One of my greatest musical discoveries, was re-discovering the beauty and unique musical expression of each of the original ancient Greek Modes...
THE ORIGINAL ANCIENT GREEK MODES
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):
For what Plato & Aristotle had this to say about these ancient musical modes, please see this fascinating link:
Regarding how the specific ancient Greek modes were indicated in the alphabetical musical notation of ancient Greece, Professor Armand D'Angour kindly explained to me the following brief summary:
"The mode is indicated by the use of specific series of alphabetic letters. Unlike our system (CDEF...) each letter is not a whole tone, but they are grouped into threes; so e.g. Α Β Γ represent the same note, but a different letter is used for different modes. The tables of Alypius (c. 5th cent AD) give a detailed breakdown about which letters were used to represent which modes."
MY COMPOSITIONS FEATURING THE ORIGINAL ANCIENT GREEK MODES
My first major project to explore these wonderfully expressive ancient musical modes, was my album, "The Ancient Greek Modes" - an EP of 7 original compositions in each of the original ancient Greek Modes (it was just pity I did not have the means of tuning my lyre into just intonation back then - this wonderfully pure tuning is what truly "brings life" to the ancient musical modes!).
THE ANCIENT GREEK PHRYGIAN MODE
My personal favourite is the ancient Greek Phrygian Mode (equivalent intervals as D-D on the white notes of the piano) - so poignant yearning in its character...perfect for evoking lost ancient landscapes! This was misnamed the "Dorian" Mode during the Middle Ages.
This mode is the explored in my compositions, which have feelings of yearning as their inspiration:
Ode to Ancient Rome - track 1 of my album “Ode to Ancient Rome” - this is also performed in just intonation.
I also use the ancient Greek Phrygian mode as the basis for the following of my extended length singles. All the singles listed below, which feature this mode, are also in just intonation:
(These singles are also incorporated into my second compilation album, “Musical Adventures in Time Travel”)
THE ANCIENT GREEK DORIAN MODE
The ancient Greek Dorian Mode is the equivalent intervals as E-E on the white notes of the piano (misnamed the "Phrygian" mode in the Middle Ages).
According to the writings of Plato and Aristotle, this was the most “manly" of the musical modes, and could even be used to inspire bravery in battle!
From my own experience of using this mode, the assertions of these ancient Greek philosophers is certainly is true, but only when this mode is played with vigour - I therefore used the ancient Greek Dorian Mode in the following of my compositions, which attempt to evoke war-like bravery:
Gloria Belli (Glory of Battle) - track 7, "The Ancient Roman Lyre" - this is also in just intonation
However, when played softly, it is an incredibly intense mode, and has the effect of increasing the feeling of concentration in the listener. An example of an actual surviving fragment of ancient Greek music which is in this mode and creates this intense, introspective effect, is my arrangement for solo lyre, of "Hymn To The Muse", by Mesomedes of Crete (2nd century CE) .
As a slightly surreal musical experiment, a few years ago I had some great fun arranging "Hymn To The Muse" - on thrash metal-style electric guitar, in an atTempt to invoke the more "manly" musical colour of the ancient Greek Dorian Mode when playing this original piece of ancient Greek music...set to a slideshow of the Battle of Thermopylae (certainly the most manly of all the epic battles of ancient Greece!). Here was the result - quite possibly the Mother of all remixes!!:
My own compositions which feature the ancient Greek Dorian mode in its particularly intense "musical colour" are:
Contemplationis (Contemplation) - track 4, "The Ancient Roman Lyre" - this is also in just intonation
The Flight of Mercury - track 6, "Ode to Ancient Rome" - this is also in just intonation
Music of the Celestial Spheres - track 1, "A Well Tuned Lyre - The Just Intonation of Antiquity" - this is also in just intonation
THE ANCIENT GREEK HYPOLYDIAN MODE
Another favourite ancient Greek mode of mine, is the Hypolydian Mode (this mode has the equivalent intervals as F-F on the white notes of the piano). This was misnamed the “Lydian Mode” during the Middle Ages. I first heard this mode in an actual surviving fragment of ancient Greek Music "Kolon Exasimon" on track 13 of the album, "Musique de la Grece Antique". I have since recorded my own arrangement of the tune on track 2 of my album "The Ancient Greek Lyre" & my updated version, on track 5 of "A Well Tuned Lyre: The Just Intonation of Antiquity".
This mode to me, is almost dream-like in character, feminine, sensual - almost erotic in character. I have since composed in this mode for the following of my compositions:
On the Wings of Cupid - track 5, "Ode to Ancient Rome". This is also in performed in just intonation.
