The Oldest Known Melody (Hurrian Hymn no.6 - c.1400 B.C.)

The Oldest Known Melody (Hurrian Hymn no.6 - c.1400 B.C.)

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The Oldest known musical melody performed by the very talented Michael Levy on the Lyre. and was discovered in the 1950's in Ugarit, Syria. It was interpreted by Dr. Richard Dumbrill. He wrote a book entitled "The Archaeomusicology of the Ancient Near East." Here is a link to it:

Check out Michael Levy's website, anancientlyre.com! Here's a link to it:

For more information on the Hurrian Hymn no.6 text, click on the link:

There were 29 musical texts discovered in the ruins of Ugarit, but only text H6 was in good enough condition to allow for academic interpretation. Here is Dr. Dumbrill's interpretation:

Thank you for listening! Subscribe for more music! Subscribe also to "Klezfiddle1," Michael Levy's YouTube channel! Download his albums from iTunes and order from cdbaby.com!


The Oldest Known Melody (Hurrian Hymn no.6 - c.1400 B.C.) - History

Guest post by Daniel Reifsnyder. This article originally appeared on Soundfly’s Flypaper

It&rsquos often said that songwriters need to strive to be the first to say or do something, or otherwise be the best or most unique at saying it. Music, in some form, has been around for at least 35,000 years, so being the first to say pretty much anything would certainly be a feat.

Knowing that, how old human music is, has led many to wonder what exactly the first song ever written was. While the actual first song may be lost to time, researchers have discovered the oldest song to be preserved in its entirety &mdash which includes its notation!

35,000 year old mammoth ivory flute (cast) found in Geissenklösterle Cave, Germany, in 2004 by Nicholas J. Conard.

The melody, known as &ldquoHurrian Hymn no. 6,&rdquo is thought to be from around the 14th century B.C.E. To give you an idea of just how old it is, it predates the use of the Gregorian Calendar (the system we actually still use today).

Unrequited love? Partying on a Saturday night? Perhaps a melancholy ballad about the good old days?

Not quite. Although translations differ, it appears to have been a religious song honoring Nikkal, the goddess of orchards. Aside from the obvious religious importance, the song actually appears to have had another significance it was apparently used in wedding rituals!

Let&rsquos listen to an interpretation here, and unpack the song&rsquos assumed meaning below.

Anyone listening to the song, at the time of its usage, would have called to mind the marriage of Nikkal to Yarih, God of the Moon. In the myth, they were smitten with each other &mdash Yarih offering her father thousands in gold, silver, and lapis lazuli to convince him to let Yarih wed her. Clearly this would be culturally significant to a couple being wed in this area at the time, and possibly even relatable at least as far as being smitten with each other is concerned.

Its cultural significance may also help explain why it survived for so many thousands of years! It wasn&rsquot simply a flash-in-the-pan pop song, known only to a certain generation or popular for a few months. It would have been a well-known tradition to most people in that area who even thought about getting married: grandparents, parents, and children.

What we basically have unearthed is the world&rsquos oldest wedding song. Let&rsquos talk about that &ldquoarea&rdquo now.

A drawing of one side of the tablet on which the hymn is inscribed. The top part of the tablet contained the words and the bottom half was instructions for playing the music. More info here.

The tablet was discovered in the 1950s in what is now modern day Syria, written in Hurrian &mdash the language of an ancient and now-extinct culture. This presented quite a few difficulties in translation, namely the fact that the Hurrian language was essentially dead and has no obvious modern corollary. Although that it was written in a form of Cuneiform made it eventually possible to decipher to some manageable degree.

Researchers believe they have been able to piece together the song&rsquos meaning, and likely its cultural context, over the years. Adding to the difficulty though, the tablets that contain the song were made of clay, which obviously has a tendency to crumble and erode over time.

In fact, &ldquoHurrian Hymn no. 6&rdquo was in fragments when it was unearthed.

One translation suggests these are the lyrics, which don&rsquot exactly roll off the tongue in English:

For the ones that are offering to you, prepare two offering loaves in their bowls, when I am making a sacrifice in front of it.
They have lifted sacrifices up to heaven for (their) welfare and fortune (?).
At the silver sword symbol at the right side (of your throne) I have offered them.
I will nullify them (the sins). Without covering or denying them (the sins), I will bring them (to you), in order to be agreeable (to you).
You love those who come in order to be covered (reconciled).
I have come to put them in front of you and to take them away through a reconciliation ritual. I will honour you and at (your) footstool not&hellip.
It is Nikkal, who will strengthen them. She let the married couples have children.
She let them be borne to their fathers.
But the begetter will cry out: &ldquoShe has not born any child!&rdquo Why have not I as a (true) wife born children for you?&rdquo

One of the coolest things about this discovery is the notation system in tow. Unfortunately, it too is still a little bit of a mystery.

The song predates staff notation, and there was no international standard of tuning as there is today. Although the notation is in fact pretty detailed, telling the musician which string to hit (string one, string three, etc.), this is complicated by the fact that other, different notation is included underneath.

Is one note meant to be sung and one to be played? Are these two notes meant to be played together while the words are spoken over them? Was it simply an old key change or notes some other musician wrote over the existing music?

These questions have left researchers (and subsequent musicians who attempted to cover the song) scratching their heads and coming up with different variations. Of course, musicians have geeked out over the discovery and tried to interpret and play it in myriad ways.

Thanks to many Cuneiform scholars and music transcribers like Salim George Khalaf, you can find a modern interpretation of the sheet music here, and learn to play the song yourself!

It is a fascinating subject to ponder how early cultures may have developed music &ndash and what tunings, instrumentation, and traditions may have surrounded it. &ldquoHurrian Hymn no. 6&rdquo &mdash along with other ancient songs that have been unearthed &mdash provides us with a small window into music distant and murky historical beginnings.


The Oldest Song Ever Written

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It’s often said that songwriters need to strive to be the first to say or do something, or otherwise be the best or most unique at saying it. Music, in some form, has been around for at least 35,000 years, so being the first to say pretty much anything would certainly be a feat.

Knowing that, how old human music is, has led many to wonder what exactly the first song ever written was. While the actual first song may be lost to time, researchers have discovered the oldest song to be preserved in its entirety — which includes its notation!

35,000 year old mammoth ivory flute (cast) found in Geissenklösterle Cave, Germany, in 2004 by Nicholas J. Conard.

The melody, known as “Hurrian Hymn no. 6,” is thought to be from around the 14th century B.C.E. To give you an idea of just how old it is, it predates the use of the Gregorian Calendar (the system we actually still use today).

Unrequited love? Partying on a Saturday night? Perhaps a melancholy ballad about the good old days?

Not quite. Although translations differ, it appears to have been a religious song honoring Nikkal, the goddess of orchards. Aside from the obvious religious importance, the song actually appears to have had another significance it was apparently used in wedding rituals!

Let’s listen to an interpretation here, and unpack the song’s assumed meaning below.

Anyone listening to the song, at the time of its usage, would have called to mind the marriage of Nikkal to Yarih, God of the Moon. In the myth, they were smitten with each other — Yarih offering her father thousands in gold, silver, and lapis lazuli to convince him to let Yarih wed her. Clearly this would be culturally significant to a couple being wed in this area at the time, and possibly even relatable at least as far as being smitten with each other is concerned.

Its cultural significance may also help explain why it survived for so many thousands of years! It wasn’t simply a flash-in-the-pan pop song, known only to a certain generation or popular for a few months. It would have been a well-known tradition to most people in that area who even thought about getting married: grandparents, parents, and children.

What we basically have unearthed is the world’s oldest wedding song. Let’s talk about that “area” now.

A drawing of one side of the tablet on which the hymn is inscribed. The top part of the tablet contained the words and the bottom half was instructions for playing the music. More info here.

The tablet was discovered in the 1950s in what is now modern day Syria, written in Hurrian — the language of an ancient and now-extinct culture. This presented quite a few difficulties in translation, namely the fact that the Hurrian language was essentially dead and has no obvious modern corollary. Although that it was written in a form of Cuneiform made it eventually possible to decipher to some manageable degree.

