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Prehistoric Period


Aristoxenus defines rhythm as tripartite.
Earliest form of the oboe used in Rome.
Chinese octave is subdivided into 60 notes.  
Foundation of Schola Cantorum for church song, Rome.
Hymn singing introduced by Ambrose, Bishop of Milan.
The First “Hallelujah” hymns sung in the Christian Churches. 
First use of alternative singing between the precentor and community at
Roman Church services, patterned after Jewish traditions. 

Romanos the MelodistGreek hymnographers, born
Boethius writes “ De Institutione Musica”.
Saint Yared, Ethiopian musician, born


Aristoxenus of Tarentum (b. c. 375, fl. 335 BCE) was a Greek Peripatetic philosopher, and a pupil of Aristotle. Most of his writings, which dealt with philosophy, ethics and music, have been lost, but one musical treatise, Elements of Harmony (Greek: Ἁρμονικῶν στοιχείων; Latin: Elementa harmonica), survives incomplete, as well as some fragments concerning rhythm and meter. The Elements is the chief source of our knowledge of ancient Greek music.


Aristoxenus was born at Tarentum, and was the son of a learned musician named Spintharus (otherwise Mnesias). He learned music from his father, and having then been instructed by Lamprus of Erythrae and Xenophilus the Pythagorean, he finally became a pupil of Aristotle, whom he appears to have rivaled in the variety of his studies. According to the Suda, he heaped insults on Aristotle after his death, because Aristotle had designated Theophrastus as the next head of the Peripatetic school, a position which Aristoxenus himself had coveted having achieved great distinction as a pupil of Aristotle. This story is, however, contradicted by Aristocles, who asserts that he never mentioned Aristotle but with the greatest respect. Nothing is known of his life after the time of Aristotles departure, apart from a comment in Elementa Harmonica concerning his works.


Overview of his works

His writings, said to have consisted of four hundred and fifty-three books, were in the style of Aristotle, and dealt with philosophy, ethics and music. The only work of his that has come down to us is the three books of the Elements of Harmony, an incomplete musical treatise. Aristoxenus' theory had an empirical tendency; in music he held that the notes of the scale are to be judged, not as the Pythagoreans held, by mathematical ratio, but by the ear. Vitruvius in his De architectura paraphrases the writings of Aristoxenus on music. His ideas were responded to and developed by some later theorists such as Archestratus, and his place in the methodological debate between rationalists and empiricists was commented upon by such writers as Ptolemais of Cyrene.

The theory that the soul is a "harmony" of the four elements composing the body, and therefore mortal ("nothing at all," in the words of Cicero), was ascribed to Aristoxenus (fr. 118-121 Wehrli) and Dicaearchus. This theory is comparable to the one offered by Simmias in Plato's Phaedo.

"Elementa harmonica"

In his Elements of Harmony (also Harmonics), Aristoxenus attempted a complete and systematic exposition of music. The first book contains an explanation of the genera of Greek music, and also of their species; this is followed by some general definitions of terms, particularly those of sound, interval, and system. In the second book Aristoxenus divides music into seven parts, which he takes to be: the genera, intervals, sounds, systems, tones or modes, mutations, and melopoeia. The remainder of the work is taken up with a discussion of the many parts of music according to the order which he had himself prescribed.

While it is often held among modern scholars that Aristoxenus rejected the opinion of the Pythagoreans that arithmetic rules were the ultimate judge of intervals and that in every system there must be found a mathematical coincidence before such a system can be said to be harmonic, it must be noted that Aristoxenus made extensive use of arithmetic terminology, notably to define varieties of semitones, and dieses in his descriptions of the various genera.

In his second book he asserted that "by the hearing we judge of the magnitude of an interval, and by the understanding we consider its many powers." And further he wrote, "that the nature of melody is best discovered by the perception of sense, and is retained by memory; and that there is no other way of arriving at the knowledge of music;" and though, he wrote, "others affirm that it is by the study of instruments that we attain this knowledge;" this, he wrote, is talking wildly, "for just as it is not necessary for him who writes an Iambic to attend to the arithmetical proportions of the feet of which it is composed, so it is not necessary for him who writes a Phrygian song to attend to the ratios of the sounds proper thereto." However, this should not be construed as meaning that he postulated a simplistic system of harmony resembling that of modern twelve tone theory, and especially not an equally tempered system. As he urges us to consider, "(a)fter all, with which of the people who argue about the shades of the genera should one agree? Not everyone looks to the same division when tuning the chromatic or the enharmonic, so why should the note a ditone from mesé be called lichanos rather than a small amount higher?"

