Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Oldest Known Melody from 1400BC

This unique video, features my arrangement for solo lyre, of the 3400 year old "Hurrian Hymn no.6", which was discovered in Ugarit in Syria in the early 1950s, and was preserved for 3400 years on a clay tablet, written in the Cuniform text of the ancient Hurrian language - it is THE oldest written song yet known! Respect, to the amazing ancient culture of Syria...السلام عليكم

Although about 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.

In short, the Cuneiform text clearly indicated specific names for lyre strings, and their respective musical intervals -- a sort of "Guitar tablature", for lyre!

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 civilisation (c.1400BCE) . The Hurrian civilization dates back to at least 3000 BCE. It is an incredible thought, that just maybe, the musical texts found at Ugarit, preserved precious sacred Hurrian music which may have already been thousands of years old, prior to their inscription for posterity, on the clay tablets found at Ugarit!

My arrangement here, is based on the that the original transcription of the melody, as interpreted by Prof. Richard Dumbrill. Here is a link to his book, "The Archeomusicology of the Near East":

It is played here, on a replica of the ancient Kinnor Lyre from neighbouring Israel; an instrument almost tonally identical to the wooden asymmetric-shaped lyres played throughout the Middle East at this amazingly distant time...when the Pharaoh's still ruled ancient Egypt.

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

The melody is one of several academic interpretations, derived from the ambiguous Cuneiform text of the Hurrian language in which it was written. Although many of the meanings of the Hurrian language are now lost in the mists of time, it can be established that the fragmentary Hurrian Hymn which has been found on these precious clay tablets are dedicated to Nikkal; the wife of the moon goddess.

There are several such interpretations of this melody, but to me, the fabulous interpretation just somehow sounds the most "authentic". Below is a link to the sheet music, as arranged by Clint Goss:

In my arrangement of the Hurrian Hymn, I have attempted to illustrate an interesting diversity of ancient lyre playing techniques, ranging from the use of "block and strum" improvisation at the end, glissando's, trills & tremolos, and alternating between harp-like tones in the left hand produced by finger-plucked strings, and guitar-like tones in the right hand, produced by use of the plectrum.

I have arranged the melody in the style of a "Theme and Variations" - I first quote the unadorned melody in the first section, followed by the different lyre techniques described above in the repeat, & also featuring improvisatory passages at the end of the performance. My arrangement of the melody is much slower than this actual specific academic interpretation of the melody- I wanted the improvisations in the variations on the theme to stand out, and to better illustrate the use of lyre techniques by a more rubato approach to the melody.

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