Since the rise of the internet, the scholarly community has been struggling to find ways of presenting the heritage of ancient culture in ways that take full advantage of the new technical possibilities. A special challenge is posed by presenting more complex traditions – for instance the fate of ancient texts handed down through many generations by manual copying, so that none of the resulting copies are identical. The present project tackles a particularly fascinating topic: ancient musical scores, which cannot be straightforwardly represented by a series of letters, but may show a complex two-dimensional layout including lyrics, pitch notation and rhythmical signs.
We define computational standards for encoding these structures, create appropriate software, and will present all known musical fragments from the Hellenistic and Roman periods in an online edition. It will supply not only transcriptions to modern stave notation and a commentary, but also allow listening to these examples of a long-past musical culture at the correct ancient pitch, and with the subtle pitch modifications reported by ancient theorists. At the same time, a full database of ancient music will form an invaluable basis of future research. In addition, we will provide a new edition of an ancient musical schoolbook, probably from the second century CE – one of the few examples that use musical notation quite freely, presupposing its widespread knowledge.
Working on the respective software routines will also force us to define with precision which aspects of an ancient performance were encoded in writing, in contrast to those that were granted to be supplied by the ancient readers’ familiarity with styles – or their own creativity as performers. Will it, for instance, prove possible to write a computer program that makes convincing sense of all extant rhythmical notation, or must we conclude that the ancient composers had indeed not created a very coherent system?