Early Music


Screen shot 2013-06-16 at 5.00.13 AMThe other day, The Pink Flamingo happened on an article about early music.  This lead to a link to a rendition of the earliest known piece of music.  It is shockingly complex, beautiful, haunting, evocative, sophisticated, and surprisingly Vulcan in nature. It leaves you wanting to hear more, to know the people who composed it.  It is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard, and I am a music freak.  It is called the European Music Archaeology Project.

It is entirely possible that this is what early Christian music sounded like.

Michael Levy wrote:

“...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.

I am also playing the lyre horizontally – a much more authentic playing position, as depicted in ancient illustrations of Middle Eastern Lyre players…”

“…This unique video, (unfortunately authentically recorded back in 2008 on quite possibily THE world’s oldest surviving webcam!), features my first “live” arrangement of the 3400 year old “Hurrian Hymn no.6”, which was discovered in Ugarit, ancient northern Canaan (now 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 – The Hurrian Hymn (catalogued as Text H6) was discovered in Ugarit, 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 – except from a few earlier Sumarian fragmentary instructional musical texts from c.1950 BCE (Musical Instructions for Lipit-Ishtar, King of Justice) the Hurrian Hymn it is the oldest written song yet known, in History!

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 original transcription of the melody, as interpreted by Prof. Richard Dumbrill. Here is a link to his book, “The Archeomusicology of the Ancient Near East”:…”

This appears to be another ancient song, that may possibly be another version of the above. It has a remarkable science fiction quality, other-worldly.

It is also quite similar to several of the pieces written by Henry VIII, thousands of years later.  He was alleged to have written Greensleeves, to attract Ann Boleyn, but so-called music historians don’t think England was sophisticated enough and so isolated that Italianate style had not reached them during that time.  Please, deliver us from idiots who don’t know history.

From Ancient Egypt – Ya Rab Toba – Doesn’t sound like the music we associate with the ancient Egyptians has changed all that much over time.

Synaulia I from Rome sounds like some sort of background for a Roman Orgy! Talk about sleazy sounding. It reminds me of the old Southern version of the word ‘naked’. Depending on how it is pronounced, indicates everything. ‘Naked’ is artistic, such as a classic painting. ‘Nekked’ is up to no good, like Bubba and his step-mother were caught nekked down on the lake. This music is almost ‘Nekked’ in tone. It is also terribly modern, with a touch of Blues.

Ancient drums from the British Isles, that may have been associated with Stonehenge? It shows what the music may have sounded like, recreated on versions of the ancient instruments.

A lyre found on the Isle of Skye, dates from 300BC. It has been recreated, and is played here.

“…The aulos: Modern reconstructions of the instrument indicate that the aulos produced a low and resonant clarinet sound. Made of two wooden double reed pipes, much like an oboe, it was blown at varying intervals and speeds to produce a tune

The syrinx: Named after the nymph who turned into a reed to hide from Pan, this was the forerunner of the panpipes. A series of wooden tubes, tuned by their differing lengths were blown, creating a soothing sound popular at poetry recitals

The hydraulis: One of the more complicated musical tools used in this era, the ancient organ was powered by a supply of water and air that when combined caused a brass-like effect within the pipes. A well-preserved pottery model was found in Carthage in 1885

The monochord: Consisting of a single string stretched over a sound box with a movable bridge, this instrument was used as a scientific instrument for measuring musical intervals in Ancient Greece

The lyre: This hand-held zither has seven or more strings, each of which is tuned to a different note of one of the modes. It was a popular accompaniment to singing recitals in Ancient Greece and is still used today …”

The epigonion was a harp-like instrument.  This piece of music has been recreated on a computer.

“...An epigonion is similar to a modern harp or psaltery, and is mentioned in the works of Athenaeus, the Greek rhetorician and grammarian, in 183AD. Historians believe it was invented, or at least introduced to Greece, by Epigonus, a renowned musician from Ambracia in Epirus, a region that now straddles modern Greece and Albania.

Epigonus was given Greek citizenship as recognition of his great musical ability, having been the first person to pluck the strings of the epigonion with his fingers, instead of using a plectrum. The instrument, which Epigonus named after himself, had 40 strings of varying lengths.

The first instrument the Italian researchers worked on re-creating was a monochord, an instrument played by Pythagoras, the Greek mathematician and scientist. Monochord means “one string”, which was stretched over a soundbox. The successful remodelling of the monochord showed that the researchers could move on to re-create the sounds of other instruments.

This is done through data collected by archaeologists, engineers and historians, who help to describe the materials and shape of the ancient instrument.

This is all translated into a computer program that is run on hundreds of computers in Europe that make up the Grid. The process takes four hours to produce just 30 seconds of music. …”

Reconstructed ancient Greek music.

It’s fun and quite exciting to listen to the progression, the growth of music, the evolution.  It is also quite interesting to realize that, in many ways, that our basic sense of what constitutes music, for the Western  world, has not changed for the days of the ancients.  If you love music, history, and archaeology, the new discoveries are almost – magical!


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