New Music from Ancient Greece

Many members of the Classics Department were in the Hood Museum on March 8, 2024 to see and hear a performance of music from Ancient Greece and Anatolia. The performers were John C. Franklin, Professor and Chair of Classics at the University of Vermont, and his four-piece group, The Call of Kinnaru. "Kinnaru" is an ancient Anatolian term for the lyre, and this group uses replica instruments that are as close as possible to the ones that were used in Ancient Greece: the aulos  (double oboe), the kithara (tortoise-shell lyre), the tympanon (frame drum), the sistrum (Egyptian rattle) and other percussion instruments. The performers (John Franklin, Jamie Levis, Julia Irons and Rachel Fickes) were dressed in costumes based on ancient drawings.

Prof. Franklin has extensive background in "music archaeology," or the reconstruction of ancient music from the surviving evidence. The scores used in the performance were all based on his research. As part of the performance, he and the other performers paused to show slides and explain where the different pieces come from and how the instruments work.

How do we know what ancient music sounded like? Some manuscripts and inscriptions of ancient Greek poetry actually included musical notations that indicate pitch and duration of the notes. The rhythm of the poetry itself is important as well, since Greek meters were based on the actual duration of the syllables. The technological features of ancient musical instruments can also provide clues, as well as concepts from music theory and ancient descriptions and artwork. Finally, the experience of performing the pieces now can help performers to figure out what works musically.

The group performed selections from the lyric poet Sappho and one or two other pieces for which ancient musical notations exist. Vocalist Julia Irons sang in ancient Greek for several of the songs, then switched to English for music composed by Prof. Franklin to accompany recent performances of Euripides' Helen and Aristophanes' Clouds.

The Hood Museum's Kim Gallery provided an awe-inspiring setting for the performance, with five monumental Assyrian reliefs as a backdrop and artifacts from ancient Greece and the ancient Near East surrounding the audience. Museum staffer Ashley Offill gave a brief explanation of the Assyrian reliefs at the start of the event.

You can hear some of Call of Kinnaru's other performances on YouTube: try Julia Irons singing Sappho 1 and the whole group on the parodos from Aristophanes' Clouds. You can also find the group on Facebook, and you can learn more about Prof. Franklin's research at this link.

The performance and talk were brought to Dartmouth by Randall Kuhlman of the Hood Museum. They were supported in part by the Dartmouth Classics Department and by the "Ancient Worlds, Modern Communities" initiative of the Society for Classical Studies.