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 (Greek, "eu"= "well" + "terpein" = "to delight" i.e. "She who delights well"). 

Euterpe is always depicted in sculpture and painting as playing a musical instrument. What instrument might this be? It is often incorrectly stated that it is a double flute. 

In fact, what Euterpe is playing are the Auloi (singular "Aulos"), which are ancient reed instruments, forerunners of the single-reed chalumeau, which morphed into the clarinet; the double-reed oboe; and the bagpipe's chanter.

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

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

"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 is playing are reed instruments. 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 single reed instrument similar to the chalumeau 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 an early Denner clarinet.
It is essentially a chalumeau to which is added a register key (not visible) near the mouthpiece.

Reed instruments are either idioglot, wherein 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. Within the slits are vibrating pieces of cane (reeds).

What is exciting about all of this, to clarinetists as myself, is that Euterpe, the Muse of Music, was herself a clarinetist ! 
Now that is something very special :)
Ars longa !

@2017 Vincent DeLuise MD

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