Researchers believe they have been able to piece together the song’s meaning, and likely its cultural context, over the years. Adding to the difficulty though, the tablets that contain the song were made of clay, which obviously has a tendency to crumble and erode over time.

In fact, “Hurrian Hymn no. 6” was in fragments when it was unearthed.

One translation suggests these are the lyrics, which don’t exactly roll off the tongue in English:

For the ones that are offering to you, prepare two offering loaves in their bowls, when I am making a sacrifice in front of it.
They have lifted sacrifices up to heaven for (their) welfare and fortune (?).
At the silver sword symbol at the right side (of your throne) I have offered them.
I will nullify them (the sins). Without covering or denying them (the sins), I will bring them (to you), in order to be agreeable (to you).
You love those who come in order to be covered (reconciled).
I have come to put them in front of you and to take them away through a reconciliation ritual. I will honour you and at (your) footstool not….
It is Nikkal, who will strengthen them. She let the married couples have children.
She let them be borne to their fathers.
But the begetter will cry out: “She has not born any child!” Why have not I as a (true) wife born children for you?”

One of the coolest things about this discovery is the notation system in tow. Unfortunately, it too is still a little bit of a mystery.

The song predates staff notation, and there was no international standard of tuning as there is today. Although the notation is in fact pretty detailed, telling the musician which string to hit (string one, string three, etc.), this is complicated by the fact that other, different notation is included underneath.

Is one note meant to be sung and one to be played? Are these two notes meant to be played together while the words are spoken over them? Was it simply an old key change or notes some other musician wrote over the existing music?

These questions have left researchers (and subsequent musicians who attempted to cover the song) scratching their heads and coming up with different variations. Of course, musicians have geeked out over the discovery and tried to interpret and play it in myriad ways.

Thanks to many Cuneiform scholars and music transcribers like Salim George Khalaf, you can find a modern interpretation of the sheet music here, and learn to play the song yourself!

It is a fascinating subject to ponder how early cultures may have developed music – and what tunings, instrumentation, and traditions may have surrounded it. “Hurrian Hymn no. 6” — along with other ancient songs that have been unearthed — provides us with a small window into music distant and murky historical beginnings.

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9 Aboriginal Songlines

Australian aboriginal culture goes back 50,000 years, making it the most ancient on the planet. A central element of this prehistoric culture are the songlines&mdashor Dreamings. These musical creation myths not only work as maps to navigate across the inhospitable Australian landscape but serve as moral systems that clearly define relationships between men, animals, and the landscape.

Songlines provide descriptions of thousands of kilometers and were connected disparate people from unrelated linguistic groups. These songs change as they enter the new territory, incorporating elements from the new language and tribal histories. Some songlines also contain highly accurate maps of the stars. These were used for travel at night and also served as predictors for when and where certain resources would become available.


8 Oldest Songs in the World

Music is found in every culture around the world and has existed for at least 55,000 years. Although musical compositions may have existed this far back in human history, the earliest written songs only date back to over 3,000 years ago. Most of the known songs come from the early 1 st through 4 th century CE and were religious hymns. Several of these early Christian hymns are still used by the Church today. Researchers have spent time piecing together these songs and recordings for all of the songs on this list exist and can be heard online.

8. Sumer Is Icumen In

Year Created: mid 13th century CE
Country of Origin: England
Written By: Unknown, possibly W. de Wycombe

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Although the title of “Sumer Is Icumen In” (also called Summer Cannon or Cuckoo Song) may not look like modern English, the song is considered the oldest existing English song. The song dates back to medieval England in the mid-13 th century and was written in the Wessex dialect of Middle English. It has an upbeat melody and lyrics that celebrate the start of the Summer. In addition to being a fun song about Summer, the song contains the oldest recorded use of the word “fart.”

The earliest known manuscript of the song was found in Reading Abbey and is currently owned by the British Library. The song is an important part of English history and several renditions of the song have been recorded. It was also featured in the 1973 film The Wicker Man.

7. Te Deum

Year Created: 387 CE
Country of Origin: Roman Empire
Written By: Traditionally attributed to Saint Ambrose and Saint Augustine could also be Saint Hilary or Saint Nicetas

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Te Deum, also called A Song of the Church and Ambrosian Hymn, is one of the earliest Christian songs of praise. The hymn was most likely written by Saint Ambrose and Saint Augustine in 387 CE, to celebrate Augustine’s baptism.

Te Deum is still regularly used by the Roman Catholic Church, Anglican Church, Methodist Church, as well as some Lutheran Churches. It is typically used in the Office of the Readings in the Liturgy of Hours and during special blessings such as the election of a pope, the consecration of a bishop, and the canonization of a saint. The hymn may also be used as part of a short, separate religious ceremony designed to give thanks.

6. Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

Year Created: c. 4th century CE
Country of Origin: Greece
Written By: Unknown modern arrangement by Ralph Vaughn Williams

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence is another early Christian Greek hymn that is still used today. The hymn was originally written for the Offertory of the Divine Liturgy of St. James, which is the oldest complete form of the Divine Liturgy still in existence.

The modern arrangement of the hymn was created by Ralph Vaughn Williams. He used a translation of the original Greek words by Gerard Moultrie and paired them with the French medieval folk melody, “Picardy”. This version of the hymn eventually became popular among other Christian congregations around the world.

5. Phos Hilaron (Lumen Hilare)

Year Created: c. late 3rd or early 4th century CE
Country of Origin: Greece
Written By: Unknown – may have been composed by St. Basil the Great

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

The Phos Hilaron, which is often called Lumem Hilare today, is considered one of the earliest Christian Greek hymns. It is the oldest complete hymn that is still widely used by the Church today. The hymn was first documented in the Apostolic Constitutions, which was written sometime in the late 3 rd century or early 4 th century CE.

St. Basil the Great, who lived between 329 – 379 AD, said that the Phos Hilaron was already considered an old hymn in his day. Although not much is known about the exact origins of the Phos Hilaron, some people believe that St. Basil may have composed the song. Today, there hymn is usually sung lighting of lamps in the evening, which is why the song is known as the “Lamp-Lighting Hymn.”

4. Oxyrhynchus Hymn

Year Created: c. end of the 3rd century CE
Country of Origin: Oxyrhynchus, Egypt
Written By: Unknown

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

The Oxyrhynchus hymn is the oldest known Christian Greek hymn containing both lyrics and a melody. It was found on Papyrus 1786 of the Oxyrhynchus papyri (thousands of ancient manuscripts discovered in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt) in 1918. The hymn dates back to around the end of the 3 rd century CE and was written in Greek vocal notation.

Although the hymn is believed to have been used in early Greek Christian worship, it does not draw from the Bible or Biblical passages. The lyrics of the hymn do reference praise for the Holy Trinity. The hymn only exists as a small fragment, but there are modern recordings of the song.

3. Seikilos Epitaph

Year Created: c.100 CE
Country of Origin: Ancient Greek town of Tralles (modern-day Turkey)
Written By: Seikilos – possibly to his wife Euterpe

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Although there are pieces of music older than the Seikilos Epitaph, it is the oldest complete song ever found. The song’s lyrics and melody are complete and were found engraved on a funerary stele. The date of the song ranges between 200 BCE to 100 CE, but the first century is the more accepted date.

The short song may have been written by a man named Seikilos as a dedication to his wife Euterpe or the Muse of music. Since the inscription on the stele is clear, researchers have had no problems reconstructing the song’s melody or lyrics. The Epitaph was first discovered in 1883 and has changed ownership several times it is currently on display at the National Museum of Denmark.

2. Delphic Hymns

Year Created: c.128 BCE (first hymn may have been written in 138 BCE)
Country of Origin: Ancient Greece
Written By: Delphic Hymn by Athénaios Athenaíou Second Delphic Hymn by Limenios

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

The Delphic Hymns are two Ancient Greek musical compositions that date back to around 128 BCE. After the hymns were first discovered in 1893, the First Hymn was dated to 138 BCE. However, modern research suggests that both hymns were written around the same time in 128 BCE for a performance at the Athenian Pythaides. Both songs were written for the Ancient Greek deity Apollo.

