Voyage 10. MUSIC MADE OF BODY AND SOUL
MAN IS BY NATURE A MUSICAL BEING; meaning that the song, the combination of music and lyrics, mainly together with movement or dance, has always been a fundamental characteristic of humans, serving their respective needs. Besides, music, speech, and dance, a “Holy Trinity” according to Palamás, show how close the relationship between sound, body and soul is.
“Music – speech – dance: a Holy Trinity” (Kostés Palamás)
The strange thing for us is that the ancients, even the primitives, felt the impact of musical sound onto their bodies much more intensely than modern humans. Obviously, Christianity and the Occidental mentality are largely responsible for the enormous degradation of our senses. Thus experts of many disciplines are now required to work together in order to fully understand this subject in depth.
Natural sounds played a key role in the genesis of music: sounds of Nature, human voices, the sounds of their tools, constituted raw “materials” that gradually began to take shape. According to Darwin, a primary stimulus has been the animal cries, especially during breeding season, when an orgasm of sounds and movements prevails, so rich and varied that man inevitably imitates responding to that call of Nature’s Choir. Man, however, as a species of the animal kingdom, has congenitally had his own “repertoire” which he gradually enriched – initially by imitation and later by inspiration.
The emergence of art was directly linked to elementary manifestations of magic, even before the latter was systematized to some form of religion. Cave paintings, of a much later period compared to music, are examples of utilitarian art: men tried to exorcise the animal they depicted so as to have plenty of game, or propitiate its “spirit” in case of an awe-inspiring beast. That is why the cave paintings are usually not found in the “living room” of the cave, but deep inside, at the “sanctuary”…
Spirit propitiation had broader applications: e.g. to natural phenomena that seemed supernatural, or during work time to coordinate movements, or even to master the “spirit” of the stone or wood that men wished to turn into a tool. Music played a key role in such cases. But it was lost in the mists of time. Today, millennia later, we can comfortably admire the cavemen’s performance in visual arts. But who has ever listened to their songs?
The question above is rather rhetoric. However, there is another question that is crucial to be answered: What is music? What’s its origin?
What is music? What’s its origin?
Music is found everywhere, in every culture or civilization, even the most isolated tribes: it is a characteristic of the human species – perhaps of other species, as well. At any rate, music is influenced by all aspects of a culture or civilization, including socio-economic organization, lifestyle, climate, technology… The emotions and ideas expressed by music, the situations in which it is played, the attitudes toward musicians and composers – all these vary according to space and time.
As we have said, music has probably had its origin in the sounds and rhythms of Nature. Men most likely imitated these phenomena using similar patterns with repetition and tonality. Even today musicians at times deliberately imitate natural sounds: folk fiddlers trill like birds, while Beethoven’s “Pastoral” 6th Symphony recreates the soundscape of a thunderstorm. Sometimes onomatopoeia is related to shamanistic beliefs or practices.(a) It also serves entertainment and edutainment, or practical purposes (such as lure of animals in hunt).
If the imitation of a bird song is considered music, then the bird song itself may also be regarded as music! Indeed, according to a study of zoomusicology,(b) bird songs are based on musical principles: those of repetition and transformation. And it’s not only birds: whales and dolphins have also exceptional vocal capabilities, while monkeys are unrivaled on drums and percussion while beating hollow logs, perhaps in order to demarcate their territories, creating rhythmic patterns in which some experts detect elements of “dialogue”, “call and response”.
Of course, everything depends on our definition of music – that is, whether a “musician” has the intention to stir up emotion through his sounds, which is probably linked to his ability to reflect about time (past and future). Men became artists sometime between 60 and 30 thousand years ago creating cave paintings, jewelry and other artifacts, while they started burying their dead with rituals. It was a form of “cultural revolution”. If we assume that those new forms of behaviour suggested the emergence of consciousness, then music – as we know it – appeared in the same period. But this is a rather narrow conception of music. As it usually happens in Africa so far, in prehistory too the concept of music was broader, including dance and worship. At that time it also served communication among the members of a group of people helping to coordinate action and strengthen their bonds. Thus, its role was crucial to their survival.
Music evokes strong emotions and opens paths to other states of awareness. In general, strong emotions are associated with evolution (reproduction and survival). Darwin pointed out the importance of music to sexual selection.(c) Singing and dancing require large energy reserves. Therefore, a singer-dancer, like a peacock displaying its feathers, is more likely to attract a mate to date. But there is a counterargument: in most species using singing in the selection of mates, it is the female that chooses and the male that sings – as a rule alone. In the human species, however, music is mostly a team sport where everyone is involved. Man is the only mammal having mixed choirs (with men, women and children). Something similar is found only in certain species of Australian and African songbirds with males and females singing in chorus.
The first musical “instrument” was obviously the voice of man who, even before he could master speech, had a vast range of expressive sounds: singing, humming, whistling (another vast range), producing various sounds through the mouth, imitating natural sounds, shouting, laughing, crying, coughing, yawning… (See Darwin’s The Origin of Species on music and speech). Add motion to all these sounds: not only dance, but also grimaces, gestures and movements of individual body parts (head, arms and legs). Similarly, the first percussion “instruments” were hand claps, finger snaps, stones, wood and whatever could be used to accentuate rhythm. Man-made instruments appeared much later when humans started making tools.
Let me make clear by the way that talking about “men”, in fact, I refer to the Hominini. The oldest tools found in today’s Tanzania were made 2.6 million years ago, that is, before the emergence of the various human species (Homo). We suppose that the first tools were made by Australopithecus who transmitted this knowledge to Homo habilis. Our ancestors passed to a new phase of tool-making 1.7 million years ago with Homo erectus. I maintain, therefore, that sound preceded speech and that music, song, a capella (without instrumental accompaniment), emerged together with voice as a characteristic of some Hominini or even Hominids. Besides, we already know that music was not born by Homo sapiens – who, as they say, were musically not as talented as the Neanderthals!
“The Singing Neanderthals”
In the beginning was the sound:
music is older than speech
In his study The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body, Steven Mithen, an archaeologist and professor of early prehistory at the University of Reading in England, expands mainly two ideas: a) the parallel development of what modern man calls music and language, and b) his own original idea that the Neanderthals had a peculiar proto-music/language: it was holistic (not composed of segmented elements), manipulative (influencing emotional states and hence behaviour of oneself and others), multimodal (using both sound and movement), musical (temporally controlled, rhythmic, and melodic), and mimetic (utilizing sound symbolism and gesture) – “a pre-linguistic musical mode of thought and action.” That is why, as Manuel de Falla and Federico García Lorca have said, “many suppose that chanting is the earliest form of language.” (See Voyage 4).
In her review on Mithen’s book, Ellen Dissanayake of the University of Washington in Seattle initially lists the… ocean of knowledge such a study requires: evolutionary theory; human evolution (social lifestyle, environment); palaeoarchaeology (linguistic and musical abilities and their development); anatomy (ear, vocal tract, brain and musical capacities); neurobiology (brain chemistry, musical cognition and emotion, neuroanatomy of music); origin and evolution of language (similarities and differences with music, semantics, syntax, prosody); music-like communication systems in other animals (non-human primates, whales, birds, etc) and their relevance to human communication; music psychology and linguistic behaviour in infants and children; ethnomusicology; the art and practice of music; as well as the findings of music therapy and the psychology of musical emotion. We can additionally mention biomusicology and evolutionary musicology.
Those “Singing Neanderthals”, according to Mithen, had a vocal tract and respiratory control that could have enabled speech, but they lacked the neural network that was necessary for language. This simply means that in the beginning was the sound: music preceded speech.(d) Moreover, pre-sapiens hominids such as the Neanderthals lacked metaphorical thought – the ability to have in mind at the same time information from several different cognitive domains. Symbolic artifacts have not been found in their dwelling sites, indicating the absence of symbolic thought and hence symbolic utterance: spoken language. Yet the challenges faced in such a hostile environment during the Ice Age required complex emotional communication and cooperation. So they developed a “music-like communication system that was more complex and more sophisticated than that found in any of the previous species of Homo”. Mithen emphasizes the importance of “emotional intelligence” – the ability to express one’s feelings with face, voice, and body, and decode the emotional signals of others.
Music as the Mother of Speech
(Rousseau, Herder, Humboldt, Darwin)
Singing was also preferable to talking. Why were the symbols of spoken words less reliable than an emotional melody? What were the pros and cons of language?
What is language? What’s its origin?
“What is language? What’s its origin?” – reads the notice at the entrance of a Congress Palace where a thought-provoking international symposium is taking place. Inside the building, of course, everyone… disagrees with everyone else; however, there is a recurring theme of almost paramount consent, something that escaped even Darwin’s attention: a prerequisite for the emergence of language, they say, is that there must be trust within the tribe – what we now call “society”! Some kind of social transformation, therefore, generated unprecedented levels of public trust, liberating a potential for linguistic creativity. Under normal conditions, as the saying goes, “words are cheap”, “double-talk”, unreliable symbols on which the tribe could not count for survival – that is, language was not trusted to become an evolutionarily stable strategy.
When a cat purrs, the signal constitutes direct evidence of the animal’s contented state. We trust the signal because it just can’t fake that sound. Vocal calls of the primates may not be so trustworthy. Their social intelligence is characterized as “Machiavellian” – self-serving and without moral scruples. Monkeys and apes often attempt to deceive one another, while at the same time remaining constantly on guard against falling victim to deception themselves! Paradoxically, this very trait is theorized as blocking the evolution of a language-like communication among them! A verbal signal sounds like the shout “Wolves!” by a shepherd trying to fool the others in the well-known pedagogical moralizing story. Once proven false nobody takes it for granted or even cares. Therefore, socially reliable institutions are necessary, where every scoundrel, either “monkey” or “shepherd”, is accountable. In a hunter-gatherer society, a basic mechanism inspiring trust is the collective ritual. (In our society, all the above adequately explain our crisis…)
Baby talk and the embryo’s audio stimuli
Last but not least is what we call “baby talk” – not the talk of a baby still unable to speak, but the one used by adults (usually mothers) while addressing infants, touching and caressing them: a melodic and undulating language, combined with strong gestures, exaggerated facial expressions and rhythmic head and body movements. This is indeed a language as the baby understands the meaning of all these sounds and movements: that is, comprehends the mother’s intentions. In this sense, such a language is similar to music having two main functions: to strengthen the mother-child relationship, and help the infant to speak. This way his/her chances of survival increase. Man’s ability to synchronize himself with an external pulse – which is probably unknown to other mammals, including primates – derived from the primordial mother-infant interaction which in time transformed itself into a proto-music, and also a proto-language.
“Baby talk” has a similar “vocabulary” in all cultures. The way mothers and babies raise and lower their voices, change simultaneously expressions and move their hands is similar everywhere, despite linguistic differences such as between musical and dynamic languages. The reasons may be genetic or environmental – in the sense that all embryos grow in a similar environment and can hear twenty weeks before birth, far longer than other animals, most of which cannot hear before birth. During these weeks, the human fetus can also perceive movement and orientation. In addition it senses the emotional state of the mother via the internal sounds of her body (voice, heartbeat, footsteps, digestion, etc.) and in this way adjusts its postnatal demands (e.g. crying), improving the chances of its survival. The embryo’s capacity to learn and remember sound patterns seems to confirm this theory. In this case, the internal sounds of the human body and their relationship with the emotional state may be associated with the relationship between audio-rhythmic patterns in music and their strong emotional charge.
“The human being is a musical being by man’s very nature”. (Iégor Reznikoff)
Generally speaking, the different species are born as tabula rasa regarding their acquired qualities – those that must be gained after birth, depending on the current conditions faced by each species for its survival. But they bear in their DNA all those inherited capacities and qualities that emerged as acquired (upright position, articulation, etc.) and ensured the survival of the species during the millennia of its evolution. It is where all the wisdom of the past is stored – together, of course, with the natural musical capacities.
However, talent, an innate musical inclination or “musical ear”, do not characterize all men but rather a minority. How comes that some persons can sing beautifully or at least correctly, while others, who equally love music, sing out of tune?
Nevertheless, in the Third World and, moreover, in the countryside, anywhere far from metropolitan urban centres, that is, wherever children are naturally brought up, almost everyone can sing and dance well. How comes? Here’s an answer by Ellen Dissanayake:
You can see, therefore, how crucial is the role of the mother, as well as that of the family or social environment in general, for the development of a child’s innate musical inclination. This must be the explanation for the existence not only of musical families, but also of musical tribes such as gypsies and blacks. Not everything is hereditary, despite the important role of heredity: the potential capacities must be cultivated; otherwise they remain dormant, inert, like some atrophic member.
The “labyrinth” of Reznikoff’s thought and the contraposition between “soft” and “hard” instruments may confuse us. The key to grasping its essence lies in that apt example from the art of painting. Sweet melodies and gentle voices e.g. in most lullabies are the equivalent of Raphael’s Madonna. Quite the contrary was what Plato has suggested about children that cannot go promptly to sleep: “mothers do not offer them peace, but rock them instead, and in this artless way they make the kids fall asleep”. If you experiment, they say, you see that the… Platonic technique is highly effective!
A similar misunderstanding seems to obsess psychotherapists who choose music with soft sounds, having waters trickling and birds singing as a… garnish in the background. Exactly the opposite was what the ancients were after during their psychotherapeutic rituals with the deliberately intense and monotonously repetitive music.
“Fire cleanses, while water purifies”, said Plutarch. Catharsis in ancient Hellas was the mental and moral purification through Dionysian ecstasy.(g) Using suitable melodies and rhythms, they caused the mentally disturbed to flush to such a degree that a reaction would follow bringing him back to his previous normal condition. They were methods of magic surviving even in the “civilized” world until the 60s. Now that we have become so very “cultured”, musical sounds can hardly excite us…
Catharsis was the mental and moral purification through Dionysian ecstasy. The spectators of tragedy were subjected to catharsis through feelings of pity and fear caused by the heroes’ suffering and tragic end. (Aristotle)
With this… Sibyllic synopsis of her paper, Music in the Therapeutic Rituals of the Korybantes and the Bacchantes, Denise Jourdan-Hemmerdinger tried to give some idea to her audience at the 3rd Musicological Symposium in Delphi in 1988. Unfortunately, she had a formidable opponent: relentless time. Within a very short time – granted to each speaker – she had to expand on her vast topic that could be the subject of a separate symposium. The… machine gun tempo she chose to say “everything” in time eventually proved to be a boomerang for her and her extremely interesting topic.
Scientists, however, albeit disconnectedly, managed to do some ethnological, musicological and medical research in India, Indochina, Siberia, Ethiopia, Senegal, Haiti, Native Americans (Indians and Eskimos) and elsewhere. In our territory such phenomena were observed in Magna Graecia, especially in the area of Taranto, with the famous tarantella dance that was formerly used as a key element of the musical exorcism to counteract the poison of the tarantula spider.
