Ensemble De Organographia
Music of the Ancient Sumerians, Egyptians and Greeks


Pandourion PRCD 1005
1999 (ed.)

Greek music from Egypt
01 - Musical Excerpts   [Oxyrhynchus papyri 4461]   [3:02]
02 - Lament   [Oxyrhynchus papyri 4465]   [1:42]
03 - Fragment 1   [Oxyrhynchus papyri  4462]   [3:09]
04 - Paean   [Oxyrhynchus papyri  4466]   [1:40]
05 - Trochaic Fragment   [Oxyrhynchus papyri  3162]   [1:00]
06 - Four Settings from Menander's 'Epitrepontes'   [Oxyrhynchus papyri  3705]   [1:36]
07 - Excerpts mentioning Eros and Aphrodite   [Oxyrhynchus papyri  4462]   [4:39]
08 - Musical excerpt   [Oxyrhynchus papyri  4467]   [3:15]
09 - Hypolydian excerpt   [Oxyrhynchus papyri  4464]   [2:55]
10 - Fragment 3   [Oxyrhynchus papyri  3161]   [1:59]

Sumero-Babylonian music
11 - A Zaluzi to the Gods (Hurrian Hymn 6, copied by Ammurabi)   [R.S. 15.30 + 49, 17.387]   [3:49]
12 - Hurrian Hymns, 19 & 23   [R.S. 19.149 and 18.282]   [1:34]
13 - URḪIYA & an. - Hurrian Hymns, 13 & 12  (copied by Ipšali)   [R.S. 19.164d and 19.147]   [0:41]
14 - Hurrian Hymn 2   [1:14]
15 - URḪIYA. Hurrian Hymn 8   [R.S. 19.84]   [1:21]
16 - PUḪIYA(NA) - Hurrian Hymn 5   [R.S. 14.18]   [0:44]
17 - Hurrian Hymn 4, 21, & 22  [R.S. 14.15, 19.154 and 19.164c]   [2:32]
18 - Hurrian Hymn 7 & 10   [R.S. 19.155 and 19.148]   [1:55]
19 - Hurrian Hymn 16 & 30   [R.S. 19.164a and 19.164b]   [2:10]
20 - Musical Instructions for 'Lipit-Ištar, King of Justice'   [N. 3354]  c. 1950 BC   [0:44]

Egyptian music
21 - Trumpet Call, after Plutarch   [0:33]
22 - Isis Sistrum Rhythm, after Apuleius   [0:31]
23 - Theban banquet scene   [1:33]
24 - Harp Piece I   [Brooklyn Museum]   [1:57]
25 - Harp Piece II   [Brooklyn Museum]   [2:02]

ensemble De Organographia

Gayle Stuwe Neuman: strings, voice, percussion
Philip Neuman: winds, strings, percussion, voice

Music of the Ancient Sumerians, Egyptians and Greeks

Archeological discoveries in the Middle East over the last several decades have brought to light new musical documents that have greatly increased our understanding of ancient music. Texts that describe Babylonian musical notation have been uncovered at Ur and Ashur, and compositions written in this system have been found at Ugarit and Nippur. These discoveries have helped to define a clearer picture of the Sumero-Babylonian musical art, and, while information on the subject of Egyptian musical notation remains obscure by comparison, several verbal descriptions of instrumental performance and several extant musical documents have been identified. Fortunately, Greek compositions and music theory tex`s survive in relatively greater numbers and continue to be identified; recently transcribed musical documents in Greek notation found at Oxyrhynchus in Egypt are heard here for the first time. (The bulk of the extant Greek repertoire can be heard on De Organographia's "Music of the Ancient Greeks" PRCD 1001.)

The repertoire on this recording, preserved mainly on clay tablets and papyri, dates from the 20th century B.C. to the third century A.D. It includes the musical instructions for the hymn "Lipit-Ištar, King of Justice" which is regarded as the world's oldest surviving example of musical notation. The selections range in varying states of preservation from the nearly perfect Hurrian Hymn 6 to tiny fragments of melody and text.


The instruments used here are either original (i.e., the pair of krotala cymbals) or copies of ancient instruments, built mainly by the performers, patterned after surviving museum originals and iconographical representations. The instruments are listed below with their descriptions.

Asymmetrical Lyre: nine-string box lyre patterned after a representation on an ivory panel from Megiddo, c. 1300 B.C., a type used throughout Egypt and Mesopotamia.