The First Hymn uses vocal notation, while the Second Hymn uses instrumental notation. Unfortunately, both songs are incomplete, but musicologists have done their best to piece together the fragments. Several modern recordings of both hymns exist.

1. Hurrian Hymn to Nikkal

Year Created: c.1400 BCE
Country of Origin: Ancient Amorite-Canaanite city of Ugarit (modern-day northern Syria)
Written By: Unknown

The Hurrian Hymn to Nikkal, also called Hurrian cult hymn or h.6, is considered the oldest song in the world. The song is part of about 36 hymns written in cuneiform on clay tablets uncovered in the ancient city of Ugarit.

Tablet h.6 is the most complete in the collection and the song’s lyrics are an ode to Nikkal, a Semitic goddess of orchards. The tablet also contains instructions for the singer to be accompanied by a type of harp called a sammûm.


Music in the Ancient World

Music: does a melody take you to lands far away, to a time when the gods walked upon the land, does the sight of the temples freshly built and shining in the sun. If so then this thread is for you….

Music from Egypt, the sounds of Mesopotamia, the voices of Greece and Rome, the echoes of a long ago Camelot inspired vision…..

I will post information either in an article, paper, video, or recording of music, lyrics, or instruments reconstructed from the past for you to enjoy

Music archaeology also called Archaeomusicology is an interdisciplinary study field that combines musicology and archaeology. Since the music originates from numerous cultures the discipline can also be a part of ethnomusicology.

Archaeomusicological Review of the Ancient Near East. A publication of ICONEA The International conference of Near Eastern Archaeomusicology Volume I – 2009


The instrument being played is a reproduction of a 22 string New Kingdom djedjet made entirely of cedar and animal skin, without nails or screws. The words are from a scroll and redone in a song format of a dialogue between two lovers.


In 1929 Sir Leonard Woolley discovered 5 lyres in a royal burial site at Ur. One of the lyres, referred to as the silver lyre, was reconstructed here in order to be played.

Building a Replica of the Great Silver Lyre of Ur by Peter Pringle
http://www.peterpringle.com/silverlyre.html

Placed to a melody and sung in Sumeria, this video has the first few lines of the Epic of Gilgamesh. The instrument being placed upon is a Sumerian lute called a gish-gu-di.

The Epic of Gilgamesh in Sumerian

A song found inscribed in stone is played by Dr. David Creese on an Ancient Greek inspired 8-string instrument

How did ancient Greek music sound? by Armand D’Angour (BBC News) (Oct. 23, 2013)
http://www.bbc.com/news/business-24611454

Sir Leonard Woolley, when he excavated the lyres, also uncovered silver pipes. Both the lyre and pipes are replicas constructed for

Duo 4500-year-old reproduction lyre & pipes


Gordon Loud excavating in Megiddo found a lyre sketched onto an ivory plaque. This is a replica based off that plaque and a biblical passage regarding how to strum the instrument.


The Hurrian songs are a collection of music inscribed in cuneiform on clay tablets excavated from Ugarit (1400 BC). One of these tablets contains a Hurrian hymn to Nikkal, thus the oldest piece of noted work.

Hurrian Hymn − The Oldest Written Song – NAF
Interpreted by Richard Dumbrill Arranged by Clint Goss

The Oldest Known Melody (Hurrian Hymn no.6 – c.1400 B.C.)

The Oldest Written Musical Notation, The Oldest Written Melody & The Oldest Complete Written Melody So Far Discovered In History by Michael Levy http://www.ancientlyre.com/the_oldest_written_melody_in_history/

“The Loughnashade trumpet-curved trumpet or carnyx?” by Simon O’Dwyer Archaeology Ireland, Summer 1998. Vol. 12, No. 2, Issue No. 44

“An Trumpa Créda” by Simon O’Dwyer Archaeology Ireland, Winter 2000. Volume 14 No. 4 Issue No. 54

“The Mayophone: an ancient reed instrument from the West of Ireland” by Simon O’Dwyer Archaeology Ireland, Summer 2002. Volume 16 No. 2 Issue No. 60.

“Wedding Trumpets? Iron Age nuptial music in Ireland and Britain” by Simon O’Dwyer Archaeology Ireland, Autumn 2013. Vol. 27, No. 3, Issue No. 105
http://www.ancientmusicireland.com/page/archaeology-ireland-magazine-article-autumn-2013.html

“Four Voices of the Bronze Age Horns of Ireland”. 1st Symposium of the International Study Group on Music-Archaeology, May 1998. Michaelstein, Germany.

“The Mayophone Study and Reproduction” 3rd Symposium of the International Study Group on Music-Archaeology, June 2002. Michaelstein, Germany.

“The Killyfaddy Four – Transition?” 4th Symposium of the International Study Group on Music-Archaeology, September 2004. Michaelstein, Germany.

‘First time two Iron Iron Age Trumpets played together in over 2,000 years’!

This is a replica of the 6th century Saxon lyre discovered in the ancient burial sites at Sutton Hoo, in Suffolk, England. An adaption of a 10th century Saxon poem called “The Wanderer”. The melody was created by the performer.

The video is a short excerpt from Beowulf accompanied by a hurdy-gurdy, a popular instrument during medieval Europe time. One note: the hurdy-gurdy here is not a faithful reproduction of any artifact. Instead you are left with the impression of what the music many have sounded like.

Beowulf: Hurdy-Gurdy & Theremin

The Musical Instruments from Ur and Ancient Mesopotamian Music. Anne Draffkorn Kilmer. Expedition: Volume 40, Volume 2 (1998) pages 12-19 University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology


The Lyre of Mesopotamia is an ancient instrument which was reconstructed by Mr. Seifollah Shokri in Qazvin/Iran 2009.

Did Ancient Music Sound Like? by Eidelriz Senga Ancient World, Antiquities, Getty Villa July 18, 2012

The Flood Narrative section of the Epic of Gilgamesh played upon a replica of the Silver Lyre.

The Flood Narrative from the Gilgamesh Epic in Akkadian by Dr. Anne Kilmer at the Academy Village Concert on January 30, 2013

Replicas of the Silver and Gold Lyre played together, the lower notes are the Gold lyre, the higher notes the Silver Lyre. The original Silver Lyre was excavated in the 1920s by Sir Leonard Woolley in the royal graves at the archaeological site of the ancient city of Ur in southern Iraq and dates approximately 2600 B.C.E.

The song of an ancient hymn in Sumerian to Ninkasi, goddess of beer. The music was created by assyriologist Anne Kilmer and harpist Lorna Govier. (The Silver Lyre Spiral-bound by Anne Kilmer, Lorna Govier 2012 ISBN-10: 0615868762)

Duet of A Sumerian Drinking Song

Various Instruments Pictured

https://youtu.be/6Ueg5BtjPk4 (no longer available, looking for alternate souse 8/26/2017)

3-D Printing of Musical Instruments

Professor John Kenny plays a replica Iron Age carnyx horn at the Hunterian Museum, marking the opening of the European Association of Archaeologists’ annual meeting.


Michael Levy - Composer for Lyre

In ancient musical history, once must first distinguish between the oldest surviving written musical notation, the oldest surviving written melody and the oldest surviving complete written melody so far discovered in History. In this blog, I will investigate all three of these unique, ancient musical treasures - I also discuss my recordings & arrangements for solo lyre, of both the oldest written melody & the oldest complete written melody so far discovered, in History.

I. THE OLDEST WRITTEN MUSICAL NOTATION SO FAR DISCOVERED IN HISTORY

The oldest surviving musical notation so far discovered, dates from c.1950 BC - this was a set of musical instructions to play the hymn, "Lipit-Ishtar" (King of Justice), found inscribed in Cuneiform on a clay tablet discovered at Sumer. Basically, this is no more than a quote of specific tuning intervals for lyre, followed by a tuning scale of the musical mode to be used in the Hymn.