Part of the same tradition is a mainly Thracian, centuries old fire ritual called anastenária (nestinarstvo). The oldest written information about such barefoot dances on smoldering embers is found in Euripides’ The Bacchae. Later Strabo spoke of Artemis’ priestesses in Asia Minor and Italy performing such dances at will. In Byzantium the dancers were called “psychária” or “asthenária” (hence anastenária or nestinari), while around 1800 such rituals were prevalent not only in the Balkans but also throughout Anatolia.
Anastenária’s most striking feature is probably this “incombustibility”, or “immunity from fire” – the (seeming, at least) negation of a natural law. This part of the ritual stirs our imagination so much that almost everyone forgets to mention the key role of music and dance that, as many experts say, contribute to an emotional release and thus have a therapeutic effect on the participants. In a sense, therefore, the ceremony is a psychotherapeutic ritual system.
Music and dance contribute to an emotional release and thus have a therapeutic effect on the participants.
These systems, according to Levi-Strauss, provide the patient with a gateway to express inexpressible states. During the therapeutic process the participant receives from outside a social myth that has no conflicts and, therefore, does not correspond to his previous personal condition. In this context, reality is compelled to identify with this social myth. Without music and dance, however, methexis is not possible:
“Dance is a certain step to ecstasy, opens the way to the phenomenon of ecstasy.” (Constantinos Constantinides)
Rhythm, inextricably connected to dance, is the first musical element man experiences. Even now, the first sound the fetus hears is its mother’s rhythmic heartbeat, long before it enjoys her singing – if, of course, she has a sweet voice. But even if she doesn’t, the pulse is there, recorded in the deepest subcortical centres of the brain; when excited, man’s inhibitions are neutralized and that’s how he is overwhelmed with ecstasy, acting not as an individual but as a member of a group.(j) Melody, therefore, the second element of music, is intentionally monotonous and persistently repetitious, while the lyrics are just as rudimentary: precisely to prevent the re-activation of the cortex and to achieve the culmination of ecstasy.
The first sound a fetus hears is its mother’s heartbeat recorded deep inside the brain; when excited, man’s inhibitions are neutralized and, overwhelmed with ecstasy, acts not as an individual but as a member of a group.
All that could not go unnoticed by ancient Greek philosophers who have seen with their own eyes how crucial the role of rhythm is for the preservation, modification or loss of ethos in music. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and others have investigated the ethos of rhythm, melody, genera and harmonies or modes, not only because music was the foundation of education, but also because – quite rightly – they considered music as a form of language, capable of expressing as much as speech and exerting a catalytic effect on people, especially youth.
The ethos of music is generally distinguished as exuberant – the one causing agitation or excitement; restrained – that is, the opposite; or serene – that calms down. Apparently these comprehensive philosophical studies were based on observations on ancient folk rituals similar to the musical therapeutic ceremonies. Philosophers have found that every rhythmic or melodic movement causes certain emotional reactions, positive or negative – depending on the intended purpose. Thus they concluded that the sounds with the beneficial effects should be praised and the others to be condemned.
The ethos of music – of rhythm, melody, genera and harmonies or modes – was distinguished as exuberant, restrained, or serene.
Naturally, the concept of ethos, which was the focus of attention of every philosopher, was also used for the condemnation of every musical innovation by the conservatives, as we have already seen in our previous Voyage. In no way, however, does this fact mean that ethos is worthless for us. Why else should that ancient Hellenic concept be adopted by Persians and Arabs?
On the other hand, isn’t this concept completely unknown today? Why should we care about the ethos of music (and not only of music) in an exceptionally unethical era in every respect? Isn’t it an… anachronism?
Dear reader, my dearest fellow traveler, don’t you think that having come thus far, it means there is a deeper and serious reason?
After the Voyages of the MEDITERRANEAN PERIPLUS,
let’s go on to the Chronicles of ONCE UPON A… WAVE!
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”
Voyage 9. “DO NOT MALTREAT OUR MUSIC!”
PERICLES’ “GOLDEN AGE”, the period of the greatest acme of ancient Hellenic civilization, coincided paradoxically with the years of “decline” that seemed to fall upon the Greeks since the mid-5th century. This downward trend, like a Cassandra, was in a way a precursor of the upcoming “civil” Peloponnesian War. The most dramatic reaction to “remedy the evil” was… anti-dramatic: the polis of Athens decreed in 440 BCE the cessation of all theatrical and musical activities for four years!
Performing in Sparta those days with his “modern” at the time nine-string cithara, Phrynis of Mytilene encountered the angry outcry of the ephori (ephors) who, shouting out rhythmically “Do not maltreat our music!”, forced him to remove the two “extra” strings in order to play with the “classical” (in the 5th century) seven-string cithara.
“Do not maltreat our music!” (Spartan ephori)
Was it, indeed, a manifestation of the ephori’s extreme conservatism, or had Phrynis – a leader of the innovative school with an exceptionally melismatic and modulative style – perhaps gone too far and actually maltreated music? We shall never know: first of all, we did not… listen to him playing. But even if we’d heard him play, we would still be unable to make up our minds judging by our own ears – by our own standards, if you like, that is, by our current criteria on music.
But Pherecrates, a contemporary comic poet and musician, was strongly in favor of the ephori, if we consider that in his comedy, Chiron, he presented Music as complaining to Justice for abuses committed by innovators such as Timotheus of Miletus, Melanippides of Melos and Phrynis – whom, however, the comedian forgave because when he grew older he came… to his senses! On the contrary, Pherecrates threw several brickbats at Timotheus and Melanippides who remained unrepentant until the end, playing their even “worse” twelve-string instruments.
Comic playwrights, however, with their innate conservatism, permit me to say, are not the most reliable sources, judging by the way Aristophanes has “taken care” of another great innovator, Euripides. The tragedian believed in Timotheus’ talent, while Aristotle, together with other philosophers, also praised the work of the modernists:
“Laconism (brevity) is the soul of wit”, the ancients remarked. But the Spartan ephori set out to… disprove them, hurriedly expelling Timotheus from their polis by decree, which the Roman philosopher Boethius preserved:
The ephori’s “Puritanism” was not just a phenomenon of the years of “decline”. This mentality of “supervising everything” characterized them also in the past, bringing them into conflict – among others – with another Lesbian musician, the famous Terpander, legendary heir to Orpheus’ lyre,(b) who lived from the late 8th to the mid-7th century, that is, in the so-called “creative” times. Indeed, he spent most of his life in Sparta, where he was called in during a period of political crisis to… pour oil on troubled waters! In fact, he was able to restore peace and tranquility in the city with his music composed specially for the occasion! But the ephori, instead of thanking him, demanded… an apology because he played – alas! – a seven-string cithara and not a “traditional” – at the time – four-string lyre! They could not even suspect that these specific peace-restoring compositions could not be played on a four-string lyre…
The Spartan ephori could not even suspect that Terpander’s compositions could not be played on a four-string lyre…
Fortunately, there was an intervention – as “deus ex machina” – by Apollo, whose lyre, by… “divine coincidence”, was also seven-string! It was confirmed by a rumour that craftily circulated those days. Thus, with the seal of the Delphic Oracle, “the Spartans honoured the Lesbian songwriter”, according to Heraclides Ponticus (from Pontic Heraclea in the 4th century BCE), who added: “for God commanded them through prophesies to listen to him”. Accustomed to exaggerate (let alone it was a divine command to obey to Terpander), the Spartans subsequently placed everyone “after the Lesbian songwriter”, as Aristotle wrote.
The predominance of the art of this incomparable in his time citharoedus at the expense of the ephori’s scholasticism benefited in many ways the Spartans, who secured not only a peacemaker in times of political turmoil, but also the founder of their musical life. They say that Terpander was – among other things – the first to invent a kind of musical notation for the proper performance of the Homeric epics.
The opposite happened millennia later with the notorious report On Literature, Music and Philosophy by the ephori’s descendant, Zhdanov, whom Stalin considered an expert also on issues of music because he could… play a little piano! In his report of June 24, 1947, the “father” of “socialist realism”, who had nationalized even… culture in 1934 so as to turn it into a political tool, demanded from the famous composers Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Khachaturian and Shebalin to repent publicly, denouncing themselves! What a pity there was no Pythia anymore…
It was the nadir of a cultural policy aimed at creating… yes-men in literature and the arts – a policy that undermined the highest interests not only of culture, but also of the revolution. Note that it was not restricted in the Soviet Union but was also imposed on all “sister” parties. The Zhdanov report was discussed by Greek party intellectuals even on the barren islands of exile: it was unanimously approved! There was only one “dissonant” voice: that of Ares Alexandrou…
Well, starting from historical paradoxes, we have ended up to historical parallels, which are often detrimental to historical truth. Spontaneously we are in solidarity with the musicians and confront the… “Zhdanovist” ephori with disgust. In reality, however, we cannot be absolutely sure – especially in times of “decline” – which side was finally right: Phrynis and Timotheus or the ephori? Let alone that the above slogan of the “villains” fits perfectly well into the current situation concerning our music and, I think, we should all cry out loud rhythmically and in chorus: DO NOT MAL–TREAT OUR MU–SIC!
Our only certainty is probably that these historical episodes refer to professional musicians, heirs of a long tradition starting since very old times – since prehistory. Once mankind began producing more than what was absolutely necessary, resulting in surplus product which certain individuals gradually appropriated and thus constituted themselves as a separate class, since that moment musicians emerged as a separate profession.
First-rate musicians in the Orient were closely connected with the royal courts and the clergy – if they were not courtiers or priests themselves. The situation changed later in ancient Hellas due to climatic conditions that were mild and did not necessitate strong central power. These conditions nurtured a similar attitude among the Greeks and a relaxed relationship with the gods. The development of democratic ideas took place in the same context, as I have already tried to explain (see Voyages 2 and 2*).
The Hellenes have had open and inquiring minds exactly because they’ve been open to the outside world as a result of the same conditions. Just a look at a map of Greece explains why. Thus, the oriental influence has been catalytic. The ancients, however, unlike us, did not like to… “copy and paste”. They adapted every recipe to their tastes by adding or removing ingredients. They borrowed their writing from the Cretans already in the 17th century BCE, after making the necessary changes to meet the requirements of their language (Minoan and Mycenaean Linear A and B scripts, respectively), and around the 9th century BCE received (most probably from the Phoenicians) the symbols with which they formed their alphabet – a real alphabet (and not an abjad) with letters for consonants and vowels alike. Using the same symbols (what would be more sensible?), they arrived to the point to also invent musical writing (notation) as early as the 7th-6th century BCE.
“The Hellenes had musical notation well before the 6th century BC”, Iégor Reznikoff said at the 2nd Musicological Symposium in Delphi in 1986. “They were very good in keeping records; that’s why we know so much about ancient Greek tradition and return to it, as many other traditions had no musical writing and thus we know nothing about them.”
“Many ancient notations were invented by priests for priests and cantors, and some were even kept secret”, Curt Sachs remarked.
Music, with its catalytic effect on humans, was a deadly enemy of any religion, but also a mighty weapon in the hands of the priests who made sure that knowledge around this art was a well-kept secret.
A culture with a script was not necessarily a culture with a musical script; and if the notation existed, it might have been… top secret! Music, with its catalytic effect on humans and its magical powers, was a deadly enemy of any religion, but also a mighty weapon in the hands of the priests who made sure that knowledge around this art was a well-kept secret within the very select circle of initiates.
So, the Hellenes might not have been the initiators in the field of musical notation, but they first used it not for religious-authoritarian purposes but for didactic reasons, given that music was at the heart of education provided to children since they were six. This is where differences between the cultures of Greeks and “barbarians” – i.e. those speaking languages incomprehensible to Hellenes – can be found. Greek culture was not theocratic (there was no reason to be), which is why knowledge was a public good and also right. The initiation into the mysteries was part of the devotional process, but the role of religion was completely different.
The Hellenes used the archaic alphabet for instrumentation and Ionic letters for the song.(c) This may also indicate that instrumental notation preceded the vocal. Obviously the latter became necessary because of music’s further development, thereby varying the melodic lines of voices and instruments.
Thus we are able to play even now the extant ancient Hellenic music “remnants” – of course, approximately. That’s how – based on various indications – we also approach ancient Greek phonology, speech, pronunciation, which was musical and not dynamic as it is now.(d) The difference is enormous. This implies that the divergence between ancient and modern music is even greater.
The arguable continuity of Greek civilization through the succession of classical antiquity with the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods – and the necessary adjustments at each stage due to changing conditions – seems to have been interrupted by the arrival of the Ottomans. So, we tend to identify the emergence of any divergence during this period. But such phenomena have been much older, as is shown by the rapid linguistic changes taking place already in the Hellenistic era. As far as music is concerned, colossal differentiations emerged much later, not because of the Turkish yoke, but – how ironic! – as soon as this yoke was thrown off and the Modern Greek state was established supported on foreign “crutches”.
A rule that was undermined then from above concerned the link between folk and erudite music. The fact that Constantinople, Thessalonica and Smyrna – the great centres of the Byzantine and Ottoman eras – were outside the borders of the new state made things easier for the erudite musicians (all of them educated in Europe) to impose the music they could play and compose, regardless if it had nothing to do with local tradition.
Additionally, due to the fact that this tradition was shared with the former conqueror, a new kind of servitude that appeared since then also led to attempts to harmonize Hellenic music (based on the Occidental conception of harmony; see our previous Voyage), both demotic song and ecclesiastical Byzantine – the only erudite music left in Greece, since secular Byzantine music was thoughtlessly ceded to Turkey without Hellas claiming its share of this centuries-old common cultural heritage…
Didn’t those in power realize that there was a risk for the people to turn into tabula rasa? Didn’t they wonder if among the ages thrown into the dustbin the… Periclean Golden Age was also included? No problem! In the spotlight they bathed just the Parthenons (that is, the dead meaning of the Golden Age), then set up the “new Parthenons” on barren islands of exile,(e) and finally set out to strangle whatever little had survived from Pericles’ legacy with the asphyxiating embrace of concrete. The architectural chaos they’ve created may have knocked architecture down the podium of the fine arts, but that’s what business with pleasure is all about – and this combination is better achieved through… defects: it’s them that turn wallets thick!
The Europeanization of music has been going on apace all along as long as training provided in conservatories (aka… foreign music language schools) is based on European standards.(f) The absence of “national” music education at its place of birth (while “third world” countries of the Orient boast of their higher music institutes) might be unthinkable in any country other than modern Greece. Perhaps everything can be explained by amateurism or the absence of a cultural policy – without excluding the possibility of conscious action. After all, isn’t this absence of policy also… a policy?
The issue is far from simple. Any child who is inclined to music, regardless of stimuli, will be obliged to attend a conservatory having no choice: he/she will necessarily be taught a foreign musical language – the erudite European. It’s been another case of brainwashing – not only of this child but also of his/her future listeners, since it is impossible to “shepherd” the public to listen to occidental music if you don’t “produce” musicians specifically trained for the role, blocking the procedures of the formation of new traditional musicians, and marginalizing at the same time those who are already active. It’s been another scheme of the ruling circles in order to eradicate local traditional music and thus mutate the collective consciousness of the people.
