Moral Scales

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Music in ancient Greece was an incredibly prevalent aspect of every citizen's social and spiritual life, and the Greeks strove to understand and codify music. Pythagoras defined how musical notes are produced and how they relate to each other, laying the foundation for the establishment of the scales we use today. This episode explores music based on the Ancient Greek philosophy.

Beyond codifying the scales, the Greeks assigned emotional and spiritual characteristics to each one. For example, Dorian was considered harsh, and Phrygian mode was thought to be sensual. The Greeks believed that each scale evokes specific emotions, but they also believed that each one had the power to affect the listener's character and morality in different ways. They called this moral ethos.

The ancient Greeks defined the power of music very specifically and analytically. Do we still consider music to be so powerful?


Two Studies on Ancient Greek Scales
Harry Partch
Kronos Quartet
Nonesuch 79457

The La La Song
Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR)
Thirsty Ear 71792

Violin Sonata in G Minor
Claude Debussy
Ani Kavafian, violin
Anne-Marie McDermott, piano
Delos 3167

A Chant with Claps
John Cage
Mode 55

Musica para Cordas
Egberto Gismonti
Gintaras Rinkevicius, conductor
Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra
ECM 1586

Dona nobis pacem
Peteris Vasks
Sigvards Klava, conductor
Latvian Radio Choir
Sinfonietta Riga
Ondine 1106

Jazzamine Concerto
James P. Johnson
James P. Johnson, piano
Smithsonian Folkways 40812

Talking Drums
Joshua Uzoigwe
William Chapman Nyaho, piano
MSR 1091

Ballade for Clarinet and Piano
Eric Ewazen
Ibis Camerata Ensemble
Christopher Graham, clarinet
Biljana Milovanovic, piano
Albany 984

The Eternal Dove
Randall Thompson
Murray Forbes Somerville, conductor
Harvard University Choir
ASV 1125

As Sleep Befell
Paola Prestini
Visiontoart Ensemble
Tzadik 8060

New York Counterpoint
Steve Reich
Evan Ziporyn, clarinets
Nonesuch 79481