(BEING CONTINUED FROM 15/09/14)
The aulos is shown in a developed form in Greek vase-paintings of the sixth century BC, and its outward appearance (or, at any rate, the way of representing it) seems to have changed little during the following century.
Each pipe of the instrument was usually made in five separate parts—the body (usually in two parts), the two bulbs and the reed mouthpiece (Figure 2a.3). The stem of the reed was inserted into the top bulb and, as it was particularly vulnerable, it was removed when the aulos was not in use. The pipes were carried around in a long, narrow double pouch,
usually depicted as made from the skin of a dappled animal (a leopard, or perhaps a deer) and the reeds were stored in a small oblong box fixed to the side of the pouch near the top. Its size was about 5×1 1/2×1 1/2 ins (12×4 ×4 cm) and it was called a ‘reed-carrier’ (glottokomeion in Greek).
The same word was also used for any ‘long box’ including (with a touch of dark humour) a coffin (Figure 2a.4).6
These parts will be treated in order, starting from the mouthpiece and working downwards.
In the great majority of vase-paintings the aulos is shown actually being played, with the most interesting and vital part of the instrument,the reed, hidden in the player’s mouth. Usually the lips cover the reed to the top end of the upper bulb. In the few pictures in which the pipe is shown out of the player’s mouth, the reed appears to be something like a modern bassoon reed in size and shape (Figures 2a.5 and 2a.6).
These pictures quite certainly represent double reeds, and not single ones (as used in the drones of Scottish bagpipes), which would appear as long, thin tubes with rounded tips. And apart from the pictorial evidence,
there are other good reasons for believing that the reeds used on the aulos were double reeds.7 We also have some literary evidence, albeit vague and difficult to interpret, on how they were made. This is mainly derived from an account in Theophrastos’ Researches into Plants (Bk 4 Chapter 6) of how the ‘aulos-reed’ (auletikos kalamos) was grown and prepared for reed-making. This plant has been identified as the species arundo donax, or a species closely akin to it, which still grows in large quantities all around the Mediterranean basin, though not in central or northern Europe, and is used to make the reeds for most modern
The general gist of Theophrastos’ account is as follows. He says that in early times, when the technique of aulos-playing was ‘natural’ or ‘unforced’ (in Greek, aplastos), the reeds were cut about mid-September in the second year of their growth, provided that the marsh in which they grew had not dried out during that season. (If that occurred, the reeds were presumably discarded as useless.) These reeds were not ready for use until ‘quite a number of years later’, and needed a long period of manipulation and playing-in before they would speak properly. The openings of the reeds ‘tended to close up easily’, a feature which was
useful for the early technique of playing.9
When aulos-players changed over to a ‘forced’ or ‘artificial’ technique (plasis in Greek) the reeds were cut earlier in the season—late June or early July—and they became usable ‘after two or three years’. It is surely significant that in modern times the reed-makers’ cane grown in the south of France is cut and stacked for two to three years before use. The change-over to plasis was associated with Antigeneidas, a famous virtuoso player from Thebes, who was active in the late fifth and early fourth
century BC. The word itself literally means ‘moulding’ or ‘shaping’, and would be appropriate for any technique by which the pitch or tone was modified by the player’s embouchure, such as a glide from one note to another (glissando) or a tremolo or vibrato effect. It might possibly refer to the production of harmonics; this is discussed later.
One possible explanation of the change from one technique to the other is that the older one involved putting the whole length of the reed tongues inside the mouth, leaving them free to vibrate without any control from the lips. For this purpose, it is indeed necessary to have reeds which ‘close up easily’ —if they do not, they cannot be made to vibrate. The later ‘forced’ technique should then be interpreted as the modern one, used on an oboe or bassoon, in which the reeds, which are much stronger and more open,10 have to be squeezed in order to make them speak; this is done by inserting only about half the length of the reed-tongues into the mouth, drawing the lips inward over the upper and lower teeth, and then squeezing the reed-tongues between the lips. The great advantage of this ‘forcing’ is that the volume, pitch and tone of the instrument can be varied, whereas with the reed uncontrolled in the mouth there can be little variation of loudness between pianissimo and fortissimo, and only very limited control of pitch.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to discover from Theophrastos’ text the exact method by which the reeds were made.11 In this context, he is dealing strictly with the choice and preparation of the material, and he writes on the assumption—perfectly justified—that his readers know exactly what the finished product looks like. It is unlikely, however, that the modern method,
which involves splitting the cane longitudinally into three segments, bending one of them in the middle and binding its ends on to a metal tube (called a staple) was used. It is much more likely that the end of a short section of cane was softened by some process (perhaps by steaming), and then flattened and scraped into the characteristic double-reed shape.