The ruling circles tried to eradicate local tradition and mutate the collective consciousness of the people. Those who resisted were the conservatives…
Taking into account all these attempts, the continuous attacks against all local musical genres since the Hellenic state has been established, it is a miracle that this tradition has survived! It’s been victorious, of course, because it’s deep-rooted – but also because of a certain peculiarity: there was resistance against these attacks and those who resisted were mainly the conservative opponents of cosmopolitanism (e.g. Simon Karas, though sponsored by the Ford Foundation) and not the progressive Greeks, as it would be proper and normal. The fact that it was the conservatives who contributed the most in the field of safeguarding traditional music created even more confusion, obscuring the real problems.
The conservatives, of course, care about the conservation of music in the form it has survived through tradition so far. They are mainly interested in the conservation of the type (sum of typical features or clichés) of tradition, which is not seen in connection with the rest of the Mediterranean cultures where it belongs. It is the typical attitude of the folklorists missing the essence of the matter. So they concentrate their attention on collecting songs and tunes in the form they’ve been polished to perfection by countless generations of musicians, disregarding personal creative interventions by current folk artists, ignoring that such innovations – those adopted by public taste – refined and perfected folk songs, and also rejecting any further similar effort as an attempt to adulterate their purity, arguing that in the era of individualism, the practice of collective development of music is long gone.
This may be true; but disregards the fact that the songs we admire so much have been created and perfected not by the people in general, but by their musicians as exponents of society at large or some social strata. That is, their composers and lyricists have been some talented persons, not society in general. In addition, we have no right to throw the inflow of new elements into our music in the purgatory, condemning it to a standstill – which is equivalent to death: τὰ πάντα ῥεῖ (everything flows), said Heraclitus; therefore, whatever does not flow, dies out. It goes without saying that I do not argue in favour of an uncritical acceptance of all new elements. I just point out the consequences of blind negativism: by cutting the thread of continuity, we offer the worst service to tradition. Are our folklorists under the naïve impression that barricading themselves behind the wall they are erecting, they would supposedly be safe? In the Internet era they behave like ostriches!
Folk songs have been created and perfected not by the people in general, but by their musicians as exponents of society at large or some social strata.
Their composers have been some talented persons, not society in general.
In the era of individual creation, only a thorough understanding of traditional music will enable its further development…
There’s no objection that after the invention of the phonograph, and especially since the record companies have also undertaken the promotion of their “merchandise”, the role of the people shrank into that of a passive receiver/listener. So much for the famous public taste! Thus, in the era of individual creation, only a thorough understanding of traditional music will enable its further development under new conditions – which is the hoped-for result – instead of serving as couleur locale. This development, of course, cannot come up with revivals such as the “neo-demotic” or “neo-rebetiko” that discredit the whole verbiage about “roots”, precisely because of the adherence of their protagonists to the past – if not to money…
“If I cannot change a situation, I accept it,” the great bluesman B.B. King confessed, clarifying the reason why he changed the style of his music. His statement raises directly the issue of the acceptance of any situation or not, whether one can create obeying to the dictates of companies – or of the public, that is already a conditioned element. Certainly, the room for creation becomes more limited. Even those who can cope with difficulties would produce a far more important work if they had a free hand. Those who manage not to debase their art under such tight control are really few.(g) That’s why the ethos of music is already a concept unknown to musicians – something so hard to get that we are under the illusion we can find it among amateurs…
Well, professionals or amateurs? Here’s an issue we need to elaborate on because, in the field of the arts, the former are burdened with all the sins of the world (plus the junk that’s for sale), while no one dares to call into question the noble intentions of those enveloped in the halo of a “lover (of art)”. This mentality has already passed even to professionals! We have arrived at the point where we… boast of our amateurism, considering professionalism as hubris in the land of the Homeric epics, the work of a professional rhapsode, where the equally professional songwriters of the Trojan War era (first quarter of the 12th century) are mentioned, namely Phemius and Demodocus. We are talking about a tradition we know for sure it’s been going on for at least three millennia – let alone that professional musicians existed well before the fall of Ilion.
So, what is a professional? Generally speaking on any kind of work, since the situation around music is rather confusing, we can say that he/she is someone who:
Anyone who does not meet the above requirements cannot be considered a professional and, moreover, if he doesn’t meet the first requirement, it’s impossible to get a job (under normal conditions). There are, of course, good and bad professionals depending on the degree they can meet such requirements. A good professional, therefore, is one who cares for both the material he’s working on, and the material aspect of his work – his earnings – because otherwise his craftsmanship would be degraded and anyone could replace him. Bertolt Brecht talked about this need in his time, but who listened to him then and who remembers him now? “When you have something to say, to express,” said Pablo Picasso, “any submission becomes unbearable in the long run. One must have the courage of one’s vocation and the courage to make a living from one’s vocation… without compromise.”
The denigration of the professional musician may be linked to the Europeanization epidemic that has stricken the Hellenic state since its establishment. Ionian and Athenian serenades, operettas, various retros, and European light music in general, has been the “scope of action par excellence” of the trained Europeanist super-professionals,(h) while local tradition has been left in the care of semi-professional or even amateur, self–taught musicians, treated disparagingly by the music establishment.
Here’s the “root of the evil”: at best the state abandoned local music to the mercy of fate; at worst it was hostile against it. Several posts – public or not – were surely occupied by these Europeanists. Under the circumstances, Hellenic music and its practitioners barely survived. They were obliged to do other jobs in order to live. This, of course, was at the expense of their art – which was more and more degraded, along with public taste. This profession “offered” so much insecurity that the locals (throughout the Balkans) handed it over to the “exclusive competence” of the Roma, the gypsies.
The situation definitely improved when and where the Greeks gained economic prosperity that allowed them to support “full time” musicians. But the dramatic improvement of the conditions of Hellenic music came with a… tragedy: the Asia Minor Catastrophe. Again and again History shows us how much she can appreciate irony! Those uprooted from their ancestral homes moved in thousands into Greece (around 1.3 million people) and, together with their scanty belongings, carried with them the Anatolian sound and lifestyle – which evolved into a struggle to survive in Hellas: they brought their songs and feasts, just in case they could alleviate their plight…
The dramatic improvement of the conditions of Hellenic music came with a… tragedy: the Asia Minor Catastrophe.
The musicians from Asia Minor were truly professionals, with excellent knowledge of both the Mediterranean and European traditions. But they were refugees – thus, on the margins. It would take some time until they occupied responsible positions in the newly founded phonographic companies. Until then – as far as their equally marginalized public was still there – they would keep on playing their familiar repertoire of Constantinople, Smyrna and Asia Minor at large, with songs and tunes that enjoyed widespread approval in Anatolia; but not in Greece where they were not universally embraced, were rather limited in scope, for their sound was “unfamiliar” – let alone they were difficult to sing! So their fate was similar to that of their creators and they were in turn marginalized. Another historical irony was that they were replaced by the songs of the hitherto marginalized Piraeotic rebetiko!
The reasons for this preference, therefore, were commercial – as well as political: these elaborate, demanding songs, as artistic products of an advanced culture, were reminiscent of lost homelands. So they should be removed from collective memory to – supposedly – “heal” the trauma of the Asia Minor Catastrophe. Firm was the belief that this music was inextricably linked with the Turkish language spoken by many refugees. National interests dictated some drastic measures to be taken.
Smyrnaic songs, reminiscent of lost homelands, were marginalized for commercial and political reasons. They should be removed from collective memory to “heal” the trauma of the catastrophe… Censorship on music targeted minor thirds, a feature of the ancient Hellenic chromatic genus…
This task was later taken over by the Metaxas dictatorship, imposing censorship that was not limited to lyrics, but extended to music, as well (see also Voyage 6). The musical censors’ main target was the minor third intervals (three semitones), the so-called “bemolli”,(i) that is, the distinctive feature of the ancient Hellenic chromatic genus. Even though there are some questions around the enharmonic genus, no one has ever doubted about the chromatic: we know e.g. that it was never used in tragedies – apparently because it did not fit there. But Plutarch, according to Aristides Quintilianus (3rd century CE), said that “the cithara, several generations older than tragedy, since its very beginning, used (the chromatic genus)… the sweetest and most plaintive”. Besides, the three ancient genera (diatonic, chromatic, and enharmonic) can also be found, noticeably remodeled, in Byzantine music. However, the Westerners – alas! – are only able to appreciate scales, especially the diatonic, while their chromatic scale has nothing to do with the chromatic genus: bingo!
“How comes that no one informed Metaxas on this issue?”, – some naïve person may wonder. Well, even if someone did, he would have… disappeared later imprisoned or exiled for “anti-state activities”! Under these abnormal conditions rebetiko turned professional. Persecution affected everyone – both the Anatolians and the locals – for their music styles were first-degree relatives. Due to its tolerant police authority, Thessalonica was then turned into an oasis where many persecuted found refuge. Thus, during its early years, rebetiko influenced the city and was influenced by it.
Nevertheless, the painful shrinkage of Hellenism had also its positive effects, concentrating and condensing in modern Greece sounds born in three peninsulas: the Balkans, Asia Minor, and Italy. No country in the region enjoys such a privilege: its geography determines the sound of its music. This little miracle, however, with Hellenism’s three-dimensional face, collides with the mantra “We belong to the West” and is anything but welcome to the rulers who would do everything for the people to lose orientation – and if possible, they would have imposed… “occidentation” with a presidential decree!
The shrinkage of Hellenism concentrated in Greece sounds born in three peninsulas: the Balkans, Asia Minor, and Italy.
Rebetiko’s foes covered the entire political spectrum from Right to Left.
Rebetiko’s foes, however, covered the entire political spectrum from Right to Left. In the late ’46 and early ’47, according to Phoebus Anogianakis, the musical associations asked the government to intervene taking “appropriate measures” in order to stem the spread of rebetiko:
A week later, on February 4, Rizospastis published a reply letter to Anogianakis, signed by his co-fighter in the ranks of the National Liberation Front (EAM), namely Alekos Xenos, also a musician. Noting that in the newspaper Ethnos (Nation), Manoles Kalomoires adopted a similar position with Anogianakis (this concurrence seemed rather… incriminating!), he outlined his diametrically opposite view:
This fossilized thinking, which the party leadership – unfortunately – espoused, was disputed on the 23rd of the same month by Linos Polites with another letter to Rizospastis. After calling Xenos back to… Marxist order (“how comes that the lumpen is a degraded segment of the bourgeoisie?”), he censured the domestic production of tangos, concluding as follows:
The controversy around rebetiko necessarily stopped then, since another conflict had broken out – with live ammunition: it was the Civil War… Two years later, with the Left heading for defeat because of their own “mistakes” and betrayals (not because of the superior adversary firepower), another composer, also coming from the ranks of EAM but disappointed and having turned his interests elsewhere, undertook the defense of rebetiko. It was the highly penetrating Manos Hadjidakis describing the prevailing atmosphere in the late 40s:
“Imagine all this piled vitality and beauty of a people asking for an outlet, expression, contact with the outside world… Think of the extremely harsh conditions in our country. Vitality is burned, idiosyncrasy falls sick, beauty remains. This is rebetiko.” (Manos Hadjidakis)
Until the Civil War wounds healed, many years had passed. The debate on rebetiko was rekindled in the dawn of the 60s on the occasion of Mikis Theodorakis’ Epitaph. But it was too late: the debate of the 60s seemed more like a… rebetiko epitaph – meaning it was a post mortem – for its creative period, its breath, was already over…
Noteworthy is an essay by Kostas Takhtsés on Zeybekiko – written with y because of a theory “that the etymology of the word comes from Zeus and bekos (bread in Phrygian)”. This elaborate text of 1964, rather lengthy to quote here, deserves to be read in whole, inter alia, for its important reflections, such as:
Anyway, it is really didactic to see in outline the distressing finale of the story about rebetiko zeybekiko as narrated by Takhtsés:
In the aftermath of such a text, silence is golden. Even D.E. Pohren’s crucial conclusion that “once a minority’s authentic musical expression becomes fashionable, it fades”, pales into insignificance. The same also applies to Anogianakis’ remark that “certain current [of 1961] rebetiko features correspond to commercial jazz (stylized overproduction, exaggerated performance through microphones and loudspeakers, showing off of silly virtuosity).”
“Once a minority’s authentic musical expression becomes fashionable, it fades”. (Donn Pohren)
Here’s, then, where we have ended up: with musicians playing every night, all the time, the same repertoire with no substantial changes, bored as hell, just like their customers. When the musicians do not enjoy their art, when pathos or joys of life have been replaced by bathos or superficial revels, then merriment and “happiness” come by artificial means – drinking at best. When the musicians fail to engage creatively and freely in improvisations, having in mind just an outline, a sketch of the repertoire, leaving everything else on the spur of the moment, when they avoid or are afraid to be carried away by their imagination, and prefer to be on sure ground, then at best they may provide entertainment – for the people to forget their troubles, to be fooled – though they should provide (at least sometimes) edutainment, “soul therapy”.(m) When the musicians act dictatorially, playing at full volume, forgetting that music has pianissimo and fortissimo, as well as a plethora of modes and rhythms, then people go out to blow off some steam, get drunk and break loose, making more noise than the amplifiers and behaving like a horde of barbarians. Then – let me say it again – the musicians have lost their best allies: the music aficionados.
But – you’re bound to ask – aren’t professionals like that? Why should I support them? Well, these are the bad professionals, I would say – regardless if they make up the majority now. Willy-nilly, they’ve fallen into the trap where other professionals, such as journalists, have also been caught, with the idea that they are… coffee men and, therefore, they make coffee according to the customers’ preferences!(n) They do not seem to bother that the order for… “light-sweet” music or news is not given by some “clients” but by their bosses. On the other hand, let’s not forget that if there was no public well-disposed to junk “music” or “news”, the bosses would necessarily have second thoughts. So, when we… shoot the piano player without looking in the mirror, chances are we’ll be finally left without a piano player!
When we… shoot the piano player without looking in the mirror, chances are we’ll be finally left without a piano player!
Music is no joking matter. It’s an art that requires years of study, either with sheet music and books or beside another musician – but always on the instrument. It takes persistent and consistent effort and study to master the technique of a single instrument and, moreover, to decipher the secrets of a single music language. The same applies to a singer: not everything depends on a “celestial charisma”. How then is it possible to consider this verbiage of “cold” professionals and “sensitive” amateurs as well-grounded? How can a lyricist e.g. pose as a composer when he is musically “illiterate”? What would this rhymer say, indeed, if someone who had never sat down to work on language and metre declared to be a “poet”? You’ll tell me I’ve forgotten a very important parameter: in Hellas you are whatever you declare!
