The Euripides Orestes Chorus

Score and commentary: Euripides-Orestes-Chorus_2018-08-02.pdf
Open file formats:

A tiny piece of mummy cartonnage with musical notation was found in 1892. Written in about 200 BCE, it is thought to transmit music composed by Euripides for his tragedy Orestes (408 BCE).

My creative journey interpreting this fragment began in November 2016 when Armand D’Angour sent me the first version of his reconstruction. I had recently received a reproduction of the Pydna aulos, buried 400–350 BCE. This seemed like a perfect conjunction of events. Since then, several patient collaborators have suffered my determination to play the Pydna aulos in public, well before I was a competent player!

I am particularly grateful to Geoffrey Webber and the Caius Choir; to Tosca Lynch and the singers at the 10th MOISA meeting in Oxford; to the participants of the 1st Euterpe Doublepipe School; and to Stef Conner. These co-performers have all been encouraging, accommodating and constructive, helping me to develop an accompaniment on an instrument that no-one knew how to play.

The Pydna aulos has been slow to shed its secrets – it certainly challenges Western preconceptions. I am indebted to Stelios Psaroudakēs who measured it, Robin Howell who reproduced it, the Actors Touring Company who helped me pay for it, and Stefan Hagel whose dedicated aulos software helped me interpret it.

This reconstruction of the Euripides Orestes Chorus has now benefitted from 21 months of testing and development. A total of nine performances with varied vocal forces reflects the University of Oxford’s commitment to building public engagement into the design and conduct of research. I am also grateful to the European Music Archaeology Project for funding three of these performances and a recording soon to be released by Delphian Records.

Last week, Stef and I performed the latest version at the 11th MOISA meeting in Reading:

This was the first time I actually managed to play the notes I intended (I am thousands of hours away from mastery). This performance is perhaps slightly under tempo – a result of us rehearsing at half speed to increase our intonation accuracy. It corresponds to the performing materials that Armand and I released today at

This video offers a window on the development process:

Armand and I are not suggesting that this is Euripides’ music, or that this is the best way of interpreting the papyrus fragment. It is an experiment. For me, the aulos revival is about deepening our connection to things that are remote, historically and culturally. We do this best, I believe, by creating music that is excitingly new, assertively original and daringly experimental.

Releasing open file formats means that other people can make whatever changes they wish. There are many possible solutions and next time I would want to do it differently myself, responding to feedback. This poses a problem. Traditional forms of publication fix things; our interpretation is on the move and I would like it to remain that way.

A solution to this problem is offered by figshare. This free platform provides elegant version control, generates Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) and can host open file formats that many sites (like this one) don’t allow for security reasons.

Over the next few months, I will be releasing four more volumes of editable performing materials: the EMAP Resources for Euterpe. Each will have a figshare DOI for the open file formats and a page like this for discussion, documenting developments and linking to alternative versions. This is a ‘soft’ launch. Once the and figshare pages are ready, then we can publish a homepage for the series on the EMAP website.

Don’t hesitate to make suggestions for how these performing materials could be made better. Any feedback is much appreciated!

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2 Responses to The Euripides Orestes Chorus

  1. Toby says:

    Very interesting the sort of pleasant yet cacophonic and alien sounds sung with foreign lyrics. One train of thought that occurred was the question, does this music lead to an insight into our trouble communicating with cetaceans? If you know anyone who studies cetaceans, it could be worth a pint or two discussing it. 🙂

  2. Niels Hammer says:

    Dear musicians,
    I was deeply impressed by the music, better than the other fragments of Greek music I have heard. It brought me right back, as only the best texts can, to that world full of wonder, to the ancient Greek spirit. It is strange how this music appeals to me, like Zen music and classical Indian music, and maybe not so strange, considering Aristotle´s and Plato´s remarks about music, about music being sacred, about the numinous aspect or rather the numinous foundation of music, about meaning and beauty. I have just finished an article about consciousness (: the numinous) and affective states as the origin of the arts and the Delphic hymns confirmed it strongly.
    So I would like to thank you for a very moving and enlightening experience.
    All my best wishes
    Niels Hammer

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