Here is a rendition of the musical instructions for Lipit Ishtar, as arranged for solo lyre, by "Ensemble De Organographia" in their album from 2000, "Music of the Ancient Sumerians, Egyptians & Greeks":

A PDF booklet of the detailed album notes for this fascinating album featuring this piece, can be downloaded here

II. THE OLDEST SURVIVING WRITTEN MELODY IN HISTORY

The oldest surviving written melody so far discovered in History which can actually be reconstructed, was Hurrian Hymn Text H6. The musical notation for this amazing 3400 year old melody, was discovered in Ugarit, Northern Canaan (now forming the Southern part of modern Syria) in the early 1950s, and was preserved for 3400 years on a clay tablet, written in the Cuneiform text of the ancient Hurrian language:

"Thought to be 3,400 years old, this relic has been in Damascus since 1955, following its discovery by a group of French archeologists in the coastal town of Ugarit. The artefact records the Hurrian Hymn, a song directed to the goddess Nikkal [wife of the moon god]. Ugaritans worshipped a number of deities, each one specific to the various parts of their lives. Nikkal, meaning "Great Lady and Fruitful", was the goddess of the orchards. For now, at least, the exact lyrical content of the Hurrian Hymn remains partly concealed, although a translation undertaken by Hans-Jochen Thiel in 1977 is considered closest to the original's spirit" (Article in "The National")

In short, the tablet had the text of a song, which was an invocation to the Ugaritic goddess Nikkal, goddess of the orchards and wife of the moon god, Yarikh, to bestow her fertility upon barren women - here is a partial translation of the song, from the surviving portion of the original Hurrian text:

(Once I have) endeared (the deity), she will love me in her heart,
the offer I bring may wholly cover my sin,
bringing sesame oil may work on my behalf in awe may I .
The sterile may they make fertile.
Grain may they bring forth.
She, the wife, will bear (children) to the father.
May she who has not yet borne children bear them."

A photograph of the actual clay tablet on which the Hurrian Hymn was inscribed, can be seen below:

The melody of Hurrian Hymn Text H6 was interpreted by Dr.Richard Dumbrill (one of several academic interpretations of the melody), from the ambiguous Cuneiform text of the Hurrian language in which it was written. Although discovered in modern day Syria, the Hurrians were not Syrian – they came from modern day Anatolia. The Hurrian Hymn actually dates to the very end of the Hurrian civilization (c.1400 BCE) . The origin of the Hurrian civilization dates back to at least 3000 BCE.

In short, the lower part of the text which Dumbrill transcribed (the Hurrian musical notation below the words of the song), was in a corruption of Akkadian Babylonian, in which the specific names of 9 lyre strings represented the specific changes in pitch - which according to Dr Richard Dumbrill, clearly showed the outline of a 3400 year old Bronze Age melody, which features descending 5ths and ascending 3rds. gave the names of 9 specific lyre strings, and the specific musical intervals between these strings. In other words, the notation of the Hymn was a sort of "guitar tab" - for lyre!

There were also numerical values given next to some of the lines of the text of the song - when Dumbrill added up the number of syllables in the text of the song in relation to the number of notes in his interpretation of the melody, remarkably, the curious numerical values written after some of the lines of the text actually precisely added up to the sum of the extra notes required which were not indicated by the syllables of the text!

There are several such interpretations of this melody by other musicologists , but to me, the fabulous interpretation of Dr. Dumbrill just intuitively somehow sounds the most 'authentic'.

Although 29 musical texts were discovered at Ugarit, only this text, (text H6), was in a sufficient state of preservation to allow for modern academic musical reconstruction, as Richard Dumbrill recently explained to me via direct email correspondence:

"Altogether, in the Library of the Royal Palace of Ugarit, 29 music tablets were found, all in pieces. Only one could be reconstructed, H6. This is the one I have used for my interpretation."

Below is a fascinating video by Richard Dumbrill, explaining how this 3400 year old melody was finally deciphered by him:

[Ancient music defies the classification and custom labels of music today. While most modern music is easily labeled and classified into specific genres, such as pop, rock, and classical, it is believed that ancient music was used to create a sense of awe during religious ceremonies. There are some record labels that produce gospel and Christian music, but the majority of record labels produce music for entertainment and marketing purposes.]

DR RICHARD DUMBRILL ON THE HURRIAN HYMN

Richard Dumbrill has recently recorded a purely vocal rendition of his interpretation of the Hurrian Hymn, in the original elusive Hurrian language. Here is what he kindly explained to me, when I asked about how his interpretation of the melody differs from similar attempts made at interpreting the melody of Hurrian Hymn Text H6, made by the musicologists, Martin R West, Kilmer & Krispijn:

"The differences in interpretations of this text mainly come from the

insistence of Western scholars to interpret Semitic (Jewish and non Jewish)
music as if it responded to Western music theory which is essentially
Christian material. Semitic, (Arabian Jewish, Christian and Islamic) music
uses filled intervals called 'ajnas' or ''uqud' which are sets used in
sequential order. West, Kilmer, Krispijn etc. know nothing about Semitic
musicology and therefore understand intervals as being empty and played
together a dyads, or as chords of 2 notes. The same scholars are also
limited by the octave which is the boundary of Western music while Semitic
music is not restricted by the octavial notion. This is why my
interpretation is melodic while others are not.

In respect of the Hurrian language, it is with great caution that we should

apprehend it. Too little is known about it. Was it melismatic or not in the
context of Ugarit, we do not know. Initially my voicing of the Hurrian text
equated to the number of beats in the piece. But that does not mean much.
Recently I recorded my latest version, in Byblos, Lebanon and in Damascus
with the advice of local musicians who felt that it should be 'maqamised' as
I have produced it in this version".

Here is the alternative interpretation of the melody of the Hurrian Hymn Text H6, by Martin R West. Note that the musical mode is the same as Dumbrill's interpretation and despite the difference in rhythm, the actual "shape" of the melody is quite similar:

Whereas most other academic interpretations of the melody sound too 'Western', Dumbrill, in his musicological studies of Semitic (both Arabic and Jewish ancient Middle Eastern music), realized that the actual musical outline of the melody could be 'Maqamised' in the ancient traditional Middle Eastern style

Below is Dr Dumbrill's new purely vocal arrangement of the Hurrian Hymn. The effect of the new 'maqamised' version of the melody is to me, incredibly evocative:

A REPLICA BRONZE AGE LYRE ON WHICH TO ARRANGE THE BRONZE AGE HURRIAN HYMN?

Regarding whether the Hurrian Hymns were originally meant to be accompanied or sang solo, as in Dumbrill's arrangement above, we will probably never know for sure, but since the lyre was quite literally, 'the guitar of the Bronze Age' in being the most commonly used instrument that was used to accompany the human voice in these distant times, a typical asymmetrical Canaanite form of lyre would be the most likely type of lyre that may have once accompanied the Hurrian Hymns.

The most well known ancient illustration of just such a typical asymmetrical Canaanite lyre can be seen in the Megiddo ivory carving, dating to around 1,300 BCE:

Circumstantial evidence for the performance of a similar Canaanite style of lyre to accompany the Hurrian Hymns, can actually be found at Ugarit itself - here is a carving of a female musician from Ugarit, playing this very same type of lyre:

In attempting to recreate just such a typical asymmetrical Canaanite form lyre on which to attempt to arrange the Hurrian Hymn, I recently discovered that remarkably, an almost perfectly preserved ancient Egyptian lyre has survived the ravages of the last 3,500 years and is currently preserved in Leiden:

These type of distinctively Canaanite asymmetrical lyres were almost certainly introduced into Egypt during the reign of the Canaanite Hyksos kings.

Intrigued at the possibility of recreating just such a lyre, I arranged to have the 'Leiden Lyre' recreated for me, by Luthieros:

This custom-made lyre, also features an experimental and probably more authentic bridge, with a wider 'bench-shaped' top - in almost all the ancient illustrations of lyre bridges, this form of bridge seems to be the most common. Unlike the sharp-topped modern guitar-style 'A' shaped bridge, which creates a pure tone, these wider-topped bridges create a wonderfully exotic, subtle buzzing timbre, rather like an Indian sitar or a bray harp.

