Saturday, May 13, 2017


by Vincent P. de Luise MD

Euterpe, the Muse of Music
Oil on canvas, by Egide Gottfried Guffens (1823 - 1901)

Submitted for your delectation is an elegant portrait of the Muse of Music, Euterpe (from the Greek "eu"= "well" and "terpein" = "to delight" i.e. "She who delights well"). 

Euterpe is always depicted in sculpture and painting as playing a musical instrument. However, it is often incorrectly stated that the instrument she is playing (the Auloi) is a double flute. 

In fact, the Auloi (singular "Aulos") are reed instruments, forerunners of the single-reed chalumeau (which morphed into the clarinet), and the double-reed oboe and bagpipe chanter.

"Dulciloquos calamos Euterpe flatibus urget"
"Euterpe pushes forth, with her breathing, the sweet-speaking cane reed"

Indeed, we have it from the fourth century Roman poet and physician Ausonius (Idylls: Book XX) in the banner inscription in the painting above, to the left of Euterpe. Ausonios writes:

"Dulciloquos calamos Euterpe flatibus urget" 
This translates as: "Euterpe pushes forth, with her breathing, the sweet-speaking reed cane"

The Latin word "calamos," and its Greek antecedent "kalamos," refer to a "reed"' or "cane" (not a flute). The Latin inscription supports the thesis that the Auloi that Euterpe playing is a reed instrument. The term calamos became the French word chalumeau, pl. chalumeaux), an early single reed instrument.

Modern reconstructions of ancient chalumeaux 

There were several kinds of Aulos - those with a single reed and those with a double reed. The most common variety was a reed instrument similar to the chalumeaux above. Archaeological finds and related surviving iconography indicate that there were also double-reed Auloi, prototypes of the modern oboe.

The sound of the Aulos has been described as "penetrating and insistent," more akin to a bagpipe, whose chanter is a double reed pipe. 

The modern clarinet was invented and further developed in the early 1700s in Nuremberg in the workshop of Johann Christoph Denner and Sons. The Denners took the single reed chalumeau, added a register key, overblowing a twelfth, thus allowing for another octave and a half of diatonic notes. 

A modern reconstruction of one of an early Denner clarinet.
It is a chalumeau with the addition of a register key near the mouthpiece.

Reed instruments are either idioglot, where the reed is built into the wood pipe itself, or heteroglot, in which the reed is attached to a mouthpiece separate from the clarinet itself. 

Early 18th century clarinets from the workshop of Johann Denner and Sons, Nuremberg.

Today's clarinets are heteroglot. Auloi were idioglot instruments, i.e., the reed was built into the mouthpiece itself. Looking carefully at Euterpe's Auloi, you can see a slit in each Aulos in the part of the pipe closest to her mouth.

What is exciting about all of this, to clarinetists as myself, is that Euterpe herself was a clarinetist ! :)
Ars longa !

@2017 Vincent DeLuise MD

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