An Ancient Lyre

by Michael Levy

/
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
11.
12.

about

INTRODUCTION

The concept of this unique album, is a meditative "Musical Adventures in Time Travel"! On this Voyage, I will take you back to the entrancing sounds of ancient Egypt, examples of some of the the actual surviving musical fragments of ancient Greece, and indeed, to the oldest fragment of written melody so far ever discovered, in my arrangement for solo lyre, of the 3400 year old "Hurrian Hymn " from Mesopotamia!

The lyre I play is a replica of the 10- string Lyre of the Ancient Hebrews (known in Hebrew as the "Kinnor" ( כנור ). This incredible lyre also features in my earlier albums available from cdbaby, "King David's Lyre; Echoes of Ancient Israel" and "Lyre of the Levites". For full details into all the fascinating historical background and research into these albums, please follow the link on the left to my "Official Website". My replica 3000 year old Kinnor Lyre of the Ancient Hebrews, is almost tonally identical to the wooden lyres played throughout the Ancient World - for example, the type of lyre played 3000 years ago in the New Kingdom of Ancient Egypt ( as seen on the see album cover) and the anceint Greek Kithara Lyre. Therefore, I came up with the inspiration of this concept heard here, of creating an album featuring music from all these amazing Ancient Civlilizations...


THE MUSIC

1) "An Ancient Lyre" - my meditative prelude to the album, consisting of a spontaneous improvisation on a mesmerizing, hypnotic, dreamy ancient Middle Eastern "Hijaz" scale...


2) "Hurrian Hymn no.6" - the 3400 year old "Hurrian Hymn", which was discovered in Ugarit in Syria in the early 1950s, and was preserved for 3400 years on a clay tablet, written in the Cuniform text of the ancient Hurrian language - it is THE oldest written song yet known! Respect, to the amazing ancient culture of Syria.. .السلام عليكم

Although about 29 musical texts were discovered at Ugarit, only this text, (text H6), was in a sufficient state of preservation to allow for modern academic musical reconstruction.

In short, the Cuneiform text clearly indicated specific names for lyre strings, and their respective musical intervals – a sort of “Guitar tablature”, for lyre!

Although discovered in modern day Syria, the Hurrians were not Syrian – they came from modern day Anatolia. The Hurrian Hymn actually dates to the very end of the Hurrian civilisation (c.1400BCE) . The Hurrian civilization dates back to at least 3000 BCE. It is an incredible thought, that just maybe, the musical texts found at Ugarit, preserved precious sacred Hurrian music which may have already been thousands of years old, prior to their inscription for posterity, on the clay tablets found at Ugarit!

The replica of the ancient Kinnor Lyre from neighbouring Israel, on which I am performing the piece, is almost tonally identical to the wooden asymmetric-shaped lyres played throughout the Middle East at this amazingly distant time...when the Pharaoh's still ruled ancient Egypt.

A photograph of the actual clay tablet on which the Hurrian Hymn was inscribed, can be seen here:

phoenicia.org/music.html

The melody is an interpretation by Richard Dumbrill, from the ambiguous Cuneiform text of the Hurrian language in which it was written. Although many of the meanings of the Hurrian language are now lost in the mists of time, it can be established that the fragmentary Hurrian Hymn which has been found on these precious clay tablets are dedicated to Nikkal; the wife of the moon goddess.

There are several such interpretations of this melody, but to me, the fabulous interpretation by Richard Dumbrill just somehow sounds the most "authentic". Below is a link to the sheet music, as interpreted by Richard Dumbrill and
arranged by Clint Goss, and also to Richard Dumbrill's own website:

www.flutekey.com/pdf/HurrianTabLtd.pdf

hometown.aol.com/ricdum/mane.htm#Music

In my arrangement of the Hurrian Hymn, I have attempted to illustrate an interesting diversity of ancient lyre playing techniques, ranging from the use of "block and strum" improvisation at the end, glissando's, trills & tremolos, and alternating between harp-like tones in the left hand produced by finger-plucked strings, and guitar-like tones in the right hand, produced by use of the plectrum.

I have arranged the melody in the style of a "Theme and Variations" - I first quote the unadorned melody in the first section, followed by the different lyre techniques described above in the repeat, & also featuring improvisatory passages at the end of the performance.

My arrangement of the melody is much slower than the actual arrangement by Richard Dumbrill - I wanted the improvisations in the variations on the theme to stand out, and to better illustrate the use of lyre techniques by a more rubato approach to the melody...


3) "Echoes of Ancient Egypt" - this improvisation on the lyre, uses a genuine pentatonic ancient Egyptian scale...last heard, some 3000 years ago! Although tragically no actual written music from ancient Egypt has survived, we do know from many ancient illustrations, that the ancient Egyptians did use a form of musical notation, whereby specific gestures of the hand represented specific changes in pitch in a given musical scale - this is ancient form of musical notation is known as "Chironomy". We also know some of the specific scales once used in ancient Egypt, thanks to the discovery of serveral ancient Egyptian flutes, still in playable condition! The ancient lost art of Chironomy, and details of this haunting, ancient Egyptian scale are discussed at length in this fascinating article:

www.rakkav.com/biblemusic/pages/chironomy.htm

The minor pentatonic scale I am using in this improvisation, was deciphered from ancient chironomy gestures by the late Professor Hans Hickmann, of the Museum in Cairo.

