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Datum objave: 01.05.2017

The Oldest Known Melody

The Oldest Song in the World

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

The Oldest known musical melody performed by the very talented Michael Levy on the Lyre. This ancient musical fragment dates back to 1400 B.C.E. 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,! Here's a link to it:

Michael Levy - Composer for Lyre

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:

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Hurrian songs

The Hurrian songs are a collection of music inscribed in cuneiform on clay tablets excavated from the ancient Amorite-Canaanitecity of Ugarit, a headland in northern Syria, which date to approximately 1400 BC. One of these tablets, which is nearly complete, contains the Hurrian hymn to Nikkal (also known as the Hurrian cult hymn or A Zaluzi to the Gods, or simply h.6), making it the oldest surviving substantially complete work of notated music in the world. While the composers' names of some of the fragmentary pieces are known, h.6 is an anonymous work.


The Oldest Song in the World

For fifteen years Prof. Anne Draffkorn Kilmer puzzled over clay tablets relating to music including some excavated in Syria by French archaeologists in the early '50s. The tablets from the Syrian city of ancient Ugarit (modern Ras Shamra) were about 3400 years old, had markings called cuneiform signs in the hurrian language (with borrowed akkadian terms) that provided a form of musical notation. One of the texts formed a complete cult hymn and is the oldest preserved song with notation in the world. Finally in 1972, Kilmer, who is professor of Assyriology, University of California, and a curator at the Lowie Museum of Anthropology at Berkeley, developed an interpretation of the song based on her study of the notation. (Fig. 1).

The top parts were the words and the bottom half instructions for playing the music. Kilmer, working with colleagues Richard L. Crocker and Robert R. Brown produced a record and booklet about the song called Sounds From Silence.

The song, it turns out, is in the equivalent of the diatonic "major" ("do, re, mi") scale. In addition, as Kilmer points out: "We are able to match the number of syllables in the text of the song with the number of notes indicated by the musical notations". This approach produces harmonies rather than a melody of single notes. The chances the number of syllables would match the notation numbers without intention are astronomical.

This evidence both the 7-note diatonic scale as well as harmony existed 3,400 years ago flies in the face of most musicologists' views that ancient harmony was virtually non-existent (or even impossible) and the scale only about as old as the Ancient Greeks, 2000 years ago. Said Crocker: "This has revolutionized the whole concept of the origin of western music."

Find Confirms Theory

My own interest comes from a book I wrote, The Origin of Music. which put forward the view that there is a natural foundation to the diatonic scale, that it has existed likely even from antiquity. In addition, the book espoused evidence showing that harmony, as well, existed in antiquity.

Music of various cultures, taken over a long evolutionary period, show patterns emerge (despite other differences) such as the universal use of octaves, 4th and 5ths, and the similarities underpinning the various musical scales between cultures. These facts led to the theory.

Thus, the oldest song known from a cuneiform document has provided major confirmation to this viewpoint. In turn, the theory may even now help to interpret the findings. Kilmer wrote: "I certainly do like and am profiting from The Origin of Music".

Why Do Scales, Keys and Harmony Exist?

At the earliest times in musical development, a sense for "melody" would not have occurred overnight. Prior to it, music often was the playing of single notes, assigned to various rituals, such as one gong for moon, another for sun, another for death, birth, etc., and played without much or any regard to their succession as musical melody of any sort. Scales might even be virtually non-existent as was harmony.

What is harmony for? After all, a single tone is more "pure" than any combinations of tones or chords, which are cluttered with overtones that are usually dissonant with each other. Why did humanity bother to add, to the relatively clean single tone, "harmony" notes (and therefore, greater dissonance)?

The answer is that harmony's function has evolved mostly to make the notes of melodies "connect" or to make their connection to each other melodically more apparent to the ear by making their common inner overtones audibly explicit in chords. It follows that harmony had no reason to exist among any people who are lacking scales. Scales are, historically, "congealed" or "generic" melody in the abstract.

Once scales developed (especially a favoured two, major and minor), then we are looking at a people for whom connections between notes is very important. The agenda is whether melody is important enough for them to overlook the dissonant elements in chords (compared to their purer, more consonant single tones), so as to allow them to use chords in the enhancement of their melodies. Only after the full scale and melody develop first can harmony even begin to appear on this historical agenda. The oldest song dates this agenda far earlier in time and gives to the diatonic scale a near-universal status not formerly ascribed to it.

