Theatre auloi

Barnaby asks me about my thoughts on possible uses of the Louvre aulos in the theatre. Well, in my view the Louvre and the Berlin instruments belong to a different world – perhaps that of dinner parties.

Theatre music from the late fifth century BC on was characterised by modulation. So the texts imply, and some of the oldest scores show a highly modulating style, employing a wealth of chromatic notes. In the Roman period, theatre music always appears notated in proper ‘keys’ (tónoi), while I have argued that the type of pipes the Louvre and Berlin exemplify was not so, but employed transposing notation. Already the pseudo-Aristotelian Problems imply a number of different ‘keys’ being used for chorusses and actors. Nothing of that kind might be achieved on the Louvre aulos.

So I am pretty sure that the Hellenistic and Roman theatre always used pipes with metal keywork. But what about Classical theatre, especially before Euripides? Actually, we do know very little. Was the same set of pipes used thoughout a play, or a trilogy, or might the aulete have switched pipes? The Orestes papyrus, at least, arguably containing the earliest readable melody, uses but a single mode. However, if it’s natural signs are applied to the Louvre in the transposing manner, the melody becomes unplausibly high. Anyway, all the archaeological evidence for pipes of that date looks very different from the Louvre/Berlin, and even my speculative retrojection of the basic design, building on a passage of Aristotle and late constructions of the harmony of the spheres, takes us back no further than the fourth century BC.

Therefore I’m afraid I don’t think our wooden pairs would get us anywhere near ancient theatrical musical reality…

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