Popular songs – they say – are simple. Yes, but they are not simplistic! The great difficulty in their composition lies in this very simplicity. Especially when you have studied theory of music, it is rather easy to create complicated compositions. If you attempt to simplify them, if you leave just the basic melodic line, then the substance, the quality of your inspiration, reveals itself.
Popular songs – they say – are simple. Yes, but they are not simplistic! The great difficulty in their composition lies in this very simplicity…
Let us assume that divine inspiration strikes a musically “illiterate” man: he will not be able to elaborate on that because he lacks proper knowledge. And if this elaboration is taken over by someone else, the end result will be different from what he had in mind. Even if he “hits it big” and becomes a “star”, he will have capitalized on the erudition of third persons, who will unfortunately remain unknown. If he additionally wishes to sing his creation, as it has become fashionable lately, he will fail, as well, because, even if he doesn’t sing out of tune (if…), he has not worked his vocal chords, ignores completely the vocal techniques, he doesn’t know the secrets of breathing, articulating and singing, and much more.
One may refer as an example to the Beatles who composed brilliant music being musically “illiterate”. Apart from the fact that they too capitalized on George Martin’s erudition, I have to stress I don’t mean by any means those musicians who are theoretically “illiterate”: the Beatles were professional musicians since the time they played – completely unknown – in Hamburg..
It is obvious that I don’t speak of autodidacts, of self-taught musicians, who have not only disadvantages but also advantages against theoretically erudite colleagues. Let alone that the conservatory may destroy a natural talent. Liszt e.g. admired so much a self-taught virtuoso that “he trembled at the idea of him studying music, so as to keep the impulsive power of his musical instinct virginal and unchanged”, as Sophia Spanoudes wrote in her well-known column in favor of Tsitsanes in 1952. Concerning the powerful advantages of autodidacts against erudite artists, Giorgos Papadakis explained why such musicians have been the salt of the earth:
Liszt “trembled at the idea of some self-taught virtuoso studying music, so as to keep the impulsive power of his musical instinct virginal and unchanged.”
The musically “illiterate”, however, are also sly: they declare they are “popular composers”, instead of “popular musicians”, because otherwise the trick would have been exposed at once. So let’s have a brief look at this category, as well:
It goes without saying that a popular composer according to Anogianakis needs to combine the traits of a self-taught musician according to Papadakis if he is to acquire a quite personal style – and vice versa: the autodidact must be gifted by nature with musical talents and have extensive experience to re-invent the wheel…
One more thing: the term “art music”, prevailing in the 60s when Anogianakis’ text was written, is of course completely inappropriate, since it implies that a popular composer is probably… “artless”! Clearly annoyed and in a sarcastic mood, Tsitsanes once commented that the difference between popular and “art” composers is that between eyewitnesses to a crime and some others who… just heard about the crime!
And what about the… “illiterate”? Where can we group all those who surely have nothing in common either with Tsitsanes or with the Beatles? No need to ask: they are the… perpetrators of the crime!
Voyage 8. “ALL MUSIC IS THRACIAN AND ASIAN”
AN APOPHTHEGM such as the above by the famous historian and geographer on the prevailing opinion in his era (64 BCE – 24 CE) about the Thracian and Asian origin of all music – hence also its instruments – actually recurs again and again like a leitmotiv and also as a reminder to all those who start from the Thracian Orpheus’ lyre and end up to General Makryiannes’ tambourás…
As long as one is preoccupied with the ancients’ exaltation, that is, as long as he is just a… carrier of the “virus”, there is no big problem. What happens, however, if he becomes symptomatic and possessed by “ancestor-mania”? The result is more than obvious in the above-cited quotation from a text on the record with Songs of the Peloponnese, issued by the Society for the Dissemination of National Music, and written by Simon Karas himself – despite his admittedly immense and invaluable contribution on this subject.
Such were the claims put forward in all seriousness from both sides, as if it mattered much whether the Tsakonian dance reminded us of a Pythic nomos or if it reenacted, faithfully or not, the escape from the Labyrinth, while the… Minotaur was anything but dead, and Karas pointed his finger at him immediately afterwards:
This “Pythic nomos” mentality made Karas claim that almost all folk instruments played today or allegedly used in the past in Greece were Hellenic in origin. In a similar text on the record with Songs of Constantinople and the Sea of Marmara, he wrote:
The term psaltery was general in ancient Hellas, had no relation with the religious psalms and referred to all string instruments played directly with the fingers without a plectrum. Included in the same category were, among others, the nabla, simicium and trígonon (harp). As a rule, they were multi-string instruments, some of them not “psalteries” for they were played with a plectrum. The most impressive of the latter was perhaps the sambuca that was more than one metre high and looked like a homonymous siege engine.
It seems that the instruments of this numerous family, especially those with many strings, did not differ much – at least for the non-connoisseurs – and thus many people confused them. However, some of them were played upright evolving into the harp, while others were used horizontally and ended up as the qanun and santur. These instruments were known and in use in Greece before it became… Greece, that is, since the (pro-Hellenic) early Bronze Age of the 3rd millennium BCE. The clearest proof is the Harpist (Trígonon player) of Keros, a beautiful Cycladic figurine dating to 2800-2300 BCE.
Despite these instruments’ long history in the Greek world, Plato and some other philosophers condemned them as unmanly, while Aristotle‘s pupil, Aristoxenus of Tarentum, the so-called Musician, a most important figure in the area of music theory in ancient Hellas, one of the pioneers of musicology, as we would say today, described them as έκφυλα, that is alien – in the word’s literal sense and not the metaphorical that’s been left to us (degenerate).
Of course, what’s interesting here is not a moral evaluation but the origin of these instruments. There is enough evidence, albeit unclear, that seems to point to an Asian or Thracian origin (what Strabo has said). More tangible are the archeological finds with a plethora of depictions of harpists excavated in the Near East – mainly in Egypt and Mesopotamia. The Harpist of Keros is unique, but only as an exquisite work of visual art…
The name of a similar instrument called phoenix, originating probably in Phoenicia, points to the same direction. But the mentality peculiar to a good number of Modern Greeks was also widespread in ancient Hellas. Thus, the Delian poet Semus, based on the well-known saying and established notion that “there’s no place like home”, claimed that the phoenix was so called because its arms were constructed of Delian “phoenix” (palm tree in Greek). What remains, indeed, out of this claim is that in his time the islet was not only inhabited and not barren as it is today, but that there was also vegetation including palm trees!
Based on the same “logic”, it was argued that another multi-string instrument, the epigónion, was so named after its inventor, Epigonus of Ambracia, a musician of the 6th century BCE. It took an expert of musicology such as Curt Sachs to bring forth the apparent etymology of the word (επί = on + γόνυ = knee) as the musician placed the instrument on his knee(s).
Qanun, on the other hand, was the name of the monochord, an instrument with just one string, used mostly by music theorists to determine the mathematical relations of sounds (from κανών = law, rule, in Hellenic), usually called as the Pythagorean qanun, for its invention was attributed to Pythagoras. The great Samian philosopher, mathematician and music theorist of the 6th century BCE, however, before going to the Occident to set up his school in Crotone of Magna Graecia, had travelled around a lot in the Orient and become familiar with the achievements of the Assyro–Babylonians and Egyptians in the above areas.
Pollux, who has instructed us about the origin of the tríchordon (pandura), says now that this simple instrument, the monochord, has been an Arab invention. On his part, Nicomachus of Gerasa, a Pythagorean mathematician and music theorist of the 2nd century CE, writes that the monochord is often called phánduros – that is, pandura. It is not known if the monochord qanun was the starting point of an evolution that led to the tanbur and quanun. But anyway that’s how we have come full circle back to the tríchordon, the ancestor of the thambura and the rest of the lutes with long necks we have already seen (see Voyage 6).
The fact that the santur is played with tempered intervals in Hellas, as in the rest of Europe – that is, with “alien” and artificial intervals that meet the requirements of European polyphony and not of the Greek “national music” – would at least be expected to frustrate Karas. But he just passed by… Note that in the instrument’s cradle, Iran, the so-called “100-string” santur is tuned according to the intervals of the modes to be played.(b)
The pectis and mágadis, which Karas identified with the santur and laouto respectively, were two similar multi-string psalteries of Lydian or Thracian origin. If we believe Aristoxenus, “they were one and the same instrument”. They said that the first musician to use the pectis was the Lesbian Sappho (around 630-570 BCE). As he lived in the 4th century BCE under the same culture that brought forth these instruments, Aristoxenus had the reliable information, but also the “legitimate right”, to identify these instruments. Where did Karas of the 20th century CE find this right? He obviously acted arbitrarily trying to defend Hellas’ “national interest”!
For the same reasons – that is, in order to demonstrate the “unbroken continuity” between ancient and modern Greece – Karas identified the oud with the medieval guitar. The Asian (Assyrian) cithara (kithara) is already known to us together with its genealogical tree (see Voyage 4). The sad truth is that, in the sense that Karas wished for, neither the cithara-guitar nor the oud or laouto were Hellenic. The latter, in fact, etymologically and organologically, comes from the Arabic oud (al oud > laoud) – which in turn also originates in Persia…
Claiming that this instrument had a Greek character (and denying that this character was Arabo-Persian), Karas invoked its “tuning based on the ‘sýstêma ametábolon’ with synêmména tetrachords”(c) – presenting the reader with something impressively grandiose and sufficiently incomprehensible! Personally, I think that these systems confuse, rather than enlighten, the ordinary music lovers. So I suggest that we pass them by. But the same does not apply to diapason.
The mágadis, as well as other multi-string instruments, had its strings in double courses tuned in octaves (e.g. RE-re) that the ancients called “διὰ πασῶν” (diá pasôn). The verb “μαγαδίζειν” (mágadis style) denoted a technique of playing a melody in octaves. This is the way the Arabs play the qanun nowadays. According to some writers, the term mágadis (which also defined a kind of aulos) came from the word magás, meaning the bridge of a string instrument. The historian Duris, however, attributed it to a Thracian musician called Magdis.
The ancient Hellenic musical term diapason is just one of all those the Westerners adopted to develop and give prestige to their music. Once the delightful daughter of the Muses, the Greek Music, became… cosmopolitan passing to all the languages of the world, it was natural that she would be accompanied by her terminology – but with the original meaning of the terms altered more or less. A well-known “victim” of this adoption is harmony. Consulting a musical dictionary you are about to read:
How comes, you wonder, that the ancient Hellenes invented a term for something that they did not have?(!) Searching for an answer, you conclude that harmony for them was any of the several arrangements of notes within an octave, in a system where its parts were connected in such a way as to form a perfect whole (hence harmony) – that is, it was the mode, echos, ‘route’, maqam, dastgāh or raga. Thus, harmony in modal music is not about notes sounding together, but about the relationship of any note with those that have preceded it and the others that follow, in a system structured dynamically and horizontally rather than statically and vertically.
Harmony for the ancient Hellenes was any arrangement of notes within an octave. Thus, harmony in modal music is about the relationship of any note with those that have preceded it and the others that follow.
Polyphony is nothing unique. It appears whenever there is no space for microtones in music.
But not even polyphony originated in the Occident. We have seen that polyphony is nothing unique. Just think of how many kinds of polyphony are still practiced in the area centered on the Balkans e.g. in Epirus and Albania, in Thrace (Greek, Bulgarian or Turkish), in the Caucasus, or in Corsica and Sardinia, and far more in other regions of the world. Polyphony appears whenever there is no space for microtones in music. It’s been inconceivable in the Anatolian music due to the diversity of its intervals, but natural in the Epirotic music and any other based on the pentatonic – that is, the most ancient of the scales, with five degrees (instead of seven) and whole tones without semitones.
The term diapason is related to harmony and derives from the phrase “ἡ διὰ πασῶν τῶν χορδῶν συμφωνία” (the accord through all the notes). That is, it was the eighth, “ἡ καλλίστη συμφωνία” (the best accord), according to Aristoxenus. Later on, the term diapason replaced that of harmony. For the Byzantines it was “ἡ διαοκτώ ἢ δι’ ὀγδόης ἁρμονία” (the harmony through the octave). Today diapason is also a tuning fork or any standard pitch used for tuning.
It could certainly be maintained that not even the concept of music remained unchanged – indeed, this development took place in ancient Greek times. Music as a term appeared for the first time in the 5th century BCE in Pindar’s poetry (Olympian Victory Odes and Hymns) and later in Herodotus’ and Thucydides’ Histories. For a long time this term denoted the combined spiritual and mental performance especially in the arts and letters. As Plato says in The Republic, the body needs exercise while the soul needs music. A “narrower” definition of the term was lyric poetry, that is, poetry with music, melos (melody). Besides, at that time poetry without music was unthinkable.
The two arts became independent in the 4th century BCE. It was then that the two terms acquired their current meaning. Previously, of course, poetry denoted creation, construction (ποιεῖν = to create, make). With the special meaning of artistic creation it was first used by Simonides of Ceos (6th-5th century); a poet was thought to be a composer of music. The word music was perhaps invented by Lasus of Hermione (6th century), who was among the first artists that combined the qualities of a musician and a musicologist, having dealt with both the art and science of music.
As for the perception of music, there were two schools: the Pythagorean and the Aristoxenian. Pythagoras disapproved of the appraisal of music through the senses (hearing). The merit of this art, he used to say, is because we can perceive it through the intellect (mind). Aristoxenus, on his part, supported a dual scientific principle: on the one hand, he based himself on the sense of hearing to perceive and appraise the pitch, intervals, etc; and on the other hand he relied on the intellect in order to distinguish the mechanisms of sounds.
After all these “digressions” (which have been, in part, the… purpose of this Voyage), let’s have a look at some instruments with “negative specifications”, according to Karas. Surprisingly he turned against the cümbüş, or “djimbisi”, as he “Hellenized” it, describing it as a “mixobarbarian [half-barbarian] combination of an Occidental banjo, laouto and oud”, and also complained because “it’s been replacing the oud (the medieval, ancient-style guitar)”… But the only Occidental on the cümbüş is its soundboard (the metallic soundboard of the banjo). Nevertheless, it makes no big difference the way the sound of an instrument is amplified. Its basic part is the neck and the intervals produced by the fingerboard – and the cümbüş is normally fretless: that is, even subtle changes in pitch are possible, as if we play an oud, or a violin. So why such fury?
Additionally, in another outright arbitrariness in the table of contents on the record with Songs of Thasos, Lemnos and Samothrace, Karas renamed the (distasteful to him) bouzouki to… tambourás. Ironically, the producers of a disc with Cretan songs have done… exactly the opposite for commercial reasons, renaming Stelios Foustalieris’ tambourás, the bulgarí, to bouzouki! Why this masquerade? Is it really possible to safeguard any national character with such… “transvestite” disguise?