It is sometimes claimed that the nature of Aristoxenus' scales and genera deviated sharply from his predecessors. That Aristoxenus used a model for creating scales based upon the notion of a topos, or range of pitch location, is fact, however there is no reason to believe that he alone set this precedent, as he himself does not make this claim. Indeed, the idea of unfixed pitch locations that cover certain ranges, the limits of which may be defined by fixed points, is a notion that was popular until the modern fixation upon fixed pitch systems, as is indicated by baroque theoretical systems of pitch and intonation. Another way of stating this, however perhaps less accurate, is that instead of using discrete ratios to place intervals, he used continuously variable quantities.

The postulation that this resulted in the structuring of his tetrachords and the resulting scales having 'other' qualities of consonance is one that can only be accounted for by the recourse to often repeated inconsistencies amongst his interpreters and modern confirmation bias in favour of simplified twelve tone theories. Aristoxenus himself held that "(...) two things must not be overlooked: first, that many people have mistakenly supposed us to be saying that a tone can be divided into three equal parts in a melody. They made this mistake because they did not realise that it is one thing to employ the third part of a tone, and another to divide a tone into three parts and sing all three. Secondly we accept that from a purely abstract point of view there is no least interval."

In book three Aristoxenus goes on to describe twenty eight laws of melodic succession, which are of great interest to those concerned with classical Greek melodic structure.

On rhythmics and metrics

Part of the second book of a work on rhythmics and metrics, Elementa rhythmica, is preserved in medieval manuscript tradition.

Aristoxenus was also the author of a work On the Primary Duration (chronos).

A five-column fragment of a treatise on meter (P. Oxy. 9/2687) was published in Grenfell and Hunt's Oxyrhynchus Papyri, vol. 1 (1898) and is probably by Aristoxenus.


Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, commonly called Boethius (c. 480–524 AD), was a Roman senator, consul, magister officiorum, and philosopher of the early 6th century. He was born four years after Odoacer deposed the last Roman Emperor and declared himself King of Italy, and entered public service under Ostrogothic King Theodoric the Great, who later imprisoned and executed him in 524 on charges of conspiracy to overthrow him. While jailed, Boethius composed his Consolation of Philosophy, a philosophical treatise on fortune, death, and other issues, which became one of the most popular and influential works of the Middle Ages.


"De institutione musica"

Boethius' De institutione musica was one of the first musical works to be printed in Venice between the years of 1491 and 1492. It was written toward the beginning of the sixth century and helped medieval authors during the ninth century understand Greek music.


In "De Musica", Boethius introduced the threefold classification of music:

Musica mundana — music of the spheres/world

Musica humana — harmony of human body and spiritual harmony

Musica instrumentalis — instrumental music

In De musica I.2, Boethius describes 'musica instrumentis' as music produced by something under tension 
(e.g. strings), by wind (e.g. aulos), by water, or by percussion (e.g. cymbals). Boethius himself doesn't use the term 'instrumentalis', which was used by Adalbold II of Utrecht (975–1026) in his Epistola cum tractatu. The term is much more common in the 13th century and later. It is also in these later texts that musica instrumentalis is firmly associated with audible music in general, including vocal music. Scholars have traditionally assumed that Boethius also made this connection, possibly under the header of wind instruments ("administratur ... aut spiritu ut tibiis"), but Boethius himself never writes about "instrumentalis" as separate from "instrumentis" explicitly in his very brief description.

In one of his works within De institutione musica, Boethius was to say that "music is so naturally united with us that we cannot be free from it even if we so desired."

During the Middle Ages, Boethius was connected to several texts that were used to teach liberal arts. Although he did not address the subject of trivium, he did write many treatises explaining the principles of rhetoric, grammar, and logic. During the Middle Ages, his works of these disciplines were commonly used when studying the three elementary arts.



Romanos the Melodist

c. 490 - c. 560

Saint Romanos the Melodist or the Hymnographer, was one of the greatest of Greek hymnographers, called "the Pindar of rhythmic poetry". He flourished during the sixth century, which is considered to be the "Golden Age" of Byzantine hymnography.


The main source of information about the life of Romanos comes from the Menaion for October. Beyond this, his name is mentioned by only two other ancient sources. One in the eighth-century poet St. Germanos, and once in the Souda (s. v. anaklomenon), where he is called "Romanos the melodist". From this scanty evidence we learn that he was born to a Jewish family in either Emesa (modern-day Homs) or Damascus in Syria. He was baptized as a young boy (though whether or not his parents also converted is uncertain). Having moved to Berytus (Beirut), he was ordained a deacon in the Church of the Resurrection there.

