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January 13, 2011 9:52 PM   Subscribe

The Hurrian song is the oldest notated work of music, dating to approximately 1400 BC. Deciphered from cuneiform tablets, there are now modern interpretations. The most likely traditional version used an instrument like a harp or lyre, but there are also versions for the piano, chorus (autoplay), MIDI, and even a remix with a beat.
posted by twoleftfeet (22 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
Clay tablets, not stone actualy. And there are tens of thousand that have been discovered but not yet worked on and only a tiny fraction of sites have been excavated.

As for entire scripts, there are a couple. The script of the Indus Valley Civilization (aka Harappan) is a good example. And the decipherment of Linear A is really, really patchy and hard to verify.
posted by Riemann at 10:11 PM on January 13, 2011


Here I was thinking Keith Richards had something to do with it.
posted by I love you more when I eat paint chips at 10:12 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am reminded of this.
posted by mwhybark at 10:25 PM on January 13, 2011


God rest you merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay...
posted by anigbrowl at 10:38 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, I know what my next harp song to learn is. *plans for a future ask.mefi about ancient songs*
posted by curious nu at 10:43 PM on January 13, 2011


Son, you know those MIDI files aren't sorted!
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:14 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cool. Now I know what to get my Dad for his birthday.
posted by no mind at 11:19 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


So I listened to the choral version. It sounds very much like plainsong to my tin ear. Perhaps the court at Ugarit was Anglican (well, Anglo-baal). Catchy.

I found myself humming a snippet as I was waiting by the elevator to take out the trash when I shuddered. The hymn of a forgotten people to their dead god, on my lips. A thousand years before Socrates. I could feel the grass grow long on my grave.

Perhaps that sounds too melodramatic, but keep in mind that I'd been softened up by Jean-Luc Picard.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:36 PM on January 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


Looking for more? Music of the Ancient Sumerians, Egyptians and Greeks by Ensemble de Organographia is a wonderful collection of traditional performances, including quite a few of the Hurrian Hymns from around 1225 BCE. Recommended (and their other disc of just Greek music).
posted by cRamsay at 12:09 AM on January 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


"Dead" god? I take it you've never been in an orchard. You should visit one some time. Maybe take a lyre.
posted by Goofyy at 1:14 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


There are a whole bunch of undeciphered stone tablets, scripts, texts, etc., right?

I think one of the most frustrating cases is Meroitic. We've been able to read the script, related to Egyptian hieroglyphics, since 1909: so we can read the inscriptions out loud; but we don't know the language they're written in and hence don't know what the sounds actually mean.
posted by Segundus at 1:32 AM on January 14, 2011


We've been able to read the script, related to Egyptian hieroglyphics, since 1909

So, I know this is a stupid question but I'm not sure why. Basically because I don't understand Google's statistical translator, but couldn't that be applied to this?

Also, if they're still arguing about how fast Beethoven intended his compositions to be played how can we possibly know whether this shouldn't be speed-metal fast or dirge slow? And how do we know that the tones (so many cycles/sec) are the ones the original writers meant or were hearing?
posted by From Bklyn at 2:11 AM on January 14, 2011


The performance in the "traditional version" linked video... I think the ancients were funkier than that. I'm almost sure of it.

I've long entertained the notion that the "Harp of David" and the "Harp of Apollo", played by the Ethiopians, represents music that is ancient, in an unbroken line of oral tradition. I have no scholarly cites to back that up, but it's just what my gut tells me. I suppose I should try to read up on it someday.

At any rate, the music is deeeeep, y'all, and it knocks me out every time. I've been thinking of doing an FPP on Ethiopian harp, but haven't gotten around to it as yet.

Here's a snippet of the "King David's harp".
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:30 AM on January 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


You know, every once in a blue moon YouTube comments are actually fun and even (gasp!) witty. This exchange from the traditional version thread is worth reprinting...

My Friend, because of copyright matters, I would like you to mention that the original transcription´╗┐ of the melody you are playing is mine. Thanks
richarddumbrill 3 months ago 3

@richarddumbrill My sincere´╗┐ apologies - I have included full details now in the video description of all my videos which feature my arrangement of this melody, as well as a purchase link to your book "The Archeomusicology of the Ancient Near East".
Klezfiddle1 3 months ago 6

@richarddumbrill @Klezfiddle1 -- While you two may possess copyrights for transcription and performance,´╗┐ respectively, I must inform you that this song was created by my great(x168)-grandmother, and as controller of her husband's estate I demand proper recompense. The agreement asked for 2 aurochs or 10 ceramic pots; please remit at earliest convenience.

Seriously, though, thanks for both of you for letting this ancient song come to light.
thepatcat 1 month ago 22
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:36 AM on January 14, 2011 [8 favorites]


This is the hieratic, establishment music of the time, and the hearers probably sat through it through a sense of duty, all the while longing for their Saturday night fish fry, where the boys would let loose with some real down-and-dirty playing. We'll never hear the "cool" music of ancients (and there must have been some) because it would have been played in the back alleys and brothels and never written down. All we get is this plunky-plunk dirge, probably written by some privileged hack, or the son of a king -- some Neronian figure whose random pickings had to be applauded at the risk of losing one's head. One can only imagine the real musicians of the time rolling their eyes and making "gag me with a spoon" gestures in the back of the room.
posted by Faze at 4:43 AM on January 14, 2011 [31 favorites]


Mods, can I favorite Faze's comment twice, please?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:30 AM on January 14, 2011


All we get is this plunky-plunk dirge, probably written by some privileged hack, or the son of a king -- some Neronian figure whose random pickings had to be applauded at the risk of losing one's head.

The tablets speak of a man named Baalieri...
posted by condour75 at 6:19 AM on January 14, 2011


I also wanted to favorite Faze's comment a few times, maybe even dress it in a bolder font with sparklies.

I also loved the youtube video of the Hurrian Song, and found it gritty and hypnotic. I have a special thing for the plunkety-plunk dirge. The way that the tune was played on the video reminded me of my days on college radio, bands like Smog, Idaho, early Built to Spill, Songs:Ohia, Tobin Sprout/Guided by Voices...
posted by lakersfan1222 at 7:01 AM on January 14, 2011


Are we positive this isn't just another leak from the new Decemberists album?
posted by moviehawk at 7:13 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've been wondering about how the tablet was understood and interpreted to make music. Wikipedia says "its transcription remains controversial. A reconstruction ... is only one of at least five rival decipherments of the notation, each yielding entirely different results". It seems like a sort of His Master's Voice situation where the translator adds as much interpretation as the original text, maybe more.
posted by Nelson at 8:26 AM on January 14, 2011


There is a chant tone called Tonus Peregrinus that comes from the Jewish Synagogues via the tradition of Gregorian Chant in Christian monasteries. It's at least 2000 years old, possibly much older.

It may be the oldest tune with a living tradition that has passed it on to our time. At least in the western world. I'd be surprised if there weren't something older still alive in China.
posted by straight at 9:14 AM on January 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Now I know what the inspiration for "Stairway to Heaven" was.
posted by telstar at 5:31 PM on January 15, 2011


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