“Hurrian Hymns”: Music from 1400 BC

Happy New Year!

Today, as we move into an uncertain 2021, let’s reflect on the things which haven’t changed fundamentally over thousands of years of human history. One item on the list must be music, which according to some researchers predated language. An enticing fragment of early musical notation, found on a 4,000-year-old Sumerian clay tablet, suggests that written music has long been with us.

The oldest surviving notated score to be preserved in its near-complete form is the Hurrian Hymn No. 6, from around 1400 BC. Inscribed in cuneiform on clay tablets, it was excavated in the 1950s from the ruins of the ancient port city of Ugarit in northern Syria. It was written as an ode to Nikkal, the goddess of orchards, and played on a nine-string lyre.

On this recording, Michael Levy performs the music as transcribed by the British archaeomusicologist, Richard Dumbrill:

Recordings

  • Hurrian Hymn no. 6 (Ancient Mesopotamian Musical Fragment), Michael Levy Amazon

A Snapshot of Music Across 300 Years

Here are a few musical anniversaries that will occur in 2021:

1921

Notable completed works:

  • Cello Sonata No. 2, Piano Quintet No. 2 in C minor, Op. 115, Gabriel Fauré
  • Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, Sergei Prokofiev
  • Offrandes, Amériques, Edgard Varèse
  • The Lark Ascending, A Pastoral Symphony, Ralph Vaughan Williams
  • Suite for Piano Op. 25, Arnold Schoenberg

births: Ástor Piazzolla, Arthur Grumiaux, Dennis Brain, Richard Adler, Karel Husa,

1821

Notable completed works:

  • Piano Sonata No. 31, Ludwig van Beethoven
  • String Symphonies 1-6, Felix Mendelssohn
  • Konzertstück in F minor, Der Freischütz, Carl Maria von Weber

1721

Notable completed works:

  • Brandenburg Concertos, J.S. Bach
  • Crudel tiranno amor, HWV 97, Keyboard Sonatina in G minor, HWV 583, Floridante, HWV 14, George Frideric Handel
  • 12 Concerti grossi à 4 e à 5, Op. 1, Pietro Locatelli
  • Orphée, RCT 27, Jean-Philippe Rameau
  • Ich halte aber dafür, TWV 1:840, Ich hoffe darauf daß du so gnädig bist, TWV 1:847, Georg Philipp Telemann
  • 12 Violin Sonatas, Op. 1, Francesco Maria Veracini
  • La Silvia, RV 734, Antonio Vivaldi

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

1 thought on ““Hurrian Hymns”: Music from 1400 BC”

  1. What a delightful way to start this new Year, with the Hurrian Hymn #6.
    Since fun-loving Jubal entertained himself twanging sheep gut strings and punching holes into river-reed flutes while his brothers busied themselves with the ranch and mining operations and learning how to harness the wonders of fire, people have been making musical instruments, and likely scratching out some sort of instructions for their successors, to remember that beautiful tune.

    In my school days, all we had from the high civilizations were stilted renderings of Gregorian chant and fragments of Greek note-name writing that differed little from the scratch-pads I get occasionally from children who find the notes on a piano but know only the letter names of the white keys, and have no idea of rhythm figures or of lines or spaces.

    I imagine that if our deep ancestors had used board fences instead of rock walls on their property, some 5,000 B.C. “Guido” might have been inspired by the parallel lines to create a staff. But alas, that came later – so I admire the persistence and love with which the Hurrian Hymn and other ancient music marvels are being restored to life!

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