The 'Leiden Lyre' upon which my replica is based, actually dates to between circa 1,500 - 1,300 BCE more or less precisely the time of the Hurrian Hymns which in conjunction with the exotic Middle Eastern mode used in this arrangement in my attempt to 'Maqamize' the melodic line interpreted by Dumbrill and the distinctive buzzing timbre of this lyre, for me, brings both the 3400 year old text of the song and the melody, more truly 'back to life'.

For full details on all global news the viral videos of my arrangements of the Hurrian Hymn have so far caused, please also check out my website news bulletin!

III. THE OLDEST SURVIVING COMPLETE MELODY IN HISTORY

The oldest complete surviving melody in History, is the ancient Greek song, commonly known as the Epitaph of Seikilos:

This piece is unique in musical history, as it is the only piece of music from antiquity in the entire Western world, that has so far been found, which has survived in its complete form, and unlike much earlier surviving fragments of melodies that have been found, this song is written in a totally unambiguous alphabetical musical notation, which can be played, note for note, as it was written - about 2000 years ago! The composer is named as Seikilos, son of Euterpe.

About 2000 years after it was written, this melody was rediscovered in 1883, in its complete & original form. It was found inscribed in marble on an ancient Greek burial stele, bearing the following epitaph:

"I am a portrait in stone. I was put here by Seikilos, where I remain forever, the symbol of timeless remembrance".

The words of the song are:

Meden holos su lupou
Pros oligon esti to zen
To telos ho chronos apaitei"
(While you live, shine
Don't suffer anything at all
Life exists only a short while
And time demands its toll)

In modern musical notation, the melody looks something like this:

The song is actually an ancient Greek drinking song, known as a Skolion - what a wonderful idea of the ancient Greeks to inscribe, for all eternity, a drinking song on a tomb-stone. I want one on mine!

In 2013, one of my earlier Youtube arrangements for solo lyre of the Epitaph of Seikilos featured in an interesting article in "The Australian Daily Telegraph" - the article can be viewed here

My latest studio recording of the Epitaph of Seikilos, recorded on my new hand-made lyre, in the wonderfully pure just intonation of antiquity, can be found on track 7 of my 2012 album, "A Well Tuned Lyre: The Just Intonation of Antiquity"


In 2017, I had the pleasure of collaborating with the talented Californian vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, Bettina Joy De Guzman - using the recording of my arrangement of the Epitaph of Seikilos from my album, "A Well Tuned Lyre The Just Intonation of Antiquity", Bettina skillfully added both a haunting vocal line and replica Luthieros ancient Greek phorminx to the original arrangement and released the new arrangement as a single:

The new arrangement, transformed by Bettina's beautiful vocals, can be heard below:


Friday, February 20, 2015

Uh Oh

Appalling Restoration Destroys Giotto Frescoes at the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi

Hili Perlson, Friday, February 20, 2015
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Giotto, Renunciation of Wordly Goods
Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, Upper Church
Photo via: Wikimedia Commons

Fourteenth-century frescoes in the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi have been damaged by over-ambitious restorations, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Experts claim the frescoes have been significantly compromised segments that have fallen victim to over-enthusiastic work now stand in stark contrast to the untouched areas.

Unique in their range and quality, the murals were created by numerous late medieval painters from the Roman and Tuscan schools, and include Giotto frescoes as well as works by Simone Martini, Pietro Lorenzetti, and possibly Pietro Cavallini. The frescoes are considered instrumental for understanding developments in Italian art history. (Giotto artworks had some bad luck last year also see Giotto Chapel Damaged by Lightning).

The Directorate General for Fine Arts of the Ministry for Cultural Heritage, led by architect Francesco Scoppola, was alarmed that changes have been made at the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi, and ordered an inspection.

Bruno Zanardi, a restorer and lecturer at the University of Urbino, Italy, said he noticed considerable changes in the chapel: “I saw the site in 2011, and got the impression it was a good job, executed by someone I thought was a capable and expert restorer. But when I went back to the basilica a couple of months ago with my students, I had a very different impression," Zanardi told La Repubblica.

Frescoes at one end of the transept in the Chapel of St. Nicholas, where restoration is already concluded, are heavily compromised. A fresco by Giotto depicting the Madonna fainting at the cross has lost its light and shade contrasts and its colors are dulled. (Could the frescoes qualify as candidates for the TEFAF Restoration Fund? See TEFAF Restoration Fund Saves Priceless Zurbarán Works.)

Martini's figures of saints appear flattened, while some details of the decor have been obliterated. The Virgin Mary at the center of the triptych in the Chapel of St. Nicholas has completely (and allegedly irreversibly) lost its top coat.

However, Sergio Fusetti, lead restorer at the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi, claims that the allegations reported in the Italian press are completely unfounded. “The problem doesn't exist. We carry out regular checks and maintenance, taking off the hard dust that's been deposited on the frescoes. We have never done anything without the authorization from the superintendency, which is the culture ministry in the territory," he told the Guardian.

Fusetti has overseen the restoration work since 1997, when the basilica was hit during an earthquake. “I was the last restorer there after the earthquake. I risked my life," he said.

At the end of an assiduous restoration process following the earthquake, art experts were afforded a moment of celebration in 2012 when Giotto's signature was discovered on one of the frescoes.


Listen to the Oldest Song in the World: A Sumerian Hymn Written 3,400 Years Ago

In the early 1950s, archaeologists unearthed several clay tablets from the 14th century B.C.E.. Found, WFMU tells us, “in the ancient Syrian city of Ugarit,” these tablets “contained cuneiform signs in the hurrian language,” which turned out to be the oldest known piece of music ever discovered, a 3,400 year-old cult hymn. Anne Draffkorn Kilmer, professor of Assyriology at the University of California, produced the interpretation above in 1972. (She describes how she arrived at the musical notation—in some technical detail—in this interview.) Since her initial publications in the 60s on the ancient Sumerian tablets and the musical theory found within, other scholars of the ancient world have published their own versions.

The piece, writes Richard Fink in a 1988 Archeologia Musicalis article, confirms a theory that “the 7-note diatonic scale as well as harmony existed 3,400 years ago.” This, Fink tells us, “flies in the face of most musicologist’s views that ancient harmony was virtually non-existent (or even impossible) and the scale only about as old as the Ancient Greeks.” Kilmer’s colleague Richard Crocker claims that the discovery “revolutionized the whole concept of the origin of western music.” So, academic debates aside, what does the oldest song in the world sound like? Listen to a midi version below and hear it for yourself. Doubtless, the midi keyboard was not the Sumerians instrument of choice, but it suffices to give us a sense of this strange composition, though the rhythm of the piece is only a guess.

Kilmer and Crocker published an audio book on vinyl (now on CD) called Sounds From Silence in which they narrate information about ancient Near Eastern music, and, in an accompanying booklet, present photographs and translations of the tablets from which the song above comes. They also give listeners an interpretation of the song, titled “A Hurrian Cult Song from Ancient Ugarit,” performed on a lyre, an instrument likely much closer to what the song’s first audiences heard. Unfortunately, for that version, you’ll have to make a purchase, but you can hear a different lyre interpretation of the song by Michael Levy below, as transcribed by its original discoverer Dr. Richard Dumbrill.

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Comments (95)

Considering contemporary immunity in music this discovery perfects another phase in times and lives of mankind. I appreciate the work to bring to audition ancestral inheritance. Salutes in peace

I don’t think this melody actually existed that far back. There is no evidence of the diatonic scale being used until the time of Columbus, and the diatonic scale is technically a modern invention that goes against all the elements of natural tonality. Nothing in nature is evenly spaced, just look at the distance from from your should to your elbow to your wrist, golden mean, major thirds, fifths, they only function in the diatonic scale. This has modern western tonality written all of over it. I think whatever notation, if it is even music notation, was misinterpreted greatly. It happens, even late works of Bach are still trying to be translated.

