Skip to comments.The Hellenic Origins of Church Music
Posted on 01/31/2013 6:49:26 AM PST by marshmallow
Many Greek contributions to Western music have been unknown to modern scholars until recently.
Today, the name of Greece may evoke new images of debt, bailouts, and tourism, or old images of Olympians, Corinthian columns, Socrates, and Spartan warriors. But most of us dont associate Greece with Western Church music. Nevertheless, Gregorian chant, Western musical notation, and the Lutheran hymnal all have common origins in the Hellenic (Greek) Eastern Christian traditions of sacred music. Medieval music theorists of Europe built their work upon a foundation established by the Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle. And if the Greco-Syrians had not developed the metric hymn for ecclesial worship, there would be no German hymnals and the Gregorian chant tradition may have been based on any number of tones instead of the standard eight we know today.
A growing body of information about the history and nature of the Byzantine musical tradition is available through the work of scholars such as Diane Touliatos. Dr. Touliatos has been a professor of Eastern Medieval Chant and Ancient Greek Music at the University of Missouri-St. Louis since 1979. She notes that many Greek contributions to Western music have been unknown to modern scholars until recently. Most of our preserved examples and/or fragments of Ancient Greek music were not uncovered until the 20th century and most of these by accident by archaeologists who did not know what they were looking at, she says.
As a result of these discoveries, Western music scholars are becoming more familiar with Hellenic contributions to the West. The organ, polyphony, and melismatic vocalizing are a few Greek inventions that were once believed to be of Western origin. Western music history is in the process of being updated to include the latest findings in ancient and Byzantine (Greek) music history and theory, but it....
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I never understood why the system is figured to be based on eight tones instead of seven. Isn’t the eighth tone merely the first one all over again?
I’m not a music expert by any means, but it has to do with frequency and pitch. The human ear can hear a certain frequency range, but pitch sounds the same. For instance, if you strum the E string on a guitar and then strum the A string at the E fret the pitch is the same, but the frequency is different.
I think frequency of sound is measured in 8ths or the power of two. Maybe someone can explain it better.
I know all about that, or at least generally. It’s the terminology, more than anything, that bugs me. Western music is traditionally structured according to sets called octaves. You have your tonic, which can be any tone, and seven steps of tones up from it. Harmonic relationships between notes are organized around it, which is based on the mathematical logic behind the physical sound as measured in frequency, pitch, etc.
My point, and you can easily find this out by tinkering on a piano, is that, really, the octaves consist of the tonic and six other notes. The last note is the tonic all over again, only an octave up. That’s where you stop when you play a scale: the tone seven tones up from where you started. So why count the eighth one again? Why not call it a seven tone scale? I realize the last tone rounds out the scale, and that it just wouldn’t sound right without it. Fine, have it there, but I don’t see why you need to count it twice.
Indulge me. If you start with Do, you must end with Do. If you start with Ray, the progression shall be: Ray Me Fa So La Ti Do Ray. Why count Ray twice? Can’t we count the seven without the second Ray, call that the scale, and assume the other Ray is there? There’s a reason we keep calling new tones all the way up the same old names. Because they are the same tones in a different set. A set which I hold is seven notes long, hence the seven names: Do Ray Me Fa So La Ti.
Well, it probably has to do with the fact that in the East, our “eight tones” (which vary from country to country or even village to village) are actually families of melodies rather than scales, and St. Gregory the Dialogist (St. Gregory the Great for you Westerners) copied the system for the West and made his own set of eight tones which fit Latin words better than the Byzantine system, along with the liturgical rotation in eight week cycles.
Thanks, while interesting the etymology of the term is not at issue. It makes perfect sense why they call it an “octave” based on the fact that any given pitch finds exactly double its frequency at the same interval of harmonic series up from its frequency. I don’t remember exactly, but the idea is that fir every tone there are accompanying overtones. You hear the main one, but there will also be vibrations at different frequencies along with the main one. And these other frequencies will always bear the same relationship to the main one. Well, not perfectly, but let’s not complicate matters needlessly.
The most prominent harmonical overtones are the 8th, the 12th, the 15th, and the 17th. The 8th is the octave, and like I said it is exactly double the frequency of the tonic. The 15th is yet another octave up, and consequently is double the frequency if the octave. The 12th and 17th may be reduced to the 3rd and the 5th, otherwise called the median and the dominant. The tonic, median, and dominant together form the triad, which is the basis of the classical system of tonality and the eight-tone scale, or octave.
Here’s the thing, the way people hear them tonics and octaves are basically the same note at a higher pitch. That’s just the way harmonic relationships based on frequencies like this work. That’s why I say including the eighth note is like doubling the tonic. You already have the Do, why mention Do again?
The why is obvious: the range is limited by Dos on each side. That makes eight notes, inclusively. The interval has long been called an octave for this reason. My point is only, in addition to the Dos being repeats of eachother, when you actually count the steps along the interval, it adds up to seven. I can’t get past it.