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Hurrian Song H6: The World’s Oldest Song

The World's Oldest Song
Well this is indeed the earliest song ever written down, as far as we know. We might find something recorded, written down, a bit earlier. But for the moment, this what we have. Although we have, perhaps– people believe that there was an earlier attempt at writing music from the old Babylonian period, but I disagree with this. [SINGING]
It goes without saying that the music of the temple and the music of the court was highly regulated. Whereas the music of the peasants was far freer. And this is true throughout civilisation. We always notice that when people are under the rule of a very strong dictatorship, you have the presence of threats, because you want to regulate the music. And when the people get free, they haven’t got threats. So this expresses music regulated by the court or the temple, and the free music. [SINGING]
So therefore they would have had two different styles of music, which we can equate, vaguely, to tonal music and modal music– the modal being the popular music and the tonal being the court music. Now the importance of this song is that it shows emotion. And they used music to translate their emotion. It’s about a young girl who is quite sad because she cannot have any babies. So therefore she goes to, at night, to worship the goddess Nikkal who is the goddess of the moon, and she gives some offerings of sesame– [HURRIAN] in Hurrian. And she– the song [? isn’t ?] about all this. She thinks she has sinned and asks for forgiveness.
And the song is very interesting, because when you hear it, it is– it has two modes in it. It’s really to do with the moon. It’s a noctural song, and it’s a daytime song. There’s an alternation of modes, which is highly interesting. And this music totally suits the prayer of this young girl. [SINGING]

In the last step, we saw how linguistic enquiry helped us to better understand Mitanni’s status and power in the Near East. We saved the best till last, though. The Mitannians can also be credited with the oldest written song ever documented, known as ‘H6’. It is written in a Hurrian form of Akkadian, in cuneiform on a clay tablet, and dates to approximately 1400 BCE, right in our period of interest.

In order to better understand the song and its significance, we visited a leading expert who has conducted considerable work on ‘H6’: Professor Richard Dumbrill, an Archaeomusicologist formerly of the University of London. In this video, Richard sets the scene, introducing Hurrian song H6, explaining the types of music predominant in the ancient Near East and describing the lyrical content of the song. The video ends with Richard’s interpretation of what the song sounded like.

For anyone wanting to go further into this subject Richard’s book, The Archaeomusicology of the Ancient Near East has more information about ancient Near East music

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Superpowers of the Ancient World: the Near East

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