Thus, according to Karas, the cümbüş is “mixobarbarian” – which reminds me that in ancient Greece, only one out of the four basic “harmonies” (modes) was Hellenic in origin: the Dorian. Two of them, the Lydian and Phrygian, were “barbarian” by birth (coming from Lydia and Phrygia), while the fourth was… “mixobarbarian”: it was the Mixolydian – created, according to Aristoxenus, by Sappho, from whom the tragedians received it, for the pathos of this harmony was appropriate to their plays. As Plutarch commented: “the mixolydian is pathetic, in harmony with the tragedies”. Let alone the etymological origin of the word cümbüş that, according to some claims, is the… absolutely ancient Greek symposium!
In ancient Greece only one out of the four basic modes was Hellenic in origin: the Dorian. The Lydian and Phrygian were “barbarian” by birth, while the fourth was… “mixobarbarian” (half-barbarian): it was the Mixolydian.
All the above, however, are “details” when speaking of Karas, whom I was fortunate enough to enjoy at work during the 3rd and – unfortunately – last musicological symposium in Delphi in 1988. And I can assure you he was an excellent teacher; a real master, and not… yalanci (fake), such as those “tambourás masters” who might have been his pupils (see Voyage 6). That’s why I insist on my criticism, targeting them rather than him. He was indeed a so-called “teacher of the nation” in the field of Greek traditional music – even though this music was never “national”, as he claimed in the title of his society. It’s absolutely certain that when Karas spoke of “national music”, he did not mean… ethnic! So let’s have a look in brief at the relationship between music and nation.
Music is as old as we are: it’s innate in humans. Nations, on the other hand, appeared somewhat recently in human history not in order to fulfill some of man’s inner needs, as music does, but rather for economic and political reasons. I mean, of course, nation states and not ethnicities, which are something different, formed since ancient times, deriving from different human clans and tribes. Therefore, there are no national characteristics in music. Essentially, there is no Hellenic, Turkish, Bulgarian, etc music. When we use national attributes we simply mean that a piece e.g. has Greek lyrics, if it is a song, or that its composer is Greek. In fact, far too many “Hellenic” songs have actually nothing to do with traditional music genres in Hellas (they could be described as rock, tango, mambo, etc), no matter if they have Greek lyrics or composers.
There are no national characteristics in music.
Far too many “Hellenic” songs have nothing to do with traditional music genres in Hellas, no matter if they have Greek lyrics or composers.
Folk music is not national but ethnic. Erudite music is mostly multinational.
Folk music is born as an idiom in areas smaller than the present nation states, under conditions of agricultural natural economy – areas which are generally divided among neighbouring nation states (e.g. Thrace is divided into three). The pace of its development, as well as the inflow of outside influence, is determined by the geography of each region. That’s how musical idioms are articulated. A “problem” arises due to the lack of racial “purity” in these areas, as they are inhabited by people of various ethnicities, each one with its own peculiarities, which are gradually digested into a common idiom, though they retain certain autonomy. As we have seen (see Voyage 4), the more the ethnicities, the richer the idioms. Therefore, folk music is not national but ethnic.
Erudite music, on the other hand, has been a collective effort of elite musicians streaming into the metropolises of multinational empires. Because of the involvement of artists from several nationalities or ethnicities, each with its own background, this music is mostly multinational (or transnational, but never international). The same even applies to the classical music of Europe, even if, broadly speaking, national borders had been drawn there before the period of its great acme.
“National schools”, in conclusion, appear much later employing ethnic sound colours but also European erudite music forms. Therefore, there is no national character even in “national schools”. A good example is Modest Mussorgsky’s celebrated suite Pictures at an Exhibition, one of the masterpieces of Russian “national school”: it was orchestrated in an exemplary fashion by Maurice Ravel, one of the pioneers of French “national school”, and in this form it became a favourite all over the world. Moreover, the half-Basque Ravel, born in a town near Spain, composed many works based on Spanish “national school”…
In the final analysis, we should not care much about the alleged national character or origin of music or its instruments. Such thoughts distract our attention from the essence of the matter, which is music itself. After all, who can trace its evolution? Who was the first person who noticed that a tense bowstring produces a sound? Who then found that the sound is amplified if there is something hollow to function as a soundboard?
Such discoveries are as old as man. So they should have taken place in Africa, the cradle of the human race. What does this mean? That music and its instruments are African-born? Of course not! It just means that in various periods of time, in several areas of the world, we can observe the emergence of the same instruments more or less, for they are based on the same natural laws.
In various times and spaces we observe the emergence of the same instruments more or less for they are based on the same natural laws.
Thus, all such “national” claims have ulterior motives, because music is also older than ownership, not only than nations. Besides, things are very simple – provided that we’ve got rid of the blinders of “ancestor-mania”, and that sense, even if it’s common, has prevailed:
Only based on the above approach, therefore, we can say that the lyre and cithara, the mágadis and tríchordon, were Greek instruments. Because, in truth, all instruments used in ancient Hellas were imported from the Orient – except one: an instrument we know for sure that was invented by Greeks, not during the Classical but in the Hellenistic period and, moreover, outside Greece, in Alexandria, Egypt, the largest centre of Hellenism in the post-classical era. Ironically, this unique instrument with a “Greek patent” is not in use in Hellas anymore and has since been glorified in the hands of some Westerners – prominently those of Johann Sebastian Bach…
All instruments used in ancient Hellas were imported from the Orient – except the hydraulis (pipe organ) that was invented by Greeks but is not in use in Hellas anymore…
This instrument was the hydraulis, the water organ, today’s pipe organ, in its embryonic form. Its inventor was the Alexandrian engineer Ctesibius in the 3rd century BCE. Sometimes the invention is attributed to his contemporary Archimedes, though his contribution should have been indirect, due to the achievements of his ingenious mind, as he was the most important figure in the realm of science in the ancient world. Quite rightly these Greek scientists are thought of as the spiritual fathers of Leonardo da Vinci and so many other inventive minds of Europe from the Renaissance onwards.
Ctesibius apparently based himself on the hydraulic inventions and applications of the Syracusan, mainly on Archimedean hydraulic clocks. Along with hydraulics, Ctesibius studied pneumatics – the science dealing with pneuma, that is, air, and its several applications.(e) In fact, he is considered as the… pneumatic (spiritual) father of this science, as he proved what others had already observed: that invisible air is something material.
Along with hydraulics, Ctesibius studied pneumatics – the science dealing with pneuma, that is, air.
Let me remark en passant that the rapid decline of the Greek language, due to the decline of Hellenism, in parallel with the spread of Christianity, had as a result a decline also in the semantics of ancient terms such as pneuma (breath), where only connotations contrasting with matter (i.e. mind, intellect, soul) have survived. The ancient pneuma, you see, was lost as soon as it turned into… “Holy Pneuma (Spirit or Ghost)”! In spite of all the Alexandrian treatises on pneumatics, there is no such entry in Modern Greek dictionaries…(f)
Well, what pneumatics anyway? After all, no work of Ctesibius has survived. The opposite is true in the case of a later engineer that at least a part of his work is extant – although he remains similarly inconspicuous among the Hellenes. He was an Alexandrian, as well, called Hero(n), and lived sometime between the 3rd century BCE and the 1st century CE. Apart from his numerous wonderful inventions – e.g. his aeolipile or steam engine, a windwheel, and also gates that opened automatically – he perfected Ctesibius’ water organ based on the principles of pneumatics. However, if the Modern Greeks hear his name by chance and wish to learn more about him, they are obliged to consult foreign publications, since his treatises have never been published in Hellas…
The work of the Alexandrian engineers could not go unnoticed in Rome or Constantinople that were great powers. Among other inventions the Byzantine scientists admired Hero’s “automata” and perfected them. There were several such mechanisms in the palaces (golden plane trees with singing birds, lions and other wild animals roaring while turning their necks, griffins flapping their wings, etc) in order to impress foreign visitors.
The hydraulic organ was equally impressive; thus the musical instrument ended up… diplomatic. In the 8th century, the Byzantine emperor Constantine V, the so-called… Copronymus,(g) donated an organ to the Frankish king Pepin the… Short – the instrument is now known all over the world by the Greek term organ (meaning instrument among other things) – and what followed is common knowledge more or less. You can see the potential impact of gifts exchanged between “Blue bloods” on the history of music: no matter if diplomacy has never promoted culture (see Voyage 1), politics influences its development – usually negatively.
Political history, however, developed in another direction. Despite the Byzantine gifts to the Occident, the underlying Schism between the Churches was formalized,(h) the Holy See declared a “holy war” against the “infidels” (probably under the sound of… pipe organs), and that’s how the Crusades began leading to the first fall of Constantinople, since the Orthodox Christians were included among the “infidels” – or else among the “heretics” who are always… worse than the “infidels”! The control of the Orient necessitated the overthrow of “Romanía” and the division of the booty between the Frankish plunderers and their Venetian instigators.
It was the beginning of the end, a crucial turning point, a development that left its indelible stamp on the history of not only the Mediterranean, or even Europe, but also the whole world, because since then everything changed. It marked the end of the epoch that began in the Near East during the Neolithic era, with the birth of civilization, and the Mediterranean as the epicentre of history. Mare nostrum was de facto marginalized. Its fortunes would since be governed by non-Mediterranean powers.
As usual, the perpetrators made sure of their “absolution” through their propaganda that even their victims reproduce – perhaps because perpetrators and victims are now “allies”, “partners”! Whitewashing first became grotesque (with all those… “Crusades for peace” that constitute the zenith of hypocrisy) and then macabre – as soon as bombs started falling in the first… “Humanitarian war” in history!
Let’s open our dictionaries again: the Crusaders have been “Medieval warriors who took part in the campaigns of Western Christians against people of another faith mainly for the liberation of the Holy Land”! Who from? Who else but the “infidels”, the Muslims. The Greek lexicographers and others do not seem to bother at all that these lands have been equally holy for Islam, or that the Muslims are rather more faithful than the Christians. I honestly cannot understand how comes that Greek historians portray the Crusaders as “liberators” of Jerusalem in 1099, and at the same time as “conquerors” of Constantinople in 1204…
Crusaders: “liberators” of Jerusalem, but “conquerors” of Constantinople!
Whitewashing first became grotesque (with all those… “Crusades for peace”) and then macabre – as soon as bombs started falling in the first… “Humanitarian war” in history!
We may have deviated from our path, but in essence our subject dealt not so much with the Thracian or Asian origin of music, as with the futility of the ancients’ exaltation, and especially of “ancestor-mania”, which is nothing but empty words. See, for example, the hydraulis we were lucky enough to excavate at Dion:(i) It was initially announced that the instrument was polyphonic. Doesn’t this mean that the music of late antiquity was also polyphonic? Was there a thorough research in advance, or such a conclusion was reported lightheartedly? The aim was to restore the instrument or to revamp it in the font of European polyphony?
Can we possibly assume that the ancient musicians we see depicted so often with diaulos (double aulos) played in… thirds?(j) Or that on the multi-reed syrinx (Pan pipe) they could play… chords? It is inconceivable to me that the hydraulis can be suitable for… Bach’s Toccata and Fugue, exactly as we fail to perform pieces of modal music on the pipe organ. Each instrument is made based on the specifications of the kind of music which is prescribed for.
“Big deal”, is the cynics’ answer. Some enthusiasts of the… Jurassic Park seem determined to make up for the water organ’s lost time, mastering the repertoire of the pipe organ and also composing new music especially for the hydraulis. And what we do is to put the blame solely on such… cloners!
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Voyage 7. THE… “SUN LANGUAGE”
Psychotic megalomania? Absolutely; but also a… university thesis – and even more: an official state policy! This aphorism might be the starting point of a synopsis about the official Turkish ideology on the national question. Almost everyone in the Eurasian zone – except perhaps the Hellenes, Persians and… barbarians – owe almost everything to the Turks: their very existence, their language and culture, let alone their music!
“What about the Hellenes?”, some “Romioi” anxiously insist on asking, as they refuse to accept that they have either… never existed, or – most likely – are included among the “Romans” of the above mentioned citation quoted from the gold-bound kitabs of the sages.
Well, I’m not referring to freaks of a sick mind. It may be hard to believe but these ideas have been championed by academics! The “Great Idea” (Megale Idea) has died out in Greece(?) but in Turkey it’s alive and well and (wants to be) the master of the world…
The Kurdish languages belong to the Iranian and Indo-Iranian branches of the Indo-European family. So they are related to Persian (Farsi), Indian Sanskrit, Hellenic and most European languages. Even… worse(!) the Anatolian languages of Asia Minor, headed by Hittite, are also Indo-European.(a)
All the above languages, spoken or extinct, are Indo-European. On the contrary, the Turkic languages belong to the Altaic family, together with the Mongolic. Some linguists group the Altaic and Uralic (Finno-Ugric) languages together (Ural-Altaic). No such hypothesis connecting the Altaic and Indo-European languages has been put forward. It doesn’t matter much to Ankara’s “scientists”. Thus they teach linguistics this way… à la turca:
Since I don’t like to be branded as a “nationalist”, I invoke a Turkish scientist in the true sense of the word, the sociologist İsmail Beşikçi,(c) a man who’s spent most of his life in Turkish prisons not because he has committed any crime, but because he’s had the courage to publicize his documented views. Beşikçi has been persecuted/prosecuted because he initially criticized (and later polemicized) the ruling ideology of Turkey as it was set forth in such “scientific” theses – and even more so because he has dealt with a taboo subject: the Kurdish question.(d)
The citations quoted above (except that reference to Homer) are from Beşikçi’s book, Historical Thesis on Turkey / The Sun Language Theory and the Kurdish Question, which cost him three years in prison because he was “reckless” enough not to deny the existence of a nation… The first thing he took into account was the nature of the positions adopted in 1930 by Turkish “scientists” under the guidance of Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk)! Based on official documents, speeches and such “scientific” theses, Beşikçi analyzed the formulation and development of the ideology of Kemalism, exposing its unscientific, racist and chauvinistic nature. In one of his many apologies (speeches in defense of himself), he attacked the official “Justice” of the Kemalist regime:
“This court acts like the gendarmerie, police, national security and other services, attempting to impose the hegemony of the official ideology through its verdicts.” (İsmail Beşikçi)
This trial took place in 1979, one year before the overthrow of so-called democracy in a coup of the army, the then mighty pillar supporting the regime. More trials and convictions preceded and followed for Beşikçi. Even if he could live two or three lives, he would not have time enough to serve the 200 years in prison imposed on him in total. Released in 1999, he was sent back to court in 2010 – that is, after the collapse of Kemalism – for “propaganda”, because of an article entitled The rights of nations to self-determination and the Kurds, which cost him more 15 months in jail.
In January 1981 he sent a Letter to UNESCO from his prison, stigmatizing the decision of the Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization of the United Nations to declare that year as The Atatürk Year.(e) A new conviction followed. Undeterred he continued sending letters from the dungeons to international organizations that, of course, ended up in the hands of Turkish judges who imposed new sentences. The letter to the president of the Journalist Union of Switzerland e.g. cost him 10 years!
