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Rhythm of the Chorus (e.g., Agamemnon)

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Rhythm of the Chorus (e.g., Agamemnon)

Postby pster » Wed Oct 10, 2012 2:55 pm

Just yesterday I received audio CDs for Agamemnon and I am disappointed with the very first chorus. I was expecting something much more rhythmically unified. In the West, we are mostly used to even rhythms--jazz swing being the most prominent exception. But elsewhere in the world (Bulgaria, India), one finds uneven rhythms, ie rhythms where certain beats get counted longer; one cannot properly notate these rhythms in (mathematically) rational Western notation.

But given that the Agamemnon chorus has an Ancient Greek rhythm, I was fully prepared for an uneven rhythm. However, right off the bat, we get something that I am not sure is a rhythm at all. To count as a rhythm, things have to repeat. But here what we seem to have are certain beats extended, and others just dropped, leaving us wondering if there is any pattern at all. So for example: 1) At Μενέλαος, we get a slightly longer beat. What explains this? Perhaps just bad drumming? If so, they should have done another take because it immediately undercuts the (until this point successfully) built up tension. Indeed, throughout the first part of this first chorus, the time keeping is poor. Any musician is going to immediately notice it. 2) More significantly, at Ἀτρειδᾶν we loose the drum for a foot but then get a resumption on a different beat. This seems inexplicable to me. 18 feet in, it is not part of some repeating element. I don't know how any group of 12 people could keep track when beats are dropped and shifted like that.

I don't have the Agamemnon book yet (still in the mail) and I won't be able to get a hold of M. West's book on music until next week. But, as someone with a relatively strong musical background, I was hoping that the rhythms of the chorus would give me an easy way into the poetry of the Greek chorus, and that would give me an easy way into Greek poetry as a whole.

Can anybody here speak authoritatively about any of this? What do we know for sure? What do we know with certainty about all of this? Has anybody read West on rhythm? Supposedly his book is what Raeburn and Thomas are following. But West is not a musician. And now I am worried. Something somwhere seems to have gone terribly wrong at Ἀτρειδᾶν.
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Re: Rhythm of the Chorus (e.g., Agamemnon)

Postby Paul Derouda » Thu Oct 11, 2012 9:54 am

I'm absolutely not an authority... I have absolutely no musical background, so if you say there's something wrong I guess I believe you. I noticed some problems with the pronunciation, but had no idea there was something wrong with the rhythm.

There's a discussion on sound and rhythm at the end of the Raeburn & Thomas commentary. On page 247 they refer to West's book Greek Metre (1982) (not the one on music), so that's the one you'll have to get. Apparently West is a partisan of an irregular beat. I really can't discuss this because I haven't had time to read it all and anyway I don't know this whole subject very well. I too thought maybe this recording will help me to understand.
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Re: Rhythm of the Chorus (e.g., Agamemnon)

Postby cb » Thu Oct 11, 2012 12:31 pm

hi pster, there's a regular rhythm, it just doesn’t always correspond to the longs which is perhaps what is tricking your ear, instead it corresponds to the march in these marching anapaests. i’ll try to explain how you can practically get the rhythm (you actually need to march to it and then it becomes clear):

to take a step back, this is a marching anapaest section. martin west explains in his studies on aeschylus (pgs 8 to 9) something interesting – you can actually guess how the greek chorus moved on stage by calculating from the length of this marching anapaest section. each metron of 2 anapaests (short short long, short short long) corresponds to a double pace. i’ll explain the double pace bit in a tic, this is the key to getting the rhythm, but to continue with the interesting bit – if you assume the double pace was about a metre, then you can calculate that the chorus marched onstage to about 30 metra (i.e. 30 double paces) and then did 2 laps of the orchestra (each lap around 40 to 45 metres) because there are 119 metra in this section. The number of metra in the marching anapaest section of his persians is about the same as in agamemnon, 119 metra (corresponding to an entry plus 2 laps), whereas the number of metra in the marching anapaest section of his suppliants and ajax correspond to an entry plus 1 lap (74 in suppliants, 72 in ajax).

back to the rhythm. imagine the metron of 2 anapaests (short short long, short short long) has 8 beats, each short having 1 beat and each long having 2 beats. each of these corresponds to a double step of the marching chorus, and each step falls in the long (or the princeps bit), i.e. on beats 3 and 7 (the first beat of each long) – see martin west’s greek metre 1982, pg 53.

try actually marching to line 40 like this:
40 δέκατον μὲν ἔτος τόδ´ ἐπεὶ Πριάμωι
first foot down on the beat 3 (-τον in δέκατον), second foot down on beat 7 (-τος in ἔτος) and so on.

the next trick is that in marching anapaests you can change an anapaest (short short long) into a dactyl (long short short) but the marching rhythm stays the same (first foot down on beat 3, second foot down on beat 7), so now your first foot goes down on a short syllable, not a long - that's what tricks your ear. march it though and it's fine.

