Aulos or Double Pipe

  April 25, 2022   Read time 3 min
Aulos or Double Pipe
A very similar double pipe to the aulos, and presumably derived from it, was the Roman tibia, one difference being that very often the left-hand pipe was longer and had an up-curved bell on the distal end, perhaps of horn. 

This form was referred to as the “Phrygian tibia.” Later Roman examples had a form of keywork, a series of rings that could be turned to close one fingerhole and open another in a different position and so provide alternative holes. So far as we know, the rings could only be preset, not changed while playing. The alternative holes produced the equivalent, in our terms, of sharp or natural notes, and thus enabled the player to use more than one mode or key without changing instruments. A set of tibiae from Pompeii has survived with such rings.

We know nothing of the use of such cylindrical pipes with a double reed in Europe after Roman times, but they continued in the East, where they survive to this day from Turkey to Japan. The Turkish mey, the Armenian bag˘lama, the Iranian balaban, the Chinese guan, the Korean piri, and the Japanese hichiriki, all have a cylindrical bore and a large double reed, the reed made from a plant stem whose proximal end has been scraped to thin it and then flattened to form two opposing faces, but without being split into two separate blades as we do with oboe and bassoon reeds.

These are clearly surviving forms of the monaulos, a single aulos for which there is literary evidence from ancient Greece, although, as Anthony Baines pointed out, the presence of two thumbholes on the hichiriki does suggest the conflation of a double pipe, one with thumb and three fingerholes and the other with thumb and four fingerholes, onto the one body, and hence a connection with the normal paired aulos.

We do not know where this type of pipe originated. It would seem unlikely that it was invented in Greece, and it is much more probable that the Greeks brought it with them as they migrated from Central Asia into Europe. Thus pipes such as the balaban and baglama may well be survivors of the earliest forms, though it is also possible that they traveled down the Silk Road from Greece and Rome to the Orient.

One reason for the lack of such instruments in early medieval Europe may have been the use of the shawm. This was, again, a double reed instrument, but one with a bore that widened from reed to bell. The earliest evidence for such an instrument is from the fifth century BC, among the Faliscans, one of the Etruscan peoples. As always with illustrations, there are assumptions involved, but it seems improbable that anyone would make an exterior that clearly widens, with the waste of wood involved in turning down the narrower part of the body, unless the interior also followed that shape.

This assumption is supported by a relief of the same period on a tomb from Chiusi, a slightly earlier pot from Vulci, a wall painting from Tarquinia, and a relief of a wedding procession, also from Chiusi. A very much clearer Roman relief of the second century AD must be treated with suspicion because the player’s wrist shows a break in the stone and thus it and the shawm may be the result of a later repair, but there are other Roman examples that confirm its use into the later Roman periods.

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