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1001 deeds, sayings, curiosities and anecdotes of the ancient world

Importance of music in the ancient Greek world

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Most of the linguistic terms used in "music" are of Greek origin.

In Greece music isn´t one of the issues more fully studied in the ancient world history, but a simple relation of the terms of Greek origin, referring to this world of sounds pleasing to the ear, should be enough to put us in the track of the real importance that an art, always present in the religious ceremonies and life of citizens, actually had.

Next I relate some terms to the definition that the "Dictionary of the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language” gives us of them and that have been translated into English:

Music, (from the Latin “musĭca”, and this one from the Greek “μουσική”, derived from μοῦσαι mousai = nymphs or goddesses that inspire the music and the rest of other arts), is precisely the first term to be considered.

Melody: (from the Latin melodĭa, and this one from the Greek μελῳδία; μέλος = singing). Composition where a musical idea, simple or compound, is developed, regardless of its support...

Harmony: (from the Latin harmonĭa, and this one from the Greek ἁρμονία = proportion, from ἁρμός, adjustment, combination). Union and combination of simultaneous and different sounds, but all consistent or coherent with each other. / Art of form and link the chords.  

Symphony: (from the Latin symphonĭa, and this one from the Greek συμφωνία = conformity, from σύμφωνος, which link their voices, consistent, coherent, unanimous). Set, assembly of voices, instruments, or both, sounding coherent at once. / Instrumental composition for orchestra.

Polyphony: (from the Greek πολυφωνία, many voices). Assembly of simultaneous sounds in which each one expresses its musical idea, but forming a harmonious whole with the others.

Orchestra: (from the Latin Orquestra and this one from the Greek oρχήστρα, place to dance). Group of musicians who play musical pieces with different instruments/. Place between the scene and the seats, destined for the musicians.

Organ (from the Latin orgănum, and this one from the Greek ὄργανον = instrument). Musical wind instrument, consisting of many tubes where the sound is produced, some bellows to force the air and a keyboard and several records in order to modify the timbre of the voices.

Chorus: (from the Latin chorus, and this one from the Greek xορός = dance, dancing, choir). Set of persons who simultaneously sing a concerted piece in an opera or other musical function. / Group of people gathered or met to sing, rejoice, praise or celebrate something. / In the Greco-Roman drama, set of actors who recite the lyrical part intended to comment on the action.

Tone: (from the Latin tonus, and this one from the Greek τόνος, accent, stress). Quality of sounds, dependent on their frequency, that allows us to order them from severe to acute. From this word also derives "tonic" which in music means the first note of a musical scale.

Baritone: (from the Latin barytŏnus, and this one from the Greek βαρύτονος, of severe voice, from βαρύς = severe, heavy, low, deep,). Middle voice placed between the voices of tenors and basses and, as a result, man with this voice.

Diatonic: (from the Latin diatonĭcusus, and this one from the Greek διατονικός). It is said of one of the three genres of the musical system: which proceeds by two tones and a semitone.

Diapason: (from the Latin diapāson, and this one from the Greek διαπασῶν). Regulator of voices and instruments consisting of a folded steel blade with the shape of a fork with a foot or pillar, and when it sounds it gives a "la" set at 435 vibrations per second.

Rhythm: (from the Latin “rhythmus”, and this one from the Greek ῥυθμός from ῥεῖν, flow). Portion saved or kept between the time of a movement and the time of another different movement. From this derives rhythmic or rhythmical.

Syncopation: (from the Latin syncŏpa, and this one from the Greek συγκοπή, from συγκόπτειν, cut, reduce). Link of two equal sounds, of which, the first is at the weak part or time of the measure, and the second at the fort or strong part.

Chromatic: (from the Latin chromatĭcus, and this one from the Greek χρωματικός; χρῶμα - actually means color). It is said of one of the three genres of the musical system, the one which proceeds by semitones.

Chord: (This term is Latin; it derives from accordāre, from cor, cordis, heart,  and means agreement or to agree). Assembly of three or more different sounds harmoniously combined.

Melody, harmony, symphony, polyphony: these too. Orchestra, organ, chorus, chord, baritone, tonic, diatonic, diapason, chromatic, rhythm, syncopation: all of them come from the Greek. Ancient Greek culture was permeated with music. It is obvious the Greek citizen liked music.

References to music are very usual in literature (especially poets), in art, in archeology, in works whose central issue is precisely the music, and even in any document similar to our current scores. Yet ignorance is huge and little the attention from historians. Naturally, the ancient people could not record their sounds and the written word is not sufficient testimony.

Note: The word "opera" means manifestation or more inclusive art show consisting of theater, music, dance, visual arts. The word derives from the Italian "opera" and this from the Latin "opera", plural of "opus,-eris," which means work. So the "opera" means the musical work par excellence. Its origin is in the Renaissance theater and tries to recover the music of the ancients. Monteverdi calls his famous  L'Orfeo, published in Venice in 1609,  "Fabula in musica."

The Latin singular of "opera" is "opus" which means "work." In music the term is used to sort, index , cite the various musical works of the catalogs of the various authors. The term was first used in the seventeenth century.


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