Aulos: reed pipe, with cylindrical bore and double reed, most often depicted as a pair of pipes played by a single musician. Contrary to a popularly held belief, the Greek aulos had a type of double reed, as described by Theophrastus (not single). One pipe played alone was sometimes called monaulos. Aristoxenus gives five sizes: parthenioi (maid en type), paidikoi (boy type), kitharisterioi (kithara-playing type), teleioi (complete), and hyperteleioi (extra complete), corresponding roughly to soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, and bass. Unfortunately, the word "aulos" is often mistranslated as "flute".

Bagpipe: bagpipe with 2 cylindrical bore pipes, known from 1st c. B.C. if not earlier.

Barrel drum: two-headed drum in barrel form.

Bell: terracotta and bronze bells after extant specimens.

Clappers: a pair of carved wooden blades struck against one another.

Conch: conch shell blown like a trumpet through an opening made in the top.

Double reed pipes: a thin pair of unattached aulos-like metal pipes sounded by double reeds after specimens found at Ur.

Double idioglottic reed pipes: a pair of attached reed pipes sounded by idioglottic single reeds (like the drone reeds of some bagpipes). A copy of an ancient Egyptian specimen similar to the modern zummara.

Echeia: bowls of earthenware or some other material made in a variety of sizes in order to produce an assortment of pitches when struck.

Frame Drum: a shallow drum with a skin head.

Goblet drum: a drum with a body of baked clay in goblet form with a skin head on the wide end.

Harp: angle harp after an Egyptian original now in the Louvre.

Hourglass drum: wooden shell in hourglass form with skin heads on both ends.

Kithara: ornate wooden lyre of professional Greek musicians. It was built from several shaped and hollowed out pieces of wood, with a deeply carved sound box and intricately carved arms. The arms support the crossbar to which the gut strings are attached.

Krotala: plain wooden clappers or clappers with small cymbals attached. The krotala cymbals used here are period specimens found at Alexandria, dating from c. 1st century B.C.

Kroupeza: a shoe with a clapper or krotala attached.

Kymbala: Greek cymbals with a bell-like sound.

Long-necked lute: three-string lute after an extant original found in the tomb of Harmosi at Thebes. Similar to the Greek pandoura and modern Turkish saz.

Lyra: Greek lyre, originally made from a tortoise shell and animal horns. Sometimes the shell was imitated in wood.

Menat: Egyptian string of faience beads attached to a handle.

Pandoura: long-necked Greek lute with three to five plucked strings.

Psithyra: rattle shaped like a ladder made of metal with wooden rungs which were surrounded by coils of wire or metal rings.

Sistrum: rattle in hoop or stirrup form with a handle, pierced by loose metal rods.

Syrinx monokalamos: vertical flute resembling a single tube from a syrinx (panpipes) pierced with fingerholes.

Three-holed vertical flute: end-blown flute after an extant specimen, similar to the modern Egyptian nay.

Timbrel: frame drum with jingles or small cymbals.

Trichordon: small lute or pandoura with three strings.

Trumpet: short trumpet of copper, bronze, silver and/or gold; here patterned after the silver trumpet from the tomb of Tutankhamun.

Two-holed whistle: baked clay whistle with two fingerholes after an original found at Birs Nimrud, formerly in the Museum of the Royal Asiatic Society.

On certain selections the listener will hear instruments playing the notes of the melody simultaneously with other pitches, creating a simple form of harmony. Even though this repertoire is rightly considered monophonic, some surprising information regarding harmonization has come to light. Babylonian notation, conceived for the lyre, expresses a series of two-note intervals, each followed by a numeral indicating the number of times it is to be repeated. M. L. West proposed that the second pitch of each interval indicates the notes of the vocal melody (1). However, since some of the intervals used in succession have the same second pitch but different first pitches, the first pitch must indicate something. West has suggested that they consist "of accessory notes, perhaps especially notes used in launching the melody notes" (2).

As for Greek music, there is evidence from the 5th century B.C. on that instrumentalists would sometimes diverge from the vocal melody or play other notes in addition to it. This practice of diverging from the melody was described in detail by Plato in reference to teaching the kithara and lyra: "the kithara teacher and his student, for the reason of making the notes clear, must play the notes on the lyra in a manner that produces unison pitches with the notes of the song. Concerning the playing of different pitches and ornamentations of the lyra, when the tune of the strings differs from the composer's melody, or when groups of small intervals are played with wide ones, or quick notes with slow notes, or high notes against low ones, in consonant intervals or octaves, and the way they introduce all manner of rhythmic embellishment to the notes of the lyra, these things should not be taught to students who must learn in three years all that is necessary in music."(3) Apparently he thought it was important for students to learn the basics of rhythm, melody, mode, tuning, etc. before delving into more complex forms of accompaniment in imitation of professional musicians.

