The images of Jimi Hendrix burning his guitar during a concert in Monterrey are a rock’n’roll icon, a modern cultural phenomenon. Now imagine how it would have been, over two thousand years ago, the moment hundreds of musicians threw their instruments to Julius Caesar’s funeral pile. Music had a ritual function in the classical Rome, and the sound of horns, zithers and flutes was omnipresent, both in popular theatre and the war, as well as every possible opulent ceremony.
“Rome would put music at the service of civilisation”. The Roman trumpet player Gaetano Delfini is in love with the music of that period. Him and the scholars Daniele Ercoli, Roberto Stanco and Cristina Mainero are Ludi Scaenici, a group that has become a reference worldwide for Roman instrumentation circulation, and are providing Tarraco Viva with its own soundtrack every year.
What would castells be with no gralles, Santa Tecla with no Amparito? In the classical Rome, music –tradition imported from Greece, just like art and philosophy– would go beyond the mere listening pleasure, and would actually become public life’s thread. Performers got social recognition, and virtuosos started to emerge. Emperor Nero was one of them. He had good voice; he would play the lyre and the zither, and would also join public games.
Gaetano Delfini learnt how to play the ‘cornu’ “out of Roman pride”, a semicircular G-shaped kind of horn three metres long, which was used, among other things, to give instructions at the roar of the battle. Hearing its sound together with voices, tambourines, cymbals, harps, tubas and flutes, the actual instrumental repertoire of Ludi Scaenici, gets you goose bumps. “We see it in people’s response. Music has huge evocative power. It’s like a Roman fresco coming to live”, he says.
No musical fragments have made it to our days, but archaeological digs have provided us with some of the instruments, and most important, have unearthed pictures in which they appear. All this, added to the descriptions of uses made by writers of the period, has allowed Ludi Scaenici to reconstruct those instruments and its sound. This is a type of heritage that goes beyond the historical interest, and that provides a unique way of enjoying music from a modern approach.
The group has made two records and has taken part in a number of projects that combine History and vanguard. This is the case of the dance montage “Arena”, next to Arantxa Sagardoy, a choreographer from Tarragona; or their latest appearance in Tarraco Viva, “Bachanalia, the return of Bacus”, a show by Nemesis Arq, which connected Roman myths with wine tradition. These days, they are working on an ambitious project financed by the European Union (European Music Archaeology Project – EMAP), which will allow an easy restoration and dissemination of ancient music instruments, in this case, from the Roman period.
Thanks to their involvement with Tarraco Viva, a relationship that started over a decade ago, Delfini has become a Tarragona fan. He has visited the city for Santa Tecla and Sant Magí, the bustling festivities, and shares with the rest of the group members his passion for wines and Priorat’s landscape. “I feel like at home in here. Vegetation, gastronomy and lifestyle are very similar; even more similar to the Ancient Rome than to the Rome of today. Catalan people have more in common with romans than we do”, he states.