The epigonion was an ancient stringed instrument mentioned in Athenaeus (183 A.D.), something similar to a modern harp or a psaltery. The epigonion was invented, or at least introduced into Greece by Epigonus of Ambracia, a Greek musician of Ambracia in Epirus, who was admitted to citizenship at Sicyon as a recognition of his great musical ability and of his having been the first to pluck the strings with his fingers, instead of using the plectrum. The instrument, which Epigonus named after himself, had forty strings.
It was undoubtedly a kind of harp or psaltery, since in an instrument of so many strings some must have been of different lengths, for tension and thickness only could hardly have produced forty different sounds, or even twenty, supposing that they were arranged in pairs of unisons. Strings of varying lengths require a frame like that of the harp, or of the Egyptian cithara which had one of the arms supporting the cross bar or zugon shorter than the other, or else strings stretched over harp-shaped bridges on a sound-board in the case of a psaltery.
Juba II, king of Mauretania, who reigned from 30 BC, said (Ap. Athen. l.c.) that Epigonus (who was himself a skilled player) brought the instrument from Alexandria and played upon it with the fingers of both hands, not only using it as an accompaniment to the voice, but introducing chromatic passages, and a chorus of other stringed instruments, probably citharas, to accompany.
The ancient Epigonion, is not existing anymore as it was conceived (too weak and sometimes unstable sound), but
many modern string instruments, like harp, harpsichord, psaltery, are coming from it.
It is a really interesting sound, metallic, crisp and bright, with a quite different timbre in the low and high range (it is typical of instruments without a proper harmonic resonance box)
Its sound fits perfectly in Middle Age and Baroque music ensembles, melting wonderfully with strings and woodwinds.
Another interesting possibility is offered by its use together with percussions and voice (here you can find an excerpt of a Bach improvisation with Epigonion, Percussions, Cello and Voice http://www.astraproject.org/files/amman.mp3)
The Epigion on the stage:
In December 2008, a unique concert was staged using the digitally reconstructed sounds of the epigonion, a harp-like instrument from Ancient Greece, alongside the Sonora Network Ensemble's performance of the Czech composer Jan Dismas Zelenka’s Psalm “Laetatus sum”. This world premiere showcased the sounds of an instrument of the past, reconstructed via computer-intensive modelling, being performed alongside real instruments such as violins and flutes as well as voices. The sounds of the Epigonion have been recreated by a team of researchers from the ASTRA (Ancient instruments Sound/Timbre Reconstruction Application) project using the high-speed networks GÉANT2 and EUMEDCONNECT.
To watch excerpts of the concert, http://www.astraproject.org/files/concertdemo.mov
For more information about the performance, http://www.eumedconnect.net/server/show/ConWebDoc.3031
To listen to a recording of the Epiginion playing the Scarlatti Sonata in D Minor, http://www.dante.net/upload/wav/ScarlattiSonataDMinor.wav
To listen to a recording of the Epiginion playing the Scarlatti Sonata in G Major, http://www.dante.net/upload/wav/ScarlattiSonataGMajor.wav
For more information about the sound reconstruction of the Epigonion, http://www.dante.net/server/show/ConWebDoc.2867