When the cities were founded by the Ghiscari empire they inherited a musical system of which there are no extant records. This is probably because after the destruction of Old Ghis by the Valyrian freehold much of the elite court musicians tried to gain favor with the new rulers by adopting the conquerors music and their traditions. As street musicians left very little of their art in written form their original Ghiscari music died soon after generation after generation. The music one could hear in a noble house in Yunkai envied not the music heard in a noble Valyrian house. This offshoot of Valyrian traditional music kept many of the musical traditions and customs originated in Valyria, but after the cataclysm known as the Doom of Valyria and the newly found independence of Yunkai, Astapor and Mereen, an unprecedented interest in breaking off with Valyrian tradition took place. The musicians at court and the streets found a new identity in their ancient Ghiscari roots by adapting and converting the Valyrian musical system and instruments to what they believed were the ancient forgotten sounds of the old Ghiscari empire. How similar the music heard today in and around Slaver’s Bay is to the music heard once in the old Ghiscari empire can only be speculated, but a close comparison could be to say that the music of Slaver’s Bay is to old Valyria what the languages spoken in Slaver’s Bay is to the High Valyrian of old: a Valyrian dialect with an accent and a new catalog of words and sounds, but Valyrian nonetheless.
The Ghiscari musical system of old is lost to us almost in its entirety after the conquest of the Empire of Old Ghis by the Valyrian freehold. Ghiscari music was slowly but surely replaced by the music of Valyria, although some of the features of old Ghis saw to influence and develop the Valyrian musical system as this was being adopted by the Ghiscari. The construction of musical scales is identical to the Valyrian system except for one important aspect that gives the New Ghiscari system an identity of its own. Under the rules of the Valyrian system the first step was always to create a framework with four notes were there would be three consecutive perfect fifths from top to bottom (fig. a). The next step was to add major or minor thirds to the lowest three notes of the framework (fig. b).
The Ghiscari did away with the imposition of a framework based on three perfect fifths and determined that only the fifth directly above the root was to be kept as a fixed framework (fig. c). By allowing this change, the lowest and highest notes of the system could be determined in the next step when adding the thirds. The lowest note could now be reached as a succession of two descending thirds from the root, while the highest note would come from stacking two ascending thirds from the top note of the framework. This wouldn’t change much by itself except that the Ghiscari saw appropriate to allow the possibility of having two consecutive minor thirds descending from the root as well as ascending from the top note of the framework (fig. f).
This resulted in 2 new notes available in the system: a tritone below the root of the scale and a tritone above the fifth above the root of the scale (fig. e)
These changes had a considerable impact in the music that gave it a distinct Ghiscari flavor while retaining many of the features of the Valyrian music, as all the standard Valyrian repertoire was still available when the descendants of Old Ghiscari saw the need to entertain their masters. It is impossible to know if these changes had been implemented to include elements once present in traditional Ghiscari music, such as scales with augmented seconds, or if on the contrary, it was just a way to develop a musical system that the Ghiscari could call their own. Whichever the case, the Ghiscari system added 10 new scales to the original 8 Valyrian scales, rendering it much richer and complex at the same time.
These are the scales most Westerosi associate with exotic Essosi music. The use of the tritone over the root of the scale is not a feature unknown in Westeros (the scale of the Maiden is a perfect example of this), nor is the half step above the root of the scale (the scale of the Warrior is another perfect example). The fact that the third note of the scale can remain can remain unchanged even when the second note of the scale is lowered creates a type of sound the Dornish are very fond of, so the strangeness doesn’t necessarily come from there either. Rather, it is the combination of all these elements into a single scale that creates a foreign, accented style so loved by as many as it is disdained by others. Here I have transcribed different examples of tunes in these scales to familiarize the reader with them. I can’t say for sure how much of these tunes I heard where improvised on the spot but my instinct tells me that there is probably almost nothing in them that was prepared for the occasion. The musician at court that day was an elderly man reputed for his dexterity with the hammer harp. Over the course of an afternoon the elder master kept churning out piece after piece, some of them in a flashier style meant to daze the court while they feasted on some delicacies (fig. f); others humbler and demurer meant to soothe the guests while they discussed their affairs after the feast (fig. g).