This improvisation is therefore my attmept to evoke the sounds of the Lyres heard in the New Kingdom of Ancient Egypt, over 3000 years ago...

Tracks 4 - 8 of the album continue my attempt to evoke the sounds of ancient Egypt, in my arrangements for solo lyre, of a selection of my favourite tradtional Egyptian folk songs from Port Said, where the Simsimyya Lyre is still played toady by the local musicians - a lyre which has its origins stretching back almost 4000 years ago, to the Middle kingdom of Ancient Egypt...


4)"My Heart Was Burnt by Love" - a traditional Egyptian folk song

5) "Salah" - a traditional Egyptian folk song

6) "Baghanni" (I Sing) - a wonderful traditional Egyptian folk song from Port Said.

7) "Sar A Lay" - a traditional Egyptian folk song from Port Said.

8) "I Saw The Moon" - a wonderful traditional Egyptian folk song from Port Said.

9) "The First Delphic Hymn to Apollo" - This is my arrangement for solo lyre, of the famous "First Delphic Hymn to Apollo" - a precious surviving fragment of music, which is an amazing legacy from the mostly lost musical culture of ancient Greece! My replica "Kinnor" lyre of the Ancient hebrews (based on illustrations found on ancient Jewish coins), is virtually identical to the ancient Greek "Kithara" - the large wooden lyre favoured by the professional musicians of ancient Greece (with the small exception, that Kithara had 7 strings, whereas the Kinnor had 10 - no doubt to represent the Ten Commandments?)

There are two Delphic Hymns that have been discovered, and they were dedicated to the god Apollo. The two Delphic Hymns have sadly not survived in their complete form. However, they do survive in substantial fragments...giving just a tantalizing taste of the glory of the tragically lost, magnificent musical culture of ancient Greece!

The two Delphic Hymns are dated c.138 BC and 128 BC. My rendition here, is of the earlier of them; the First Delphic Hymn. Although it has unfortunately not survived in its complete form, the First Delphic Hymn to Apollo is THE earliest unambiguous surviving fragment of notated music from anywhere in the Western World! It is written in the unambiguous alphabetical musical notation system used in ancient Greece, whereby alphabetical notation describing the pitch of the melody, is written above the text of the song, as can be clearly seen in this image of the actual Delphic Hymn, as it was found, inscribed in marble:

www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Delphic_Hymns

The rhythm can easily be inferred from the syllables of the text.

The First Delphic Hymn to Apollo was discovered in 1893 by a French archaeologist. It was inscribed in marble, carved on an outside wall of the Treasury of the Athenians at Delphi.

All that is known about its composer is that it was written by an Athenian, around 138 BC, since the part of the inscription giving the name of the composer is too difficult to read. The Second Delphic Hymn is slightly more recent, and has been dated to precisely 128 BC; evidently it was first performed in the same year. The name of the composer of the Second Delphic Hymn has also survived, in a separate inscription: he is called "Limenius". The occasion of the later hymn was the Pythian Festival, and this one, the earlier hymn, was probably written for the boys choir at the Pythian Games in 138 BC.

The translation of the fragment of text which has survived of the this, the First Delphic Hymn to Apollo, is as follows:

"Hear me, you who posses deep-wooded Helicon,
fair-armed daughters of Zeus the magnificent!
Fly to beguile with your accents your brother,
golden-tressed Phoebus who, on the twin peak of this rock of Parnassus,
escorted by illustrious maidens of Delphi,
sets out for the limpid streams of Castalia, traversing,
on the Delphic promontory, the prophetic pinnacle.
Behold glorious Attica, nation of the great city which,
thanks to the prayers of the Tritonid warrior,
occupies a hillside sheltered from all harm.
On the holy alters Hephaestos consumes the thighs of young bullocks,
mingled with the flames, the Arabian vapor rises towards Olympos.
The shrill rustling lotus murmurs its swelling song, and the golden kithara,
the sweet-sounding kithara, answers the voice of men.
And all the host of poets, dwellers in Attica, sing your glory, God,
famed for playing the kithara, son of great Zeus,
beside this snow-crowned peak, oh you who reveal to all mortals
the eternal and infallible oracles.
They sing how you conquered the prophetic tripod
guarded by a fierce dragon when, with your darts
you pierced the gaudy, tortuously coiling monster,
so that, uttering many fearful hisses, the beast expired.
They sing too, . . . ."


10) "Hymn to the Muse" - a hauntingly beautiful surviving fragment of the mostly lost music of ancient Greece. This piece was written almost 2000 years ago, by Mesomedes of Crete...

