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Vocables and Microtones in Ancient Greek Music

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This article discusses ways in which non-lexical utterances are linked in ancient Greek music to the representation of musical phrases. It first considers the possible use of ‘vocables’ in ancient Greek, i.e. vocal utterances lacking lexical content which may be substituted for the rhythms of a song for the purpose of the instruction or transmission of music. A system of vocables (distinct from solmization) outlined by Aristides Quintilianus is investigated to see if it can be shown to be related to principles of vowel pitch modification, whereby phonetically ‘high’ vowels tend to be enunciated at a higher pitch than ‘low’ ones. Since such variances could be heard in the context of microtonal music as creating wholly different musical notes, the Orestes papyrus is examined in detail to see if the enharmonic musical setting is affected in any way by principles of vowel pitch modification, with the conclusion that it is.

Affiliations: 1: Jesus College Oxford OX1 3DW


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