Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Renaissance of the Hydraulis

"The hydraulis is the first keyboard musical instrument in the history and the ancestor of the later church organ. It consisted of one or more sets of metal pipes of different sizes, which were supplied with air at constant pressure by a hydraulic mechanical device and activated, so as to produce sound, by special keys. The Hydraulis was a simple but ingenious structure, which demonstrates the high level of technological thought, developed in the ancient Greek world. According to the ancient accounts of Athenaeus, of Philon of Byzantium and, indirectly, of Vitruvius, the Hydraulis was invented by the famous engineer Ctesibius, who lived in Alexandria in the third century BC. Apart from the many interesting ancient references to the hydraulis, two detailed descriptions have survived: that of Vitruvius (De Architectura x, 8) and Heron of Alexandria (Pneumatica, I, 42)...

The hydraulis, after its invention, spreads quickly in the Hellenistic and Roman world. In Rome, it was played in theatres, festivals and even in the amphitheaters, and became the favorite instrument of the ruling class and of emperors such as Nero...

Little by little instruments began to appear in which the hydraulic mechanism was replaced by bellows. By the early third century AD, the two types must have been almost equally represented. After the late fifth century AD, with the collapse of the Western Empire beneath the barbarian invasions, the organ disappeared in Western Europe. It lived on in the East, however, in the Byzantine Empire, whose capital was now Constantinolpe. By this time, the bellows organ had prevailed. At the Imperial court in Constantinople, the organ was a symbol of prestige, playing music at public festivals and during the visit of foreign quests, in order to impress them. The Emperor Constantine Porphyrogennetos (912-959) formally established the organ in court protocol and decreed that it was to play at parades and during specific ceremonies in the Great Palace and the Hippodrome. In 757, the Emperor Constantine II Copronymos sent an organ as a gift to Pepin the Short, King of the Franks and father of Charlemange. Over time, the organ became part of the musical tradition of the West, was accepted by the Catholic Church, and developed into the church organ familiar to us today. In Byzantium, it remained in use but was confined to the Imperial Palace. After the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, it disappeared."

Text and Photo Credit: Paraschos Corporation www.paraschos.gr

The Hydraulis was played at the Athens 2004 Olympics, and will be played on Sunday October 16, 2005, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, in a program in association with the Embassy of Greece, Washington, D.C.


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