Thursday, January 1, 6832

Athenian (b. c. 168 BC) - Delphic Hymn (c. 138 BC)

The First Delphic Hymn, from Ancient Greece, is the earliest unambiguous surviving example of notated music from anywhere in the western world.

The Hymn, written to Apollo, was found inscribed in stone in Delphi in 1893 by a French archaeologist;

all that is known about its composer is that it was written by an Athenian, since the part of the inscription giving the name of the composer is difficult to read.

It was probably written for the boys choir at the Pythian Games in 138 BC.

The Pythian Games (Delphic Games) were one of the four Panhellenic Games of Ancient Greece, a forerunner of the modern Olympics, held every four years at the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi.

They were held in honor of Apollo two years before and after each Olympic Games, and between each Nemean and Isthmian Games. They were founded sometime in the 6th century BC, and, unlike the Olympic Games, also featured competitions for music and poetry. The music and poetry competitions pre-dated the athletic portion of the games, and were said to have been started by Apollo after he killed Python and set up the oracle at Delphi. Otherwise, the athletic events were the same as the Olympic Games. A four-horse chariot race was held in a hippodrome in the plain, not far from the sea, in the place where the original stadium was sited.

The winners received a wreath of bay laurels from the city of Tempe in Thessaly. Smaller Pythians were celebrated in many other cities of Asia Minor and Greece.

During the Delphic Games, which lasted three months, the Holy Delphic Peace was announced. The ceasefire guaranteed the people – participants and spectators – to travel without risk to the Games and back to their homeland. The enthusiasm of the public is bequeathed. Scores of people flock out of entire Greece, bringing in substantial revenue to the city. The Agora, the Market took place during the Games, and became a very important significant emporium for the Arts.

In 394 AD Theodosius I, Emperor of Rome and Byzantium, banned the Delphic Games as a heathen event.

Unfortunately the testimonials and documents covering the Delphic Games were mainly destroyed through human violence and natural catastrophes. All the remaining resources highlight the glory and glamour of the Games. The records of Aristoteles present an overview about the festivities: the Games lasted for six to eight days and were started by a Holy Game, which showcased the victory of Apollo over Python. In a festive and glamorous Procession a “Festival Sacrifice” was performed in the Temple of the Apollo. After four days of festivities the Games began.

The Music and Theatre Play competitions were carried out in the Theatre, the athletic contests in the Stadium of Delphi. The chariot races were held in the nearby plain of Krisa, taking into account the hilly landscape of Delphi.

The musical disciplines included:

One Hymn addressed to Apollo
Kithara and Flute with or without singing
Acting and Dance Competitions
Painting Competitions

The Delphic Games were honorary Games. The winners did not receive any prize money, but a Laurel Twig, a token sacred to Apollo. The cities supported their representatives with all measures available, to succeed as good as possible at the Games.

First Delphic Hymn

The Hymn is monophonic, consisting of a single melodic line, and it is in the cretic meter, which is quintuple. It is in the Dorian mode -- not the Dorian mode as known in the present day, but rather as it originally was in Ancient Greece, roughly corresponding to the present day Phrygian, although the piece can also be heard as G Lydian (the names of the modes were mixed up by Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, who translated ancient Greek theoretical writings into Latin in the 6th century, and the confusion has remained).

In addition to being the earliest surviving substantial fragment of ancient music, the First Delphic Hymn is also the longest; unfortunately it is not a complete composition (the Seikilos epitaph, dated anywhere between the 2nd century BC and the 1st century AD, is the earliest surviving complete piece of music).

While the kithara is thought to have been used for the first section of the hymn, the second section has been considered to have been performed on the aulos (double oboe); it is also considerably chromatic. Whether the performer played the same music as the singer(s) in unison, or embellished the melodic line in a heterophonic texture, or played a drone, or improvised some form of counterpoint, are unknown; reconstructions of ancient Greek music are highly controversial.

[6850 Carnatic Music / 6832 Delphic Hymn]