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An investigation into an old papyrus discovered in a storeroom of the Louvre museum has revealed that it was a very ancient Greek score – more specifically a tragedy, a “Medea”. But how can we know who composed it? How do we interpret this music? And where do we find the ancient instruments to play it?
The text's grammatical features give us a clue to the composer's identity: Carcinus, an author cited by Aristotle in his Rhetoric. His name is engraved on a wall in the Parthenon. As we learn more and more about Carcinus’ life, a whole world opens up to us: the history of Greek musicians who were revered like gods and traveled the Mediterranean to take part in competitions modeled on the Olympic Games.
But to hear the Medea as it was heard by the Greeks 2400 years ago, it still has to be played on period instruments. From the Greek cities of Anatolia to the Ptolemies’ Egypt, from the mythical site of Delphi to the discoveries made in Pompeii, relive this voyage along the Mediterranean coast, where archaeological excavations have unearthed a few ancient scores and many instruments’ remains. Unfortunately the passing of time has made them brittle. It is now impossible to make them produce any sound or vibrate.
But thanks to new technologies developed at IRCAM and the Cité de la Musique, it is now possible to virtually reconstruct and hear sounds that have been lost for two millennia. For the time of a concert in the prestigious ancient theater of Arles, the audience too can delve into a world of sound that was thought to have disappeared forever: the music of ancient Greece.