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Ancient Greek Lyre

I was delighted when I and my ThrEE composer colleagues were recently given the opportunity to write a piece of music for the Ancient Greek Lyre. Over the past eight years, Prof. Nikos Xanthoulis has revived the technique of the ancient Greek lyre through his research based on the depictions of pottery and the ancient Greek literature. Nikos will be presenting the ThrEE music in a concert in Athens when Covid allows.

I would normally keep my notes hidden when planning and writing a new piece, but I thought it'd be interesting to make these public to show a 'work in progress'. I'll put any notes, pictures and maybe some actual music below, so please stay tuned!

The work of Prof. Nikos Xanthoulis

Notes on a work in progress for Ancient Greek Lyre

The instrument practically.

The lyre has seven strings tuned A, Bb, C, D, E, F, G. At first this seems very limiting, but when Prof. Xanthoulis' work in discovering and developing the use of harmonics is taken into account, the instrument can be found to have a huge range. Techniques such as double harmonics and 'bending' notes below the bridge further extends its ability to play chromatically and microtonally. Double handed picking and the use of a plectrum enable various techniques which make the instrument highly expressive and virtuosic.

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I immediately thought of Chaucer as a possible 'way in' to the composition.


Maybe his Troylus and Cresyde may be a source of inspiration, but on reading it again, I drew a blank. I then remembered Chaucer mentioned Mount Parnassus in The Franklin’s Prologue in The Canterbury Tales…


“But sires, by cause I am a burel man,

At my bigynnyng first I yow biseche,

Have me excused of my rude speche.

I lerned nevere rethorik, certeyn;

Thyng that I speke, it moot be bare and pleyn.

I sleep nevere on the Mount of Parnaso,

Ne lerned Marcus Tullius Scithero.

Colours ne knowe I none, withouten drede,

But swiche colours as growen in the mede,

Or elles swiche, as men dye or peynte.

Colours of rethoryk been me to queynte,

My spirit feeleth noght of swich mateere;

But if yow list, my tale shul ye heere.”


“But, sirs, because I am an ignorant man,

At my beginning must I first beseech

You will excuse me for my vulgar speech;

I never studied rhetoric, that's certain;

That which I say, it must be bare and plain.

I never slept on Mount Parnassus, no,

Nor studied Marcus Tullius Cicero.

Colours I know not, there's no doubt indeed,

Except colours such as grow within the mead,

Or such as men achieve with dye or paint.

Colours of rhetoric I find but quaint;

My spirit doesn't feel the beauty there.

But if you wish, my story you shall hear.”


Mount Parnassus was considered the home of the Muses and it became known as the home of poetry, music, and learning.

A first study


Such problems are never solved by legislation or by tricks. solved only by a general change of attitude. And the change does not begin with propaganda and mass meetings, or with violence. It begins with a change in individuals. It will continue as a transformation of then personal likes and dislikes, of their outlook on life and of their values, and only the accumulation of these individual changes will produce a collective solution.

C. G. Jung, Psychology and Religion. Quoted by Prof. Ian Kemp in Tippet, the composer and his music

The word 'pataphysics is a contracted formation, derived from the Greek τὰ ἐπὶ τὰ μεταφυσικά, a phrase or expression meaning "that which is above metaphysics", and is itself a sly variation on the title of Aristotle's Metaphysics, which in Greek is "τὰ μετὰ τὰ φυσικά".

Jarry mandated the inclusion of the apostrophe in the orthography, 'pataphysique and 'pataphysics, " avoid a simple pun". The words pataphysician or pataphysicist and the adjective pataphysical should not include the apostrophe. Only when consciously referring to Jarry's science itself should the word 'pataphysics carry the apostrophe. The term pataphysics is a paronym(considered a kind of pun in French) of metaphysics. Since the apostrophe in no way affects the meaning or pronunciation of pataphysics, this spelling of the term is a sly notation, to the reader, suggesting a variety of puns that listeners may hear, or be aware of. These puns include patte à physique ("physics paw"), as interpreted by Jarry scholars Keith Beaumont and Roger Shattuck, pas ta physique ("not your physics"), and pâte à physique ("physics paste").

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