But even in his trials (where we lose count, indeed) with his apologies (several of these speeches have been put together in his book, Defense), he persevered with remarkable courage and selflessness so as to defend the rights of the Kurdish people relying only on the public’s sense of justice – a sense that has ceased to govern the actions of even the “competent” international organizations.
We imagine spontaneously that before us we have İsmail B personifying Josef K, Kafka’s main character in The Trial. But our association is rather incongruous: Beşikçi has not been a surreal figure of absurdist fiction but an indomitable hero of free thought and scientific knowledge, a symbol of our time – exactly because such people are rare today. However, he’s had the misfortune to be born in Turkey. Therefore, he will never be awarded a Nobel Prize!(f)
It’s not me, of course, the one who has politicized the issue of linguistics à la turca. The issue itself is profoundly political. Lay, if you will, the blame on Alain Gheerbrant who “cast the first stone” paralleling Atatürk to Âşık Veysel (see the previous Voyage 6). Have no doubt, the French researcher is not an isolated case: it constitutes the rule (which is why we take note of him). No need to say that there are even worse cases. One thing, you see, is to credit “exclusively” the Turks with Anatolian music and another thing is to act similarly with the music of Constantinople; especially if we bear in mind that the Ottomans spoke of Arabo-Persian music; only after the establishment of the Republic this music was called Turkish, or even Ottoman.(g)
Completely different was the approach adopted by Gheerbrant’s namesake and compatriot, Alain Daniélou, as an adviser to UNESCO’s International Music Council, which led to a number of recordings of world music such as Unesco Collection: A Musical Anthology of the Orient, Musical Atlas, Musical Sources and Anthology of Indian Classical Music / A Tribute to Alain Daniélou. As a producer of the Cairo recordings, Taqâsîm and Layâlî, on instrumental and vocal modal improvisations, he made a thought-provoking synopsis that begins as follows:
“The melodic system of the Arabic-speaking peoples of the Mediterranean derives from the adaptation of the ancient Greek, Persian, and Egyptian systems. Until the end of the 19th century, this art continued to develop under the influence of fresh Persian and Byzantine elements.”
(Alain Daniélou, Rodolphe d’Erlanger)
The conclusions we can draw are astonishing, indeed: until the eve of their empire’s collapse, the Ottomans – at least in the domain of music – were still under the influence of the empire they had abolished before half a millennium! It was natural that the Arabic-speaking peoples, then vassals of the Ottomans in the region, were equally influenced. Thus the Byzantine echos resonated throughout the Mediterranean: the Christians were influenced through Byzantine ecclesiastical chant at least until the 11th century when, due to the Schism, Gregorian chant became obligatory; the Muslims of the Ottoman Empire were equally influenced – not by ecclesiastical chant, of course, but by the erstwhile secular Byzantine music.
Persian influences may be considered natural, since the Iranians had already achieved their self-determination with their own independent state. But what can one say about Byzantine music, especially secular, which – supposedly – ceased to exist as soon as the state that gave birth to it was erased from the map? How could it possibly influence the Mediterranean on the eve of the 20th century and even impregnate it with “fresh” musical elements?
Trying to resume what Alain Daniélou and Rodolphe d’Erlanger have just said, and the thoughts they have provoked, we can imagine a historical model as follows: the Arabs, that is, those coming from the Arabian Peninsula, were cultivated adopting the ancient Hellenic, Persian, and Egyptian cultures. They knew, therefore, their empire could not last long if they were not able to assimilate the civilized Mediterranean peoples they had conquered. Under the circumstances, this could only happen through religion, first of all, and secondarily, language. It was absolutely necessary for the Arabs to break the ties of these ancient peoples with their glorious past by making them convert to Islam and – even better – adopt Arabic. It was the only way to exert undisputed control on their vast empire. All they needed was a combination of incentives and coercion. The same tactics had been already used in the case of the Hellenes when they were Christianized (although that process was outright violent)…
The Arabs knew their empire could not last long if they did not assimilate the ancient peoples they had conquered. This could only happen through religion (Islam) and language (Arabic). They had to break the ties of these peoples with their glorious past. It was the only way to exert undisputed control on their vast empire. All they needed was a combination of incentives and coercion…
When the Turks took over the Caliphate, they also adopted Arab culture that had sprung out like an amalgam from these ancient civilizations. Note that this synthesis started bearing fruit only in the 13th century, that is, after Constantinople fell for the first time to the Crusaders and Venetians in 1204. There was no similar cultural renaissance during the Ottoman period. That’s why there were still “fresh Persian and Byzantine influences” onto the Caliph Court music and art until the last days of the Ottoman Empire. What exactly was the Ottoman contribution? It was not so much musical but mainly political – through this wider, unified area – allowing these influences to have a greater impact on every corner of the empire.
According to the Tunisian Professor Salah el Mahdi, who spoke at the musicological symposium of Delphi on Rhythms, Modes and Scales of Mediterranean Music in 1988, the Near East was influenced by the so-called Turco–Byzantine music:
Now that we are sufficiently informed, and also have the necessary standard of comparison, we may have some fun enjoying Bernard Mauguin’s sophistries:
So we are talking about such colossal differences: those between Bach and Berlioz! Who would have the guts to disagree? But these were differences of eras, between two composers (one baroque, the other romantic) who created in the same tradition of Occidental “classical” music during the so-called common practice period (baroque, classical, romantic). Racial differences (German vs. French) were rather insignificant. The same applies to the distinction among Turkish, Arab and Iranian musicians: their main difference, especially before the creation of national states, was also a difference of eras. If Mauguin had compared Bach not with Berlioz but with Brahms, he would have noticed that they too are “easily distinguishable”. But such a comparison between two composers of common origin (both Bach and Brahms were Germans) would have deprived him of any pretext for his chicaneries…
The difference between Bach and Berlioz is not between German and French music but between baroque and romanticism (plus genius vs. average…)
There is no doubt that if instead of Western theorists we had their Oriental colleagues, things might have been even worse, since everyone would have “trumpeted his own merchandise”. Mahdi in Delphi e.g. spoke of Turco-Byzantine music because he was not a Turk; that’s why he gave no due emphasis to the role of Persian music theorists, something that the Iranian Hormoz Farhat did; but he in turn “forgot” the contribution of Byzantine music, which Simon Karas put forward at the forefront – and so on…
What the Orient needs is an era of Renaissance and Enlightenment – something that the Occident intentionally obstructs for its own advantage and interests. These interests, I’m afraid, have been served, consciously or not, by those Western theoreticians who can’t see the forest for the trees (or, if you like, focus on the finger and can’t see it’s pointing to the moon), emphasizing the secondary – the local differences in music – and minimizing the primary – its common features. It is the classic recipe: Divide et impera!
Voyage 6. THE CELEBRATED “TRICHORDON”
FLAMENCO AND REBETIKO’s lead instruments have been the guitar and bouzouki respectively: their sound is the absolutely necessary condition – sine qua non, as they say – for the interpretation of the two genres. Yet, these instruments may be evaluated as rather unsuitable for such musical idioms.
In terms of melodic themes, both rebetiko and flamenco come under the category of modal music: that is, each song is based not on a simple musical scale but rather on a mode (“harmony” or “echos”) with its own character, mood and ethos, and with a variety of intervals that greatly outnumber the tempered-equal intervals of Western European music. In the accompaniment, however, both genres are dominated by the Occidental concept of chords and melodic phrases played on tempered instruments: the frets on the bouzouki and guitar’s necks are positioned according to these equal intervals, allowing the performance of just the notes of the piano. This contradiction, of course, creates various problems, imposes restrictions – but at the same time imparts a raw beauty to music when it’s been cultivated at the crossroads between distinct cultural areas. It’s as if the interpreters act like rope-dancers balancing themselves between two worlds.
In terms of melodic themes, rebetiko and flamenco come under the category of modal music. In the accompaniment, however, both genres are dominated by the Occidental concept of chords and melodic phrases played on tempered instruments.
The guitar’s development during its final phase, from the Renaissance onwards (as we have seen in Voyage 4), ran parallel to the development of Occidental music, with polyphony, counterpoint and all its other special features. Therefore, the relationship between instrument and music has been harmonious. The bouzouki, on the contrary, as a newcomer in this field, has suffered from intense split personality. Even if it cannot be played with the classical guitar techniques that have crept into flamenco, it’s also gradually moved willy-nilly on the westernizing way of rebetiko.
Radical changes in the orientation of a musical genre are clearly reflected on its instruments. Although Music never shows her own face, the transformations of an instrument are clearly visible to the naked eye. Thus we have seen the bouzouki undergoing a mutation and turning from three-string (tri-chordon) into a four-string and also electric instrument, while at the same time its tuning has changed adopting that of the guitar to facilitate virtuosities. This four-double-string… “guitarized” bouzouki was introduced by its virtuoso, Manoles Chiotes (originally a guitarist), although it was not his own invention. Note that these developments occurred while rebetiko was on its deathbed.
The bouzouki underwent two mutations before and after the rebetiko era: it was at first “mandolinized”, and then “guitarized”, turned into a four-string and electric instrument…
That was the instrument’s second mutation. The first one happened before rebetiko moved into the spotlight when the bouzouki, as a “prodigal son”, broke away from the tanbur family where it was raised, and became a… Franco-Levantine: it then lost both its tanbur-like appearance and its movable frets allowing fine tuning according to the intervals of the mode to be played. They were replaced by the far fewer fixed metal frets that enable the performance of only tempered intervals. This metamorphosis was accompanied by other structural changes also modeled on the mandolin. In short, the instrument was at first… “mandolinized”. It continued “speaking” Greek, one might say, but with a foreign “accent”…(a)
There is, however, a type of bouzouki still in use that has remained true to its origins and is proud to be a brother of the tanbur. It is the Arabic bouzouki, the buzuq or busoq, played in the area of ancient Phoenicia: in Lebanon and its surrounding area. The country of the cedars is where the greatest modern virtuoso of the instrument has emerged: the gypsy-born Matar Muhammad might turn even the “four-string” Chiotes… pale, despite the admiration he had won from the great Jimi Hendrix!(b)
It seems as a modern version of the age-old competition – but also emulation and exchange – between Phoenicians and Hellenes during the colonizing phase of the Mediterranean: the former on the southern coastline, the latter on the northern shores – without excluding reciprocal incursions. This very competition went on (and still goes on) with other protagonists: Romans and Punics, Byzantines and Arabs – until the Crusaders appeared in mare nostrum upsetting its status quo. You see how old the idea on “spheres of influence” is, where the concept of “Lebensraum” (vital, living space) recently emerged as a malignant tumour…(c)
What was the common origin of these instruments? It was obviously located in Assyria, as Pollux has already said about the pandura (see Voyage 4). And how have these instruments – or rather: the two variants of the same instrument – developed in today’s Phoenicia and Hellas, without affecting the rest of the Arabs, nor the Turks that, in the meantime, found themselves in between? We can just speculate on that; especially since the word bouzouki, according to Nicolas Andriotes’ Etymological Dictionary of Modern Greek, is believed to have been Turkish in origin (büzük). We can see in this case one of etymology’s so many oddities: an instrument’s godfather not to care much about it.(d)
Unfortunately, we do not know how exactly the tambourás was played in Greece in the 19th century. Its playing, however, should have been quite different from that of the bouzouki or (at least today’s) Anatolian saz, although there are people who try to convince us to the contrary, for they introduce themselves as “tambourás masters”, while the instrument they play is in reality the saz – i.e. a tanbur family instrument in the form it has acquired in Asia Minor. Ross Daly describes the efforts to resurrect the tambourás:
Crete’s exchange with Constantinople and Smyrna, as well as with the wider area of Anatolia and the Balkans, was continuous until the Asia Minor catastrophe of 1922. That’s how several tunes, and also the bulgarí, an instrument closely resembling the cura (tzurá), arrived there. But which cura? Here, too, the terms are confusing. The tzurás for the Greeks is the middle-sized instrument of the three that make up the bouzouki triad, while the smallest of the family is the Lilliputian baglamás, a typical prison instrument: due to its size it can be easily hidden. However, the smallest of the Anatolian tanburs is not the bağlama but the cura! Quite a mess-up…
Different terms, it’s obvious, indicate differences not only in terms of dimensions, construction in general, but also as to the origin of either the instruments or their users. Settling in Anatolia, the Turks should have had instruments of the tanbur family, as we can presume based on the origin of these terms. But the peoples of Asia Minor had already been using similar instruments, such as the pandura, since time immemorial: at least since the time of the Hittites and the Assyrians. The tanburs, therefore, have been autochthonous there and their tradition has been Anatolian rather than Turkish (Central Asian)(g).
We tend to forget this fact since we are under the impression that the erudite Constantinopolitan tradition’s origin, on the one hand, has been Arabo-Persian (and Byzantine, of course, but we also forget!) and, on the other hand, that the Anatolian folk music is “purely Turkish”… Would you expect anything else? It’s more than obvious that these advocates of “purity” – in sound and also race – are a global phenomenon. If in this case the “purists” are Turks, OK (so to speak). But what if they are foreigners?
What a “flowery” garden… Had we not known Turkey, we would have thought it’s a heavenly land of the angels! Was the French researcher really serious, or did he tell one white lie after the other winking meaningfully at us? After all, why should he mention two prominent Kurds, such as Yaşar Kemal and Yilmaz Güney, who were jailed by the “‘Kemalist’ revolution”? And they were not the only ones. The most important men of arts and letters in Turkey have been treated collectively as subversive elements. Let alone how the Sunni state dealt with Alevis and Bektashis.(h) What is the use of such texts, except perhaps to serve diplomacy and personal gain?
One would expect that the Balkan leaders would take advantage of the Sunni–Bektashi conflicts, given that the vast majority of the Balkan Muslims have been Bektashis. Yet, acting stupidly as bigots in power, they too turned against them…
Let’s go back to the tríchordon-pandura and its long history in Asia Minor. There is ample evidence that instruments of the tanbur family have been played by Anatolians since very ancient times. Christian Poché says:
With the exception of the Kurds, by the way, the term tanbur is avoided in Turkey in relation to this long-necked lute because a related but very different instrument, called tambur, is used in the erudite Arabo-Persian music of Constantinople. There are two variants of this instrument: plucked (the older version) or bowed (yayli tambur), depending on the way it is played – with a plectrum or a bow. In Greece, of course, the term baglama in relation to the same long-necked lute is also avoided for the same reason, so as not to be confused with that well-known homonymous small instrument, the bouzouki’s little brother.
