The Ancient Roman Lyre

Ancient roman-themed album

"Michael came, he saw, he conquered...

Ancient Roman music may have sunk without a trace in the depths of history - at least in its written form - but in THE ANCIENT ROMAN LYRE Michael Levy has evoked its "anima", its aspiring soul, better than any other treatment I've yet heard even by academic ensembles. Every aspect of lyre playing technique Michael has learned is employed, yet in the spirit of the Golden Mean, never any one of them too much. More disciplined tonally in its melodic formulations than most of Michael's previous work, THE ANCIENT ROMAN LYRE features the *kinnor or late-model Hebrew lyre built by Marini Made Harps, the "secret sauce" of the style of just intonation implied by Suzanne Haik-Vantoura's resitution of biblical chant, the use of various ancient Greco-Roman diatonic modes, and the excellence of timbre granted by modern string materials evoking ancient equivalents. The result of Michael's focused efforts is music worthy of cinematography, of historical documentary."

Johanan Rakkav - iTunes (USA) Review of" The Ancient Roman Lyre"

 

The Ancient Roman Lyre

Michael Levy

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An evocation of the lost music of ancient Rome, arranged for solo lyre in the just intonation of antiquity...

This album is the third in my series of ancient Roman-themed albums, the sequel to “Echoes of Ancient Rome” & "Ode To Ancient Rome". Like the first two albums in this series, "The Ancient Roman Lyre" comprises of a series of original compositions for an ancient lyre in authentic ancient musical modes, to evoke once more, the lost music of ancient Rome. These set of compositions for my replica Kithara-style lyre is my attempt to restore a precious remnant of the music of ancient Rome, which for the most part, is now forever lost...

Unlike ancient Greece, tragically, virtually no surviving written music has survived from ancient Rome. These set of composition for my replica Kithara-style lyre is my attempt to restore a precious remnant of the music of ancient Rome, which is now forever lost - so far, all that has been discovered, is one pitiful fragment by Terence:

TERENCIO, HECYRA 861 (Terence). Versus 861. Hecyra of Terence. Codex Victorianus Laurentianus XXXVIII-24, saec. X

This piece can be heard track 19, on the recording "Musique de la Grece Antique". Here are some more details from the notes for this album, about the only surviving fragment of written music ever found from ancient Rome:

"We have added the only surviving musical fragment of Imperial Rome: four mutilated measures from a work by Terence. It is as if nothing were left of the Acropolis but a few scattered bits of columns and a pair of ruined capitals"

Even this tiny fragment is no longer deemed to be authentic, according the musicologist Thomas J. Mathiesen). However, since Rome borrowed so much from the culture of ancient Greece, in attempting to recreate an evocation of the lost music of ancient Rome, it is most likely that the Roman composers of antiquity also used the ancient Greek musical modes...

THE ANCIENT MUSICAL MODES USED IN THIS ALBUM

Due to the known prominent influence of Ancient Greek culture in the Roman world, in order to create an authentic-sounding evocation of what the solo lyre music of ancient Rome may have once sounded, I decided to base the compositions in a selection some of the original Ancient Greek modes, with melodies inspired mostly by a "Musical Adventure in Time Travel" of the gods of Ancient Rome.

The names of musical modes in use today, (e.g. Dorian, Mixolydian etc) although having the same names as the original Greek musical modes, were actually misnamed during the Middle Ages! Apparently, the Greeks counted intervals from top to bottom. When medieval ecclesiastical scholars tried to interpret the ancient texts, they counted from bottom to top, jumbling the information. The misnamed medieval modes are only distinguished by the ancient Greek modes of the same name, by being labelled “Church Modes”. It was due to a misinterpretation of the Latin texts of Boethius, that medieval modes were given the wrong Greek names!

