A Brief History Of Roman Music

Published: 18th June 2007
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The Romans had little or no musical genius, and they were content to take their music, like every other artistic element of their national life, from the Greeks. The Greek was the child of nature, refined and educated through his own innate sense of beauty and fitness; The Roman was a barbarian civilised with the civilisation of the barrack-yard and the camp. So it's safe to say that the Romans music was just a rehashed version of the Greeks music.

To the Greek, Art of any kind was something great and almost holy. To the Roman, Art of any shape or kind was merely a relaxation. Roman music is thus simply Greek music in a decadent and corrupted condition, a thing of no artistic value.

The only influence upon music by the Romans was in the development of wind instruments. A race of savage fighting men, the Romans regarded military music a lot more seriously than any other type of the art; essentially practical men, they could readily appreciate its usefulness ; and, in this respect, they remind one of the elderly warrior who expressed that music was all very well on parade, but should not be allowed to interfere with conversation.

In the Roman armies trumpets of various kinds were used, some of them being of immense proportions. All the military musical instruments were of brass, and comprised the tuba, a straight trumpet something like a modern post-horn in shape; the cornu, or horn, bent nearly in the form of a circle; the lituus, or clarion, slightly bent at the end; and the buccina, shaped like the horn, but much bigger, the tube was up to twelve feet long. Of these, the tuba was used by the infantry, the lituus by the cavalry.

The most interesting feature in connection with Roman musical life is its wide distribution across the world. This has ever since remained a prominent characteristic of musical art. Into Rome drained all the wealth, knowledge, and luxury of the known world.

Greek philosophers and artists, Egyptian priests, men of all races from across the Alps, Jewish converts to Christianity, fleeing from persecution in their own country, all gravitated towards Rome. It was among these warring influences that the early Christian Church, preserver and regenerator of music, was quietly growing in power and influence; and, with the coming of Christianity, music no longer belonged to one country but to the whole world.


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Mike Shaw is an organist and keyboard player and owns music websites http://www.mikesmusicroom.co.uk and http://www.keyboardsheetmusic.co.uk

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