"Tonality", which is defined as a "loyalty to a keynote", is also exhibited in the oldest song by repeating phrases found at the end of sentences, usually on the same note as the keynote of the tune.

The Epic Of Gilgamesh In Sumerian

The EPIC OF GILGAMESH is the earliest great work of literature that we know of, and was first written down by the Sumerians around 2100 B.C.

Ancient Sumer was the land that lay between the two rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, in Mesopotamia. The language that the Sumerians spoke was unrelated to the Semitic languages of their neighbors the Akkadians and Babylonians, and it was written in a syllabary (a kind of alphabet) called "cuneiform". By 2000 B.C., the language of Sumer had almost completely died out and was used only by scholars (like Latin is today). No one knows how it was pronounced because it has not been heard in 4000 years.

What you hear in this video are a few of the opening lines of part of the epic poem, accompanied only by a long-neck, three-string, Sumerian lute known as a "gish-gu-di". The instrument is tuned to G - G - D, and although it is similar to other long neck lutes still in use today (the tar, the setar, the saz, etc.) the modern instruments are low tension and strung with fine steel wire. The ancient long neck lutes (such as the Egyptian "nefer") were strung with gut and behaved slightly differently. The short-neck lute known as the "oud" is strung with gut/nylon, and its sound has much in common with the ancient long-neck lute although the oud is not a fretted instrument and its strings are much shorter (about 25 inches or 63 cm) as compared to 32 inches (82 cm) on a long-neck instrument.

For anyone interested in these lutes, I highly recommend THE ARCHAEOMUSICOLOGY OF THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST by Professor Richard Dumbrill.

The location for this performance is the courtyard of Nebuchadnezzar's palace in Babylon. The piece is four minutes long and is intended only as a taste of what the music of ancient Sumer might have sounded like.


Here is something that should really set the world on fire! It is a 3000-year-old song, sung in a dead language that no one speaks or understands, accompanied on an instrument called the "djedjet" that hasn't existed in several millennia!

The words for this song are from an ancient Egyptian papyrus scroll, written in a formalized version of the language of the New Kingdom (roughly 1500 B.C.). This was the era of some of Egypt's most famous pharaohs, including Tutankhamun, Queen Hatshepsut and the notorious "heretic king" Akenaten and his wife Queen Nefertiti.

The song itself is written in several parts as a dialog between a young man and the girl he loves. This is the first part of it sung by the young man. Although he refers to the girl as "sister", she is not his actual sister. It was common for people in those days, as it is in some places today, to refer to one another as "brother" and "sister" when they belonged to the same community.

The language of ancient Egypt died out long ago, and no one is certain exactly how it was pronounced because only consonants were written - no vowels. The song itself is surprisingly explicit and erotic. After I made the video, I decided I had better add subtitles with a translation because without that nothing made any sense.

The instrument I am using to accompany myself is a reproduction of a 22 string Egyptian New Kingdom arched ('C' - shaped) harp called a "djedjet". It is made entirely of cedar and animal skin, without nails or screws of any kind. It has a rich, deep tone and I placed a microphone at the bottom of the instrument to pick up the sound. There is nothing except harp and voice in this recording.

Ancient Egyptians wrote out many of the words to their songs but they did not write down the music, so we have no idea what their songs or instrumental music sounded like. I have tuned the harp in this video to what is called a "double harmonic major scale". This does not correspond to any of the "modes" of western musical theory. Did ancient Egyptians use this scale? No one knows, but it is possible. I believe that the ancient harpists tuned their instruments to suit the piece of music they were playing.

Many biblical scholars have suggested that this song was the inspiration for the SONG OF SONGS, or "Song Of Solomon" from the Old Testament of the Bible because the parallels between them are striking. The Song Of Solomon would have been written down long after the period of the Egyptian New Kingdom.

The Ancient Greek Kithara

The instrument in this video is a reproduction of the ancient Greek 'kithara' and it was made by Greek master luthier Anastasios Koumartzis of LUTHIEROS MUSIC INSTRUMENTS. The strings on the instrument are of 100% pure silk, which is closest in tone and response to the gut strings of the ancient Greeks. The more time I spend with this kithara, the more I discover about it. I am beginning to understand why the kithara players of the Golden Age (500 B.C.) were considered rock stars!

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