In what is thought to be the oldest song ever created, a ‘sheet’ of music was discovered in the ancient Syrian city of Ugarit and referenced back to around 3400 years ago.
Professor Anne Draffkorn Kilmer, who works as the curator at the Lowie Museum of Anthropology at Berkeley, spent fifteen years deciphering the clay tablets which were uncovered and excavated in Syria by French archaeologists in the early 1950s. The tablets, it has been confirmed, formed “a complete cult hymn and is the oldest preserved song with notation in the world”.
Kilmer, who is also the professor of Assyriology at the University of California, worked alongside her colleagues Richard L. Crocker and Robert R. Brown to create a definitive record and booklet about the song which has been called the ‘Sounds From Silence’.
“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,” Kilmer pointed out. “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.”
Richard Crocker, Kilmer’s colleague, added: “This has revolutionised the whole concept of the origin of western music.”
While a basic recreation of the song was released later, a new video of the song was played by musician and composer Michael Levy who, according to the Mail, focuses on “intensively researching and recreating the ancient playing-techniques of the lyres of antiquity”.
While archaeologists managed to unearth 29 tablets during the project in the 1950s, only one of the texts was preserved well enough to allow modern reconstruction. “Over the last few years, I have recorded several of my own arrangements for solo lyre of the Hurrian Hymn,” Mr Levy said before explaining that his mission was to “reintroduce the beautiful lyres of antiquity back into the bland and soulless modern ‘musical’ world.”
He adds: “H6 [the rescued text] is the oldest substantial fragment (almost complete) of an actual melody, so far discovered in history. Naturally, music, being the expression of aesthetic emotion through sound, probably even predates even our use of language, but up until this piece of music was actually discovered, no other written melodies from this period and before were ever found.
“The music of the Hurrian Hymn Text H6, therefore, is the oldest known example of a piece of actual written music dating from about 3,400 years ago, which can be interpreted and performed again today; over 3,400 years later.”
Listen to a recreation of the song, below.