Julie Andrews frolicked across the Alps singing it in The Sound of Music and generations of children have learnt their musical scales by remembering it. Now Do-Re-Mi has been traced back more than 2000 years to one of the greatest poets of ancient Rome.
According to a book to be published next month, the origins of the song lie far from the female deer and ray of golden sun in the Rodgers and Hammerstein version sung by Andrews to the von Trapp children. Instead it was penned as a mnemonic by a medieval Italian monk who drew on a melody which accompanied Horace’s Ode to Phyllis, written in the 1st century BC.
The research has been carried out by Stuart Lyons, who won a classics scholarship to King’s College, Cambridge. "The monk who invented Do-Re-Mi told a lie about it because he didn’t want to go to the stake (for heresy)," Lyons said.
"The melody truly belonged to the Ode," said Lyons. "It is the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me in academic discovery. It is incredible to solve a mystery that is 1,000 years old. "
From Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill Diretor, British School at Rome
"the purely auditory pleasures to be derived from it are less than wholly exceptional... Pleasantly performed by Christopher Gabbitas- of the King’s Singers - and the excellent lutenist David Miller, the results are pleasant and intriguing listening"
"Combining scholarship with a gripping sense of narrative, this unprepossessing but worthwhile new book brings forward convincing evidence that the 11th-Century choirmaster Guido d’Arezzo did not so much invent the "do-re-mi" system as appropriate it from the Ode to Phyllis, written by Horace in the second decade BC.
Former Senior Classics Scholar at King’s College, Cambridge, Stuart Lyons has previously published elegant, lively translations of Horace’s Odes. Now, having concluded that the great Roman poet was also a musician and entertainer, Lyons argues convincingly that these Odes were in fact set to music. His researches led him to Montpellier and an old Carolingian manuscript which had been studied by d’Arezzo.
With hints that d’Arezzo would have run the risk of torture and death had he revealed a secular source for his teaching method, Lyons narrates a tale of cover-up which can almost sit alongside The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail and The Name of the Rose.
The volume contains revised verse translations of the Odes, as well as a transcription of the Ode to Phyllis’ musical setting. A fascinating and highly recommended CD of the Ode’s first performance in modern times, performed by King’s Singer Christopher Gabbitas and lutenist David Miller, is also available from Signum Records on SIGCD 098."