Of the Practice of Melopoeia

  April 18, 2022   Read time 3 min
Of the Practice of Melopoeia
Vincenzo Galilei, father of the great Galileo, first published these hymns, with their Greek notes, in his Dialogues upon Ancient and Modern Music, printed at Florence, 1581, folio.

It was long and ardently wished, that a collection of some of the most" beautiful melodies of antiquity could have been found among the ancient manuscripts that have escaped the ravages of time, in order to determine what kind of music it was, of which such wonders have been related; as examples would have been more decisive in proving the truth or falsehood of the effects that have been attributed to it, and its comparative excellence with the modern, than the strongest arguments that can be drawn from history, or the dark and dry musical treatises that are come down to us. But remains of this kind are not easily found: however, a few are still subsisting, of which I shall give a minute account. At the end of a Greek edition of the astronomical poems of Aratus, called Phenomena, and their Scholia, published at Oxford, in 1672, the anonymous editor, among several other pieces, has enriched the volume with three hymns, which he supposed to have been written by a Greek poet called Dionysius, of which the first is addressed to the Muse Calliope, the second to Apollo, and the third to Nemesis ; and these hymns are accompanied with the notes of ancient music, to which they used to be sung.

This precious manuscript, which was found in Ireland, among the papers of the famous archbishop Usher, was bought, after his decease, by Mr. Bernard, fellow of St. John's college, who communicated it to the editor, together with remarks and illustrations by the reverend Mr. Edmund Chilmead, of Christ-church, who likewise reduced the ancient musical characters to those in common use. It appears by the notes, that the music of these hymns was composed in the Lydian mode, and Diatonic genus. Vincenzo Galilei, father of the great Galileo, first published these hymns, with their Greek notes, in his Dialogues upon Ancient and Modern Music, printed at Florence, 1581, folio. He assures us, that he had them from a Florentine gentleman, who copied them very accurately from an ancient Greek manuscript, preserved in the library of cardinal St. Angelo, at Rome, which MS. likewise contained the treatises of music by Aristides Quintilianus, and Bryennius, since published by Meibomius and Dr. Wallis. The Florentine edition of these hymns entirely agrees with that printed at Oxford.

In 1602, Hercules Bottrigari mentioned the same hymns in his harmonical discourse, called Melone, printed at Ferrara, in 4to. But he derived his knowledge of these pieces, only from the Dialogues of Galilei ; however, he inserted, in the beginning of his book, some fragments of them in common notes ; but they were disfigured by a number of typographical errors. At length, in the year 1720, M. Burette published these three hymns, in the Memoirs of the Academy des Inscriptions, tome V. from a copy found at the end of a Greek manuscript in the king of France's library at Paris, No. 3221,, which likewise contained the musical treatises of Aristides Quintilianus, and of Bacchius senior. But though the words were confused, and confounded one with another, they appeared much more complete in this manuscript than elsewhere, particularly the hymn to Apollo, which had six verses more at the beginning ; and that to Nemesis, which, though deficient at the end in all the other editions, v/as here entire, having fourteen verses, exclusive of the six first.