Ascending scale. C octave species.

Prof. Anne Kilmer.

(small newspaper photo)

The discovery and translation of ancient music texts in Mesopotamia became a major agenda in the late nineteen sixties, when articles began to appear in scholarly journals about cuneiform texts excavated within the last century in Iraq and Syria. Below is a quotation from "Sounds from Silence," published by Professor Anne Kilmer in 1976 on the subject of the Hurrian Hymn.

"Science News," March 10, 1974

Click for larger view


...Four tablets in particular contain the specific information that has resulted in the possibility of reconstructing the scales and the tuning system: these tablets, written in the now dead Semitic language known as Akkadian, come from the Assyrian and Babylonian cultures of ancient Mesopotamia. Two of the tablets are from the ancient city of Ur, one is from Assur, and one is from Nippur. Finally, among the many tablets excavated at the ancient city of Ugarit (modern Ras Shamra) on the Syrian sea coast, came one complete cult hymn whose lyrics are written in the now dead Hurrian language but whose music instructions and notation consist of borrowed Akkadian terms known to us from the four tablets mentioned earlier...

from "Sounds from Silence" p.5

Hurrian Hymn tablet U6 from Ugarit. Labels indicate top portion=Hurrian words, next, two horizontal lines with wedges drawn between, next, the names of dichrords below.Two dichord examples of cuneiform writing are outlined: titimisarte =strings 5 and 3, #2, and  zirte=strings 4 and 6, #1.

Tablet h.6 from Ugarit. Click for larger labeled view

More details will be given on the "Sounds from Silence" part of this web site about the excitement generated when Dr. Kilmer et al at U.C. Berkeley made arrangements for the "Worlds' Oldest Song" to be performed on the University of California campus at Berkeley in March of 1974.

Here is some more information about the Hurrian Hymn (the Song from Ugarit) quoted from the booklet for "Sounds from Silence," p. 15:

Thus, in the transcription of the song from Ugarit, the words of the song, in Hurrian, appear at the top in four long lines. Then the double horizontal line is shown with two pairs of small angle wedges inscribed between them: this cuneiform sign may indicate the notation "twice" or "double." Below the double lines is the musical notation; after that, on the reverse, is the "colophon," or label to the text.

The musical notation takes the form of a series of interval names followed by numerals. ...It is clear that the Hurrianized Akkadian terms refer to dichords or intervals as in the mathematical text CBS10996...

There are fourteen dichords, or names of string pairs that represent intervals of fifths, fourths, thirds and sixths, within the compass of an octave. In the paper "Laying the Rough, Testing the Fine," Smith and Kilmer show that the order of these intervals on the mathematical text CBS 10966 is reflected in the modern day piano tuning procedure called Laying the Bearing Octave, where the basic seven diatonic notes are generated with fifths and fourths (Pythagorean style) and the thirds and sixths seem to be used for testing, or fine tuning, perhaps tempering, the rough-tuned seven notes of the scale.
The "Fall of the middle" mode mentioned in the colophon
of the Hurrian Hymn text is our major scale of C mode today.
However, Smith personally hears the tonal center of this piece to be on string number five, or "G." This would put the song into the G mode in present day context of naming modes by tonal center note or "tonic."

The silver lyre from Ur (click for larger image)

"Hurrian Moonrise" on "Seven Modes for an Ancient Lyre" is separate from, but inspired by, the original transcription by Dr. Kilmer. "Moonrise" uses the ascending scale of tuning and superimposes a 4/4 meter. The piece is played first on the lyre only, after which other instruments are introduced. Smith adds various acoustic type sounds such as a harp, drum, bell, oboe, and synthesized choral voices in the background to accompany the sampled lyre sounds.

To simplify the original title of this piece, "Hurrian Hymn 4/4 Ascending Scale," the song was renamed and now includes the "ascending scale" concept in its title, "Hurrian Moonrise."

It is thought that the original version of the Hurrian Hymn was a hymn to Nikkal, or Ningal, wife of the mood god Sin or Nanna, (Nannar) but the Hurrian lyrics are still not well understood. We can recognize the name of Nikkal in the hymn, but cannot translate the entire text.

According to Kilmer "The meaning of one phrase in the text is quite clear:

"wesal tatib tisiya"
means "Thou (the goddess), lovest them in (thy) heart..." and the closing phrase, "wewa hanuku,"
appears to mean something close to "Born of thee."

1. Berber Wedding Song
2. The Music Class
3. Twilight on the Water
4. Hurrian Moonrise
5. Ninkasi’s Dance
6. Lament for Linus
7. Solitary Theme
8. Long Ago Lullaby
9. Fortune-Telling Song
10. Hurrian Moonset
11. Ea, the Creator
12. The Queen of Sheba
13. Hal Libba Marya


©Bella Roma Music 2002