Revisiting the Past, Recasting the Present: The Reception of Greek Antiquity in Music, 19th Century to the Present

Revisiting the Past, Recasting the Present:

The Reception of Greek Antiquity in Music, 19th Century to the Present


BASEES Study Group for Russian and Eastern European Music

Polyphonia Journal

Hellenic Music Centre


Athens (Michael Cacoyannis Foundation), 1-3 July 2011


Conference website:



Greek antiquity has proved an inexhaustible source of inspiration throughout the history of Western ‘art’ music, endowing composers with a plethora of themes from its mythology and literary tradition; at the same time it has had a distinct impact on musical creativity itself through its cultural products: ancient Greek tragedy, poetry, as well as ancient Greek music itself (mainly, but not exclusively, through the study and use of its modes). The engagement with and interpretation of elements of ancient Greek culture in and through music reflect the specific historical, cultural and social context in which they have taken place; thus these mechanisms enable us to decode the particular relationships between the receiving audiences (artists, critics, listeners), their times and Greek antiquity.

In this respect, the period stretching from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the present is a most inviting case study, encompassing extensive historical, socio-political and cultural developments. During a period extending roughly from the Renaissance through to the Enlightenment, neo-classical themes had played a decisive role in the formation of modern European culture. However, the advent of Romanticism, with its apparent emphasis on vernacular themes, radically reframed the classical legacy. The beginning of the nineteenth century marked a new phase in Western perceptions of Greek antiquity, shaped by a number of historical, ideological and artistic factors, such as: the intensification of philhellenism in the wake of the Greek struggle for independence against the Turks; radical developments in archaeology, philology and the study of ancient history; the growing philhellenism in arts and literature; and the evocation of Greece in the narratives of national self-determination. Likewise, the twentieth century has looked on the classical past with different eyes, whether through modernism’s search for the universal, post-modernism’s complex attitude to tradition and the inherited narratives of canonicity, or post-colonialism’s critique of myths about national identity and origins.

The reception of the ancient Greek world has undoubtedly not been homogeneous throughout the centuries under consideration. This conference aims to explore the complex set of processes by which ancient Greek culture has been approached, (re)discovered and (re)interpreted in and through music, from the early nineteenth century to the present day.

The conference invites the widest possible range of musicological approaches (including ethnomusicological and anthropological ones). Interdisciplinary papers – which may refer to literature, the arts, cinema, theatre, and so on – are especially encouraged. Although the conference addresses the reception of Greek, rather than Roman, antiquity, we welcome papers that would highlight the connection and dialogue between these two cultures, as well as between ancient Greek and other cultures. Similarly, papers that involve ancient Greek music should contribute to the exploration of the conference’s focus on modes of reception. We particularly encourage proposals on Greek music since the nineteenth century, and papers exploring the reception of Greek antiquity in Russian and Eastern European music. Nineteenth-century Russian theories of music that referred to ancient Greek modes, Symbolism, neo-classicism, as well as the employment of ancient Greek themes by composers such as Taneyev, Szymanowski and Enescu are only a few examples of the points of contact between Russian and Eastern European music with ancient Greek culture.

Proposals may address (but do not need to be limited to) the following aspects of the conference’s general theme:


–         The study and reception of Greek antiquity by composers, musicians, music theorists, artists in general, critics, audiences, institutions

–         Historical, social, cultural, political, ideological, religious and artistic factors that have shaped various cases of reception of Greek antiquity

–         Mythological references, their symbolisms and interpretations

–         The role of tradition and innovation in the reception of Greek antiquity

–         Nostalgia in the reception of Greek antiquity

–         Exoticism in the reception of Greek antiquity

–         Issues of identity construction (national, Greek, European, Western, Eastern)

–         Devotion to or imitation of Greek antiquity and classical ideals associated with ancient Greece (‘Hellenism’) but also criticism or the rejection of the ancient Greek past

–         The reception of Greek antiquity with reference to philosophy (e.g. Nietzsche, the Apollonian, the Dionysian elements)

–         Greek antiquity on stage and screen: the ballet, opera, musical theatre, film

–         The reception of Greek antiquity in theories of music

–         Archaisms in compositional practice (e.g. modality)

–         The reception of Greek antiquity with reference to traditional and popular music

–         Issues of sexuality pertaining to the study of Greek antiquity and its reflection in music


The conference’s official language is English. Proposals for 20-minute papers (of no more than 300 words) and short biographical notes (of up to 200 words) should be sent to by 1 September 2010 (receipt of proposals will be acknowledged by e-mail). Abstracts will be reviewed and results will be announced by 30 October 2010. A selection of papers will be considered for publication in a book form. Conference fee: 50 Euros (Students are exempted. Efforts will be made by the conference organisers to secure funding that will allow us to waive the fee).



Keynote speakers:

Prof. Jonathan Cross (University of Oxford)

Dr Marina Frolova-Walker (University of Cambridge)


Confirmed speakers:

Prof. Jim Samson (Royal Holloway, University of London)

Prof. Ion Zotos (University of Athens)


Conference Committee:

Dr Rosamund Bartlett

Dr Philip Bullock

Dr Katerina Levidou

Prof. Katy Romanou

Yannis Sabrovalakis

Dr George Vlastos