so to take the line that’s bothering you:
44 τιμῆς ὀχυρὸν ζεῦγος Ἀτρειδᾶν,
- first foot down on the beginning of μῆς in τιμῆς (this is a spondee, 2 longs so 4 beats in itself),
- second foot down on beginning of ρὸν in ὀχυρὸν,
- first foot down on γος in ζεῦγος (this is where your ear can trick you because you are used to feet going down on the longs in anapaests, but here instead of an anapaest here you have the dactyl ζεῦγος Ἀ-, and the foot still goes down on beat 3 being the first short in the dactyl, ie γος in ζεῦγος)
- second foot down in δᾶν in Ἀτρειδᾶν

to tie this all back to the recording (which just arrived for me yesterday), they are drumming on the beat where your foot goes down.

try actually marching this out as you are pronouncing it or as you are listening to the recording and the rhythm will become clear.

none of this has anything to do with an ictus, i.e. you don't stress or do anything special with your voice on beats 3 and 7 in each metron, it’s just the marching rhythm. you should read the marching anapaests of the spartans in martin west’s greek metre pg 53 to really get the feel for marching anapaests: ἄγετ', ὦ Σπάρτας εὐάνδρου | κοῦροι πατέρων πολιητᾶν, with the marching feel falling on first foot - ὦ, second foot – τας in Σπάρτας, first foot – άν in εὐάνδρου, second foot in the pause after εὐάνδρου, and so on.

as to your second question, i think the guys who did the recording are classicists and so they will likely not have as good a musical ear for getting the rhythm right as you, i go easy on anyone who has a go at doing this stuff for us, even if it's not exactly how i would do it, i still think it's invaluable. i think the pause you mention at the beginning of Μενέλαος is just him taking a breath. cheers, chad
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Re: Rhythm of the Chorus (e.g., Agamemnon)

Postby pster » Thu Oct 11, 2012 2:18 pm

Thanks Chad for the great reply. I just got my book today, so I have been reading the appendix.

I will have many many comments and questions about meter, rhythm and music as we go on, so I'm going to try to not raise too many issues all at once.

I had no problem with changing the anapest into a dactyl.

Listening to it several more times, I think the that the poor time keeping is just what unnerved me and--what was worse--confused me. Voice is one thing, a flute or guitar is another, but the drum is meant for time keeping. I don't know why they didn't use a drum machine or metronome for this. It is a march and so should be perfectly even. First thing I heard was the delay at Μενέλαος which, as the musicians would say, really "sagged". Then at Ἀτρειδᾶν two things happen. They leave out the drum for an anapest. Now aesthetically, that is fine. A little variety, whatever. But in doing so they also screw up the rhythm again, and much worse than the first time. So together, those two things really confused me and I got to thinking--ut oh--there is some strange theory of Ancient Greek rhythm that is in play here. And then I really freaked out because I didn't want to get bogged down in some debate.

Yes, I agree, that one should be charitable when listening to recording such as these and I really don't want to whine. But uneven drumming is almost self-contradictory. It is the first thing drummers are judged on. And simply put, it really confused me.

M. West thinks quite highly of Hagel's recent book on Greek Music and I have been listening to Hagel's recording of Homer. It is very impressive. http://www.oeaw.ac.at/kal/sh/ And I was hoping that these Agamemnon recordings would be be musically/rhythmically as memorable. I had worked through Daitz's Demosthenes recordings and I was ready to do some singing!
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Re: Rhythm of the Chorus (e.g., Agamemnon)

Postby Scribo » Thu Oct 11, 2012 6:45 pm

Daitz is a crock, useful for punishing students though.

Re: Music, I'm not sure exactly where to start....I can definitely recommend West (1992) since its sort of the set text for newbies, besides that you have a few interesting articles by Winnington-Ingram et all but West has sort of superseded all that. Discussions of scores etc can be found in Pohlmann. Hagel's book, which I've yet to finish, is largely a technical history. Fascinating, and particularly useful for me since I play the lyra and the kithara to metre. Sophie Gibson has a book on Greek musicology which is helpful if you're interested in Aristioxenos.

HOWEVER starting with Greek music like that is not usually very helpful, how is your metre? I recommend you grabbing West's book on Greek metre, getting good on the basic principles and then his article on the "singing of Homer" for some examples of have to combine metre and music before proceeding.

You need to begin with and have a solid grounding in the metre...