According to an article on Greece in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, the original ancient Greek names for species of the octave included the following (on white keys): B-B: Mixolydian E-E: Dorian A-A: Hypodorian D-D: Phrygian G-G: Hypophrygian C-C: Lydian F-F: Hypolydian

For what Plato & Aristotle had this to say about these ancient musical modes, please see this fascinating link:

http://www.pathguy.com/modes.htm

THE TUNING OF ANTIQUITY

In antiquity, lyres were tuned either cyclically, in perfect 5ths, the 3rds & 6ths then being fine-tuned by ear (Pythagorean tuning) or divisively (using exact mathematical ratios to precisely divide a musical string into specific pitch ratios) to achieve what is called "Just Intonation".

The modern tuning system of equal temperament was devised to enable music to be performed in any of the 12 keys of the chromatic scale whilst keeping exactly the same equal ratio of pitch between each of the 12 notes of the chromatic scale...which sadly has sacrificed the essential purity of tone, which can only be heard in the just intonation once used in antiquity.

Divisive tuning was the most natural way to tune the ancient lutes, or any fretted instrument, which uses frets to divide the vibrating portion of each string into the required precise ratio of pitches. Although more often cyclically tuned when played solo, Lyres were also often divisively tuned in antiquity, as they were quite often played in ensemble with other instruments which were in turn, divisively tuned.

Although described in the writings of Pythagoras in his experiments at dividing a musical monochord, the divisive tuning system predates Pythagoras by thousands of years and may have evolved along with the origin of the long-necked lute in ancient Babylonia some 5000 years ago, according to John Wheeler (editor of Suzanne Haik Vantoura’s book, “The Music of the Bible Revealed”):

"The long-necked lute (according to Curt Sachs) was invented in Babylonia, and indeed thanks to that fact divisive tuning was invented there also. Cyclical tuning was also known there (and that got documented long after his death by the famous theory and hymn tablets from Babylon and Ugarit), but there is this curious fact: the Babylonians used divisive tuning as the basis for their symbolic correlation of the pillar degrees of the octave (e.g., C-F-G-C') with the four seasons, while the Chinese used cyclical tuning as the basis for the symbolic correlation of the same. This (wrote Sachs) is consistent as Babylon was the "home" of the lute and China the "home" of the harp (even though Babylon knew of harps and lyres too and China, if memory serves, also knew the lute from very early times). Divisive tuning is the "natural" tuning of the lute, as cyclical tuning is the "natural" tuning of the harp and lyre, according to Sachs. By that he meant that it's easiest and most natural to tune, and then to play, folk instruments of those genres that way - as I can vouch as a working musician"

I have used divisive tuning throughout this album, in my attempt to recreate the purity of the just intonation used in antiquity, which like the music of ancient Rome, has now sadly been forgotten...

ANCIENT LYRE PLAYING TECHNIQUES

All the various lyre-playing techniques heard in this album, are authentically based on lyre-playing styles which have remarkably survived from Antiquity & which still can be heard today in the amazing lyres still played throughout the continent of Africa, where unlike the rest of the Western world, a precious remnant of the cross-cultural influences from the around ancient world have miraculously survived.

Some of these lyre-playing techniques include the “block & strum” method, still practised today by the Krar Lyre players of Eritrea in East Africa – this technique allows the player to strum rhythm & basic chords on the lyre, similar to an acoustic guitar. This technique entails blocking strings with the left hand which are not required and leaving open only the strings which form the required intervals, which then can be strummed with a plectrum in the left hand. Ancient illustrations of Kithara players seem to infer that this technique was also prominent in Ancient Greece – many illustrations clearly depict the left of the lyre player blocking/dampening the strings with the left hand whilst strumming the open strings with a plectrum in their right hand.

Other lyre playing techniques include the use of tremolo (based on the style of Egyptian Simsimiyya Lyre Players still heard today), alternating between harp-like finger plucked tones played with the left hand, and guitar-like plectrum-plucked tones with the right hand, using basic finger-plucked intervals/chords with the left hand to form a basic harmonic background for the melodic line being played with the plectrum in the right hand.

I also explore the rare percussive hammered lyre playing technique, where the stings of the lyre are hit with small wooden baton (like on a hammered dulcimer), instead of being plucked with either the fingers or a plectrum...

