408 bce

Orestes: Stasimon chorus (chromatic performance)
Orestes: Stasimon chorus (chromatic performance)

Orestes: Stasimon chorus (chromatic performance)” by Euripides [ca 408 BCE] performed by Atrium Musicae De Madrid, Gregorio Paniagua

An Exploration of Music and Poetry, Day 2: Origins

Music and poetry have been entwined for as long as Western civilization. The ancient Greeks provide the first solid evidence, but it seems likely that older Middle Eastern poems would also have been accompanied by music. With the Greeks, modern minds often delve into the mythology without truly looking at the media whence the stories come: various forms of poetry.

The written fragments that have survived the millennia are the tip of the proverbial iceberg. They only hint at the vibrant oral literary culture that existed before writing came to the Aegean. From other evidence we know that many of the major types of Greek literature were at least partially sung. Homer’s epics, lyric poems (a la Sappho), and works of Greek theater utilized both verse and musical elements.

The clip above is an academic recording (from the Norton Anthology of Recorded Music) of a chorus from Euripides’ play Orestes, frist performed at the final Dionysia of the playwright’s life. Since Classical Greek playwrights took on so many other tasks (than simply writing), some scholars have assumed Euripides was also the composer of all the music in his plays. We will never know for certain.

(photo credit: Bust of Euripides. Marble, Roman copy after a Greek original from ca. 330 BC, from the Vatican Museums [via])