Amatores (Lovers) - track 2, "The Ancient Roman Lyre". This is also in just intonation.
THE ANCIENT GREEK HYPOPHRYGIAN MODE
This mode is the equivalent intervals as G-G on the white notes of the piano – misnamed the “Mixolydian” mode during the Middle Ages. This mode creates feelings of warmth, inner peace, contentment and tranquillity. An example of an actual surviving piece of ancient Greek music which is in this mode, is my recording of "Epitaph of Seikilos" (c.1st century CE). I have used this mode in the following of my own compositions:
Apollo's Lyre – track 1 from my album “Apollo’s Lyre”. One of my favourite compositions, I recorded a new version of the piece on my new hand-made lyre, featuring a heterephonic development of the melody, in the wonderfully pure just intonation of antiquity, re-named “A Well Tuned Lyre” – track 3 from my album “A Well Tuned Lyre – The Just Intonation of Antiquity"
Sacred Flame of Vesta – track 3, “Ode to Ancient Rome” - this is also in just intonation
Tranquillitas (Serenity) – track 3, “The Ancient Roman Lyre” - this is also in just intonation
THE ANCIENT GREEK HYPODORIAN MODE
This mode is the equivalent intervals as A-A on the white notes of the piano and was misnamed the “Aeolian” mode during the Middle Ages. In modern musical theory is also known as the “Natural Minor”. This mode has the same intensity as the ancient Greek Dorian Mode, but has a much more sorrowful feel to it. I used this mode in the following of my compositions:
Dark Realms of Pluto – track 4, “The Ancient Roman Lyre” - this is also in just intonation
Ode to Orpheus – track 2, “Apollo’s Lyre” - this is also in just intonation
Tristitia (Sorrow) – track 6, “The Ancient Roman Lyre” - this is also in just intonation
THE ANCIENT GREEK MIXOLYDIAN MODE
This is the equivalent intervals as B-B on the white notes of the piano – misnamed the “Locrian” mode during the Middle Ages. This mode has a feminine, almost playful quality. This is, however, by far the most difficult mode to actually compose in, due to the dissonant diminished 5th which occurs in the Mode.
However, in rising to the challenge of composing in absolutely every one of the original ancient Greek Modes, I did use this Mode in the following of my compositions:
THE ANCIENT GREEK LYDIAN MODE
This is the equivalent intervals as C-C on the white notes of the piano – the basis of all the major keys we now use today. This was misnamed the “Ionian” mode during the Middle Ages.
This is also probably the oldest of the musical modes, as notes in this mode occur naturally in the harmonic series, either when a string is lightly stopped to create harmonics, or in when playing any form of natural, valveless trumpet.
Like modern major scales, this mode is bright, triumphant and can evoke feelings of happiness. However, unlike the modern major scale, when tuned in the wonderfully pure, just intonation of antiquity, these emotional effects on the listener are much more intense, due to the almost 3D purity of the intervals. I used this mode in just intonation, for the following of my compositions:
Before I had the means of tuning my lyre into just intonation (courtesy of a computer program called SCALA, which generates tuning tones in just intonations – kindly provided for me in 2012 by John Wheeler), I also used this mode in regular equal temperament, for the following of my compositions:
For composition using modern major and minor keys, there is basically a bland choice to compose a melody that sounds either “happy” or “sad” – using the ancient Greek modes, in addition to these basic emotional palettes, it is possible to create new melodies which can best be described as intense with the ability can increase concentration in the listener, music which can sound either “manly” or “feminine” in character, melodies which sound dream-like, music that can sound erotic, melodies with a playful character, music which is triumphant and music can invoke sorrow...
Adding the wonderfully pure-sounding just intonation of antiquity into this incredible tapestry of available acoustic landscapes in which to compose in, intensifies the unique feel and character of each of these wonderful ancient Greek modes even further, to create an almost 3 dimensional vista of "sculpture in sound"!
The unique character of these ancient Modes never ceases to amaze me & so much has been lost in Western musical art, since these modes and their magic were abandoned in favour of our monotonous, standardized and quite frankly soulless palate of bland major and minor keys - spoilt further, by the use of the unsettling quality of the sound of intervals in slightly out of tune, fuzzy, muddy equal temperament!
It is therefore my mission, to restore these ancient musical modes, so that rising like a Phoenix out the long-forgotten magic of Classical antiquity, these wonderful lost gems of the ancient musical world shall sparkle with new life, once again…