THE TRACKS

  1. Cogitatio (Reflections) - this piece uses the introspective ancient Greek Hypodorian Mode.

  2. Amatores (Lovers) - this piece uses the wonderfully dream-like, feminine-sounding ancient Greek Hypolydian Mode

  3. Tranquillitas (Serenity) - this piece features the ancient Greek Hypophrygian Mode. This mode, for me evokes feelings of inner contentment, serenity and tranquillity...

  4. Contemplationis (Contemplation) - this piece is composed in the ancient Greek Dorian Mode - intensely introspective, this mode enhances the feeling of concentration in the listener.

  5. Desiderantes (Yearning) - this composition features the ancient Greek Phrygian Mode - the Mode seems to create a sense of beautiful poignancy, longing & yearning...

  6. Tristitia (Sorrow) - this piece explores the mournful quality, also inherent in the sound of the ancient Greek Hypodorian Mode.

  7. Gloria Belli (Glory of Battle) - as well as the intense, concentration-increasing qualities of the ancient Greek Dorian Mode when played slowly and softly, (as explored in track 1 of this album), according to Plato & Aristotle, the ancient Greek Dorian Mode was also the most "manly" of all the musical modes - they even went so far as to suggest that it could inspire bravery in battle! In this piece, I attempt to explore the war-like quality of the the ancient Greek Dorian Mode, which is most evident when played in a vigorous piece such as this.

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    Cogitatio (Reflections)

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    Amatores (Lovers)

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    Tristitia (Sorrow)

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    Contemplationis (Contemplation)

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    Tranquillitas (Serenity)

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    Desiderantes (Yearning)

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    Gloria Belli (Glory of Battle)

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Ode to Ancient Rome

Ancient Roman-Themed album

"A Truly Beautiful Work of Art...

Though this is a collection of original compositions by Michael Levy, he has crafted a careful and beautiful expression of an ancient musical modality. He clearly researches all available materials before writing his music so as to best capture what the music from Ancient Rome may have sounded like. That said, he also brings an expressive contemporary sensibility to the music, particularly evident in pieces like “Libation to Laetitia” and “Dark Realms of Pluto.” Those are pieces that are not just stale ideals of Roman music, but emotional excavations into the expression ancient artisans might have sought with their instruments. A truly beautiful work, Michael Levy is an artist that should be far more known than he is"

Life_Boy - iTunes (USA) Review 

Ode to Ancient Rome

Michael Levy

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Ode to Ancient Rome

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Evoking the haunting sounds of the lost music of Ancient Rome...

This album is the sequel to my album “Echoes of Ancient Rome” – like the first album in this series, “Ode To Ancient Rome” comprises of a series of new compositions for an ancient lyre in authentic ancient musical modes, to evoke once more, the lost music of ancient Rome. These set of compositions for my replica Kithara-style lyre is my attempt to restore a precious remnant of the music of ancient Rome, which for the most part, is now forever lost...

Unlike ancient Greece, tragically, virtually no surviving written music has survived from ancient Rome. These set of composition for my replica Kithara-style lyre is my attempt to restore a precious remnant of the music of ancient Rome, which is now forever lost - so far, all that has been discovered, is one pitiful fragment by Terence:

TERENCIO, HECYRA 861 (Terence). Versus 861. Hecyra of Terence. Codex Victorianus Laurentianus XXXVIII-24, saec. X

This piece can be heard track 19, on the recording "Musique de la Grece Antique". Here are some more details from the notes for this unIque album, about the only surviving fragment of written music ever found from ancient Rome:

"We have added the only surviving musical fragment of Imperial Rome: four mutilated measures from a work by Terence. It is as if nothing were left of the Acropolis but a few scattered bits of columns and a pair of ruined capitals"

All the various lyre-playing techniques heard in this album, are authentically based on lyre-playing styles which have remarkably survived from Antiquity & which still can be heard today in the amazing lyres still played throughout the continent of Africa, where unlike the rest of the Western world, a precious remnant of the cross-cultural influences from the around ancient world have miraculously survived.

