Hymn of Ugarit

Hymn of Ugarit

            The Hymn of Ugarit is the oldest musical piece in the world. It is from 1400-1200 before Christ and was discovered in the city of Ugarit, the actual Ras Shamra in Syria, digging at the Royal Palace. It is also called as the Hurrian Songs. These are a collection of music written in cuneiform on clay tablets. One of these tablets, which is almost complete, contains the Hurrian hymn to Nikkal, the world's oldest musical piece discovered. Although the composer’s names of some of the fragmentary pieces are known, the full hymn is an anonymous work.

            In these tables, there are approximately thirty-six hymns written in cuneiform. The hymn that is full is the Hymn to Nikkal, the Semitic goddess of orchards, and has instructions for a singer accompanied by a sammûm of nine strings, a type of harp or, more likely, a lyre.
The arrangement of the tablet places the Hurrian words of the hymn at the top. The hymn text is written in a continuous spiral. Below this is found the Akkadian musical instructions, consisting of interval names followed by number signs. The Akkadian cuneiform music notation refers to a heptatonic diatonic scale on a nine-stringed lyre, in a tuning system described on three Akkadian tablets, two from the Late Babylonian and one from the Old Babylonian period. Babylonian theory describes intervals of thirds, fourths, fifths, and sixths, but only with specific terms for the various groups of strings that may be spanned by the hand over that distance. As a result, there are fourteen terms in all, describing two groups of six strings, three groups of five, four groups of four, and five different groups of three strings. Astonishingly, there are no known terms corresponding to a single note, or to intervals of a seventh or seventh.[17] The names of these fourteen pairs of strings form the basis of the theoretical system and are arranged by twos in the ancient sources.
The text it has is difficult to understand, in part because the Hurrian language itself is imperfectly understood, and in part because of small lacunae due to missing flakes of the clay tablet. It is also possible that the pronunciation of some words was altered from normal speech because of the music. Despite the many difficulties, it is clearly a religious text concerning offerings to the goddess Nikkal, wife of the moon god. The text is presented in four lines.

The musicians had great prestige in Mesopotamia. His favorite instrument was the harp. Also have been discovered many liras, some very large, with a bull form. The lira were mostly at an angle form, with soundboard on top and played with four to seven strings. They also played the lute, called pantur in Sumerian, with a long neck and small soundboard, usually played by women. As wind instruments, they used flutes, hornpipes and trumpets. It is believed that they related music with planets. The chord’s harmony was used, with a scale very similar to the actual scale. As percussion, they used metal pots like drums.

         In conclusion, the tables of the Hymn of Ugarit or the Hymn to Hikkal are something that not only mean a great discovery, but also shows that music was art in the Antiquity, and was written and interpreted.
This piece is part of the collection of the National Museum of Damascus, Syria.

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