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‘Without Timotheus, Much of Our Melopoiia Would not Exist; But without Phrynis, There Wouldn’t Have Been Timotheus’

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Pherecrates’ Twelve Strings, the Strobilos and the Harmonic Paranomia of the New Music

image of Greek and Roman Musical Studies

In this paper, I offer a close discussion of the musical innovations attributed to Phrynis, Timotheus and other ‘New Musicians’ mentioned in a famous fragment of Pherecrates’ Chiron, interpreting this fascinating passage in the light of the extant evidence about ancient harmonic theory and practice, as well as the latest research findings. More specifically, I shall advance a new hypothesis concerning the nature of Phrynis’ innovative ‘twister’ (strobilos): producing a special bending (kampē) of a semitone, this gadget allowed Phrynis to combine five different harmoniai (Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Iastian and ‘Loose Lydian’) in one and the same twelve-string tuning. Making a subtle modification to this device, Timotheus further expanded the harmonic palette of his twelve-string kithara, introducing the lamenting aulos-mode par excellence, the Mixolydian, into the realm of lyre music. Philoxenus increased this system by adding an extra string, reaching the 13-step arrangement that is at the heart of Aristoxenian harmonic theory.

Affiliations: 1: Jesus College, University of Oxford Turl Street, Oxford, OX1 3DW


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