Compare with ‘Music
in the Age of the Pyramids - Ancient
Back in 1998 I purchased
a copy of Volume 1 of ‘Music from Ancient
Rome’ in Harold Moores’ record shop
in London with the intention of using
it for teaching purposes; very useful
and interesting it proved too. Volume
2 was announced but I never found it.
Well, at last here they both are and
it's good to have them available. The
first volume re-launched in early 2005
is lavishly produced with a superbly
illustrated book. More of that anon.
The press release sums
it up well: these are "hypothetically
reconstructions of the music of Imperial
Rome ... using instruments accurately
rebuilt by Walter Maioli." So, the first
thing you need to know is that no ancient
Roman music has come down to us whatsoever.
So is this CD a fraud? Well of course
not. One thing about these discs is
that everything is clearly explained.
The composers of each track are listed:
Walter Maiole himself, Luce Maioli and
Roberto Stanco who is one of the performers;
there are other names. Their pieces
are based on at least four important
1. The writings of
Ovid, Horace, Seneca etc
2. Mosaics and other
3. Archaeological remains.
4. Music and instruments
still in use in Mediterranean countries.
Putting these together,
Walter Maiole has built the instruments
used on these CDs and has even trained
the performers. His own biography encouragingly
tells us about his many years of study
and research into the music of ancient
Greece and Rome. Maiole quotes the great
classical writers including Ovid in
references to music and its effect on
listeners. I am mostly left with the
feeling that what I am hearing is well-informed
and as likely as anything else to be
an authentic representation of music
I might have heard 2,000 years ago.
Each book comes with,
first, a general essay, and then more
specific ones about what Synaulia are
trying to do. Next there is a section
about the reconstruction of the instruments
and then the mythology. There follows
a description of the instruments and
how they have been reconstructed. After
that comes a description of each piece
of music and the intentions of the musicians.
Biographies and more illustrations and
photographs make the whole thing a lavish
production; a joy to read and work with.
So, what about the
music? Is it worth hearing? At a very
basic level one can say that each instrument
is given a demonstration both on its
own and in combination with others.
A wide variety of colourful percussion
is included. The tracks mix the instrumental
combinations in an attractive way so
that one rarely gets bored. True, some
of the tracks are too long and the composed
material not interesting enough to sustain
musical satisfaction. For example, track
5 on the second CD does test the patience
with its procession, Tibiae, drones,
with male voices from Cecil B. de Milne
and harp glissandi. The following track
for Cithara includes a throaty male
voice sounding as if from some cavern.
These sounds act as an accompaniment
to a poem: quoted and translated in
the booklet from Ovid's ‘Ars Amatorio’.
There are other examples of poems used
on the CDs. These are usually recited
by two voices in canon, which was apparently
quite a popular thing to do.
Other instruments heard
include the Lyra, Cithara and Samabuca
(an arched-shaped instrument) in the
strings. Wind instruments such as the
Tuba (more like a trumpet) and Bucina
(more like the kind of ancient horn
you find hanging on pub walls) also
Incidentally the first
track on Volume 1 is a great start.
It is a dance for double flutes and
Tibiae with orgasmic sounding females
enjoying a brothel type experience.
It’s all in honour of the God Pan ...
at least it makes a good excuse.
I have enjoyed these
discs and will find them useful, but
don't take them too seriously.