Pseudo-Plutarch in his description of the Spondeiazon tropos (4) lists three additional pitches that were played in accompaniment to certain notes of the six scale degrees of the melody. The application of these notes results in the following intervals: perfect fifth, major third, major sixth, minor third, and major second.

In spite of their age, a few of the musical works recorded here have survived in nearly perfect condition, namely selections 11, 21, 22, and 23. However, as one might expect with works of great antiquity, most of the extant pieces have missing passages. Most of the fragmentary pieces recorded here have been left in their original state (nos. 12-20, 24 and 25), while the others have been "repaired" with thematically similar melody to fill the voids. There is, of course, no perfect solution to a puzzle with pieces irretrievably lost. However, bridging the lacunae in the Oxyrhynchus fragments with plausible material is made feasible by using conventions found in the extant music, the set of rules for composing melody by Aristides Quintilianus, and the practice of making the melody agree with the tonal accents of the text. (For further information, see the notes for the cd "Music of the Ancient Greeks" PRCD1001). If the listener wishes to distinguish the original from the added material, it would be helpful to consult a collection of modern transcriptions, notably: M.L. West, Ancient Greek Music (Oxford, 1992) and "Texts with Musical Notation" The Oxyrhynchus Papyri LXV (London, 1998).

We would like to thank Dr. M. L. West for bringing various resources to our attention, Christiane Ziegler and Catherine Bridonneau at the Louvre for providing us with information for the construction of the Egyptian harp, and Stephen Escher at the Music Library of Stanford University for his assistance.

Philip Neuman

Donald R. Singer: recording engineer, terracotta bell
Philip Neuman: additional melody, graphic design, cover photo

Cover photo: the 15th century B.C. gate at Megiddo, the ancient city site where the representation of the asymmetrical lyre was found.

2006/1999 Pandourion Records, 17850 S. Edgewood St., Oregon City, Oregon 97045 U.S.A.

Greek Music from Egypt (from the Oxyrhynchus papyri)

1. Musical excerpts, Anonymous (2nd c. A.D.) POxy. 4461, column ii, lines 1-9.
trichordon, syrinx monokalamos, yympanon, psithyra, kroupeza, krotala (small cymbals)

2. Lament, Anon. (2nd or 3rd c. A.D.) POxy. 4465.
autos paidikos, kithara, lyra

3. Fragment 1, Anonymous (2nd c. A.D.) POxy. 4462.
trichordon, kithara, autos parthenios, syrinx monokalamos, kroupeza, kymbala

4. Paean, Anonymous (3rd or 4th c. A.D.) POxy. 4466.
syrinx monokalamos, pandoura, lyra, kroupeza, krotala (small cymbals)

5. Trochaic fragment, Anon. (3rd c. A.D.) POxy. 3162.
autos teleios (double pipes)

6. Four settings of a line from "Epittepontes" by Menander Anonymous (3rd c. A.D.) POxy. 3705.
Four different examples of music for the same line of text are given.
Translation: "Of what area? What memor-"
voices, kithara, lyra, krotala (small cymbals)

7. Excerpts mentioning Eros and Aphrodite, Anon. (2nd or 3rd c. A.D.) POxy. 4463.
Fragments of three distinct compositions.
pandoura, bronze bell, psithyra, tympanon;
aulos hyperteleios, kithara;
syrinx monokalamos, barrel drum, kroupeza

8. Musical excerpt, Anonymous (3rd c. A.D.) POxy. 4467.
trichordon, pandoura, two kitharas

9. Hypolydian excerpt, Anonymous (2nd or 3rd c. AD) POxy. 4464, lines 3-8.
The plectrum is pressed on the string to obtain an accidental on the kithara.
kithara, echeia

10. Fragment 3, Anonymous (3rd c. A.D.) POxy. 3161 verso fr. 3.
bagpipe, tympanon, timbrel, kroupeza, krotala (small cymbals), hand-clapping, finger-snapping