Very cool to hear this. Are you sure it’s Sumerian, though? I think Ugarit was an independent city-state, with ties to Egypt, around the time this tablet would have been composed.

The Hurrians (“A Hurrian Cult Song…”) were a people centered around Northern Mesopotamia and western Anatolia. Their closest modern descendants are Armenians. I didn’t think Ugarit itself was Hurrian — instead, they were Amorites, a proto-Semitic group — but it makes sense that they’d have contacts with Hurrians, since they’re in the same general area.

What do the critics think about this? To my knowledge the earliest forms of music notation date back to the Renaissance period when monks began to write neumes on church song-books, which then evolved to the notation we have today. What about the diatonic harmony being used? Does it relate in any way to the harmonic principles discovered during the development of homophony, and later on polyphony? (middle ages, c.1500-1600s)

Violinist Pekka Kuusisto told about old fenno-ugrian folk song. it coud be from before broz age. Finnish epos Kalevala told those times.

We think music comes about 2000 bCr (ab 4000 years ago) and made some where Karelian and Bjarmian lads north from Nowgorod (was not buid yet).

I studied the Hurrian Hymn in 2001 and came up with a very different interpretation.

Early Africans made plenty of music. There are still a few groups that make music that is probably similar to the ancient songs.

As a commenter on the internet, I agree with the previous posts as my personal opinion based on perhaps a broad and cursory knowledge of a slightly related subject gives me great authority over years of detailed research, discussion and peer review.

William, Pythagoras explained the diatonic scale some 2000 years before Columbus. He described the octave and the perfect fifth, which we hear as natural resonances, in terms of string length ratios of 2:1 and 3:2 we understand them as the corresponding frequency ratios. (The “modern invention that goes against all the elements of natural tonality” is equal temperament, which doesn’t apply to ancient music.) There is a tablet from Ur from about 1700 BC or so that describes how to tune a stringed instrument into what we would call different key signatures, using pairs of strings that behave exactly the same way fifths do in tuning according to a Pythagorean scale.

bh, Ugarit had both Canaanite and Hurrian populations, and they also used Akkadian for business and diplomacy. The musical texts are in Hurrian the lyrics are, and the names of the string pairs also appear as Hurrianized loan words from Akkadian. For example, the pair made of the 3rd and 5th strings is titur isharti “bridge of the ‘normal'” in Akkadian, but in the Ugarit musical texts it’s “titimisharte.”

The notation of the Ugarit tablets is in the form of a series of elements each consisting of the name of a string pair followed by a number (plus an indication of which tuning was to be used, corresponding to our key signature). The lyrics are in a separate section (above the double line in the sketch), not matched to the musical elements.

Kilmer’s great contribution was to interpret each element as the string pair played as a two-note chord the specified number of times. Most of the musicological world at that time refused to believe that anyone in the ancient world was playing two different notes simultaneously (even though they would have had to do so to tune the instrument), but today that notion is no longer controversial.

Kilmer’s original interpretation, which we hear in the first video, has been superseded in some of its details. Most obvious to our ears, there are two ways of constructing the scales implied by the tuning instructions: up or down. In the 1960s everyone believed that the pitches went up from string 1 to string 9, but several lines of evidence discovered since then show that they went down instead. This leads to the more “minor” tonality heard in the second video however, Dumbrill believed that the numbers represented lengths of melodic runs based on the string pair, not numbers of repetitions of a chord. There have been many different attempts to organize the music and match it to the lyrics, including Mr. Monzo’s.

The songs from Ugarit are no longer the oldest attempt to make a musical notation. A few tablet fragments from Nippur, from about 400 years before the Ugarit texts, show a very different system, still using the string and string pair nomenclature, used to represent the accompaniment to a song that was probably in Sumerian. That notation (on which I published an article in Journal of Cuneiform Studies in 2009) was more complex and labor intensive to write, which is probably why there are not more texts containing it.

William. With respect. I feel you may be underestimating our ancestors. Harmonics exist in nature and therefore in us. As an engineer and musician I am constantly impressed at the way nature appears and is interpreted to practical advantage. Not just by humans but by other animals.

Damn! I sidn’t know the 12-tone Western Music Scale was 3.4 millinnia old!

Why is it if it isn’t Judeo-Christian it’s referred to as a cult? It was a religion.

A cult is any segment of a population that reveres any given deity.. the Cult of YHWH just happens to be one cult that persisted and who’s writings are best preserved and continually maintained

Sherry: The word “cult” is used in a different way in the academic study of religion. It doesn’t refer to a fringe group, but to worship as such. One definition in Webster is “a system of beliefs and ritual connected with the worship of a deity or a spirit or a group of deities or spirits.” A “cult hymn” in this sense means something like just a “hymn” in the Christian tradition, a worship song used in the Hurrian religion. The author of the original post should probably have clarified this, since it’s a specialized use of a word that most people understand differently.

I love it when someone like, Jerome S Colburn knows exactly what their talking about having actually studied the subject thoroughly, and probably with as much note a coniseur of Classical music from most every period that is chronicled to date being ‘documented’ in script of such.

Many thanks for rendering what could have been an incredibly moving moment with the worlds oldest music into a crap midi keyboard sequence that sounded like the intro music to an Atari game in 1984.

I’m struck by how similar the Hurrian song is to The ending OST from the anime Flowers of Evil.

Why does the title of the article say “Sumerian” when everything in the article refers to the Hurrians? What have the Sumerians to do with this?

bh – Tablets written in Hurrian (as well as other languages) have been found at Ugarit. I doubt anybody there ever spoke Sumerian.

It says it’s a song. Isn’t a song sung? Sounds like a terrible Casio keyboard.

Loved readings of the tidbits, but stills and all in between the tidbits. past 19 yrs. worked off & on with finest Anishinabequek on choir songs for play Magnificat about contact. We are not Catholics but actors, musicians, singers and much more. Original songs from church with old organ turned rock and next opera. Love connecting the world neighborhood fb way aces!

Should be 6/4 instead of 4/4. 73-80 beats per minute would be better.

In response to your question Dan Colman, Bassnectars facebook page brought me here.

sounds almost identical to some runescape midi background music

Any theories on what they tuned to? My guess would be 432

the oldest song in human history, played on a MIDI keyboard. surreal.

Where can I download the MIDI file? (I assume that after 3,400 years the copyright has expired!)

I have reached this website via “Linguistica in pillole”, on Facebook, today.

considering “tempered” music arrived with Bach I wonder about the interpretation of this music – sounding very “western” as well

Several previous commentators have remarked that this sounds all too like it’s played in the modern 12-tone, equal-tempered scale. That’s because…it IS! In the first YouTube file, that is. But this is not the fault of the scholars, rather of the electronic instrument used to record it, which, like virtually all MIDI devices, defaults to modern equal-temperament. Most people who used these things don’t know that any other system exists, let alone how to tune it. The MIDI device should have been re-programmed to produce pure intervals, i.e. the beatless octaves and fifths that Jerome S. Colburn mentions in his excellent contribution above.

But it doesn’t stop there. Equally important are just thirds and sixths, both major and minor. On the open strings of ancient harps and lyres, other notes could only be produced by touching the nodes of the natural–i.e. pure or ‘Pythagorean’–harmonics. Thus their intonation was necessarily ‘just.’

Much more convincing is the second YouTube clip, played on the lyre by Michael Levy. His thirds are always pure, but his fifths (perhaps between strings) seem to beat a tiny bit–adding an expressive shimmer that is most enchanting.

Just to respectfully correct a few things from various comments that aren’t quite accurate…

Western European musical notation goes back to the time of Charlemagne (early 800’s), in the form of squiggles called ‘neumes’ written above texts of Gregorian chant as memory aids. Staff-notation of the sort we’re familiar with, seems to have been invented, whole cloth, by Guido d’Arezzo circa 1025. Guido was also the one who gave the notes of the scale the names we use to this day: Ut (Doh),Re, Mi,Fa,Sol,La (Si or Ti came later).