Unfortunately, the etymology of the terms relating to the several variants of the tanbur does not explain what the origin of the word bulgarí may be. If we exclude the possibility of a Bulgarian origin,(j) there must be only one alternative: the word vulgar, referring to the common people, the “lower” classes – something “debased”. This possibility, together with the characterization of the Greek demotic as “vulgar”, shows how class, racist, or sexist language may sometimes be – well, not language but man, the one who uses it…
Anyway, that “vulgar” bulgarí played by Foustalieris, together with the instruments used by Iannes Eidjirides (or Etseirides), the famous Iovan Tsaous, have been the only kinds of tambourás that Greek discography managed to record. But what a pity! These instruments seem to have little in common with those played by fighters of the Greek War of Independence: the bulgarí is a Cretan peculiarity, while Iovan Tsaous’ instruments have been Anatolian – hence unsuitable in the attempt to restore the Greek tambourás and its sound.
Iovan Tsaous, i.e. Sergeant John, was born in Pontus and worked with famous musicians and singers, playing even in the Sultan’s Court, as they say. On the contrary, when he fled to Greece after the catastrophe of ’22, “he never played on stage because he seemed to disagree with the way the musicians functioned: he remained an ‘edutainer’ of his friends.”(k) At least this is what Panaiotes Kounades says; which means that he did not like at all the role of an entertainer, as he was used to a different situation in Asia Minor where musicians functioned otherwise:
When you are accustomed to such an environment – playing high standards music with such partners and in front of such an audience – how is it possible to restrict yourself to the role of an entertainer? Iovan Tsaous, therefore, chose to open a… tailor’s shop, which he later turned into an ouzo tavern, playing for his pleasure and not for the entertainment of the patrons of an establishment. Luckily, he met Panaiotes Tountas, artistic director of phonographic companies and the greatest composer of the Smyrnaic style; so he recorded a number of his own songs and some other compositions, mainly by Tountas. These few recordings (about twenty all in all) took place in just two years, 1935-36, because when the Metaxas dictatorship imposed censorship on lyrics and music (and music!), Iovan Tsaous abandoned the idea to continue, as some others did, as well, such as Vangelis Papázoglou, Giorgos Bates, and Anestes (Artemes) Deliás.
But anyway, less is more: these moments in the studio – however few – reflect the virtuosity of the musician who became a teacher of the Piraeotic rebetiko protagonists: Bates, Deliás, Markos Bambakares, Stratos Paioumtzés – the “Famous Quartet of Piraeus”. They learned from him the names and techniques of the musical “routes” (modes), the art of improvisation (taqsim), and also the several tunings, the düzenia. All the above, combined with his unusual personal style and “eccentric” instruments that were difficult to play (at least for the bouzouki players of rebetiko), created a myth around the name of Iovan Tsaous.
In modern Greece, unfortunately, the musicians have had no way out from the stranglehold of the entertainment circuit (clubs, festivals, etc). That is, there has been no parallel “edutainment” circuit on a professional basis. In Andalusia, on the contrary, at least until the 60s, there was such a circuit for flamenco artists. Up to the latest development of the genre into concert and theatrical flamenco,(l) these artists were divided into two major categories: on the one hand, the commercial entertainers worked mainly in tablaos, and on the other, the authentic “edutainers” were employed in juergas, the revelries organized by flamenco aficionados.
The musicians have had no way out from the stranglehold of the entertainment circuit. There has been no parallel “edutainment” circuit.
The other traditional tambourás master, Stelios Foustalieris or Foustalierakis, together with his regular partner, the excellent singer Iannes Bernidakis or Baxevanis, belonged to the large batch of musicians and singers who appeared in Rethymno during the interwar period. At that time, the instruments accompanying the lyra were the bulgarí and mandolin, according to Lambros Liavas. They were later replaced by the laouto. Foustalieris, however, managed to turn bulgarí into a solo instrument and worked with two Anatolian musicians playing the oud and santur. They were among those who sought refuge in the island after the catastrophe of ’22. So they should have imparted to him music elements from the instrument’s original cradle. Unfortunately, there are no recordings from this collaboration.
Later he came into direct contact with the sound of the Piraeotic rebetiko. It was during the period of 1933-37 when he lived in Piraeus and also met Bates, Markos, Stratos and other musicians of rebetiko, as well as Tountas, with whom, of course, he collaborated in discography. But here too the output was meagre: just 24 discs.
We certainly wonder if the two tambourás masters, Iovan Tsaous and Foustalieris, finally met; if there was some exchange of knowledge and experience. Having so many acquaintances in common, one would expect that this meeting did happen. However, there’s no available information about it.
Iovan Tsaous died 49 years old, in 1942, during the German occupation that “wiped out” the majority of the élite of Greek musicians and singers: the Anatolian refugees. Apparently they failed to go through a second calvary so soon. On the contrary, Foustalieris passed away fifty years later, in 1992, when he was 81. Being… “the last of the Mohicans” among the very few traditional masters of tambourás, we assume that he attracted the attention of the authorities. This would have happened in almost any other country; not in Greece…
While Foustalieris was still alive, in 1987, I had a discussion on the radio with Sakis Papademetriou and Ross Daly – who concluded the conversation as follows:
● Time’s passed, Foustalieris has died, the rest of the masters follow, but there have been no recordings – an undertaking of minimal expense. “Hellas, the eternal”…
● On second dispassionate thought, I wonder – as a daydreamer – whether I ask “too much” from a country that has not given a damn about the essence of Makryiannis’ Memoirs. Why then should they care about the way he used to play his tambourás? Let alone about Foustalieris and his bulgarí…
● Thus, our only hope is to see the fulfillment of a verse, albeit paraphrased, of a most beautiful old song, Staphidianós, played superbly by Foustalieris on his bulgarí, having beside him an amazing Baxevanis:
Voyage 5. A HYBRID’S HYBRIS…
THE PARABLE OF FLAMENCO
THE CULTURAL “WEIGHT” of the Orient can have extremely important consequences in a land of the Occident, as we have seen already (see the previous Voyage) in the case of Spain, especially Andalusia: Phoenicians and Hellenes, Punics and Romans, Berbers and barbarians, Arabs and Moors, Jews and Roma, along, of course, with the local Iberians, who had been the result of other intermarriages, created a complex and diverse racial and cultural blend full of vitality and dynamism.
It goes without saying that Andalusia, Iberia as a whole, is not a unique case: there are similar ethno-cultural mosaics in each and every crossroad of space and time, of geography and history. If Iberia is the bridge between Europe and Africa, the Balkans and Asia Minor form an infinitely more important passage connecting the “old” world of Europe with the even “older” and “wiser” Asia. It is as clear as a sunny day, “brighter than the sun”, as the Greeks used to say, that a “passage” between Scandinavia and Greenland, e.g. Iceland, would be of interest to almost no-one – except the Vikings! This is the destiny of those areas where, among other things, the sun is anything but bright…
If Iberia is the bridge between Europe and Africa, the Balkans and Asia Minor form an infinitely more important passage connecting the “old” world of Europe with the even “older” and “wiser” Asia.
“The lack of racial purity has had crucially beneficial resonances” in such crossroads, Bartók has already told us. “A complete separation from foreign influences means stagnation: well assimilated foreign impulses offer possibilities of enrichment.” Yet, a positive process ends up regarded as negative and everyone’s in a hurry to obtain exclusive rights on common, undivided heritage. Thus e.g. rebetiko is “authentically Hellenic, free from outside influence”; flamenco is equally “free and purely Andalusian”. If we had politicians talking, we would pay no attention; but here we have musicians and musicologists, the “experts”. The flamencologist Donn Pohren, as an American, is not obsessed to see everything… pure as the driven snow:
“There are few pure gypsies left in Andalusia, and as for pure andaluces; just what is a pure andaluz?” (Donn Pohren)
Artistic creation at these Mediterranean crossroads is highly attractive – for the additional reason that during the last centuries it is strongly influenced by external factors: mainly by developments in northern Europe and across the Atlantic. However, the components of such hybrids, born through a natural process, are anything but stable: they may vary depending on the circumstances. The fragile equilibrium of these heterogeneous components that imbues them with irresistible charm is sometimes in danger of being upset. Their advantage may well turn into a disadvantage.
We can see, therefore, that conditions similar to those which made these hybrids be born can now wipe them out. When new political conditions emerge and frontiers are surpassed or redrawn the situation changes most radically. Such a radical change has been the creation of the European Union or of the so-called “global village” – as it was equally radical on Iberian scale centuries ago when the Castilians became dominant throughout the peninsula except Portugal, with the expulsion of the Moors, Arabs or Berbers, that brought about the end of Muslim rule in Iberia.
Flamenco began to take shape in those new circumstances, in the midst of the persecutions the Castilians unleashed against all non-Catholics, spearheaded by the hated “Holy” Inquisition. Thus, flamenco is only indirectly related to the Andalusian music that flourished during the preceding centuries on both sides of the Strait of Gibraltar, being restricted later just in Maghreb: the two arts never coexisted.
This fact, however, does not seem to bother those who, either in search of their cultural identity (a romantic quest) or commercial gain (a cynical quest), try to create new hybrids, cloned or not, hoping that under the new “globalized” conditions they will be sustainable and – most importantly – profitable. Unfortunately (or, rather, fortunately), viable hybrids are born in real life rather than in a test tube, bottom-up and not top-down, through a long coexistence of ordinary people from different ethnicities, not through some initiatives, noble or not, by individual artists however distinguished and talented they are.
Viable hybrids are born in real life rather than in a test tube, bottom-up and not top-down, through a long coexistence of ordinary people from different ethnicities, not through some initiatives by individual artists…
According to their genealogical tree, those “romantics” highlight either the Arabic or the Indian elements of flamenco, having related collaborations. There are, however, some… “realistically romantic” musicians suffused with “romantic realism” whose work, although not commercial, lies on a firm and sound basis. Their aim is not to combine two different – albeit akin – genres with an eye to… sex or marriage (i.e. mating or pairing them), but merely to revive a once live culture, such as the Andalusian, in Spain. The simplest and most reasonable quest is often the most marginal…
Whatever the case, the conditions favour such ventures: the Arab world is a next-door neighbour, and the revival of Arab-Spanish relations is a positive perspective – both economically and politically. The Indies, on the other hand, appear not only distant but also exotic. Even if the political motive is absent, such collaborations satisfy the public’s thirst for exoticism. This is one of the reasons that such hybrids proliferate – and are… sold out! The aficionados may turn their backs on such projects and thus the musicians alienate themselves from their best allies, but this seems hardly to bother them. Perhaps because they no longer depend on aficionados; they depend on the venues and the companies distributing music and organizing concerts. Living under a “market economy”, it’s natural for them to have “market behaviour”. The corrupting money…
“Far more flamenco than theorists like to think had its origins in the Oriental music of Spain’s neighbors to the South.” (Donn Pohren)
It’s in such cases that those who consider a hybrid to be a bastard are justified. And it’s sad because, behind such characterizations and arguments, racist views may underlie. Unfortunately, it’s true: Although appealing with an irresistible charm, a hybrid may occasionally end up as ὕβρις–hybris…
Voyage 4. THE INDO-IBERIAN ARC
IT’S A PLEASANT SURPRISE when you meet the familiar figures of ancient Hellenes emerging from the pages of books about other peoples’ ways of life and expression – such as fado and flamenco – and also playing leading roles in legends that are probably unknown to modern Greeks (see the previous Voyage 3).
“Casting” those heroic Hellenes in the dramatis personæ of other peoples’ mythologies, of course, is not too strange a phenomenon. It is a measure of the splendour of ancient Greek civilization. What is quite unexpected is to find such legends in books dealing with music.
Indeed, there are so many legends, stories and tales about Heracles, Odysseus and, even more, Alexander! And it’s no coincidence at all. It’s them that have defined our common historical background: the westward voyages of Heracles and Odysseus and the eastward drive of Alexander outline this wider area, the one that, schematically more or less, I termed as the historical space of the Mediterranean.
Alexander’s exploits in the Orient are still widely acclaimed and echo in so many legends about Iskandar. In the western Mediterranean, on the contrary, the whole picture is rather obscure; it lacks clarity. It was quite natural for me to focus my attention there for one more reason: until recently almost everyone spoke of the Eastern Mediterranean as if it was not just the “gravitational” centre of this historical space, but as though it constituted an area totally apart from both the western half of mare nostrum and the eastern extension of the Mediterranean space into continental Asia.(a)
Well, I searched for evidence to the contrary; and I arrived to the conclusion that there’s no better and more convincing example than the music – or, rather, culture – of Andalusia: the western end of our historical space has received – and repeatedly indeed – so many cultural elements from its eastern end, the Indies, that the wide scope of exchange becomes more than obvious. If the Greeks have also been involved in this give and take, so much the better…
Andalusia, the western end of our historical space, has received so many cultural elements from its eastern end, the Indies, that the wide scope of exchange becomes more than obvious.
However, apart from les enfants terribles de l’antiquité (see Voyage 2), there are some others, as well, that outline our historical space; a people quite humble who, without having bequeathed to mankind splendid monuments of art and literature, were able to leave their indelible mark wherever they passed through, despite the relentless persecution they suffered. I’m talking about the Gypsies, the Roma who, in their own way, remind us that civilization is not only high art and culture, but also the primitive but authentic way of human expression – which, we need not to forget, was the starting point of every art form.
So, let’s go and meet them remaining on Iberian soil: from the world of fado in Portugal we cross into that of flamenco in Andalusia – and what we hear first of all are… passionate disputes about the origin of flamenco! It is an old controversy still going on strong between the advocates of an Andalusian birth certificate and those who see the genre as a Romani creation.
Even prejudiced persons are obliged to recognize that the Gypsies – or at least some of their tribes – have an innate talent for music. They are quick though to assert that the Roma are not distinguished for their creative inspiration, but just for their skill in the execution of music. Although self-contradictory, this view was expressed in all seriousness, even from authoritative personalities, perhaps with good intentions. It’s true such controversies erupted in countries, like those in Eastern Europe, with a strong gypsy presence during the formation of the so-called “national schools”. But the root of the problem goes far back:
Music was not a lucrative – and hence respectable – occupation for centuries, when the only professional musicians around were Gypsies. After the economic conditions had changed and many locals had become musicians, it was almost impossible to “purify” the local musical idioms…
Music as a profession was not a lucrative – and hence respectable – occupation for centuries, when the only professional musicians around were Gypsies. After the economic conditions had changed and many locals had become musicians, it was almost impossible to identify and set apart the indigenous musical elements from the gypsy additions – or, with a different phraseology, to “purify” the local musical idioms. Of course, the “guilty” ones for this “problem” (if there was a problem) were not the Gypsies but the locals…
“Contact with foreign material is also a stimulus for new styles. Racial purity means stagnation: well-assimilated foreign impulses offer possibilities of enrichment.” (Béla Bartók)
“Contact with foreign material,” according to Béla Bartók, the celebrated Hungarian composer and ethnomusicologist, “does not merely imply the exchange of melodies, but – and this is even more important – is also a stimulus for new styles to arise… The current situation of Eastern European folk music can be summarized as follows: As a result of the continuous interaction of several peoples’ folk music, a tremendous wealth of melodies and melody types has arisen… Therefore, the lack of racial purity that’s appeared as a final result has had crucially beneficial resonances. A complete separation from foreign influences means stagnation: well-assimilated foreign impulses offer possibilities of enrichment.”