Sumero-Babylonian Music

11. A zaluzi to the gods (Hurrian Hymn 6), Anonymous, copied by Ammurabi (c. 1225 B.C.) R.S. 15.30 + 49, 17.387.
This nearly intact piece is preserved with the remains of 30 other hymns in the Hurrian language on a series of baked clay tablets found at Ugarit. Modern transcription of the Babylonian musical notation on these tablets is made possible through the discovery of several period musical texts that explain the terms used in the tuning of the lyre through seven diatonic modes. Several modern authors have offered interpretations of these terms, but disagree on certain key points. We have followed M. L. West's melodic interpretation (5). The Babylonian system does not include notation for rhythm. Text underlay is problematic since the text and music are written separately. There is almost a 2:1 ratio between the number of syllables and the number of notes, so, if the melody is repeated, the match of syllables to notes is fairly good with a few minor adjustments; on the tablet between the text and music there is a double dividing line with signs indicating a repeat of some kind. Present understanding of the Hurrian language is limited, thus making a complete translation impossible; it seems to be a hymn to the goddess Nikkal, wife of the moon god, with a few translatable phrases including "you love them in your heart" and "born of you".
voice, long-necked lute, asymmetrical lyre, bronze bell

12. Hurrian Hymns 19 and 23, Anonymous (c. 1225 B.C.) R.S. 19.149 and 18.282.
Two fragmentary hymns with parts of four and six lines of notation respectively. Here the first pitch of each notated interval is played along with the melody note at the beginning of each series of repetitions (see above).
asymmetrical lyre, long-necked lute, goblet drum, terracotta bell, clappers

13. Hurrian Hymns 13 and 12, Uriya/Anon., copied by Ipšali (c. 1225 B.C.) R.S. 19.164d and 19.147.
Hymn fragments with parts of two and four lines of notation respectively.
double reed pipes, goblet drum

14. Hurrian Hymn 2, Anonymous (c. 1225 B.C.) Fragmentary hymn with parts of twelve lines of notation. asymmetrical lyre, terracotta bell

15. Hurrian Hymn 8, by Uriya (c. 1225 B.C.) R.S. 19.84.
Fragmentary hymn to a goddess with parts of seven lines of musical notation.
three-holed vertical flute, asymmetrical lyre, two sistra, goblet drum

16. Hurrian Hymn 5, by Puiya(na) (c. 1225 B.C.) R.S. 14.18.
Fragmentary hymn with parts of five lines of notation.
asymmetrical lyre, goblet drum, terracotta bell

17. Hurrian Hymns 4, 21 and 22, Anonymous (c. 1225 B.C.) R.S. 14.15, 19.154 and 19.164c.
long-necked lute, harp, hourglass drum, clappers, bronze bell, sistrum

18. Hurrian Hymns 7 and 10, Anonymous (c. 1225 B.C.) R.S. 19.155 and 19.148.
Hymn 10 refers to the goddess Hebat.
asymmetrical lyre, hourglass drum

19. Hurrian Hymns 16 and 30, Anonymous (c. 1225 B.C.) R.S. 19.164a and 19.164b.
conch, harp, two-holed whistle

20. Musical Instructions for "Lipit-Ištar, King of Justice", Anonymous (c. 1950 B.C.)
N. 3354. Preserved on a clay tablet from Nippur are the instructions for the musical accompaniment to the hymn "Lipit-Ištar, King of Justice, Wisdom, and Learning", the text of which survives in several sources. This hymn is thought to date from the time of Lipit-Ištar's reign, making it the world's oldest surviving example of musical notation. Given are the starting note, two intervals that may indicate predominate notes of sections, and the mode (6).
asymmetrical lyre

Egyptian Music

21. Trumpet call, Anonymous,
after the description given by Plutarch in Moralia (lst c. A.D.). Plutarch describes the manner in which the Egyptian trumpet was played: "But for them (the people of Busiris) even to hear a trumpet is a sin, because they think it sounds like the bray of an ass" and "The people of Busiris and Lycopolis do not use trumpets at all, because they make a sound like an ass; and altogether they regard the ass as an unclean animal". This instrument is capable of producing two effective pitches (approximately f#´´ and c´´) as well as a less stable fundamental (b flat). Since there is no mouthpiece in the modern sense, higher harmonics are extremely difficult to produce. Assuming that no more than two harmonics were sounded in normal use, Plutarch's remarks give us a basis for this call, taking the order of pitches and rhythm from the natural bray of the ass.
Egyptian trumpet

