16. November 2021

Dr. Tosca Lynch

Title: ‘The Revolution of the New Music in Classical Athens: musical “lawlessness” and the development of the Classical harmonic system’


In this talk, I offer a close discussion of the controversial harmonic innovations attributed to Phrynis, Timotheus and other composers who belonged to the so-called New Music — an avant-garde musical movement that featured for the first time complex modulations between the Classical Greek harmoníai in long and uninterrupted compositions, thereby threatening the ethical status of pieces belonging to different traditional genres. We shall start from a famous fragment of Pherecrates’ Chiron, a comedy that offers a surprisingly detailed caricature of the ‘lawless’ musical innovations introduced by the New Musicians. This fascinating, if at times enigmatic, text will be interpreted in the light of the extant evidence about ancient harmonic theory, combining information preserved by Philolaus, Aristoxenus, Ptolemy, Aristides Quintilianus and the Greek musical handbooks in a unitary and consistent framework. This theoretical reconstruction will be confirmed the practical evidence of the Greek musical documents thanks to a new database (dDAGM) that I have developed in 2020–21 and collects a total of over 3,400 notes musical notes attested in the standard edition of the Greek musical fragments (DAGM). Finally, I shall present a reconstruction of an unprecedented tuning device developed by Phrynis and embraced by Timotheus—a modulating key that produced a special bending (kampē) of a semitone, and therefore allowed these innovative musicians to combine up to six different traditional modes in the same twelve-string lyre tuning. In other words, professional musicians succeeded in imitating the legendary harmonic flexibility of double pipes on the many-stringed kitharai they employed to accompany their solo songs (nomoi)—a revolutionary and ‘lawless’ move that introduced the lamenting aulos-mode par excellence, the Mixolydian, into the Dorian realm of traditional lyre music.


This talk will take place on Zoom; please contact Ms. Diana Gleiss if you would like to attend.