While Rome burns
January 9, 2012 10:29 PM   Subscribe

What tunes would the roman emperor Nero have been likely to have played on his fiddle?
posted by Artw to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
According to this article, he was playing the cithara and singing "Capture of Troy" and/or the whole of "The Sack of Ilium," which was probably a composition of his own.

Wikipedia says: The cithara was the premier musical instrument of ancient Rome and was played both in popular music and in serious forms of music. Larger and heavier than a lyre, the cithara was a loud, sweet and piercing instrument with precision tuning ability. It was said some players could make it cry. From cithara comes our word guitar and though the guitar more directly evolved from the lute, the same mystique surrounds the guitar idols of today as it did for the virtuoso cithara players, the citharista, and popular singers of ancient Rome. Like other instruments, it came originally from Greece and Greek images portray the most elaborately constructed citharas.
posted by argonauta at 10:46 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here's a less formal source to 2nd argonauta, while noting that the sense of irresponsibility the phrase implies was a myth.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 10:53 PM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

"Hunk a Burning Love" by Elvis, obviously.

Anyways, you can find a couple of possibilities referenced here, but I've always read that it was "The Capture of Troy".
posted by matty at 3:58 AM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Even if he did play the "fiddle" (it actually would have been very close to the greek lyra) there would be no way to know what songs he played. It is likely that the Catholic church destroyed all written down music of that era (no roman music exists, less than 20 pieces of greek music exist) But what we do know is that the Romans borrowed most of their musical theory from the Greeks and we do have a few pieces of music from ancient greek.

So if we assume that he used the lyra as accompaniment while he mostly sang - it might have had the flavor of Epitaph of Seikilos. It was written in the Phrygian mode which would have made it's mood seem "exciting" and thus would work for this situation [A dorian mode might work here too.]
posted by Brent Parker at 10:10 AM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

That should read: the early catholic church
posted by Brent Parker at 10:21 AM on January 10, 2012

My understanding of "art" music of that time (as opposed to "popular" forms like folk songs, soldiers' marching songs, hymns, etc.) was that it was generally not a performance of a fixed composition but rather a free improvisation, like an impromptu speech. The scenario would go something like, you'd ask the performer to sing a little something after dinner or whenever, and someone in the audience might suggest a theme or topic, and the singer would just wing it.

As with any sort of improvisation, some of the work might be sketched out beforehand, and, in the case of a performer so notoriously vain as Nero, he might have resorted to ghostwriters during the preparation process. It is plausible that "The Capture of Troy" might have been one of Nero's party pieces, and if you wanted to stay on his good side you'd be sure to request it after the figs were served.

As for the "tune," my guess is that the vocal part was a type of recitative, in which there is no real tune as such, but rather a free melodic line determined by the natural stresses of the text.
posted by La Cieca at 10:39 AM on January 10, 2012

We know next to nothing about music of that era, and nothing at all about how it might have sounded.

As I remember from my Early Music class (and I may not remember correctly), we have some poetry that might have been delivered in song form (including Homer) and some music notation that no one knows how to read.

There were no fiddles for another 1500 years or so.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:02 AM on January 10, 2012

« Older Crunchy, dry edamame recipe   |   Emotional abuse or paranoia or neither Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.