I'll be more expansive shortly when I get some more time, I may have some old notes on this sort of thing I can scan on if if my handwriting is not uniformly atrocious too. Its a fascinating topic! But the above is almost the entire gamut of sustained studies in English. :(
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Re: Rhythm of the Chorus (e.g., Agamemnon)

Postby pster » Thu Oct 11, 2012 7:28 pm

Hey Scrib,

Thanks for the reply. Well, like I say I don't want to get bogged down in a big debate. I want to know where there is consensus and where there ain't, and where there ain't what are the various factions. So, let's go back to Homer and look at that Hagel recording. Is that consistent with what West says in his meter book? Or does Hagel's approach represent something new vis a vis meter? Hagel's work is supposedly a 'landmark' in our understanding of Greek music, and a recent one at that. His recordings sound quite pleasing. The Greek chorus sang. Now I am under the impression that this 'landmark' study should shed some light on how the chorus sang their lines in meter. Maybe I am wrong about that. You say it is 'technical'. Does it shed any light on how the Greek chorus sang their lines in meter? What would Hagel say about West's 'irregular' rhythms claims? I'm still working on the appendix, but at the moment, I am not even clear about what R&T are up to since at the key point they switch to a notion of 'pulse'. I am trying to understand 104-121, which was the first part sung in the play. But the recording doesn't seem very musical to me as a whole. In parts yes, but not as a whole.

Anyway, Hagel vs. West. Fire away!
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Re: Rhythm of the Chorus (e.g., Agamemnon)

Postby pster » Fri Oct 12, 2012 4:40 pm

At the most basic level, here is the crux of what is bothering me. In music, doing scansion for a lyric is going to give one very limited insight into the rhythm of a melody. By rhythm of a melody, I mean leaving the pitch aside and just looking at the number, arrangement, and duration of the notes; let's call it "ROM". This limited insight is a ubiquitous seemingly near universal feature of lyrics set to melody. This is true of contemporary popular music. It is also seems to be true of Greek music. Let's look at the oldest complete song we have, the Song of Seikilos.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seikilos_epitaph

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9RjBePQ ... re=related

Now the lyric has 29 syllables. But when we look at the ROM, we see 37 notes.

Now it is true that good poetry lends itself to good music. But make no mistake about it, melody man-handles words and does almost whatever it wants with them.

How do we know that something similar wasn't going on in the sung parts of tragedy? After the chorus marched in, they started singing strophes and antistrophes. How do we know that they weren't singing more notes than syllables as happens in most music?
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Re: Rhythm of the Chorus (e.g., Agamemnon)

Postby Paul Derouda » Mon Oct 22, 2012 2:31 pm

The Raeburn&Thomas commentary remarks that Aristophanes quotes the lines 104 and 108-111 in Frogs with ridiculous additions. I'm quoting here there relevant lines. I've read the play a couple of years ago, so maybe I don't remember everything correctly. The context here is that Aeschylus and Euripides are characters in the play; they are both dead and in Hades (Euripides has died only recently, while Aeschylus, who has died decades ago, is already an established figure), and they are in contest with each other, Dionysos being the judge. In this part the playwrights are making mock interpretations of each other's style.

Frogs, besides being a really funny play, is the earliest surviving literary critique of the tragedies. Also, I'm sure it provides some evidence as to the rhythm of the chorus (e.g. φλαττοθραττοφλαττοθρατ). Probably extensive discussions on the subject exist, though I only remember reading something in passing and at present I don't have anything say on the subject, except pointing this to you.

Aristophanes, Frogs, 1273-1295

ΕΥΡΙΠΙΔΗΣ
εὐφαμεῖτε: μελισσονόμοι δόμον Ἀρτέμιδος πέλας οἴγειν.
ἰὴ κόπον οὐ πελάθεις ἐπ᾽ ἀρωγάν;
κύριός εἰμι θροεῖν ὅδιον κράτος αἴσιον ἀνδρῶν.
ἰὴ κόπον οὐ πελάθεις ἐπ᾽ ἀρωγάν;

ΔΙΟΝΥΣΟΣ
ὦ Ζεῦ βασιλεῦ τὸ χρῆμα τῶν κόπων ὅσον.
ἐγὼ μὲν οὖν ἐς τὸ βαλανεῖον βούλομαι:
ὑπὸ τῶν κόπων γὰρ τὼ νεφρὼ βουβωνιῶ.

ΕΥΡΙΠΙΔΗΣ
μὴ πρίν γ᾽ ἂν ἀκούσῃς χἀτέραν στάσιν μελῶν
ἐκ τῶν κιθαρῳδικῶν νόμων εἰργασμένην.

ΔΙΟΝΥΣΟΣ
ἴθι δὴ πέραινε, καὶ κόπον μὴ προστίθει.

ΕΥΡΙΠΙΔΗΣ
ὅπως Ἀχαιῶν δίθρονον κράτος, Ἑλλάδος ἥβας,
φλαττοθραττοφλαττοθρατ,
Σφίγγα δυσαμεριᾶν πρύτανιν κύνα, πέμπει,
φλαττοθραττοφλαττοθρατ,
σὺν δορὶ καὶ χερὶ πράκτορι θούριος ὄρνις,
φλαττοθραττοφλαττοθρατ,
κυρεῖν παρασχὼν ἰταμαῖς κυσὶν ἀεροφοίτοις,
φλαττοθραττοφλαττοθρατ,
τὸ συγκλινές τ᾽ ἐπ᾽ Αἴαντι,
φλαττοθραττοφλαττοθρατ.
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