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When in Rome – Bath Spa University

When in Rome - Bath Spa PhD student recreates music that hasn’t been heard in millennia

Monday, 27 September, 2021

Composer and Bath Spa PhD student Maryann Tedstone has brought the music of ancient Rome’s streets back to life by carefully piecing together artifacts and historical records covering fashion, architecture and more.

“We’ve all grown up learning about the Romans and watching movies about them,” she said. “Isn’t it bizarre that we have no idea how Roman music actually sounded? What did it sound like to walk down the street, with a street festival in full swing?”

While there have been a number of musicians over the years who have created music and labelled it as Roman, Tedstone discovered that there was no thoroughly researched and evidence-based recreation of authentic Roman music. So, in 2017 she was accepted as the world’s first PhD researcher in ancient Roman music.

She recruited Grammy-winning recording engineer and producer, Trevor Gibson of Circle Studios in England, to work with her to create an album with authentic music. No synthetic sounds were used in the recording or mixing of the album - recreations of instruments seen in artworks and artifacts were used.

When Tedstone came across an article about a rattling cup, she recognised that it may very well be an instrument. That belief was confirmed when she found that the Getty museum in Los Angeles, had a cup which actually rattled. Further research led her to understand that there are in fact eight other cups in existence that also rattle, but that most were held in private collections.

The examples of rattling cups in existence were of course so valuable that no collector would be likely to allow her to shake one vigorously, so she decided to recreate such a cup of her own so that she could hear how it sounded. The result is a musicscape that is as authentic as possible.

“The album takes the listener on a stroll through ancient Rome, from the raucous orgies depicted in the song “Bacchus” to the lullabies of “Lala,” and encapsulates everything she learned along the way, from the archaic ideas of harmony and discomfort to the bell-like codes of the rattling cup.”

She also hopes movie studios take note, too. For the first time film and TV representations of ancient Rome will have access to authentic music from ancient Rome.

The album was released earlier this month, and you can listen to a trailer online. It is expected that the album will be available on vinyl and CD in November 2021.

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