Hurrian music


Music in the Urkesh palace
A tablet from Ugarit
The words
The music
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Music in the Urkesh palace

     A seal of queen Uqnitum gives us a glimpse of a musical performance such as would have taken place in the royal palace of Urkesh.

     A singer and a lyre player face each other. Seated on a stool, they are shown in the act of performing for the listening pleasure of the queen and her entourage.

     The sound you hear is a modern rendering of a Hurrian hymn such as you might have heard had you been part of the queen's entourage.
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A tablet from Ugarit

     A tablet found at Ugarit, and dating to the 13th century B.C., contains in the upper portion the text of Hurrian hymn.

     In the lower portion (highlighted in red) it contains a series of numbers and technical terms that have been interpreted as a score rendering the tune to which the hymn would have been sung.

     This is then the earliest known musical score in history.

     It is significant that it was used to render a hymn composed in Hurrian – at a time when Hurrian was beginning to die out, as if in an attempt to preserve something that was deemed especially precious.
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The words of the song

     The meaning of the text is very unclear, and only one interpreetation has been proposed so far.1
     Here is a simplified English version of Thiel's translation.

          I will (bring x?) in the form of lead2 at the right foot (of the divine throne)
          I will (purify ?) and change (the sinfulness).
          (Once sins are) no longer covered and need no longer be changed,
          I feel well having accomplished the sacrifice.

          (Once I have) endeared (the deity), she will love me in her heart,
          the offer I bring may wholly cover my sin
          bringing sesame oil3 may work on my behalf
          in awe may I ...
                     
          The sterile may they make fertile,
          Grain may they bring forth.
          She, the wife, will bear (children) to the father.
          May she who has not yet borne children bear them.

     1Hans-Jochen Thiel, “Der Text und die Notenfolgen des Musiktextes aus Ugarit,” Studi Micenei ed Egeo-Anatolici, 18 = Incunabula Graeca 67, 1977, 109-136, and especially p. 135 f.; see also M. Salvini, “I Hurriti sulla costa del Mediterraneo,” La Parola del Passato 55 (2000), 109.
     2Lead is a metal used in rituals. Small rings of lead were found in the Underground Structure which we interpret as a Passage to the Netherworld.
     3A small vessel, presumably for pouring oil during a sacrifice, has also been found in the Underground Structure.
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The music

     The musical portion of the text from Ugarit was interpreted by M. Duchesne Guillemin in the publication shown to the right. Her views are summarized in the chart below.

     The music you hear is from an audio tape that was published laongside the monograph shown here.
  See full text
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G. Buccellati – Copyright 2003 IIMAS