Ancient Greek Music (Clarendon Paperbacks) Paperback – 14 Apr 1994
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`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 alien...it 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
...an 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)
From the Back Cover
Ancient Greece was permeated by music, and the literature teems with musical allusion. For most readers, the subject has remained a closed book. Here at last is a clear, comprehensive, and authoritative account that presupposes no special knowledge of music.See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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