A number of other terms which relate to the control of the reed and embouchure are used in the literary sources, and some are apparently illustrated in vase-paintings. Some authors speak of ‘separating’ the pipes and ‘putting them alongside’, and players in vase-paintings are shown holding the pipes at various angles of divergence, up to about 45 degrees at the extreme (Figure 2a.7).
According to the literary sources,12 these movements were used for delicate adjustments of pitch, which was sharpened by separating the pipes,and flattened by bringing them together. They might have brought about a very slight adjustment of the embouchure; the aulos-player had no thumbrests,and it must have been very difficult to control the position of each reed on the lower lip with one hand only. Incidentally, the ability of the player to separate the pipes is a strong argument against the use of single reeds, which are by their construction necessarily much longer than double reeds, and would surely have collided inside the player’s mouth. There is a rather incredible story told by an ancient commentator on Pindar Olympian 12 about an aulos-player whose reeds stuck on the roof of his mouth, and were so badly damaged that he had to play the two pipes as though they
were pan-pipes. The first part of the story would be quite credible if they were double reeds, but the reed-tongues of single reeds, which are cut in the sides of the tubes, would have been protected by the closed tips of their tubes from such damage. (One should never be too sceptical about stories of remarkable achievements by woodwind players: on being told this one, an oboist friend removed the reed from her instrument and, to my great surprise, played it as a trumpet.)
In the treatise on acoustics attributed to Aristotle (see p. 138) there are two references to tightening the embouchure, which he calls ‘squeezing the reeds’ (piezein ta zeuge).13 The word zeuge means ‘pairs’ (in the plural), and this must surely mean two double reeds.
Many illustrations show an aulos-player wearing a mouthband made of leather, which the Greeks called phorbeia; the word was also used to mean a strap or halter used to tether a horse to its feeding-trough or,
more probably, to tie its nosebag on. The version worn by an aulos player consisted of a broad strap with two round holes, looking rather like a highwayman’s mask, but worn over the mouth and around the cheeks. In the great majority of vase-paintings it is shown in profile, but where the player is drawn full-face, the reed mouthpieces can be seen emerging from the holes. The strap tapered towards the back of the player’s neck where, presumably, there was some kind of buckle or hook,
and a thin cord ran from the cheekpieces up over the top of the head, to prevent it from sliding down on to the chin (Figure 2a.8).
A number of explanations have been offered for this device. Some ancient scholars said that it was to prevent the cheeks from bulging, but this is hardly satisfactory; the cheeks can normally be held in without any such aid, and an explanation so closely tied up with the story of Athena’s rejection of the aulos must be suspect (see p. 154). I have suggested another explanation for the phorbeia which seems much more satisfactory. In all illustrations (leaving out a few ambiguous ones) the player wearing it is male, and he is taking part in a public competition, or at least playing out of doors.
This would require strong, open reeds, and
the lip muscles which control the embouchure (and, incidentally, restrict the bulging of the cheeks) would be subject to fatigue after a short time—present-day players of the shawm would testify to this. I do not know of any undisputed illustration of a woman wearing a phorbeia, presumably because women normally played indoors, and used softer, weaker reeds.
The phorbeia could, I believe, have been used to put pressure on the lips, squeezing them together and keeping them in position over the teeth, thus taking some of the strain off the lip muscles. The pressure could be varied and controlled to some extent by movements of the head,and in fact the illustrations usually show the chin thrust out; this would be the natural way to increase the tension in the strap. Moreover, when the phorbeia is used, the pipes are usually held well up in front of the player— horizontal or even higher. In a few exceptional cases the pipes slope downwards, but this is clearly artist’s licence, intended to improve
the composition of the picture.
There is ample evidence to show that the behaviour, or rather misbehaviour, of the reed was as much of a problem as it is today. The Greeks had two words for the odd noises made by beginners on the aulos— krizein (to squeak) and cheniazein (to blow a goose). We are also told of aulos-players who drew frantic applause in a crowded theatre by ‘playing with a slack embouchure and blasting out a lot of repetitive, off key shrieks’ —early practitioners, it would seem, of a punk rock style.14
Between the reed and the body of the aulos there were normally two bulbs, sometimes only one. They took one of two forms, as shown in Figure 2a.9.
