Music of Another Present Era: Marsyas’ Melodies

Paul Dolden

  • Year of composition: 2013
  • Duration: 7:53
  • Commission: Réseaux des arts médiatiques, with support from the CCA
  • ISWC: T9206370481


ISRC CAD501710015

  • 96 kHz, 24 bits

Marsyas was a Phrygian (Turkish) Satyr who was the first to compose for the flute. In hubristic pride over his newfound sounds Marsyas challenged Apollo, the god of music, to a contest. The victor of the contest would do whatever he wished with the loser. The judges for this competition would be the Muses. The Muses are the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne and are the Goddesses of music, song and dance.

First, Marsyas played on his flute and the melody was wonderful. Then it was Apollo’s turn. Apollo played notes on his lyre full of harmony that were spellbinding to everyone. The Muses could not select a winner.

Then, with dexterity and delight, Apollo masterfully played his lyre upside down and with his teeth, in the same manner as Jimi Hendrix would thousands of years later. Marsyas, trapped by his ‘serious’ creation, was unable to compete with this high-level musical fun. So Apollo was declared the winner of the contest and the punishment he chose was harsh: Apollo flayed Marsyas to death and then used the flute to nail his skin to a pine tree.

The story shows that both Hendrix and Apollo understood the importance of entertaining listeners when creating new music, and to not be hubristic and divorced from reality. It is also an early illustration of how cruel prize-winning musicians can be after a battle of the bands.

I wondered what Marsyas’ flute melodies were like, and what this battle of the bands must have sounded like. To help evoke the mood and time, the music is based on an ancient Arab, and then Greek tuning systems.


Marsyas’ Melodies — 1st movement of Music of Another Present Era — was realized in 2013 at the composer’s studio in Val-Morin (Québec) and premiered on April 3, 2014 at the Électrochoc 6 concert in the Studio multimédia of the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal (Québec). The piece was commissioned by Réseaux des arts médiatiques, with support from the CCA.


  • April 3, 2014, Électrochoc 2013-14: Électrochoc 6: Paul Dolden, Studio multimédia — Conservatoire de musique de Montréal, Montréal (Québec)