Only racists would reject such important conclusions. But nationalism is also a problem, especially in an area like Eastern Europe as it was described above. Even Bartók was not immune to such “national sentiments”. When he realized that Hungarian folk songs traditionally employed by “classical” composers were not autochthonous, he decided to make a research. In 1908, he and Kodály, his colleague and compatriot, travelled into the countryside to collect old Magyar folk melodies, which had previously been categorized as “gypsy music”. In contrast, they discovered that the old Magyar folk melodies were based on pentatonic scales, similar to those in Asian folk traditions, such as those of Anatolia, Central Asia and Siberia.(b)
In a country with “gypsy violins” famous worldwide, playing mainly heptatonic scales, a controversy broke out in 1933 regarding the point at issue. When Bartók intervened, he claimed that:
Alas, this “contact with foreign material” seems rather a “great idea” as long as it excludes the Romani contributions! Mind you that any “pure”, autochthonous melody anywhere in the world would be tantamount to a musical “Grail”…
Let’s return to Andalusia and to flamenco to go into the substance of this point at issue. Here the cultural substratum is far richer in finds with the successive layers of several civilizations. It’s obvious how inadequate the dilemma: “Gypsies or locals?”, “black or white?” is – and if you don’t suffer from colour blindness, you realize very soon that this can be nowhere true.
Voilà! There’s also Greek influence detected in flamenco! Most important, though seemingly paradoxical: among all those cultures referred to by Scholze, the only one that did not have “bearers” actually present in Andalusia in the 16th century, when flamenco’s formation began, was Hellenic culture. At that time, additionally, both the Byzantine Empire and Hellas were not on the map having lost their independence…
I mean to say that then in Andalusia, apart from the local andaluces, there were Arabs and North African Moors; there were Gypsies (as “bearers” of North Indian culture) and also Jews. It was the heterodox people that the decrees of Ferdinand and Isabella had declared personæ non grata in the name of religious “purity”, a kind of racism, in order to enforce the “new (Catholic Castilian) order”. That was the end result of the Crusades: the sanctified ethnic cleansing!
The dilemma was clear-cut: convert to Catholicism or get the hell out of here! And “for fear – even terror – of the Jews” and the rest of the heterodox people, the infamous “Holy” Inquisition began a persecution spree “in the name of God”. Most Arabs and Jews (the Gypsies had no… address and it was difficult to track them down!) were forced out of their homes, finding refuge mainly in Morocco and hoping that they would soon return (a hope shared by all refugees such as those from Asia Minor). Others (mainly Jews, not Moors who found themselves in a familiar environment in Maghreb) chose to emigrate and ended up in lands that until recently were Byzantine but had already passed under the control of the Ottomans – inter alia, in Thessalonica.
Those who stayed in Andalusia without changing their religion or the others, who were judged as insincere in their “repentance”, went underground, lived together and closed ranks out of necessity, despite all their differences, in order to confront the common enemy. Very soon this unlikely mixture of people was enriched with “new blood”: the Andalusians, who in turn passed to the other side due to various problems with the new authorities. The conquest of America e.g. started then, and the necessary “manpower” was recruited mainly in Andalusia.
Flamenco was born in such circumstances from these fugitives. But where were the Greeks? And how did they manage – being absent and from afar – to exert their influence? There can be only one answer: thanks to the splendour of their civilization – even though it was already a relic of the past…
An eristic could possibly dismiss scornfully Christian Scholze. His view, however, is not new-fangled. It is shared by most musicologists who say more or less the same. The editors of the Classic CD magazine e.g., publishing an interview with the guitarist Paco Peña, epitomized the origins of flamenco as follows:
And if that is not enough for you, here’s the American flamencologist and guitarist Donn E. Pohren, author of a trilogy on flamenco (The Art of Flamenco, Lives and Legends of Flamenco, A Way of Life) translated into many languages, and teacher of the Andalusians in Jerez de la Frontera’s Cátedra de Flamencología – but without “lecturing” at all, as he experienced flamenco’s way of life side by side with the Gypsy and local performers of this music before it became fashionable:
It’s the very first paragraph in the main part of his book dealing with The Art of Flamenco when he sets out to examine it. This chapter on Origin and Background ends with the etymology of flamenco: “Where did the term flamenco come from?”, Pohren wonders. “Again, no one knows, but theories abound”… We have already met the fugitives who probably created flamenco. Dismissing several theories about the origin of the word (e.g. Flemish, flamingo, flame, etc),(c) Pohren presents the most credible:
If all the above are again not enough for you, I need to resort to… indisputable sages – meaning in other words to invoke the views of acclaimed Spaniards who know what they’re talking about. Well, how about Federico García Lorca, his friend and teacher, Manuel de Falla, or his teacher’s teacher, Felipe Pedrell?
García Lorca used the title Poema del Cante Jondo for a 1921 collection of poems. The next year he helped Falla in the organization of the Concurso de Cante Jondo held in Granada on 13 and 14 of June 1922 with a memorable series of performances held at the Alhambra. Cante jondo or grande (deep, great song) is the most breathtaking of the flamenco forms, the most authentic and pure and, in the time between the two World Wars, the most marginalized. That’s why the two friends tried to support it. The other two forms – cante (inter)medio and chico (intermediate and small) – were considered as rather vulgarized forms, a view perhaps corresponding to the realities of the inter-war period (Lorca will explain why).
To promote the Concurso, Falla wrote an essay, El cante jondo (canto primitivo andaluz), in which he presented the results of his own research indicating that the primary foreign influences contributing to the origins of flamenco music and dance were three: Byzantine church music coming from the eastern Mediterranean; Moorish music from North Africa and Arabia; and especially that distinct music of India and its rhythms brought by the gitanos who began arriving in Spain more than five hundred years ago. On his part, Lorca gave a lecture on 19 February 1922. Citing Falla, he also put forward these three historical events that shaped jondo:
Except the local elements, there are also Greco-Byzantine, Arabo-Moorish, Indo-Romani, and perhaps even Jewish influences detected in flamenco (García Lorca, Falla, Pedrell, Pohren, Scholze, et al.)
In Falla’s conclusions, as well as in Lorca’s lecture, we find the same factors in the formation of flamenco; with the only exception that Jewish influence is conspicuously absent… Regarding the contribution of the Roma, Lorca tried to evaluate it in its proper dimensions, advocating neither in favour of an Andalusian parthenogenesis – for the Gypsies “gave cante jondo its definitive form” – nor in favour of a Romani birth: despite the many similarities he cited among the key elements of cante jondo and some Indian songs, mostly love songs (we’ll deal about that later, as well), he persistently insisted that “jondo is a cante purely andaluz”.
Indeed, flamenco was impossible to be born in India; but, without the Roma, not even in Andalusia; just like rebetiko was impossible to be born in Asia Minor; but, without the Anatolian refugees, not even in Greece; or just like blues was impossible to be born in Africa; but, without the black slaves, not even in America. If this is true about the blues, an almost exclusively black music, you can imagine how much more relevant it is in the cases of flamenco and rebetiko where two locals became leading figures: Paco de Lucía and Basiles Tsitsanes.
Flamenco was impossible to be born in India; but without the Roma not even in Andalusia. Rebetiko was impossible to be born in Asia Minor; but without the Anatolians not even in Greece. Blues was impossible to be born in Africa; but without the blacks not even in America.
“Every cloud has a silver lining”: the truth of the apophthegm is revealed in these diamonds of our musical culture. We can now enjoy their sparkling beauty thanks to the Roma, the Anatolians and the blacks – those that played the role of a catalyst in the polish of these diamonds of the Orphean art – who, nevertheless, suffered tremendously. Of course, some people had to play the role of the villains. For the gypsies, among many others, it was Tamerlane; for the Anatolians it was Kemal; for the blacks? Here we lose count!
Of course, Lorca also spoke about the difference between cante jondo and flamenco in general – “an essential distinction based on antiquity, structure and spirit”:
Let’s have a closer look at siguiriya gitana, the appropriate song to express sorrow, deep pain, despair. According to Falla, it is the archetype of cante jondo, as Lorca defined it in another lecture, as well, entitled Architecture of Cante Jondo in 1931. Whether siguiriya is gitana or “purely andaluz” we better leave it to the Spaniards. For us, outsiders, far more interesting is the common position of the three musicians mentioned above, namely Pedrell, Falla, and Lorca (he was also a musician, let’s not forget). I quote from his lecture of 1922:
Hence we can also speak of siguiriya griega or bizantina, not only indiana or gitana! But the findings of this triad (Pedrell, Falla and Lorca) go far beyond the relatively recent past, to prehistoric times. Lorca explains:
“Many suppose that chanting is the earliest form of language.”
Going way back into history, we need to parallel this incantation-recitation with the paracatalogé (παρακαταλογή) of ancient Hellenic tragedy, “a kind of melodramatic recitation of tragic and pathetic parts”, according to Giorgos Iohannou, which “was something intermediate between the catalogé, i.e. the usual recitation of chants, and the proper song, the ode.” Let us not forget, by the way, that the ancient drama was all in verse. It’s not a coincidence that the modern Greek word for song, tragoudi (τραγούδι), comes from tragedy, while out of paracatalogé the word paralogé (παραλογή, ballad) was coined. The paracatalogé was accompanied, usually by aulos; in this sense it differed from the catalogé; as a melodramatic recitation, it was not a sung recitative; it also differed from the ode because there was no melos (melody), other than a certain rhythmic emphasis and the tonal or pitch accent of the ancient Hellenic language, which was musical, not dynamic like modern Greek. The tragic and pathetic effect was achieved by inserting paracatalogé in the middle of sung parts (ἐν ταῖς ωἰδαῖς). This technique enhanced the dramatic appeal of the text.
In Hellenic tragedy, “paracatalogé, a kind of melodramatic recitation of tragic and pathetic parts, was something intermediate between the catalogé, i.e. the usual recitation of chants, and the proper song, the ode.” (Giorgos Iohannou)
García Lorca gave another lecture in 1930 on Theory and Play of Duende – a keyword in order to get to the bottom of the essence of flamenco, of music in general, and to penetrate the core of all the arts, especially the so-called performing arts. According to dictionaries, duende means “fairy, demon, ghost, devil, goblin, spirit – holy or evil.” Dictionaries rarely make things clear on concepts related to music and culture. And why should we let ourselves in the mercy of lexicographers when we have Lorca as a guide? Let’s listen to him with due attention as we are introduced to the magic and mystical duende:
“All that has dark sounds has duende.” (Manuel Torre)
The “Dionysiac” and “mystic” Hellenes are here again in full force. Their theatre of action is now Cádiz, the ancient Gadeira (Gadir), or Roman Gades.(f) To this port of Andalusia on the Atlantic, just outside the Straits of Gibraltar, the Pillars of Heracles, we will return shortly. For the time being, we continue listening to Lorca spellbound:
“Emotion is impossible without duende.” (García Lorca)
What an evening, indeed! I would love to be there… Well, here we are back to Cádiz with the captivating description of duende by Lorca. It’s where we meet again Donn Pohren, who will lead us to the ancient city of Gadir via… India!
This panoramic picture of the evolution of dance from the Indian Brahmanic temples to the Andalusian gypsy camps, with all intermediate stages, has a negative side: it is one-dimensional, presenting India as the matrix of the art of dance – and even more – leading to wrong conclusions. But if, instead of the dance, we trace the evolution of the guitar, then the mosaic of the exchange becomes three–dimensional and balanced. Our guide, Pohren, as a guitarist, moves now into more familiar waters:
“Ziryab played the major role in making Andalusia the outstanding cultural center of the world in the 9th century.” (Donn Pohren)
In this monumental mural painted mainly by Lorca and Pohren, with all the others contributing, we only need to apply some extra brushstrokes to… exonerate the Assyrians, who became notorious in history mainly for their cruelty, but also to show that in social processes parthenogenesis is out of the question in all places and all times – even in the case of the ancient “Hellenic miracle” that has been feasible due to borrowing know-how and intellectual “goods” from the Orient.
The kithara was an instrument of the professionals, while its little sister, the lyre, of the amateurs. According to the Encyclopedia of Ancient Hellenic Music by Solon Michaelides (the source of much information during our Voyages), the kithara was called Άσιάς (Asian). Plutarch (1st–2nd century CE) maintained that “it was called Asian because it was used by the Lesbian kitharodes [citharoedes or citharedes: kithara players who also sang] dwelling close to Asia”. This is, of course, a pretext – even if Lesbos is actually close to Asia Minor. We learn the truth from Hesychius of Alexandria (5th century CE), who explains that the kithara was defined as such “for it was invented in Asia”. The adjectives Άσιάς and Άσιάτις (Asian, Asiatic) were used not only in relation to the kithara, but also to music as a whole; as Strabo points out: “all music is thought to be Thracian and Asian”. Ancient Thrace, of course, was not a part of Hellas.
These instruments of the kithara and lyre family have been extinct for centuries now because they were left behind in relation to the development of music, becoming inadequate and unable to satisfy the needs of the people – musicians and listeners. They are now rarely found still in use among primitive tribes, primarily in northeastern Africa – and this is indeed a pleasant surprise! Some German ethnomusicologists e.g. recorded, among others, the sound of a lyre played by a cattleman, member of the Hamar tribe of Ethiopia, and put his photo on the album’s cover. Isn’t it impressive? The symbol of so many “serious” music institutions, the “musical instrument par excellence” of the ancients, the celebrated Chelys of Hermes, who offered it to Apollo (to atone for stealing his oxen!), to be “mislaid” in the hands of primitive Africans, and also been made with a tortoise shell? It can’t be, these Germans should have been certainly related in some way with… Fallmerayer!
In conclusion, if we assume that the guitar descended from the kithara, the latter must have been combined with some kind of lute – that is, with an instrument having a “neck”: the guitar belongs to this lute family. The only similar instrument in ancient Greece was the so-called tríchordon (three-string), or pandura, panduris, panduros and phanduros. In Alexandrian times there was already a whole family of such instruments that became later even larger with the additions of the erudite thambura (tambur of Constantinople), folk tambura, and also bouzouki.
As regards the origin of the instrument, Pollux (2nd century CE) informs us: “tríchordon, which the Assyrians called it pandura; it was also their invention.” Thus, pandura, as a term and as an instrument, was Assyrian. It’s possible, therefore, that the kithara asiria, which Pohren referred to, was associated with or identical to a pandura. The term tríchordon that the Hellenes used for the pandura means that the latter was also a tríchordon, that is, a three-string instrument. Let’s not forget that the guitarra morisca, a kithara asiria descendant, was also a tríchordon.(k)
It’s thrilling to imagine that the starting point of all these instruments was the primitive hunter’s bow; that in time of rest could become a musical bow…