Music of Mesopotamia

Music of Mesopotamia

This article treats the music of Ancient Mesopotamia.

Cuneiform sources reveal an orderly organized system of diatonic depending on the tuning of stringed instruments in alternating fifths and fourths.[vague] Whether this reflects all types of music we do not know. Besides "chords" (dyads, dichords) of fourths and fifths, thirds (and sixths) played also a considerable role.[citation needed]


Sumerian music

The discovery of numerous musical instruments in royal burial sites and illustrations of musicians in Sumerian art show how music seemed to play an important part of religious and civic life in Sumer. A lyre is an example of an instrument used in Sumer (Irvine 2003). Before playing a stringed instrument, the musicians would wash their hands to purify them. Many of the songs were for the Goddess Innana. Dancing girls used clappers to provide rhythm, eventually drums, and wind instruments began to evolve. Music and dancing were a part of daily celebration and temple rites-music was played for marriages and births in the royal families. Music was also used to back up the recitation of poetry. Musicians were trained in schools and formed an important professional class in Mesopotamia.[citation needed]


Instruments of Ancient Mesopotamia include harps, lyres, lutes, reed pipes, and drums. Many of these are shared with neighbouring cultures. Contemporary East African lyres and West African lutes preserve many features of Mesopotamian instruments (van der Merwe 1989, p. 10). The Sumerians also created music.

The vocal tone or timbre was probably similar to the pungently nasal sound of the narrow-bore reed pipes, and most likely shared the contemporary "typically" Asian vocal quality and techniques, including little dynamic changes and more graces, shakes, mordents, glides and microtonal inflections. Singers probably expressed intense and withdrawn emotion, as if listening to themselves, as shown by the practice of cupping a hand to the ear (as is still current in modern Assyrian music and many Arab and folk musics) (van der Merwe 1989, p. 11).

See also


  • Irvine, Douglas (2003). "The Gold Lyre of Ur, c. 2650 BC (BCE)". (Accessed 19 January 2011).
  • Roger, Peter, and Stuart Moorey. (1976). Ancient Iraq: (Assyria and Babylonia). Oxford: Ashmolean Museum.
  • van der Merwe, Peter (1989). Origins of the Popular Style: The Antecedents of Twentieth-Century Popular Music. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-316121-4.

Further reading

  • Duchesne-Guillemin, Marcelle (1980). "Sur la restitution de la musique hourrite". Revue de Musicologie 66, no. 1 (1980): 5–26.
  • Duchesne-Guillemin, Marcelle (1984). A Hurrian Musical Score from Ugarit: The Discovery of Mesopotamian Music, Sources from the Ancient Near East, vol. 2, fasc. 2. Malibu, CA: Undena Publications. ISBN 0-89003-158-4
  • Fink, Robert (1981). The Origin of Music: A Theory of the Universal Development of Music. Saskatoon: Greenwich-Meridian.
  • Gütterbock, Hans (1970). "Musical Notation in Ugarit". Revue d'assyriologie et d'archéologie orientale 64, no. 1 (1970): 45–52.
  • Kilmer, Anne Draffkorn (1971). The Discovery of an Ancient Mesopotamian Theory of Music. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 115:131–49.
  • Kilmer, Anne Draffkorn (1974). "The Cult Song with Music from Ancient Ugarit: Another Interpretation". Revue d'Assyriologie 68:69–82.
  • Kilmer, Anne Draffkorn (1997). "Musik, A: philologisch". Reallexikon der Assyriologie und vorderasiatischen Archäologie 8, edited by Dietz Otto Edzard, 463–82. Berlin: De Gruyter. ISBN 3110148099.
  • Kilmer, Anne (2001). "Mesopotamia §8(ii)". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
  • Kilmer, Anne Draffkorn, Richard L. Crocker, and Robert R. Brown (1976). Sounds from Silence: Recent Discoveries in Ancient Near Eastern Music. Berkeley: Bit Enki Publications, 1976. Includes LP record, Bit Enki Records BTNK 101, reissued [s.d.] as CD.
  • Vitale, Raoul (1982). "La Musique suméro-accadienne: gamme et notation musicale". Ugarit-Forschungen 14 (1982): 241–63.
  • Wellesz, Egon, ed. (1957). New Oxford History of Music Volume I: Ancient and Oriental Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • West, M[artin]. L[itchfiel]. (1994). "The Babylonian Musical Notation and the Hurrian Melodic Texts". Music and Letters 75, no. 2 (May): 161–79.
  • Wulstan, David (1968). "The Tuning of the Babylonian Harp". Iraq 30:215–28.
  • Wulstan, David (1971). "The Earliest Musical Notation". Music and Letters 52 (1971): 365–82.

External links

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