Two Greek words were used for these parts of the mouthpiece section— holmos, meaning ‘mortar’ (the kitchen utensil), and hypholmion,meaning ‘mortar-stand’. Aristotle remarks on the similarity of shape between this part of the aulos and the egg-cases of dogfish, popularly known as mermaids’ purses (Figure 2a.10).15
Some illustrations which show only one bulb give it a cone-shaped extension, making the mouthpiece as a whole thistle-shaped. This is exemplified in illustrations of the post-classical period, and in the Pompeian pipes. The function of this part may have been to act as a ‘pirouette’, to give support to, and relieve strain on, the lip muscles. If so,it would have been an alternative to the phorbeia.16
What was the function of the bulbs? We cannot be sure. They may have been purely decorative (there are pictures of auloi without any) or they may have contributed somehow to the balancing of the instrument—a difficult problem for the player, with only one hand to control each pipe. Where they appear to be larger in diameter than the body of the pipe, they may have served to protect the reed when the aulos was laid down on a flat surface: on some instruments, particularly the Reading aulos, the bulb is quite large.17 It is unlikely that they had an acoustical function; the internal bore is the same as that of the rest of the pipe, and
they could hardly have influenced the pitch or the tone of the instrument.
The material most commonly used for the body of the aulos in the classical period was the same species of reed (arundo donax) that was used to make the reed mouthpiece, except that it was cut at a much later stage of growth, when the stalks had reached an internal diameter of about 9–15 mm (0.3–0.6 in.). The length between two knots on the stem would usually be sufficient to make the body in one piece. Other woods were used, particularly one which they called lotos, probably to be identified as
the nettle-tree, celtis australis. (It was native to north Africa, hence both the wood and the aulos made from it are referred to as ‘Libyan’.) Two pipes in the British Museum, the ‘Elgin auloi’, were made from sycamore wood,
which shows that solid stems could be used as well as hollow ones.
Unfortunately, instruments made from these materials do not as a rule survive. Bone was almost as commonly used, though a more difficult material to work in. The tibia bones of small animals such as sheep or deer were most suitable, and the portion of such a bone which can be bored out and shaped is usually not more than about 9 cm (3.5 in.) long,
which means that the aulos body has to be put together from two or three sections. These were jointed together, as are the sections of a modern instrument, with tenons and sockets. There is some doubt whether the tenons were padded with some soft material, or lapped with thread, as they sometimes are on modern instruments. I am inclined to think that they were not, because the sections were permanently glued together.
The carrying-case is almost always shown as being long enough to hold the complete instrument without its reed.
(TO BE CONTINUED)
BY John G.Landels
NOTES AND SUGGESTED READING – 2(a) THE AULOS
6 In Hero’s description of the organ (see Appendix 2, Figure Appendix 2.2) the
socket into which the key-block slid was called glottokomeion.
7 K.Schlesinger, in her formidable work The Greek Aulos (Methuen, London
1939, reprinted Groningen 1970) argued that they were replaced by a single
reed in the late fifth century, and some other authors who accepted her modal
theories (notably N.B.Bodley) have supported this view; but it is not justified
by the evidence.
8 The main reed-beds in Southern France were almost destroyed in the Second
World War, but have re-grown, and other sources have been found in the
U.S.A. and Australia.
9 The Greek word in the MS which I have interpreted as ‘the early technique’ is not
intelligible; some editors think it means ‘for purposes of accompaniment’ (see note 10).
10 I am sure that Barker (I, p. 188 n. 9) is right in interpreting kataspasmata in
this way. The verb ischein need not, as Schlesinger thought, mean ‘curb’ —it
can just mean ‘have’.
11 For a detailed discussion, see Barker I, pp. 186–189.
12 Aristoxenos II, 42 (Barker II, p. 158); Plutarch, Moralia 948b and 1096a.
13 801b, Barker II, p. 103 and 804a, ibid. p. 108.
14 Porphyrios’ commentary on Ptolemy, p. 20 1–2 During.
15 Historia Animalium (Zoological Researches) 565a23.
16 The top end of the Reading aulos has a flare which could have served this
purpose, though it is rather small.
17 See my article, ‘A newly-discovered aulos’, in the Annual of the British School
at Athens 63 (1968):231–238.