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Ancient music

From Academic Kids

Eras of European art music
Ancient music 1500 BCE - 476 CE
Early music 476 - 1600
Common practice period 1600 - 1900
20th century classical music 1900 - 2000

Ancient music is music that developed in literate cultures, replacing prehistoric music.

The development of writing took place in different time periods in different geographic areas. The first examples of structured linear writing have been found in the lower Danube Valley and date from around 5000 BC. The first examples of Sumerian writing in Mesopotamia date from around 4000 BC. So this is when the era of ancient music began. In Europe it ended in 476 CE, and was followed by the Early music era of European classical music. For Arab music, ancient history ended in 622 CE.

Very little remains of music from Ancient Greece or Rome. The epics of Homer and the lyrics of Sappho, for instance, were meant to be sung with instrumental accompaniment, but nothing remains of their scores. Fragments of Greek music are, however, extant, most notably scraps from tragedy (a choral song by Euripides for his Orestes and an instrumental intermezzo from Sophocles' Ajax), a few hymns by Mesomedes of Crete (second century AD), and the Seikilos epitaph (dated variously between the 2nd century BCE and 1st century AD). Of Roman music, there remains but one meagre scrap: a line from Terence's Hecyra set to music by his composer Flaccus. All music of antiquity is monophonic, as polyphony is an invention of the Middle Ages.

The term "ancient music" may also refer to contemporary, but traditional or folk, music which is considered to continue its "ancient" style and includes much Asian music, Jewish music, Greek music, Roman music, the music of Mesopotamia, the music of Egypt, and Muslim music. See also: authentic performance.

The Harps of Ur

In 1929 Leonard Woolley discovered pieces of at least three harps while excavating in the ruins of the ancient city of Ur located in what was Ancient Mesopotamia and is contemporary Iraq. Some fragments are in Pennsylvania, some in the British Museum in London, and some in Baghdad. They have been dated to 2,750 BC. Various reconstructions have been attempted, but none were totally satisfactory. Depending on your definitions, they could be classed as lyres rather than harps. The most famous is the bull-headed harp, held in Baghdad. It survived both Iraqi wars, and attempts are being made to play a replica of it as part of a touring orchestra.

Harps from Syria and Egypt

Assurbanipal (705 - 681 BC) was king of Assyria. At his capital at Nineveh is a bas-relief showing the fall of the Judean city of Lachish. In the procession is the Elamite court orchestra, containing seven lyre-players and possibly a hammer-dulcimer player. The lyres appear to have seven strings. True harps are shown in murals from the time Ramses III of Egypt, about 1200 BC. "The Tomb of the Harpists" contains a bas-relief with two blind musicians. James Bruce described it in 1768 and it sometimes known as Bruce's Tomb.

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