Some of these lyre-playing techniques include the “block & strum” method, still practiced today by the Krar Lyre players of Eritrea in East Africa – this technique allows the player to strum rhythm & basic chords on the lyre, similar to an acoustic guitar. This technique entails blocking strings with the left hand which are not required and leaving open only the strings which form the required intervals, which then can be strummed with a plectrum in the left hand. Ancient illustrations of Kithara players seem to infer that this technique was also prominent in Ancient Greece – many illustrations clearly depict the left of the lyre player blocking/dampening the strings with the left hand whilst strumming the open strings with a plectrum in their right hand.

Other lyre playing techniques include the use of tremolo (based on the style of Egyptian Simsimiyya Lyre Players still heard today), alternating between harp-like finger plucked tones played with the left hand, and guitar-like plectrum-plucked tones with the right hand, using basic finger-plucked intervals/chords with the left hand to form a basic harmonic background for the melodic line being played with the plectrum in the right hand.

I also explore the rare percussive hammered lyre playing technique, where the stings of the lyre are hit with small wooden baton (like on a hammered dulcimer), instead of being plucked with either the finges or a plectrum...

THE ANCIENT MUSICAL MODES USED IN THIS ALBUM

Due to the known prominent influence of Ancient Greek culture in the Roman world, in order to create an authentic-sounding evocation of what the solo lyre music of ancient Rome may have once sounded, I decided to base the compositions in a selection some of the original Ancient Greek modes, with melodies inspired mostly by a "Musical Adventure in Time Travel" of the gods of Ancient Rome.

The names of musical modes in use today, (e.g. Dorian, Mixolydian etc) although having the same names as the original Greek musical modes, were actually misnamed during the Middle Ages! Apparently, the Greeks counted intervals from top to bottom. When medieval ecclesiastical scholars tried to interpret the ancient texts, they counted from bottom to top, jumbling the information. The misnamed medieval modes are only distinguished by the ancient Greek modes of the same name, by being labelled “Church Modes”. It was due to a misinterpretation of the Latin texts of Boethius, that medieval modes were given the wrong Greek names!

According to an article on Greece in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, the original ancient Greek names for species of the octave included the following (on white keys): B-B: Mixolydian E-E: Dorian A-A: Hypodorian D-D: Phrygian G-G: Hypophrygian C-C: Lydian F-F: Hypolydian

For what Plato & Aristotle had this to say about these ancient musical modes, please see this fascinating link:

http://www.pathguy.com/modes.htm

THE TUNING OF ANTIQUITY

In antiquity, lyres were tuned either cyclically, in perfect 5ths, the 3rds & 6ths then being fine-tuned by ear (Pythagorean tuning) or divisively (using exact mathematical ratios to precisely divide a musical string into specific pitch ratios) to achieve what is called "Just Intonation".

The modern tuning system of equal temperament was devised to enable music to be performed in any of the 12 keys of the chromatic scale whilst keeping exactly the same equal ratio of pitch between each of the 12 notes of the chromatic scale...which sadly has sacrificed the essential purity of tone, which can only be heard in the just intonation once used in antiquity.

Divisive tuning was the most natural way to tune the ancient lutes, or any fretted instrument, which uses frets to divide the vibrating portion of each string into the required precise ratio of pitches. Although more often cyclically tuned when played solo, Lyres were also often divisively tuned in antiquity, as they were quite often played in ensemble with other instruments which were in turn, divisively tuned.

