Music History

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Discuss the role of music in ancient Greek society, concentrating on public religious festivals, music in the theater, and private festivals. Greek life was infused with music. Music and dance were seen as part of a satisfying and good life.


It was usually a part of mourning also, except in cases, such as, when Admetus while mourning his wife, ordered that “neither lyre nor pipe is to be heard in the town for twelve months." (West 14). Often religious festivals or ceremonies would begin with a procession with music, such as chorale accompanied by the pipes and/or the lyre. The people might be dancing or have dancers with them. Processionals are thought to be the oldest form of Greek music. It is believed that the earliest recorded occasion was a procession from Messina to sacrifice on Delos (West 15). Every part of Greek life had some kind of music that was traditionally used. Following is a description of the most well known types: Hymns were sung by a chorus to the gods, except Apollo and Dionysus, which had their own special songs, the paean, a song of joy, and the dithyramb, a choral song of prayer or supplication. The Dithyramb eventually became secularized and metamorphosed into the drama form tragedy. The Hyporcheme was a song and a dance. The Prosodion was used for processionals to altars and temples at the beginning and ending of festivals. Enkomion was a song of praise for men, as was the Epinikion used to honor the winner of athletic competition. A Skolion was sung by guests at a banquet. An Erotikon was an erotic song or poem for gods and goddesses and also men and women. The Hymenaios was used for weddings during the processional, at the banquet and in front of the bridal suite. The Threnos was a funeral dirge, sung by a chorus solemnly in either very low or very high pitch. Maidens would sing a Partheneion . Many of these have echoes in current church and classical music ("Lyric Genres.").
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