be the better book. However West's book is a good addition to one's library.
A definitive classic on the subject 10 Aug. 2015
By WALLER - Published on
Format: Paperback
It's been said so many things, often contradictory, about ancient Greek musical system and theory, that it was hard to tell right from wrong. This book seems to settle everything right. It has become a classic in its own field. Mister West has done a fabulous job. Full of information and relevant considerations, it's the book we were expecting for. Brilliant
Good, but it lacks perspective 13 Nov. 2012
By Amadeus 888 - Published on
Format: Paperback
A torrent of useful information, gathering together various sources on ancient Greek music, that cover ancient Greek instruments, rhythm, genera and scales, theory, notation, history etc. However, it lacks what for a Greek would be the most important thing: the principles and ideas upon which Greek music was founded. In other words, while professor West manages to present a very useful compendium of information on ancient Greek music, he fails to draw any meaningful conclusions from it. The picture remains fragmentary and lacks perspective in many respects. What is needed is a deeper investigation of the principles involved in the production of ancient Greek music across the ages, which would then allow us to put the scattered pieces, so nicely presented by M.L. West, together.
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