22. Isis sistrum rhythm, Anonymous,
after the description given by Lucius Apuleius in Metamorphoses (2nd c. A.D.). Apuleius described the rhythm performed on the sistrum at the apparition of the goddess Isis as a "triple shake of the arm". Hans Hickmann (7) interpreted this rhythm as three equal notes followed by a rest in order to separate each group of three. The participation of trumpeters is also described.
sistrum, 3 Egyptian trumpets

23. Theban banquet scene, Anonymous,
from a tomb painting found at Thebes (c. 14th c. B.C.) The painting depicts a scene of four rows of seated guests preparing to attend a banquet with guests on the left of each row displaying chironomy signs and instrumentalists on the right. The signs, indicated by the various inclinations of the guests' arms, apparently documents the rise and fall of the melody being played by the musicians (9). Rhythm and mode are conjectural; the scale used here is taken from an extant three-holed Egyptian vertical flute in playable condition.
long-necked lute, three-holed vertical flute, harp, hourglass drum, clappers, sistrum

24. Harp piece (A), Anonymous (7th or 6th c. B.C.) Brooklyn Museum 58.34.
This example of what is apparently musical notation survives on an Egyptian statuette now in the Brooklyn Museum (8). It consists of two figures, a harpist and what may be a musical director or chironomist (whose right arm is unfortunately missing): a tablet in front of the second figure displays a series of horizontal lines with short vertical strokes in a variety of positions relative to the lines. This would seem to be a graphic representation of the various inclinations of the arm of the chironomist indicating the rise and fall of the melody being played by the harpist (9). We have interpreted here the horizontal line as representing the lowest pitch of the melody; the height of a given stroke above the line indicates its relative intervallic distance above the lowest note. The smallest meaningful differences should indicate scale steps, since the melodic movement in the bulk of the ancient repertoire is predominantly stepwise. Rhythm and mode are unknown; the scale used here is taken from an extant three-holed Egyptian vertical flute in playable condition.

25. Harp piece (B), Anonymous (7th or 6th c. B.C.)
The same piece as above (with somewhat altered tuning in agreement with the reed pipes), performed on a variety of common Egyptian instruments.
3 barrel drums, frame drum, clappers, double idioglottic reed pipes, harp, three-holed vertical flute, sistrum, menat, kymbala

1. M.L. West, "The Babylonian Musical Notation and the Hurrian Melodic Texts" Music and Letters 75 (1993-4).
2. as in no. 1, p. 176.
3. Laws 812d-e.
4. De Musica 11 37b-d.
5. as in no. 1, pp. 175-7.
6. See Anne Draffkcorn Kilmer, "Nippur, at the Centennial" Philadelphia, 1992, pp. 101-12.
7. See Hans Hickmann, "Rythme, mètre et mesure..." Acta Musicologica 32, 1960 pp. 11-22.
8. See Hans Hickmann, Acta Musicologica 33, 1961, pp. 15-19.
9. See Hans Hickmann, "Musicologie pharaonique" Collection d'etudes musicologiques 34, 1956, p. 109f.

Gayle Stuwe Neuman, a singer and player of stringed and wind instruments, co-directs the Oregon Renaissance Band. She has performed with Magnificat and the Whole Noyse and teaches music history at Marylhurst University.

Philip Neuman co-directs the Oregon Renaissance Band and plays wind and stringed instruments. He has performed with the American Bach Soloists, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and the Handel & Haydn Society Orchestra and teaches music history at Marylhurst University and counterpoint at University of Portland.

Ensemble De Organographia, formed in 1978, is a period instrument ensemble dedicated to performing and recording lesser known works from several different eras. Other cds by Ensemble De Organographia include:

"Music of the Ancient Greeks" (PRCD1001), which contains most of the ancient Greek repertoire on copies of period instruments and voices.

"French Music of the 14th Century: Machaut & the Following Generation" (PRCD 1007). Secular music of the Ars Nova and Ars Subtilior periods on voices and instruments.

"Carnevale! Festive Music of 16th century Italy" (PRCD1003), featuring Florentine carnival songs, frottole, and dances performed on a wide variety of period instruments and voices by De Organographia and the Oregon Renaissance Band.

"The One Horse Open Sleigh: 19th century -Christmas Music on Original Instruments" (PRCD1004) with Gayle Neuman, voice, strings and winds; Laura Zaerr, harp; Allan Martin, square piano; and Philip Neuman, winds.

Pandourion Records, 17850 S. Edgewood St., Oregon City, OR 97045, USA; neuman@emgo.org