Although described in the writings of Pythagoras in his experiments at dividing a musical monochord, the divisive tuning system predates Pythagoras by thousands of years and may have evolved along with the origin of the long-necked lute in ancient Babylonia some 5000 years ago, according to John Wheeler (editor of Suzanne Haik Vantoura’s book, “The Music of the Bible Revealed”):

"The long-necked lute (according to Curt Sachs) was invented in Babylonia, and indeed thanks to that fact divisive tuning was invented there also. Cyclical tuning was also known there (and that got documented long after his death by the famous theory and hymn tablets from Babylon and Ugarit), but there is this curious fact: the Babylonians used divisive tuning as the basis for their symbolic correlation of the pillar degrees of the octave (e.g., C-F-G-C') with the four seasons, while the Chinese used cyclical tuning as the basis for the symbolic correlation of the same. This (wrote Sachs) is consistent as Babylon was the "home" of the lute and China the "home" of the harp (even though Babylon knew of harps and lyres too and China, if memory serves, also knew the lute from very early times). Divisive tuning is the "natural" tuning of the lute, as cyclical tuning is the "natural" tuning of the harp and lyre, according to Sachs. By that he meant that it's easiest and most natural to tune, and then to play, folk instruments of those genres that way - as I can vouch as a working musician"

I have used divisive tuning throughout this album, in my attempt to recreate the purity of the just intonation used in antiquity, which like the music of ancient Rome, has now sadly been forgotten...

THE TRACKS

  1. Ode To Ancient Rome (Original Composition For Lyre in The Ancient Phrygian Mode)

A requiem to the tragically lost music of ancient Rome, this piece is performed in the mournful ancient Geek Phrygian Mode.

  1. The Wisdom of Minerva (Original Composition For Lyre in The Ancient Chromatic Phrgyian Mode)

In this piece, I have experimented with a rare ancient lyre playing technique, whereby the strings are hit percussively, with a small wooden baton (like on a hammered dulcimer ) instead of being plucked with either the fingers of a plectrum. The first illustration of the hammered lye playing technique dates back to c.700BCE, in the illustrations of musicians on the Bas Reliefs found at the ruins of the Palace of Nineveh, in ancient Assyria.

This playing technique seems to have spread from ancient Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean, and may there is indeed evidence that this technique could have also been practiced in ancient Rome, as can be seen in the depictions of lyre players discovered in the ruins of Roman Villas on the island of Cyprus, in the famous Paphos Mosaics.

  1. The Flames of Vesta (Original Composition For Lyre in The Ancient Hypophrygian Mode)

Vesta was the Roman goddess of the home, to whom the sacred fire of Vesta was perpetually kept burning by the Vestal Virgins...

  1. Dark Realms of Pluto (Original Composition For Lyre in The Ancient Hypodorian Mode) -

Pluto was the Roman god of the underworld...

  1. On The Wings of Cupid (Original Composition For Lyre in The Ancient Hypolydian Mode)

Cupid was the winged god of love, desire & erotic love...

  1. The Flight of Mercury (Original Composition For Lyre in The Ancient Dorian Mode) –

Mercury was the Roman god of travel, a messenger who wore winged sandels...

  1. Libation to Laetitia (Original Composition For Lyre in The Ancient Lydian Mode)

Laetitia was the Roman goddess of joy & gaiety...

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    Ode to Ancient Rome (Original Composition For Lyre in the Ancient Phrygian Mode)

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    The Wisdom of Minerva (Original Composition For Lyre in the Ancient Chromatic Phrygian Mode)

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    Sacred Flame of Vesta (Original Composition For Lyre in the Ancient Hypophrygian Mode)

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    Dark Realms of Pluto (Original Composition for Lyre in the Ancient Hypodorian Mode)

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    On the Wings of Cupid (Original Composition For Lyre in the Ancient Hypolydian Mode)

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    The Flight of Mercury (Original Composition For Lyre in the Ancient Dorian Mode)

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    Libation to Laetitia (Original Composition For Lyre in the Ancient Lydian Mode)

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ECHOES OF ANCIENT ROME

Ancient Roman-Themed Album

"Time Travelling in the 21st Century...  

Step into the Tardis, or Mr. Peabody's wayback machine and travel to ancient Rome. Visit the balmy courts where slaves attend Kings and Queens with fans, food and finery, while the court musician plays in a quiet corner for their quiet contemplation. These ancient-inspired tunes will take you there, with just a pinch of your imagination to fuel your time machine, Michael Levy will be your tour guide to help you relive the past in glorious splendor"

DarkDayRobin - iTunes (USA) Review   
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