Mesomedes of Crete was a Greek lyric poet and composer of the early 2nd century AD. More information can be found at:

www.mlahanas.de/Greeks/Bios/Mesomedes.html

It is written in the ancient Greek "Dorian" mode; E-E on the white note of the piano - not to be confused with the MEDIEVAL "Dorian" mode, which was D-D! Due to a misinterpretation of the Latin texts of Boethius, medieval modes were given the wrong Greek names! For the CORRECT names of the ORIGINAL ancient Greek modes, see:

www.midicode.com/tunings/greek.shtml

www.harmonics.com/lucy/lsd/corrections.html

For what Plato & Aristotle themselves had this to say about these ancient musical modes, please see this fascinating link:

www.pathguy.com/modes.htm

The most challenging aspect of playing this piece, is attempting to play the many accidentals required by the melody - on a DIATONICALLY tuned lyre...WITHOUT the aid of any fancy sharpening pedals, which are to be found on almost all modern harps!

According to the musicologist Curt Sachs, the ancient Greeks managed to get around this by a technique I have been working on, called "finger-stopping" - an accidental can be played, by increasing the pitch of a lyre string by a semitone; this is achieved by pressing the string (about a centimeter in from the tuning peg), with a finger of the left hand which shortens its vibrating length, and therefore increases the pitch of the note the string produces.

The translation of the words to this ancient Greek song are as follows:

'Sing for me, dear Muse, begin my tuneful strain; a breeze blow from your groves to stir my listless brain...Skillful Calliope, leader of the delightful Muses, and you, skillful priest of our rites, son of Leto, Paean of Delos, be at my side'. (translation by J. G. Landels).


11) Ancient Greek Fragment - This simply mesmerizing fragment of ancient Greek music, is catalogued simply as "ANONYMI BELLERMANN 97" . It was preserved in an ancient Byzantine manuscript:

Conspectus codicum:
V. Venetus Marcianus appl. cl. VI, saec. XIII-XIV
N. Neapolitanus graecus III. C4, saec. XV
F. Florentius Ricc. 41, saec. XVI

I first heard this amazing piece performed on the album "Musique de la Grece Antique" (Atrium Musicae de Madrid, 1979)


12) "Song of Seikilos" - the final track on my album, is unique in musical history, as it is the only piece of music from antiquity in the entire Western world, that has SO far been found, which has survived in its COMPLETE form, and unlike much earlier surviving fragments of melodies that have been found, this song is written in a totally unambiguous ALPHABETICAL musical notation, which can be played, note for note, as it was written...about 2000 years ago:

www.amaranthpublishing.com/SongOfSeikilos.htm

This melody is an amazing musical legacy from ancient Greece; a precious remnant of a long-forgotten musical culture now forever lost in the mists of time. It is written in the ancient Greek "Hypophrygian" mode; the equivelant intervals as heard in a scale of G-G played on the white notes of the piano. (This mode confusingly has exactly the same intervals as heard in the MEDIEVAL "Mixolydian" mode -the ORIGINAL ancient GREEK "Mixolydian" mode, was, in fact, B-B!).

In this version, I have tried to utilize EVERY conceivable lyre-playing technique I could think of, which may have also been used in Antiquity! This includes experimenting with "string blocking" at the beginning (blocking certain notes to form chords with the left hand to enable rhythm to be strummed on the lyre; just as on a guitar!), alternating between finger-plucked and plectrum plucked tones, the use of basic harmony below the melodic line, a touch of improvisation between phrases and plenty of tremolos & glissando's...in order to inject some new life into this beautiful ancient melody...

This is a more lively rendition than some of the "dire dirge-like" renditions of the song I have heard on some older recordings of it - I have recently learnt that "The Song of Sekilos" is, in fact a DRINKING SONG! (What a GREAT idea of the ancient Greeks to put a drinking song on a TOMBSTONE - I want one to be on MINE!!). The ancient Greek term for a drinking song like this was called a "Skolion".

About 2000 years after it was written, this melody was rediscovered in 1883, in its complete & original form. It was found inscribed in marble on an ancient Greek burial stele, bearing the following epitaph: "I am a portrait in stone. I was put here by Seikilos, where I remain forever, the symbol of timeless remembrance".

The timeless words of the song are:

"Hoson zes, phainou
Meden holos su lupou;
Pros oligon esti to zen
To telos ho chronos apaitei"

Translation - "While you live, shine
Don't suffer anything at all;
Life exists only a short while
And time demands its toll"

credits

released July 20, 2009

tags

license

all rights reserved

about

Michael Levy UK

Michael Levy is a multi-talented musician & prolific composer, who since 2006, has focused his unique skills, at both intensively researching & recreating the ancient playing-techniques of the lyres of antiquity.

He has independently produced almost 30 albums of ancient lyre music since 2008...
... more

contact / help

Contact Michael Levy

Streaming and
Download help