Music and Harmonic Theory

TitleMusic and Harmonic Theory
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsHagel, S
EditorKeyser, PT, Scarborough, J
Ancient AuthorsDidymus (3) (OCD), Aristoxenus Mus. (TLG 0088), Philolaus Phil. (TLG 1596), Claudius Ptolemaeus Math. (TLG 0363), Archytas Phil. (TLG 0620), Plato Phil. (TLG 0059), Adrastus (2) (OCD), Pythagoras Phil. (TLG 0632)
Book TitleOxford Handbook of Science and Medicine in the Classical World
PublisherOxford University Press

The chapter studies ancient Greek music theory, primarily of the 5th and 4th centuries bce and throughout the Hellenistic and Greco-Roman eras. Instruments that must be tuned, either during manufacturing or right before performance, prompt reflection on pitch relations. Stringed instruments, which require repeated tuning, form the background of the earliest testimonies of “western” musical terminology, preserved in cuneiform texts from the second millennium bce. In the Greek world, an outburst of music-theoretical activity began around 500 bce, crystalizing, after about two centuries of lively discussion, in theoretical edifices whose principles remained largely unchallenged until late antiquity. Musical scales were the concern of the science named harmoniké, whereas other aspects of music-making are harder to analyze. Two harmonic traditions existed, one called “Pythagorean” emphasizing numerical ratios, and the other associated with Aristoxenus, focusing on musical perception. Both were explored and amplified in the Hellenistic and Greco-Roman eras, especially by Ptolemy. []


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