Is it possible to recreate the sounds of ancient music? Few early Greek and Roman instruments survive today, so our knowledge of ancient music comes primarily from depictions of music and instruments in art. In his blog post for The Getty Iris, the Getty’s online magazine, Eidelriz Senga shows us what happens when musicians make ancient music come alive.
The Getty Villa invited Enzo Fina and Roberto Catalano of Musicàntica to bring ancient music to life. The duo is known for exploring the music of what they call the “Italian outlier;” the peasants, vendors, and fishermen who passed down musical knowledge through generations. They approximated what music would have sounded like in ancient Greece and Rome by playing more modern versions and replicas of ancient instruments.
Fina and Catalano played the benas, a Sardinian clarinet similar to the ancient aulos, which is like today’s clarinets and oboes. Catalano used the ancient technique of “circular breathing,” in which the player breathes in through the nose and exhales in a circular fashion. They also played a replica of a chelys lyre, an ancient instrument that according to myth was first made by Hermes from a tortoise shell and the horns and hide of an ox that he stole from his brother.
Senga also explains how depictions of music in ancient art show that music played a large part in the celebrations, religious rituals, and daily lives of the Greeks and Romans.