Tempered scales began to be used a bit before 1500, as instrumental music took on new and more elaborate dimensions. Keyboard instruments (harpsichord, clavichord, and above all, the organ) were typically tuned in a system called Meantone, which has flattened fifths and pure major thirds. (It can only be used in certain keys, but in those keys it sounds ravishing.) Fretted instruments, such as lutes and viols, were tuned in what we would consider equal temperament. However, since the frets were only tied on, they could be tweaked a bit to improve the intonation.

In the late 17th and early 18th centuries composers were experimenting with other systems of temperament that allowed one to play in all keys. Bach really threw down the gauntlet with his “Well-Tempered Clavier” (1723). However, most scholars agree that Bach was still using a temperament that was not perfectly equal. Just what Bach’s temperament really was is a subject upon which much ink has been spilled, with more surely to come. It is a vexed question that probably will never be definitively answered.

I just listened to Michael Levy’s performance again, so allow me to amend my earlier remarks. Most of his fifths are indeed pure, but there is still the odd one that beats a little bit. This could be, as I said, a slight tempering between strings. But if his instrument (which I know nothing about) is set up to be historically accurate (more or less), then it would be strung with animal gut. Because it is a natural material, gut is never perfectly consistent. Gut strings can–and do–go slightly false on certain partials. So perhaps that accounts for the shimmering fifths I found so beguiling.

I listen and I like him. This tune is very similar to the ancient Georgian melodies. This once again proves that the people of Georgians and the Sumerians are related people. Their cultures are too similar. This tune is one more confirmation of the unity of the people of Sumerians. However, scientific studies have found any other connections, which are exhaustively indicates this relatedness. Thank you very much for this melody.
P.S. Georgian and Sumerian languages are related to each other. They have a lot common linguistic features. Other languages (English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Persian …) does not show this feature.

William, you are confusing scales and temperaments. The diatonic scale is not a modern invention, you can trace its history back to the Pitagoras time. And if you go even further back in time, you’ll realize that seven-notes scales have been around the world for much longer than that. Even crazier, some neuroscientists (can’t remember the reference, sorry for that), have found out that the pentatonic scale is somehow intrinsic in our brains, and that’s why it is the only scale that can be understood and immediately followed by everybody regardless of the cultural background. I wouldn’t be surprised if, like you say, there would be some kind of misinterpretation of this song, given what I imagine the difficulty of the translation task to be, but since I have no idea how was the translation work done from the technical point of view, I disagree with disregarding it based on arguments similar to yours (and surely not based on yours, which are historically wrong).

Of course, Sumerian music was much more expressively played than this dry synthesized version. It would be interesting to hear a musician’s performance.

Did anyone else feel like they were playing an old Nintendo version of Zelda while listening to this?

I’m sure it sounded great, and probably still does. I tell my music students that there was ALWAYS great music, EVERYWHERE. In the post I bring here there’s a somewhat different view. It’a fine collection of music dating from 1950 BC to 300 AD. More music examples too, as in other sites presenting this record. http://www.northpacificmusic.com/Sumerians.html

Another point: Contrary to what the article originally posted says there’s info spelled out regarding the Sumerian kingdom coming to an end circa 1700 b.c.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sumer#Decline

There is no mention anywhere of the 42,000-82,0000 Neanderthal bone flue. Tuned to a diatonic scale apparently.
Of the many instruments I play the Japanese shakuhachi flute is in many ways my main instrument so it is of special interest to me. It is the oldest known instrument (the Neanderthal flute).

I left out some words – I’m sure it’s obvious but what I meant to write was 42-82,000 year old flute.

It sounds a lot like the ancient Neil Young song, Like a Hurrian.

Fascinating stuff – thanks for posting.

Damn ! I had no idea they had Casio keyboard back in those days ..

Even if we admit that there was such thing as a diatonic scale at the time, the notion that the midi version might give us an idea of what this might have sounded like is (to say the least) very questionable, as the only correct thing we get is the melody.

Why should melody be the only thing that matters? Rhythm is important, and texture as well. So unless we have some clues as to the rhythm and the actual instruments used to play those tunes, we cannot say we really know how this sounded.

Western culture was born in sumerian culture in every aspect.
State church with cloned temples, army priests, social benefits, bankers, war as bankers’ wars, Taxation tables. Diplomatic code for state interactions is identical with present diplomatic code.

Thank goodness it’s public domain it sounds a lot like “Let’s Get It On”


The Oldest Known Melody (Hurrian Hymn no.6 - c.1400 B.C.) - History

Grade Levels: K-4
Time Required: 4-6 class periods
Author: Melody Nishinaga
Subject Areas: History, Music, English

This lesson was designed as a continuation of the lesson entitled Continuity of Culture: Romans in Pompeii. http://layersofrome.utep.edu/lesson-plans/20-romans-pompeii

In this lesson students will act as musical archaeologists. They will study and analyze remnants of ancient Roman civilization and its music, the instruments used to perform it, the structures such as the Odeon and the music theaters where it was produced, and the mosaics, frescos and sculptures which depict how it was played.

In this lesson, by taking a closer look at surviving musical artifacts and art works such as those from Pompeii, students will gain a broad appreciation of music as performed in the past. They will study how the ancient Romans in Pompeii in their production and appreciation of music are similar to people today. By comparing reconstructions of ancient Roman music with their own, students will be able to draw parallels between the two. Ultimately, they will use the remnants and the comparisons to attempt to reconstruct the musical environment of ancient Rome.

The absence of recording technology in the Roman period has left us with a great deal of uncertainty about the sound of Roman music. However, Roman literature and art provide significant information about how the Romans produced music, and archaeologists have uncovered many different types of musical instruments, which musicians have attempted to reproduce. Representations abound of musical performances at funerals and in religious rituals. Music featured prominently in social situations as well. Roman poets such as Horace and Quintilian composed poetic pieces known as odes that were performed on civic occasions, and the rhythmic patterns of the Latin language in this poetry provide us with clues to the nature of Roman music even though we lack melodic accompaniment. Because the Romans admired and imitated so much of Greek art, modern scholars assume that Roman musicians were influenced by Greek musical theories, and therefore they composed works that were most often single melodies with no harmony. It is clear, however, that the Greeks were not the only influence in Roman music and that Etruscan, Middle Eastern and African elements were also prominent in Roman music. How these sounds combined is a matter of conjecture.

Throughout the ancient world, music was seen as a powerful medium with the strength to affect the human soul. In the Bible it was the blast of trumpets that brought down the walls of Jericho, and David cured Saul’s madness by playing the harp. Plato argued that music was such a strong force of persuasion that it should be regulated by law. As Pythagoras explained it, the measured tones of music embodied the harmony of the cosmos. Audible tones exemplified the principles of order common to the harmony in the systems of the physical world, the human body, and the human soul. As a result, music to the ancients was not a passive symbol of the orderly cosmic system it was a force that could affect the universe and the populations within it. Aristotle asserted that listening to a type of music over time caused a person’s character to be shaped by it. This occurred because in Aristotle’s mind music directly imitated the passions of the human psyche.

With the rise of Christianity in the later Roman Empire, belief in the force of music and its association with pagan rituals resulted in the suppression of Roman music. Consequently, in the medieval period musical production shifted to the Christian Church and the remnants of Roman music were either destroyed or lost. Today nearly all knowledge of musical performance in the ancient world is second hand, derived from a few vague accounts of performances and theoretical works. By combining the documentary evidence with the archaeological remains of instruments and visual representations, students in this lesson will attempt to replicate some of the sounds of Roman music.

*Do the architectural plans and the remains of Roman odeons, theaters and concert halls resemble modern performance buildings?

*Do the events that take place in modern performance venues resemble ancient musical events?

*In ancient paintings, mosaics and sculptures, in what contexts are musical instruments used?

*Do the ancient musical instruments in the artistic representations resemble modern instruments?

*Based on the ancient artistic representations, is it possible to discover how ancient instruments worked?

