Saturday, September 28, 2013

Leicester group's Orpheus Project releases S.P.Q.R. - Roman inspired music CD

An ancient history resource article by  © 2013

The Orpheus Project, a Leicester based early music group, have released a new CD of ancient Roman-inspired music entitled S.P.Q.R. The album is the result of four years research undertaken by composer MaryAnn Tedstone, who has been a guest lecturer at Padua university and consultant to numerous UK television programs including ‘Time Team’ and ‘Meet the Ancestors’.

"I looked extensively at Mesonmedes Hymn to the Sun as well as the Delphic Paens," Tedstone explains, "A lot of the answers came together when I brought the musicians together and started to play. This is very much a fresh look at ancient Greco Roman music and very much from a players point of view."

Ludovisi Antinous photographed at the
Palazzo Altemps in Rome, Italy by
Mesomedes of Crete was a Roman-era Greek lyric poet and composer of the early 2nd century CE.  A freedman of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, Mesomedes wrote a panegyric called Citharoedic Hymn (Suidas) for Hadrian's favorite Antinous.

"Two epigrams by him in the Greek Anthology (Anthol. pal. xiv. 63, xvi. 323) are extant, and a hymn to Nemesis that begins "Nemesis, winged balancer of life, dark-faced goddess, daughter of Justice" . The hymn is one of four which preserve the ancient musical notation written over the text. Two other hymns, one to the muse Calliope and one entitled Hymn to the Sun, formerly assigned to Dionysius of Alexandria, have also been attributed to Mesomedes. A total of 15 poems by Mesomedes are known." - Wikipedia, Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press

Mesomedes continued in the Musaeum in Alexandria even after Hadrian's death in 138 CE.  But, his importance to subsequent imperial courts appeared to wane.  The Historia Augusta reports that during Antoninus Pius' reign (138 - 161 CE), his state salary was reduced, an indication of a loss of imperial prestige.  Later, though, the emperor Caracalla (198 - 211 CE) honored Mesomedes with a cenotaph approximately a hundred years after his death.

Prior to the discovery of the Seikilos epitaph in the late 19th century, the hymns of Mesomedes were the only surviving written music from the ancient world. Three were published by Vincenzo Galilei in his Dialogo della musica antica e della moderna (Florence, 1581), during a period of intense investigation into music of the ancient Greeks.

I actually found a performance of Hymn to the Sun by the Petros Tabouris Ensemble on YouTube:

The same group also has the Second Delphic Hymn to Apollo on YouTube as well:

Tedstone's S.P.Q.R. collection feature reproductions of ancient stringed instruments as well as both male and female singers.  There are also purely instrumental numbers.  My favorites were the tracks  Prayer to Apollo and Tristitas.  The music is not martial in nature but rather songs you would probably hear at a Roman social gathering.

The collection was recorded at Air Edel studios and engineered by Nick Taylor who has worked on numerous film soundtracks including ‘Thor’ ‘Gambit’ and ‘My week with Marilyn’.

The album is available for purchase via iTunes ,on Amazon or as a physical copy direct from Manike Music ( By the way, I also really enjoyed Manike Music's (the Tedstones' production company) showreel featuring soundtracks they have produced for short films and advertising spots!

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