The ''aulos'' (clarinet & oboe)

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The ''aulos'' (clarinet & oboe)


It was the most important ancient Greek wind instrument that was used in almost all private and public ceremonies, in athletic competitions, in processions and in performances of tragedy. It had orgiastic character and was associated with the worship of the god Dionysus.

It consisted of a cylindrical pipe (of cane, boxwood, bone mainly the tibia of a deer, ivory, wood mainly lotus, copper or their combination) and by a bulbous wooden mouthpiece. Sometimes the pipe was constituted by two or three sections or had two or three bulbs socketed together aiming at the change of pitch via fluctuation of the section lengths of the aulos. The reed was fitted onto the mouthpiece. The single-reed type was achieved with a lateral cut along the side of a small cane (one end of which was closed) so that it created a thin blade which was excited and beat by blowing (as in the modern clarinet). The double-reed type was achieved by two thin blades (with the flattening of special thin wild cane from Lake Copais) that beat against each other when blown (as in the modern oboe). The holes of the aulos were usually seven, with an additional one towards the end for the production of another octave.

The Thiben virtuoso Pronomus (~400 B.C.) devised pipes with many holes and rotatable collars for the opening and the closure of certain holes giving the possibility of producing several different modal scales.

The "aulete" placed the mouthpiece on his lips (with the reed completely enclosed by his mouth) and skilfully blew with force, pressing his lips suitably and covering the corresponding holes with his fingers producing the desired notes.

SOURCES: "M.L. West, Ancient Greek Music", "Curt Sachs, The History of Musical Instruments", "Julius Pollux, Onomasticon", "Athenaeus of Naucratis, Deipnosophistai", "Aristotle, (Musical) Problems".