He later moved to Constantinople during the reign of the emperor Anastasius—on the question whether Anastasius I (491-518) or Anastasius II (713-716) is meant, the renowned Byzantinologist, Prof. Karl Krumbacher favours the earlier date. There he served as sacristan in the "Great Church" (Hagia Sophia), residing to the end of his life at the Monastery of Kyros, where he was buried along with his disciple St. Ananias.

If those scholars who believe that he lived during the reign of the earlier Anastasius are correct, then he may have continued writing during the reign of Emperor Justinian (527-65), who was himself a hymn-writer; this would make him a contemporary of two other famous Byzantine hymnographers, Anastasios and Kyriakos.


Romanos wrote in an Atticized literary koine— i.e., he had a popular, but elevated style— and abundant Semiticisms support the view that he was of Jewish origin. Arresting imagery, sharp metaphors and similes, bold comparisons, antitheses, coining of successful maxims, and vivid dramatization characterize his style. 
He is said to have composed more than 1,000 hymns or kontakia celebrating various festivals of the ecclesiastical year, the lives of the saints and other sacred subjects, some 60 to 80 of which survive (though not all those attributed to him may be genuine). Today, usually only the first strophe of each kontakion is chanted during the divine services, the full hymn having been replaced by the canon. A full kontakion was a poetic sermon composed of from 18 to 30 verses or ikoi, each with a refrain, and united by an acrostic. When it was sung to an original melody, it was called an idiomelon. Originally, Saint Romanos' works were known simply as "psalms", "odes", or "poems". It was only in the ninth century that the term kontakion came into use.

Among his known works are kontakia on:

The Nativity of Christ
The Martyrdom of St Stephen
The Death of a Monk
The Last Judgment
The Prodigal Son
The Raising of Lazarus (for Lazarus Saturday, the day before Palm Sunday)
Adam's Lament (for Palm Sunday)
The Treachery of Judas


Professor Krumbacher says of his work:

"In poetic talent, fire of inspiration, depth of feeling, and elevation of language, he far surpasses all the other melodes. The literary history of the future will perhaps acclaim Romanos for the greatest ecclesiastical poet of all ages."



Saint Yared 

Saint Yared (April 25, 500 – May 20, 571) was a legendary Ethiopian musician credited with inventing the sacred music tradition of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Ethiopia's system of musical notation. He is responsible for creating the Zema or the chant tradition of Ethiopia, particularly the chants of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which are still performed today. He is regarded as a saint of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church with a feast day of 11 Genbot (May 19). His name is from the Biblical person known in English as "Jared" (Gen. 5:15). 


Yared was born in the city of Aksum to Abyud (Isaac) and Christina (Tawklia). His parents were born and raised in Aksum. His father died when he was seven, and his mother sent him to be raised by his uncle Gidewon, a priest who taught religious studies. A legend describes Yared gaining musical insight and talent through interaction with three birds, which inspired him to link the spiritual with the musical through the blending of musical characteristics to which he attached the Ethiopian words Ge’ez, Izil, and Ararary.

Yared arranged and composed hymns connected to religious celebrations and holidays, introducing the concept of sacred music to Ethiopian Orthodox services. This music, claim Debtera, is the basis of their performances.

Yared wrote five volumes of chants for church services and celebrations. These volumes include The Book of Digua and Tsome Digua (chants for church holidays and Sundays services), The Book of Meraf (chants for major holidays, daily prayers and the month of fasting), The Book of Zimare (chants to be performed after Mass), The Book of Mewasit (chants for the dead).

Tradition states that Yared was a favorite of the Emperor Gabra Masqal. According to legend, the emperor once became so enchanted with Yared's singing that he accidentally dropped his spear on Yared's foot during a performance. As an apology, the emperor offered to grant Yared a request. Yared requested to live the remainder of his life in solitude, where he could focus on prayer, meditation, and music composition. He spent his final years as a recluse in the Semien Mountains.

St Romanos the Melodist Antiochian Orthodox Choir 

Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius

Icon of Romanus the Melodist (1649)

Cenotaph of Marcus Caelius, 1st centurion of XVIII, who "fell in the war of Varus" (bello Variano).
Reconstructed inscription: "To Marcus Caelius, son of Titus, of the Lemonian district, from Bologna, first centurion of the eighteenth legion. 53½ years old. He fell in the Varian War. His bones may be interred here. Publius Caelius, son of Titus, of the Lemonian district, his brother, erected (this monument)."

Saint Yared
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