*Based on the surviving evidence, how can we recreate the music of the ancient Romans?

1. Students will use methods of social science investigations to answer questions about society.

2. Students will use knowledge of the past to construct meaningful understanding of our diverse cultural heritage.

3. Students will know and apply grade-level word analysis in decoding words.

4. Students will read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.

5. Students will conduct short research projects that build knowledge about a topic.

6. Students will write an expository text or poem to convey the similarities between Romans and us.

7. Students will use primary and secondary sources to answer questions about the past.

8. Students will understand basic sound properties, such as longer tubes produce lower sounds and shorter tubes produce higher sounds.

2. Download the power point presentation, “Ancient Roman Music Primary Sources” containing pictures of ancient Roman theaters and musical artifacts from Pompeii, which are now in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples. This power point is included in these materials. Need to be uploaded and link established.

3. Obtain a book of children’s literature that describes how archaeologists are essentially detectives, who piece together the clues that they find and then recreate what they think happened in history. For example, a book such as Nancy Drew: The Hidden Window Mystery or The Boxcar Children or Archaeologists Dig for Clues by Kate Duke.

4. Obtain a book on the Greek god Pan such as I am Pan! by Mordicai Gerstein. The panpipe was an instrument depicted in many primary sources, such as mosaics, frescos, and statues.

5. Collect materials to build pan-pipe instrument:

6. Construct a replica of a panpipe:

  • Lay 8 straws side by side.
  • Cut the first straw at 20cm.
  • Then cut the next straw 2cm shorter, at 18cm.
  • Cut each straw 2cm shorter than the last until all 8 are cut.
  • Line up your straws longest to shortest. Make sure the flat end is completely aligned.
  • Sticky tape them together.
  • Blow across the flat end of the straws, at an angle and at a distance to get the best sound. The longest straws will give the lowest sound, and the shortest straw will give the highest sound.

7. For background information on Music in Ancient Rome, obtain a book such as Music in Ancient Greece and Rome by John G Landeis.

8. Collect music CDs by Synaulia https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJLXyBzMci0 and Soundcenter.it http://www.soundcenter.it/synauliaeng.htm and Musica Romana, http://www.musica-romana.de to hear how these musical archaeologists recreate Roman music.

9. Have students gather tambourines, hand drums, and recorders for use in the production of a musical performance imitating ancient music. See Additional Lessons and Resources for examples of recreations of ancient music.

Lesson One: Play the Telephone game. Have all students line up. There are 21 students in this example, but each teacher should adjust for their class size. Teacher should explain to the class that she/he will whisper a phrase to the student next to her/him, explaining that each student can only whisper the phrase once to their neighbor. Sample phrase: Goofy gophers gobble green gigantic grapes and love them! (Adjust according to age). At the end, the phrase should have become something different. Explain that each student represents 100 years of time. Ask the first student to say what year it is now, and count backwards by 100 until they reach the year closest to 79 AD, the eruption of Vesuvius.

2015 – 1915 – 1815 – 1715 – 1615 – 1515 – 1415 – 1315 - 1215

1015 – 915 – 815 – 715 – 615 – 515 – 415 - 315 – 215 - 115

Explain that messages change over time. Objects get lost or destroyed. Messages may change when passed down over hundreds and hundreds of years. Explain that like musical archaeologists it is important to us to look at what still survives of the time (primary sources) and try to piece together the puzzles and try to draw more accurate conclusions about music at Pompeii.

Read Archaeologists Dig for Clues by Kate Duke.

Lesson Two: Project images from Pompeii and the Naples national museum. Suggested images are included in the power point presentation “Ancient Roman Music Primary Sources.” Start with the Odeon, and ask students what modern structure it looks like, for example a movie theater or concert hall. Explain that the Odeon was designed for musical events.

However, music was not only played in concert halls. It also occurred in many other places. Project images of mosaics and frescos depicting scenes where music occurred:

  • Ask students to identify: Where the ancient musical scenes were happening: ie Church-like place, party, someone’s house, etc.?
  • What do the instruments in the ancient scenes look like? (Have students mention instruments that they know, like a flute or an organ).
  • The ancient scenes often contain multiple instruments. What are the different instruments that are pictured playing music together?

In addition to the musicians, what other types of people are shown in the ancient scenes: ie actors with masks?

Lesson Three: Project images of sculptures holding musical instruments and surviving instruments. See the power point presentation “Ancient Roman Music Primary Sources.” This power point is included in these materials. Need to be uploaded and link established. Explain that archaeologists study each clue in detail. What stories does each object tell us?

  • Ask students to describe what each instrument looks like and what modern instrument it resembles? (Have students describe instruments that they know, like a flute or an organ).
  • Ask students to describe what the ancient instruments sound like. (Draw from their knowledge of modern instrument sounds).

Focus on one instrument that is depicted often in the ancient art, the panpipe. Have students read the story about the god Pan to provide students with information about this god.

Read I am Pan! by Mordicai Gerstein.

Have students create a panpipe based on primary sources. (See the instructions in “Preparation Instructions.”) Explain that archaeologists recreate ancient musical instruments based on what they see in ancient art.

Lesson Four: Discuss the science behind creating sound with boom whackers to show that shorter lengths of tubes create higher pitches, and longer lengths of tubes create lower pitches.

Lesson Five: Talk about how musical archaeologists do what the class has just done. Play recordings and project images of musical instruments and/or play videos of performances. (See “Additional Lessons and Resources” for video suggestions.)

Lesson Six: Coordinate a musical performance, with tambourines, hand-drums, recorders, and panpipes.

If students play recorders, have them bring them. Teach the class a simple song, and coordinate a musical production, with tambourines, hand drums, recorders, and panpipes. (See “Additional Lessons and Resources” for audio and video suggestions.

(Extending over a few days) Students write and revise papers or poems on the similarities between how the Romans created music and modern musical performances. Note: Young children would draw pictures of instruments identifying the similarities.

Complete a Venn diagram to compare and contrast Roman music with music today.

Students can use a Graphic Organizer to identify different musical instruments, pictures of ancient musical instruments or different ancient performance venues and describe how they resemble the artifacts and buildings used for modern musical productions. http://layersofrome.utep.edu/images/Graphic_Organizer_.pdf

Stress the interdisciplinary nature of music.

Science / Math
Focus on the ancient theaters and odeons and discuss their acoustics. To investigate the physical science of sound waves, fill several glasses with different levels of water. Put food coloring in each glass for easier identification. Glasses with more water will create a lower sound when tapped. Glasses with less water will create a higher sound when tapped. Include the glasses in the musical performance.

Art / Theater / Music
Recreate a performance as seen in an ancient mosaic or painting. Students can participate by designing and creating costumes or writing a script about a day in the life of musicians at Pompeii or making instruments.

Language Arts
Have students share their knowledge with the world by producing their own newspaper, the Pompeii Times. Students can write articles about what they discovered about Rome and Roman music.

Have students write their own fictional short story based on a piece of ancient artwork.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3-6
Determine the meaning of general academic and domain-specific words or phrases in a text relevant to a grade 3-6 topic or subject area.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3-6
Interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (e.g., in charts, graphs, diagrams, time lines, animations, or interactive elements on Web pages) and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3-6
Read and comprehend informational texts, including history/social studies, science, and technical texts, in the grades 3-6 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3-6
Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3-6
Conduct short research projects to answer a question, drawing on several sources and refocusing the inquiry when appropriate.

Books:

Nancy Drew: The Hidden Window Mystery by Carolyn Keene.

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner and L. Kate Deal

Archaeologists Dig for Clues by Kate Duke describes a group of friends who accompany an archaeologist on a dig and learn all about what archaeologists do and how discoveries tell us how people used to live. (Grades 1 – 4) ISBN-13: 978-0064451758

Music in Ancient Greece and Rome by John G Landeis ISBN-13: 978-0415248433

A History of Western Music by Donald Jay Grout: W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1960

The Archaeomusicology of the Ancient Near East, by Richard Dumbrill, Trafford Publishing. London, 2005.