Here Is the Oldest Melody Written on Clay Tablets and Dating From 1,400 BC

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Here Is the Oldest Melody Written on Clay Tablets and Dating From 1,400 BC

The oldest melody in the world, the Hurrian hymn to Nikkal, written in cuneiform on a clay tablet.
The oldest melody in the world, the Hurrian hymn to Nikkal, written in cuneiform on a clay tablet.




The oldest melody in the world, the Hurrian hymn to Nikkal, is part of a collection of songs written in the ancient writing of cuneiform. It was excavated during the 1950’s from the Royal Palace at Ugarit (present day Ras Shamra, Syria) and was dated to around the 14th century BC.

There were 36 tablets found there in total, but this one, known as h.6 is nearly complete. It is also the oldest melody ever recorded, predating other musical works by almost 1,000 years. While the other songs from the incomplete tablets have the name of the authors written on them, this one is apparently anonymous.

The hymn is dedicated to Nikkal,  the Semitic goddess of orchards. Before this archaeological discovery, there was virtually nothing known about Sumero-Babylonian music, with the exception of the instruments they used. These were deduced from carved images or archaeological finds.

Among the other tablets found, there was one that contained the much needed musical theory and notation used for these melodies. This tablet, in particular, the h.6, also contained instructions for a singer accompanied by a nine-stringed instrument, probably a lyre.

A depiction of the instrument used to play the oldest melody currently in existence.<br /> - Bas Relief of musicians in the ruins of the Palace of Nineveh (c.700 BC)
A depiction of the instrument used to play the oldest melody currently in existence. – Bas Relief of musicians in the ruins of the Palace of Nineveh (c.700 BC)

There is some difficulty in translating the Hurrian language and the meaning of the text is still quite unclear. This is the best version proposed so far:

I will (bring x?) in the form of lead 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.

The song itself has a number of different interpretations as well. This is one of them.

(Source)