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Contents

Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century

BEGINNINGS, AS FAR AS WE KNOW THEM

Chapter:
CHAPTER 1 The Curtain Goes Up
Source:
MUSIC FROM THE EARLIEST NOTATIONS TO THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY
Author(s):
Richard Taruskin
Beginnings, as Far as we know Them

fig. 1-9 Harpist in the garden of Sennacherib, shown in a neo-Assyrian bas-relief from the palace at Niniveh, seventh century b.c.e., 500 years later than the earliest musical notation, of similar geographical provenance, to have been successfully transcribed in modern times. That piece, described in the text, could have been performed by one or both of the figures represented here.

This new “beginning” was established in 1974 when a team of Assyriologists and musicologists at the University of California at Berkeley managed to decode and transcribe the musical notation on a cuneiform tablet dating from around 1200 bce that had been unearthed on the site of the ancient Babylonian city of Ugarit, near Ras-Shamra in modern Syria.11 The tablet contained a hymn, composed in Hurrian, a dialect of the Sumerian language, to the goddess Nikkal, the wife of the moon god. The music can be read as being set for a solo voice accompanied homorhythmically by a harp or lyre, thus testifying to a practice of polyphonic composition many centuries before the rise of Christian chant. Most remarkable is how unremarkable this earliest preserved piece of music now seems: it consists of harmonic intervals recognized as consonant in most Western practice, and is easily notated on the normal Western staff because it conforms to the same disposition of diatonic whole and half steps used in Western music since the start of its continuous written tradition (Ex. 1-10). Like the Gregorian chant, the Babylonian melody conforms to the basic contents of the familiar diatonic pitch set, though not to any of our modern ways of patterning it.

Citation (MLA):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 1 The Curtain Goes Up." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 18 Dec. 2018. <http://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-001016.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Taruskin, R. (n.d.). Chapter 1 The Curtain Goes Up. In Oxford University Press, Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century. New York, USA. Retrieved 18 Dec. 2018, from http://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-001016.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 1 The Curtain Goes Up." In Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century, Oxford University Press. (New York, USA, n.d.). Retrieved 18 Dec. 2018, from http://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-001016.xml
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